This is a guest post written by Justin Scott. He’s a professional photographer and passionate atheist.
With fewer than 40 days until the Iowa caucuses, it’s crunch time for voters. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, neocons, war hawks, and bleeding hearts will come out on a February night to help select the next Presidential nominees from the two major political parties.
If I have anything to do with it, atheists will play an important role on that night.
As a lifelong Iowan, I feel privileged to live in a state where we have the ability to help influence the public discourse and political process. Here’s what I’m doing to maximize the impact atheists might have in our heavily religious state.
American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair once said, “Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer,” and that line keeps coming to mind. You’re an atheist? Great. What are you doing about it?
Once I came out as an atheist, I knew that was only the beginning. While some atheists are content to limit their activism to whatever they can do behind a computer screen, I feel like that’s not enough when it comes to the caucuses. I’ve agreed to help the Secular Coalition for America launch the Secular Coalition for Iowa in order to make sure we have a presence in politics in this state.
How will that help? Directly, we will be advocating across the state to get non-theist voters across who already planned on attending the caucuses to submit platform planks to their respective state party. Essentially we are trying to energize voters who support secular values to actually pass these messages to their respective parties, which will then affect their platforms during the upcoming election cycle.
In addition, I’ve been sending emails and making phone calls to local county leaders of both parties in all 99 counties asking when their next meetings are so that I (or an ally of our organization) can speak at their next meeting. In the 5-10 minutes we’re usually allotted, we’re hoping to get the word out about the SCIA and how average Iowa voters can help our efforts. I personally plan on attending up to 10 neighboring county political meetings between now and the end of January to spread the word about our coalition and how we hope to positively impact the Iowa Caucuses.
If we’re granted the green light to speak to the political groups, we’re not only getting the word out about our group but ultimately letting atheists (especially the closeted ones) know that we’re out there and that they can take part in helping us. It’s one of the few ways in which we can make ourselves known when we command the full attention of our audience.
Ideally, by caucus night, we’ll have rallied a large contingent of atheist voters who will be able to not only take part in the caucus process, but help us flood the state party offices with platform ideas that are secular in nature (e.g. reproductive rights, church/state separation). If we get enough support for these planks, they could become part of the state party’s platform. Once news outlets catch wind that many atheists/non-theists came out, there’s the opportunity for positive publicity for not only the SCIA/SCA but also for the entire atheist/secular movement.
One big thing that has already helped my efforts is when these leaders come out as atheists or tell me they also support secular values. Not only do they spread my message, they’ll also give us names of folks in their town/county who might be interested in helping us out.
It’s a very grassroots way to do something amazing in a short amount of time!
You might be wondering why we even bother reaching out to Republicans.
While I have no personal interest in getting “atheists to support Republicans,” it’s a way to reach atheists who happen to identify as Republican in an attempt to “right the ship” in terms of what’s important to that party and its vision for our country. Believe it or not, there are atheist Republicans who don’t agree with the Religious Right’s agenda. When Republican lawmakers begin hearing from atheist constituents, perhaps they’ll consider shifting away from legislation that is closer aligned to what one “Holy book” says. (It’s a stretch.)
I feel it’s important to do that, though, as I represent a non-partisan organization. We should be reaching out to voters of all parties — Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, even members of the Iowa Green Party — to let them know that we’re here and we invite them to ensure the secular nature of our government, no matter where they sit on the political spectrum.
With the caucus so close, there’s no better time to stand up for secular values and demand that our elected officials are guided by reason, not religion, when drafting legislation. By rallying non-theists across Iowa to this effort, our presence will be felt at caucus locations across the state.