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.
The activists say they have already made some progress. Last year, they participated in what was billed as the first-ever White House meeting with secular groups. They are also close to having their first policy proposal introduced in Congress — legislation that would ensure that child care centers run by religious groups are held to the same health and safety standards as nonreligious centers. The group would not name the Member they expect to introduce this measure.
To the secular activists, the fact that some states exempt religious groups from child care regulations that could protect children from abuse indicates the breadth of the problem.
“We want to raise the flag and ring the alarm bells about what’s happened in this country and use these issues, if you will, to wake people up,” Faircloth said. “Anywhere where you see privileging of religion in law, we’re going to speak out.”
While the coalition itself is small — about 20,000 people are on the mailing list — Faircloth said the platform reflects what most Americans believe.
“We don’t want government to be making decisions about your bedroom on behalf of Jesus,” he said. “If you go out there and talk to the average America, a soccer mom or Joe Six-pack, the majority of them agree with us.”
Christian groups say the opposite is true.
“Christianity and belief in God is the mainstream view in America,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. “When the rubber meets the road, people do want to be able to express their religious beliefs in the public sphere.”
Wright said groups such as the Secular Coalition misinterpret the separation of church and state as meaning that there is no role for faith or religion in the public sphere. Her group advocates using biblical principles to guide policy decisions.
“We’re not looking to censor the atheists. They’re free to meet, to talk, to lobby. But we don’t find the opposite is true. We find that often times the goal of aggressive atheists is to censor Christians,” she said.
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for the conservative Family Research Council, said he is concerned about a growing sentiment that religion should only be practiced at home or a place of worship.
“What we see today unfortunately is a very narrow conception of religious liberty: a four-walls freedom. You have religious liberty within the four walls of your house and your church but nowhere else,” he said. “Religion is something that pervades our entire lives, and the free exercise of religion is something that cannot be limited.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.