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Heretic on the Hill: Where Did Everybody Go?

If it’s August in Washington two things are true: Congress is on a one month recess, and it’s hot. How hot is it? The other day it was so hot, when I went by the Lincoln Memorial the chair was empty. That’s hot!

When members of Congress are on a recess you, often find them back in their districts, and many of them — especially the ones up for reelection — will be doing town hall meetings (their challengers, too). These are excellent opportunities to see them in unscripted settings and hear what they are thinking on the important issues. You may even have the chance to ask a question so that they learn what issues are important to secular voters!

One simple “ask” you can make of your Representative is to join the Congressional Freethought Caucus. This small, but growing, group promotes public policy formed on the basis of reason, science, and moral values. They also stand for a more secular federal government by adhering to the Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. This year, we worked with them on our specific requests for the annual federal spending bills — including better enforcement by the IRS against churches that endorse political candidates.

Recess is a good time for us to focus on the Secular Coalition’s priorities in the regulatory process; it may be the less glamorous cousin of the legislative process, but it is vitally important in ensuring that the outcome of the laws passed by Congress is fair and accurate. However, existing federal regulations that tell the agencies how to do things can be changed by the President. We have been working with officials in the Biden administration to reverse regulations enacted by the Trump administration, like the rule change that allowed some adoption agencies that receive federal funds to discriminate against families based on their religion — or lack of one. That rule has successfully been reversed.

And our work continues! Earlier this month, I joined a call with several other organizations to officials from the Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. We explained our hopes and concerns for the implementation of a significant new regulation proposed by the Biden Administration that controls how faith-based groups provide social services using federal funds: to ensure that these faith-based groups protect people’s religious freedom while providing services at food banks, homeless shelters, and job training centers (to name a few).

We have further urged the Department of Education to rescind portions of a 2020 regulation that require public colleges and universities to recognize and grant special privileges to religious student organizations that fail to comply with general nondiscrimination requirements. Updates to come.

Spreading Happiness

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