Q&A Interview with Edwina Rogers, Executive Director

Edwina Rogers joined the Secular Coalition as the Executive Director in May of 2012. Here, she speaks candidly about her background, her role with the Secular Coalition and her plans for the organization.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I have more than two decades of experience in government affairs and legal work and I have run numerous coalitions in several economic areas, including health care and energy. I have experience as an attorney and lobbyist. I have also worked as an economic advisor at the White House and worked for four senators. [view Edwina’s bio here]

Why the Secular Coalition?
I was drawn to the SCA because I believe that human rights are best protected by separation of religion and government—and unfortunately that separation is under attack recently. All sectors of society need to be included at the decision making table, and as of now there are 50 million secular Americans that are underrepresented and undervalued. The Secular Coalition and its member organizations have done a fantastic job of helping to raise the image of nontheists in this country. I plan to expand on what the SCA has already been doing and help take the organization to the next level. I was selected for this position because I am an expert in government affairs and a proven coalition builder. I am going to put my two decades of experience in Washington working for politicians and as a lobbyist, to use in effecting legislation—we want to see laws coming from both sides that are based on reason and logic, not religion.

You talk about taking the SCA to the next level. How do you plan to do that?
In several ways. One of the first things I will do as Executive Director, is begin regular calls to help build our coalition, including a weekly secular movement update teleconference and a bi-weekly legislative and regulatory teleconference. We will also be expanding our state affiliates. As of now the SCA has affiliates already in place in Arizona and my home state of Alabama. But we aim to have coalitions organized from every state by the end of the year – we already have strong interest from 18 states that we hope to announce in the coming months. I have a strong background in coalition building that I think will really help spearhead the state affiliates.

What do you see as the role for the state affiliates?
There are so many religiously-based laws being introduced at the state level. Our affiliates will help us track legislation and other issues taking place in the individual states, expand membership in the coalition and lobby their local officials at the state level. In the current Congress, 38 percent of Representatives held local office before being elected to the U.S. House. When our local affiliates are able to reach them at the state level, they are laying the foundation for a continued relationship and putting in the necessary ground work for the federal lobbying we do here in D.C., down the line.

What are some of your other long and short term goals for the organization?
We have an aggressive plan to expand participation in the movement. By the end of the year, we will have coalitions up and running in all 50 states. We will also be expanding the number of member and endorsing organizations as well as recruiting allied organizations. We will unify the coalition members through a national secular calendar, national weekly secular movement update calls, and biweekly legislative and regulatory calls with featured government policy decision makers and speakers.

We will also begin producing persuasive policy issue and advocacy summaries, along with research papers that we can use on the Hill to advocate our positions. We will be able to use these to persuade decision makers at various levels. We will begin to establish relationships with all the legislative committees, Congressional and Senate offices, as well as the Executive branch officials at the appropriate departments. I plan to meet with representatives from every Congressional and Senate office on the Hill by the end of the year. Finally, we will begin hosting policy summits and continue our lobby days. Policy summits will feature legislative and regulatory officials.

Have you always been a secularist? How do you describe yourself and your beliefs?
I am a nontheist, but tend to shy away from labels, because I think they have a way of creating division within the movement. I have always been a firm secularist and an ardent supporter of the separation of religion and government. I am passionate about increasing the respect for nontheists in the United States and protecting the secular character of our government. I think that America is a place where there should be no religious test for participation in political life. I certainly feel that theists should be fully able to participate in public life—but no more than nontheists. I am not here to end religion.  

How do you think your Republican background will play into your role here at the Secular Coalition?
My Republican background will help open certain doors that may have been closed to the secular movement before. It’s a misnomer that the majority of Republicans believe in the comingling of religion and government. The Religious Right is a vocal part of the Republican Party, but it’s also a minority. Most Republicans don’t necessarily agree with them, but may simply take a laissez faire attitude on that particular topic because they haven’t been engaged on the issues. If we aim to combat the political influence of those who want to see religion inserted in our secular government we will have to work with decision makers on both sides of the aisle—and I am uniquely qualified to help the Secular Coalition do that.

Enough about work! What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with my two children, visiting family in my home state of Alabama and playing video games with my children.  I also enjoy keeping up with current events and following pop culture. One of my favorite genres of music is dubstep.

 

Find more information on Edwina Rogers, including a full bio and high resolution images here.

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