Illinois Atheists to Organize State Lobbying Group This Month

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 5, 2012

Washington, D.C. - The Secular Coalition for America is excited to announce the initial organizing efforts for a chapter in Illinois this month. The state chapter will lobby state lawmakers in favor of a strong separation of religion and government.

The initial organizing call for the Secular Coalition for Illinois will be held on September 13th at 3:00PM ET / 2:00PM CT. The SCA encourages interested participants to call in. Participation is open to anyone who supports a strong separation of religion and government and wants to get involved, irrespective of personal religious beliefs.

Other state chapters being organized later this month include Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Since June, the SCA successfully held initial organizing calls for new chapters in 27 states. Participants will be trained in lobbying state lawmakers, and the chapter will be provided with a website and other materials.

The Secular Coalition for America-a lobbying organization representing 11 member organizations and nontheistic Americans- advocates for a strong separation of religion and government at the federal level. The Secular Coalition is launching 50 new state chapters by the end of 2012 to lobby at the state level.

"Some of the most egregious violations of church state separation are being promoted and passed at the state level, and we absolutely must act to stop it," said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. "There are 40 million Americans who don't identify with any religion, but our political influence has been limited because we have not been organized. This year, that changes." 

A recent Pew Forum study indicated that 30 percent of Illinois residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and 47 percent disagreed that "religion is very important to their lives."  Another Pew study found that the majority of Americans (54%) say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters, and 38% say that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders.

No specific legislative agenda has been set for the Illinois chapter yet. In general, the Secular Coalition focuses on legislation that attempts to insert religion, religious privileging or religiously-based discrimination into our secular laws, or uses taxpayer funding to support, promote or proselytize religion or religious beliefs.

A few examples of previous or current laws, general practice, or religiously-inspired legislation seen in Illinois that fall within the SCA's scope as an organization are:

  • IL HB 3774- Would amend the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. Provides that: a child welfare agency that is religiously based or owned by, operated by, or affiliated with a bona fide religious organization may opt out of fulfilling a request for services, including an adoption or foster family home application, including any licensure and placement, which would constitute a violation of the organization's sincerely held religious doctrines or beliefs.
  • IL HJR 95- Would show support for the Illinois laws reserving the institution of marriage to one man and one woman. States the General Assembly's opposition to any efforts to extend the institution of marriage to 2 individuals of the same sex, whether by statute or by court decision. Urges the members of the General Assembly to adopt HJRCA 50, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution stating that "Only a marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Illinois".
  • IL HB 88- Would provide a property tax exemption for parking areas owned by any religious institution that meets the qualifications for exemption if the parking area is leased or rented to a municipality for free public parking. An example of religious privileging.

 Rogers said lobbying at the state and local level is important on several fronts and from a long term strategic perspective.

"In our current U.S. Congress, 38 percent of Representatives held local office first," said Rogers. "When we get to law makers at the local level, not only are we going to help curb some of the most egregious legislation we're seeing, but we are also building relationships and working to educate legislators on our issues, before they even get to Washington."

Interested participants are encouraged to call in to the meeting at (530) 881-1400, Participant Access Code: 978895.  

Official call dates and the call-in phone number for chapter conference calls are available at Secular.org/about/states

 

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Communications Manager at [email protected] or (202)299-1091 ext. 205

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