Rep. John Carter reads from the Bible during the National Day of Prayer earlier this month. Secular groups are mounting a campaign to limit the influence of religion in politics and public policy.
A group of self-described Godless Americans is defying predictions of the Rapture to kick off a new campaign this week against the religious right.
As some Christians quit their jobs this week to prepare for the end of the world, the Secular Coalition for America headed to Capitol Hill with an ambitious task: reducing the influence of religious interests on government.
The lobby group — created in 2000 to unite atheists, humanists, nontheists and nonbelievers of all stripes — chose this weekend to meet because of its significance to a small faction of Christians. For followers of religious radio broadcaster Harold Camping, Saturday marks the beginning of the end of civilization and the return of Jesus Christ as predicted in the Bible.
“Faith-based groups for 2,000 years have been preparing for the end times, while reality-based groups such as the Secular Coalition and our allies have been hard at work to improve present times and plan for our nation’s future,” Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition, quipped.
Despite a recent injection of $1 million to its operating budget — large contributions from two private donors — the coalition’s effort still resembles the Biblical tale of David and Goliath.
The secular activists aim to reduce religious influence on the military, foreign aid, stem-cell research, education and women’s reproductive health — all with a handful of staff and a $750,000 operating budget. The coalition is made up of 10 secular groups, including the American Humanist Association and American Atheists.
On the other side are millions of dollars being spent by Faith and Action, Family Research Council, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Concerned Women for America, World Vision, the Christian Coalition of America and a raft of other faith-based groups to influence legislation and politicians.
Still, Sean Faircloth, executive director of the secular group, said his side could win some battles by placing a stronger emphasis on lobbying and building a grass-roots base to support those efforts.
“That’s sort of what this summit is all about — changing the game. Our next big goal is really to make bigger investments in the secular movement,” he said, noting that it took some time for various secular groups — many of whom disagree with each other philosophically — to agree that they have the same interests politically.
That realization came as faith-based groups have grown in size and influence over the past three decades to the extent that “the religious right effectively has veto power over one of two major political parties in the United States,” Faircloth said.
The three-day summit kicks off Thursday and is expected to focus on that challenge and how the group can overcome it.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.