Rhode Island Atheists to Organize State Lobbying Group This Month

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 12, 2012

Washington, D.C. – The Secular Coalition for America is excited to announce the initial organizing efforts for a chapter in Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island will be held on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 3:00 PM ET. Other states chapters being organized later this month include Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Texas. Earlier this month, the SCA successfully held initial organizing calls for chapters in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The Secular Coalition for America—a lobbying organization representing nontheistic Americans and advocating for a strong separation of religion and government—will launch chapters in 48 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico by the end of 2012. Two state affiliates, the Secular Coalition for Arizona and Secular Coalition for Alabama, are already operational – the SCA has elected to adopt a chapter model, instead of the affiliate model, for the subsequent 48 state groups.

“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 43 percent of Rhode Island residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and a majority of Rhode Islanders—56 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% says that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders – a number that has grown to its highest point since the Pew Research Center began asking the question more than a decade ago.

Despite the statistics, the comingling of religion and government, as well as discrimination and harassment against nontheists, continues to be an issue in Rhode Island:

  • Recent documented cases of blatant discrimination and harassment of nontheists—both by lawmakers and the community at large. For example, high school student Jessica Ahlquist successfully fought a legal battle to have a "School Prayer" banner removed from her school, on the basis that it violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. Harassment and discrimination Ahlquist received included:
    •  
      • State Representative, Peter Palumbo, called Ahlquist an "evil little thing.”
      • Local florists refused a delivery to Ahlquist.
      • Ahlquist received death threats and required police escorts to attend school.
  • The Rhode Island legislative session has opened with a prayer previously, such as the large prayer vigil and invocation to open the 2009-2010 session.

Statistics indicate Americans are tired of religion being inserted into secular government, and state chapters being organized around the country will lobby to halt such legislation. State chapters will receive websites, as well as training, promotional and educational materials. Chapters will be trained, organized and supported by the Secular Coalition for America.

The Secular Coalition, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has traditionally focused advocacy efforts on federal legislation. The SCA will continue to lobby at the federal level, while state chapters will lobby at the state level.

Secular Coalition for Rhode Island is among the second round of chapters being organized by the Secular Coalition. Additional states will be rolled-out in subsequent phases:

 

  • Phase 3 (July 16- August 3) - Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington 
  • Phase 4 (August 6- 17) -  Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin
  • Phase 5 (August 20-31) - Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire,  Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Wyoming

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 subsequent chapters will be announced at Secular.org/about/states closer to the beginning of each phase. 

 

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA communications manager …….. 202-299-1091 ext. 205 or [email protected]

 

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