A 10-year-old Washington, d.c.-based lobby for the separation of church and state is creating state chapters to counter what its members see as a greater number of state laws that have their roots in religion.
The Secular Coalition for America (SCA) held an initial organizing call for Washington state July 17. The group will train volunteers, who will run the chapters, on how to lobby lawmakers in the state capitol.
“We are seeing so many laws introduced at the state level that attempt to muddy the waters between church and state,” said Laura Youngblood, communications manager for the SCA, which has until now only lobbied for secular legislation on the federal level.
The group receives support from people and organizations who agree government is not the place to convert people to a religion or tell people they are wrong in their beliefs.
“Separation of church and government is the best freedom for all Americans,” Youngblood said.
The group aims to raise the respect and visibility of nontheistic view points, and lobby on government issues of separation of church and state.
On the state level, sca will counter “everything from bills that question evolution in public schools to laws that allow adoption agencies that are religious but receive taxpayer money, to discriminate based on sexual orientation or if the person doesn’t believe in God.”
Local atheists expect the group to draw attention to their segment of the population.
Wendy Britton, founder of SeattleAtheists.org and Washington state coordinator for American Atheists, said the difficulty for atheists is they are an invisible minority. While other minority groups are at least pandered to by lawmakers, atheists are often ignored, she said.
“Just getting lawmakers to recognize us is a big thing,” she said of atheists.
“In Obama’s inauguration speech he mentioned nontheists. That, for us, is a big win because we have been largely invisible to politicians, and sometimes half of our job is to get [lawmakers] to recognize they have nontheists, and they represent us, too.”
Atheists and nontheists are not as visible as their religious counterparts in policymaking. The sca is one of a handful of national secular lobbying groups, in contrast to the more than 200 federal religiously affiliated lobbying groups, according to a 2011 report by the Pew Center.
Britton said accurate statistics on atheists and agnostics are hard to come by.
She said generally people think about 10 to 15 percent of the American public doesn’t have any formal religious ties, but she believes the number is much greater.
She estimated about 25 percent of Washingtonians are nontheists, and on the west side of the mountains the divide is about 50-50.
Still, she said, she feels discriminated against based on her beliefs or lack thereof.
“The problem with being an invisible minority is that it is invisible when people discriminate against that minority.”
For more information, see secular.org.