Atheists have a place at the table August 2, 2009

Atheists have a place at the table

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This post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the Secular Coalition for America.  He also blogs at Rant & Reason

Last Friday I was quoted a few times in an article by David Gibson entitled “Non-Believers Losing Faith in Obama.”  [Sidenote: I found the title amusing, considering the Politico piece which mentioned us in June was titled “Atheists keep faith with Barack Obama.”]

The article itself is devoted to highlighting ways the Obama administration has disappointed the secular movement.  He hasn’t followed through on his promises about the Faith-Based Initiatives, he nominated Rep. John McHugh to be Army Secretary (read more here), he’s invoking God’s name more than Bush did, etc.

But here’s a part that I thought was worth repeating:

Secularists say they’re not asking for heaven here on earth, and they realize that much has improved. [Said Galef:] “This is a better administration than the one we had. It’s not perfect; politics is never perfect.”

I think that’s important to keep in mind.  We didn’t think that the new administration signaled victory and that we could go home. In politics, there’s constant give-and-take,  disagreement, and series of compromises.

We – like every other political force – are striving to be a more important faction in that conversation.  We’re not the only one; we can’t expect to get our way every time.  But that’s just it: we’re one of the political forces.  It feels good to reflect upon that.

There’s more to be done, but we’ve made important strides forward.  One of the our favorite lines at the Secular Coalition for America is “You have a new place at the table.”  And we do.


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  • Reginald Selkirk

    Secularists say they’re not asking for heaven here on earth

    Of course they’re not asking for Heaven.

  • Epistaxis

    That’s better than our old place under the table, fighting with the gays for crumbs.

  • Luther

    The chair in the back looks shorter than the rest. That must be ours…or maybe the chair is the same size and the trap door is already open.

  • benjdm

    Much has improved? We still have a President who seeks out conservative religious leaders for regular advice, still have Faith Based Initiatives, just appointed a Secretary of the Army who is awful on first amendment matters…

    Little has improved.

  • Lehooo

    I don’t mean to rub your faces in it (and by you I mean Americans), but I can’t help but reflect on the difference between the religious situation in America and the one in my country, Sweden. Over here, religion is simply not an issue in politics, it basically never even gets mentioned. Politicians don’t ever mention god, and we don’t have any relgious lobby groups with any power or influence. Of course I understand that it feels good that secularism finally has a voice, but it’s worth noting that the battle is not between religion and atheism, it’s between secularism and theocracy (although the use of that word might be a bit of an exaggeration). It shouldn’t have to be the case that those who want politicians to stay neutral on the topic of religion should have to fight those who wish to base public policy on anything else than the facts and opinions concerning the natural world. It of course brings hope to see Obama make speeches such as this: YouTube: Obama Breaks Down Why We Need Separation of Church & State, but it’s somewhat frightening that he has to point it out to begin with, and even more frightening that he seems to feel a need to balance his apparent struggle for secularism by constantly mentioning god, just to make some sort of compromise with the religious right.

  • DreamDevil

    Lehoo, you’re not being completely honest. One of the parties in the Right Block is called the Christian Democrats. Also, while lobbying isn’t present in the way that it is in DC, there are still plenty of interest groups trying to influence politicians.

    I think you’re suffering from the all too common “Greatest Country in the World” syndrome that we love to criticize Americans for.

  • So Obama used the phrase “non-believers” in a few spechees. Is that all it takes to have “non-believers” in his pocket? I hope not.

    Obama won’t even nominate an open atheist to anything. Heck, he just nominated Collins to head the NIH.

    It is true we can’t expect to get our way every time, but the fact is we haven’t got anything yet…

  • Dan W

    We have a President who’s willing to listen to atheists and those who want the government to be more secular, which is an improvement. However, Obama hasn’t done much besides listen to what many of us have to say. He’s supported stem cell research, but then he appointed Collins to head the NIH. He hasn’t gotten rid of the Faith Based Initiatives, he hasn’t done much for us really. Things have improved only by a small amount.