Legislative Update 2/7

Now that the shutdown has been suspended, Washington has begun to return to normal business. I wanted to let you know about what has been happening in the first few weeks of the 116th Congress and how we are impacting policy.

Committee Assignments for Congressional Freethought Caucus Members
Now that the shutdown has been suspended for a few weeks, Congress has been able to dedicate more of its time to the business of legislating. In a win for the secular community, Members of the Congressional Freethought Caucus have secured positions on influential House committees. Here are a few highlights:

There are five Congressional Freethought Caucus Members on the House Judiciary Committee: Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The House Judiciary Committee is charged with overseeing the federal courts and law enforcement agencies. We are hopeful that this committee will provide much-needed oversight of the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice and work to reign in the Religious Liberty Task Force established by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Freethought Caucus member Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) will continue to sit on the House Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee is tasked with allocating the money which funds the government. His presence on this committee will help ensure that the secular perspective is heard as well as safeguard the Johnson Amendment, which has been attacked through the appropriations process in previous years.

Stay tuned for more committee assignments in the next few weeks.

The Congressional Freethought Caucus Welcomes The Secular Coalition for America And Its Member Organizations to Capitol Hill
To kick off the 116th Congress, the Congressional Freethought Caucus welcomed the Secular Coalition for America to Capitol Hill along with our Member Organizations —  American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, the Center for Inquiry, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation — to discuss how the caucus will play an important role on the Hill. Representatives Huffman (D-CA), Raskin (D-MD), Kildee (D-MI) and McNearney (D-CA) attended. One of the greatest things about having a Freethought Caucus member (Rep. Huffman) who represents Sonoma county in is that he always brings excellent wine from his district!

Legislative Agenda Survey
As we continue to move forward with the 116th Congress, I want to make sure your interests are being represented in Washington.
Currently, we are working to finalize our legislative agenda for 2019 using input from our members as well as Members of the Congressional Freethought Caucus. I want to make sure I hear from you and all of our grassroots supporters. If you haven’t participated in our 116th Congress legislative survey, please be sure to do so.

Your feedback will help guide the direction of our advocacy efforts to defend and strengthen the wall of separation between church and state. Once we have received the survey responses, and have met with our allies in Washington, I will update you on the results of our collective efforts.

The Freedom of Religion Act
One bill that we expect to move during this Congress is the Freedom of Religion Act (HR 590) sponsored by Representative Don Beyer (D-VA). It’s important because the bill ensures that the United States government cannot deny a person entry into the country based on their religious or nonreligious identity and would nullify the Administration’s Muslim Ban. The bill specifically includes protections for people who do not have a religious preference. Please take a moment to urge your Representative to support this important bill.

Zombie Bills
The opposition is fast at work dropping bills that could be catastrophic for our movement such as repealing the Johnson Amendment or publicly funded taxpayer accounts that can fund religious schools. We expect these bills to be dead in Congress. However, these bills provide an insight into what would happen if religious fundamentalists get back control of the government. If fundamentalists take back control of the legislative branch, these bills could easily come back from the dead and start to pass. The takeaway is that the religious right and their allies in Congress have no intention of reforming. They are doubling down on their ideas.

First 100 Day Visits
You may have heard that we have set out an ambitious goal to meet with all 110 freshman members of the House and Senate by April 17 to make sure they know about how the secular movement is an emerging force in American life.
So far we have met with Senators Blackburn (R-TN), Sinema (D-AZ), Rosen (D-NV) and Representatives Balderson (R-OH), Cox (D-CA), Craig (D-MN), Golden (D-ME), Houlahan (D-PA), Lesko (R-AZ), Morelle (D-NY), Omar (D-MN), Pappas (D-NH), Shalala (D-FL), and Taylor (R-TX). Now that the shutdown has ended, expect these numbers to go up. Most of all we need you to build connections with your Member of Congress at the local level. The best way to do that is become a member of our Rapid Response Team or donate to help support this effort.

This legislative season we get to do something we haven’t been able to do in a long time — start advancing bills and ideas in Congress. I am so electrified about this prospect. After being frozen out of the House for so long, we get to start deploying offensive maneuvers with key allies in the Congressional Freethought Caucus.

I am enthusiastic about our prospects and I cannot wait to start putting points on the board.

 

All the best,

Mark Dann
Director of Governmental Affairs

Spreading Happiness

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