About the Secular Coalition for America
When we first arranged to interview Herb Silverman, the spokesperson for the Secular Coalition for America, we had no idea that George W. Bush would be able to obtain another four years in the White House, and we could not have imagined that the United States Congress would turn so strongly towards the right.
We spoke with Mr. Silverman just a few hours after Senator John Kerry conceded defeat and George W. Bush declared victory. So, the separation of Church and State, which had already been in crisis after four years of Republican attacks, has become an even more urgent issue. We addressed this topic with Mr. Silverman because of his long history as a voice of reason in the face of what he aptly describes as "creeping theocracy."
Right now, the future looks very dark indeed. However, the few days after the re-election of Bush and Cheney have seen a surprising increase in activism by the 48 percent of Americans who voted to return our nation to a path of balance and reason. It is our hope that this new surge of liberal activism will propel groups like the Secular Coalition for America into the prominence that they so richly deserve.
Tell me about the Secular Coalition for America. How did the Coalition get started, and what are its goals?
The Secular Coalition for America is a coalition of several independent freethought organizations that see the need to combine forces on important issues. Our mission is to increase the visibility and respectability of non-theistic viewpoints within the larger culture, and to protect and strengthen secular government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.
One of the important things we're trying to do, once we raise enough funds, is to hire a lobbyist in D.C. who will work with Congress. We hope to promote understanding of and respect for non-theistic viewpoints, and to amplify and unite the voices of all Americans with a naturalistic worldview, whether they call themselves agnostics, atheists, freethinkers, humanists, secularists, or skeptics.
What kind of activities are you involved in right now, and how do you expect your operations to evolve during the next year?
For example, just recently our lawyer filed a formal complaint with the FCC after we found that satellite television companies are violating federal law by granting public interest channel capacity to religious broadcasters who are using these channels for proselytizing, commercial activity, and fundraising.
We're concerned about how the Bush faith-based administration is working so closely with the religious right and turning Government into a creeping theocracy. We need to energize and inform millions of people, especially after the last election, to keep this from happening.
I'm talking to you on the day that George W. Bush has been declared the winner in the election, and Republican conservatives have picked up many seats in Congress as well as in state positions. It now looks like the Bush Administration will get the chance to place two, three, or even four judges on the Supreme Court, as well as on federal courts, without much resistance from Democrats in the Senate. So, how can you effectively lobby for secular Americans with such an anti-secular government in place?
One of the disturbing things we saw in the exit polls was that so many people voted for Bush based on their moral concerns. Unfortunately, they equate morality with religious belief. Their “moral” issues are things like opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and stem-cell research and promoting prayer in public schools as well as posting the Ten Commandments on public property.
What we in the Secular Coalition want to do is to equate morality with a reasoned compassion and social justice, instead of with fundamentalist religion. We hope to show the public that being moral is not synonymous with being religious. Our morality should be based on how our actions affect others. Our creeds should not be more important than our deeds. We should not let our dogmas override our compassion for others.
We want to get a public voice for non-theists, who are simply ignored by politicians. We know there are about 14 percent in this country who view themselves as secular. Politicians never seem to hear about us. So, we want to get more media attention and have a lobbyist work with Congress to show Senators and Representatives that we are informed and that we vote.
We hope to overturn or stop some legislation. We are worried, not just about this election, but about the next forty years, because of the kind of Supreme Court nominations we expect to come forth, and other judicial appointments.
What do you think we can expect, then, from the Republican elites who will be in control of the American government over the next four years?
Well, I'm afraid that they're going to think, even though it was a relatively close election, that they have a mandate to carry out their religious agenda. Some of them are even saying we are a Christian nation, not a secular nation, that we have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. We need to show that there are a lot of non-theists out here, and we deserve a voice too. We hope to work with liberal religionists who we're sure are also upset at this creeping theocracy that our politicians are encouraging.
What can Americans who do believe in the separation of Church and State do to help out the Secular Coalition for America?
First, I hope that they will go to our web site, which is at Secular.org, and see some of the activities that we're doing. If people are interested in helping our organization, I hope they will contribute so we can hire a lobbyist to get our voice heard in Washington. We have almost, but not quite enough, money to start interviewing lobbyist candidates.
We hope to model ourselves, in some way, after the gay rights movement. Politicians in the past were easily able to denigrate gays and lesbians without any consequences. Now they can't, and there are openly gay and lesbian members of Congress. There are, we know, a lot of non-theists in Congress, but not one of them is bold enough to come out of the closet and admit it. We want to create an atmosphere where people can comfortably express their religious--and non-religious—views, everywhere in the country and even in Congress.
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