Justin Scott, the atheist from Iowa who made a splash during the presidential primaries by asking candidates what they would say to non-religious voters, is still at it. (FSM bless him.)
Last night, he stopped Iowa Governor Terry Branstad after a Republican rally and asked him for his thoughts on the rising number of non-religious voters. What message did Branstad want to send to them?
The answer was not very encouraging…
SCOTT: What do you do with the non-believers in this country, with the growing number of those that don’t affiliate with any certain religion? It’s on the rise, especially with the young voters.
SCOTT: How do we get them involved? What do we do with them?
BRANSTAD: Well, I think we need to try to lead by example. I mean, it’s like, you know, taking our children to church and encouraging them to get involved.
SCOTT: But many of the non-believers don’t go to church.
BRANSTAD: I know. But that’s a reason why parents need to try to provide some leadership and encourage that. And encourage our children to stay involved, even when they go off to college. And that’s a challenge.
That might be a good answer to the question, “What should Christian parents do about young people leaving the church?”
That’s an awful answer to the question of how we should get non-religious people involved in the political process.
I’m tempted to chalk it up to misunderstanding, but Justin’s questions seem pretty damn clear to me. Branstad heard a question about non-religious people and his instinct was to talk about how to prevent them from becoming non-religious.
The Center For Inquiry was deeply troubled with his response:
“Proselytizing and church sermons are not how you engage secular Americans in politics — it’s how you alienate them,” said Cody Hashman, an Iowa native and organizer of the Center for Inquiry’s Openly Secular campaign. “What nones and nonbelievers need is to be recognized and respected by their representatives. Secular Americans deserve an equal voice in our political process, and their values and concerns need to be taken seriously by our leaders and institutions.”
“For a sitting governor to assert that church and religious belief are the way into political involvement is deeply disappointing. As an Iowan, I would hope our governor would look to connect with his secular constituents, not convert them,” said Hashman. “Don’t preach to us, governor. Reach out to us.”
It’s not Branstad’s first time urging his constituents to find God. In 2014, he signed a proclamation calling on all Iowans to embrace Christianity specifically. And even though he signed a more generic “Day of Reason” proclamation in 2015, there was another one earlier this year asking Iowans to “read through the Bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.”
Maybe there’s something in Iowa’s water. In 2009, when local atheists put up bus ads saying, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” Branstad’s predecessor, Democrat Chet Culver, said he was “disturbed personally by the advertisement.”