National Secular Movement Update Call

Thursday, February 14, 2013 - 12:00 - 12:30
Call In Details: 
559-726-1300 Code: 199568

 

National Secular Movement Update
Newsletter and Call
Call Every Thursday from 12PM - 12:30PM (ET)
Phone Number: 559-726-1300 Code: 199568


February 14, 2013 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

President Obama gave his State of the Union Address on Tuesday detailing his second term policy agenda. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave the Republican response. But on the Hill sequestration is the big topic.

This week the Secular Coalition met with top executives at the Republican National Committee to discuss what the Party can do to better serve the needs of secular Americans. The meeting was part of the RNC's Growth & Opportunity Project.

The House quietly passed HR 592 on Wednesday, a serious threat to the separation of religion and government. The bill aims to amend the Disaster Relief Act to permanently allow federal grant money to go directly to rebuild churches and other houses of worship after disasters. We will continue to track the bill in the Senate.

The Violence Against Women Act passed yesterday in the Senate and is on its way to the House.  The Senate is focused on Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination for Defense Secretary. Hagel was voted out of the Foreign Affairs Committee on a party-line vote. The Senate could vote on his nomination as Secretary of Defense as early as Friday.

Democrats--led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)-- are working on their own sequester replacement bill before March 1, that would replace spending cuts with tax increases, including raising taxes on millionaires. The Republican leadership in the House believes the sequester is best, rather than replacing the cuts with tax increases. The GOP plans to allow the sequester to take effect (March 1) and make this case in the continuing resolution, which expires on March 27.

Considering tax reform, the House is holding a hearing and 42 people will testify regarding charitable deductions, including to nonprofits and churches.  Finally, the House is considering a pay freeze for federal workers.

We've confirmed another speaker for our Secular Summit: Brad Jacklin of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who will participate in our Discrimination panel. We also had a productive meeting with the White House Office of Public Engagement who agreed to work with us and secure Administration staff to join all four of our Secular Summit panels. Expect those names to be confirmed over the next couple of weeks. To view other confirmed speakers, view our detailed agenda for the Secular Summit and Lobby Day is now available on our website.

TOMORROW is the last day to get the early bird rate for the Lobby Day and Secular Summit!  If you haven't already registered for the Lobby Day and Secular Summit, register now!
 

Table of Contents:
I. White House and Congressional Update
II. Secular Events and Calendar
III. Secular Movement in the News
IV. Legislative and Regulatory Update
V. Judicial
VI. SCA State Chapters
VII. Policy and Research Documents
VIII. Secular Coalition Expansion
IX. SCA Member and Associated Organization Announcements
X. Movement Charity Updates and Activities

Please join our movement today! Follow this link to the SCA sign-up page.

I. White House and Congressional Update

  • House of Representatives: On Wednesday, the House passed a bill to change eligibility requirements for FEMA disaster assistance grants by a vote of 354 to 72 (Roll Call Vote No. 39). If this bill were to become law, it would allow churches and other houses of worship to apply for disaster assistance grants to rebuild or repair their physical structures. The House will consider one more bill to stop the automatic cost of living increase for federal employees for 2013. The House will not be in session next week and will return on Monday, Feb. 25.  
  • Senate: The Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday. The bill must now be considered by the House. The Senate is also considering the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. They hope to complete that consideration before recessing for the President's Day holiday. The Senate is not scheduled to return until Monday, Feb. 25.
  • White House: The President gave his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. He then headed to North Carolina to take the message beyond DC. He will be in Georgia on Thursday and Chicago on Friday. 
  • UN: In the first address by a British government minister to the heads of states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Baroness Warsi, a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister in the British government, emphasized the importance of "freedom of religion or belief" and its "universal" applicability, and explicitly stated that blasphemy laws are incompatible with freedom of speech. This is significant for many reasons, chief among them that it is important the British government, which has a prominent role in international debates, stand strong against blasphemy and other laws which restrict freedom of thought. But, also, Warsi has not always been a friend of secularists, and her speech to the OIC more apparently recognizes that freedom of religion or belief applies equally to religious and non-religious people than we have previously seen from Warsi. So, kudos to her, and let's hope this is a trend that continues.
Upcoming Meetings
  • Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN)--February 19 at 1:30pm (NCPE)
If you are interested in attending one of these meetings, please contact [email protected]. For UN-related questions or remarks for these meetings can email [email protected]. More information on the Committee and all its events can be found at http://unforb.wordpress.com/ (Thank you to Michael DeDora for this update, [email protected], 646.706.6080). Otherwise, contact Edwina Rogers, Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, at [email protected] or by phone at 202-299-101 ext. 207 or cell: 202-674-7800.

II. Secular Events and Calendar
The National Secular Calendar is on the Secular Coalition Website Homepage.  The calendar includes major secular events, state chapter calls, Secular Coalition speeches, and national secular calls.  If you have an event to add, or questions, please e-mail [email protected]

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Anything to add? Contact Nathan Cox at [email protected]. Please let us know if you'd like to attend one of these meetings: If you are interested, please contact Chris Lombardi at [email protected] for anything legislation-related. 


III. Secular Movement In the News

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more news!

Secular Coalition in the News

Other News, Blog Posts, Press Releases

Want daily updates? If you're interested in recieving our daily morning run-down of secular news stories, or for press inquiries, updates and other media related information, contact [email protected].

Future Events
Are there any upcoming issues or events that the movement needs to coordinate press around?

IV. Legislative and Regulatory Update
Federal 
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave the Republican response to the State of the Union. He mentioned God several times, most notably when he said that "God also blessed America with abundant coal, oil and natural gas." He followed up on his speech by introducing a "school-choice" bill modeled on the Florida program. The bill would provide dollar-for-dollar tax credits for corporations and individuals that contributed to a nonprofit "Scholarship Grant Organization" which then would supply schools with the money on behalf of eligible students. Religious schools would be eligible to receive the funds.
  • Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced a bill (H.R. 491) to promote internet freedom in foreign countries. The bill would require a new section on the availability of internet access and the amount of censorship in annual reports on foreign countries' human rights practices. The bill notes that the internet is important for the peaceful discussion of "political, social, and religious issues".
  • Rep. Franks (R-AZ) introduced a resolution recognizing the achievements of President Ronald Reagan (H.Res. 56). Of note in the resolutions is the section about President Reagan's defeat of communism, referencing a speech he made at the University of Notre Dame. The resolution states that he "recogniz[ed] that the source of the Nation's strength and ultimately its victory over communism would come from God, the 'source of all strength.'"
  • Chris met with the White House Office of Public Engagement last Friday to enlist their help in securing Administration officials to join our Secular Summit panels in April. Look for those names to be filled in over the coming weeks.
  • Our annual Secular Summit and Lobby Day will be April 24-26 in Washington D.C. We have a limited number of rooms available at the event hotel (Hyatt Regency Washington) and there is an early bird registration rate through February 15. For more information, or to register, click here.
  • We are putting together a tax-related briefing for Senate staff. We expect to hold that in the last two weeks of March. We are in discussions with several Senate offices to secure a room.
Contact Chris Lombardi, Government Relations Manager for the SCA, with additional suggestions or information at [email protected].
 

V. Judicial
  • Good News Club Sue Claiming Unequal Treatment By PA School District.  The Good News Club has filed suit in federal court challenging the Harrisburg school district’s refusal to include it as a non-profit community service group that may use school facilities after-hours without charge.  Instead the district told the group that it would be charged $1,200 per year per school for after-school use of space for its evangelical activities directed at students. The complaint alleges that this policy violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment by discriminating against religious speech in granting access to a limited public forum.
  • Suit Challenges Jesus Portrait In OH Public Middle School.  FFRF and the ACLU of Ohio have filed suit to seek the removal of a portrait of Jesus displayed in an Ohio middle school.  The plaintiffs have sought to proceed anonymously.  The school has since claimed that the portrait still belongs to the student group that donated it decades ago and that the wall where it hangs is a limited public forum in which any student group may hang portraits.
      
If you have any additions, questions or submissions for inclusion on the judicial section for next week, contact Bill Burgess, [email protected], 202-238-9088.

VI. SCA State Chapters
     
State Legislation
  •  
    • Montana
      • HB 236 eliminating exemptions from licensing for religiously affiliated adolescent programs, is scheduled to go before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, February 14th. The Secular Coalition for Montana is supporting this bill's efforts to reduce religious privileging and protect the children of Montana.
      • SB 107 exempting faith healing from medical neglect statutes passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is expected to be scheduled for a vote by the entire Senate soon. 
    • New Jersey
      • A2201/S2155 authorizing secular celebrants was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 13th, but is yet to be scheduled for a vote.
    • Rhode Island
      • H5105 marriage equality passed the House and has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Secular Coalition for Rhode Island is working with Rhode Islanders United for Marriage in support of this legislation. 
    • South Carolina
      • H3100/SB103 religious liberty protections for legislators at official meetings has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, but is unlikely to be placed on the schedule
    • Washington
      • HB 1215 will allow religious nonprofits that receive the parsonage exemption to be protected from losing the exemption if they receive rental income or profit. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on January 28th and we are waiting on their vote.
    • Legislation tracking is now available on the chapter pages of all officially launched Secular Coalition chapters! Coming soon to all pages!
If you have seen any bills that concern secular issues in your state, please email [email protected] with the state and bill number in the subject line.
Contact Kelly Damerow, our Research and Advocacy manager, at [email protected] or by phone 202-299-1091 ext. 204.

VII. Policy and Research Documents

Reminder: The Open Access on-line Research Library at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture, Trinity College, Hartford, CT is available to everyone in the movement. Go to www.secularisminstitute.org. This is the academic website for ISSSC.  From there you can access (top right) all the reports and materials on the American Religious Identification Survey series since 1990.

Contact Barry Kosmin ([email protected]) Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society or Jenny Kalmanson ([email protected]), who sits on the Board of the American Humanist Association, with any additions or suggestions for this list.

Powerpoints, brochures, scorecards, and other resources are now available on the website.  These speeches will be free and available to everyone in the movement. The Secular Coalition is looking for helpful research papers, to link to from our website and to determine where additional research needs to be done.  If you are aware of any, please send information to [email protected]
VIII. Secular Coalition Expansion
  • Coalition expansion drive underway!  We are looking to add Endorsing and Allied organizations through additional website sign up opportunities and meetings.  Please recommend any non-movement groups we should meet with to discuss common ground. 
  • We had 34 endorsing organizations in May of 2012; we now have over 100! Our newest endorsing organizations are:
    •  Atheist Community of Austin, Inc
IX. SCA Member and Associated Organization Announcements


The Clergy Project is proud to announce the addition of the Employment Transitional Assistance Grant, to help formerly-religious clergy find secular employment, thanks to a generous grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

After originally being denied, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry won their battle to run a community booth at the Flowertown Festival in South Carolina.  The turnaround came after the national American Humanist Association reminded the YMCA that the refusal violated federal law preventing discrimination based on religious views.

It's coming: The BLACKOUT! On July 27, in Queens, NY, will be the first outdoor Rally/Celebration that will predominantly feature nontheists of color. VIP Seating and vendor opportunities will be available--more details to come soon!

Registration for the Secular Student Alliance conferences in Las Vegas and Columbus opened on Monday this week. Get more information and register here.

Camp Quest 2013 is now open for registration! Registration is now open is open for children aged 8-17. Sign up early for as space is limited, and get a $50 break!

Want to share your organization's efforts with the SCA?  Email updates, alerts, announcements or other items you'd like to share with the community to [email protected].

X. Movement Charity Updates and Activities:

Foundation Beyond Belief is raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society! We are encouraging the secular movement to  take part in their Light The Night Walks and help raise money through the Foundation Beyond Belief team. Contact [email protected] for more information.

Foundation Beyond Belief staff will be reaching out to other secular organizations in hopes of incorporating their charity efforts into this report, and to provide a year-end summary of non-theist charity giving.  The LLS LTN initiative headed by Todd Stiefel and supported by many national secular organizations has made it extremely likely that non-theists will reach $1 million in organized charitable giving in 2012. 

Please contact Dale McGowan at [email protected]  if you would like your group's charity effort to be included.

To sign up for newsletters, call announcements, and action alerts, please visit our website. Don't forget to like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter.


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Contact Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, at [email protected] or by phone at 202-299-1091 ext. 207 or cell: 202-674-7800. 

Secular Coalition for America | http://www.secular.org
1012 14th Street NW, Suite 205, Washington, D.C., 20005-3429
Phone: (202) 299-1091 Fax: (202) 293-0922

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The Secular Coalition for America is the national lobby for atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. From our office in the nation's capital, our lobbyists and support staff engage public policy makers and the media on issues ranging from religion's influence on education and medical research to the privileging of faith groups by government. We are the first and only cooperative venture of freethought organizations coming together to improve the cultural and political situation of a previously unrepresented constituency: the tens of millions of atheists and agnostics in the United States. The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization.

Please consider joining or donating to one of our national member organizations: 
American Atheists
American Ethical Union
American Humanist Association
Atheist Alliance of America
Camp Quest
Council for Secular Humanism
Huumanists
Institute for Humanist Studies
Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
Secular Student Alliance
Society for Humanistic Judaism

 

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