Following my Thanksgiving meal, I began musing how the the Pilgrims, who were undoubtedly Christian and sacrificed a great deal in the name of their Christian beliefs, resembled many modern American atheists in interesting ways:
• When they worshipped in secret in northern England the Pilgrims followed their conscience in the face of societal opposition and sometimes persecution.
• Because they believed God had preordained everything, there was nothing an individual could do during their life that would cause them to be saved (or damned), so they basically chose to live a moral life anyway (treatment of Indigenous people aside).
• The Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas and Easter, believing that these holidays were invented by man to memorialize Jesus, and are not included in the Bible and therefore cannot be considered holy days. The legitimacy of the Pope, the Saints, bishops, and the church hierarchy were rejected, as was the veneration of relics.
• The Pilgrims considered marriage a civil affair to be handled by the State. Icons and religious symbols such as crosses, statues, stained-glass windows, and other worldly manifestations of religion were rejected as a form of idolatry.
• The church building itself had no significance to the Pilgrims and was kept intentionally drab and plain. In fact, the Pilgrim's church was the bottom floor of the town's fort. The top floor held six cannons. The church room was also the town's meetinghouse, where court sessions and town meetings took place (probably America’s first church-state separation problem).
Not saying they were atheists of course, or anything close to that, but they knew church sanctimony when they saw it. Anyway, I hope you were able to enjoy time with friends, family, or community members this past week.
Last week the House passed the Build Back Better Act with $1.75 trillion in funding for healthcare, paid parental and medical leave, education, climate change, and other social policy programs. The bill goes to the Senate where it will be revised in some significant areas. One area of disagreement involves the child care/pre-Kindergarten program which would greatly expand availability and lower costs for families.
Many childcare facilities are run by religious organizations that in some cases through a loophole do not have to observe federal protections against discrimination based on religion. The House bill says that if they accept this new money they will not be allowed to discriminate against applicants or participants in their programs. The Secular Coalition joined with other organizations in signing a letter to House and Senate leaders supporting the antidiscrimination language in the House bill. I will be following the debate in the Senate on this issue where it may be contentious and let you know if we need your voice in a future Action Alert.
Last May, Secular Coalition representatives met with the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to discuss our priorities. The discussion included waivers issued by the previous Administration that allow adoption agencies in three states to discriminate based on the religious beliefs of the agencies. Those waivers were rescinded last week. The official statement from the Department of Health and Human Services says, “HHS will not condone the blanket use of religious exemptions against any person or blank checks to allow discrimination against any persons, importantly including LGBTQ+ persons in taxpayer-funded programs.” This is progress.
This upcoming Tuesday, November 30, is #GivingTuesday, a global holiday dedicated to giving back. As the year comes to a close and the giving season begins, we hope you will consider giving the gift of secularism this holiday season. You can learn about the many opportunities to support our work here.
Your advocate on the Hill,
Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Secular Coalition for America