Reason Freely

News: Secular Coalition of America meets Obama Staff

Posted in news by reasonfreely on March 1, 2010

Quick news notes on Freethinkers in the White House last week:

The Secular Coalition of America — a mix of humanists (including a secular Jewish organization) and atheists (including the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers) — met with senior White House staff to discuss three topics:  Child medical neglect, military proselytizing, and faith-based initiatives.

Story at USA Today

This is Good News because they visited the White House as freethinkers, not as policy analysts, or first amendment constitutional lawyers or civil rights organizers.  They were openly visiting as atheists.  I haven’t checked but I think this is an historic first.  Nonreligious Americans make up a fast-growing segment of society:

Only1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death.  (ARIS)

So almost a quarter of Americans either don’t believe the claims of mainstream religions (atheist or agnostic), or believe in a God, but don’t believe the dogma of the mainstream religions (deists).  That’s encouraging, and also represents a very large proportion of Americans.  Taking just the 12% who are atheist or agnostic by belief, or the 15% who stated that they have no religion (the “nones”), the nonbelievers outnumber Jews, Muslims and all the Eastern religions combined.

So it’s about time nonbelievers got some White House access!  (Even if it was just staffers, and not an actual Oval Office meeting…)

But the right wing is unsurprisingly hyperbolic over the issue.  In God We Trust (the same group that’s still beating the “war on Christmas” dead horse) called the Secular Coalition a “hate group” and “ripped” Obama on allowing his staff to meet with them.  Sean Hannity is similarly hyperbolic, claiming special treatment for atheists, when Obama didn’t even attend the meeting.

The group’s concerns are legitimate.

Child medical neglect:  Some religious groups refuse necessary medical treatment for their children on religious grounds.  Religious child medical neglect kills.  (See also: What’s the Harm.)  This is neglect, but it is not enforced because of fears of lawsuits from zealots.  We let some groups smoke peyote or handle cobras, but we don’t let them do it to their children.  Why do we tolerate medical neglect?

Military proselytizing has also become an issue recently, with bible verses on rifle scopes pissing off not just secular soldiers, but especially Muslim soldiers.  Plus, officers are pushing right-wing ideology on their subordinates.  And the fear that the Muslim countries we’re occupying might take these sorts of things the wrong way is very legitimate.  Because they are taking them the wrong way (or maybe it’s actually intentional…), and it looks very bad for us.

Faith-based initiatives are going too far.  In addition to the recent DC kerfluffle; faith-based initiatives under the Obama administration have not stopped misusing funds since the Bush days.  Faith-based initiatives have been irking non-Christian religious people, and they are accused of overstepping constitutional boundaries about proselytizing.

Update:   As the story progresses, more links… reactionary rhetoric from the Catholic League (dear Bill:  If your faith doesn’t want negative press, they should stay away from stuff like the aforementioned DC Catholic Charities foster-care pull-out.  Or, you know, defend priests who molest kids.  Et cetera.) WordPress referred me here, which is where I got the first two update links.  Figured they deserved a trackback 😉

Oh, and on an unrelated note (but also in the news recently):  I’m not sure I believe this.  I think education is correlated with IQ, and education is also a necessary precondition for exposure to secular humanist ideas.


2 Responses

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  1. […] though I wouldn’t be opposed to a shift to a more humanist chaplaincy.  And I’m on the record opposing military proselytization or at least supporting a group that opposes it.  I think it […]

  2. Maria said, on March 1, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Those *are* encouraging statistics. The overstepping of constitutional boundaries, especially while taking government funding at the same time, really ticks me off.

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