The letter I got from Lori Lipman Brown of the Secular Coalition for America a couple weeks ago was upbeat:
“The Secular Coalition for America has been successful beyond my most optimistic hopes and dreams. This success is made possible by your generous contributions over the past few years.”
As I read these opening sentences of the letter, I stood still on the sidewalk, my mouth slack in disbelief.
What kind of success could the Secular Coalition for America claim to have had? The organization lobbies Congress on behalf of secular Americans of many kinds, but I can’t think of a single act of Congress in the last decade that has taken place to the benefit of secular Americans. On the contrary, the position of secular citizens has progressively eroded, thanks in part to a disdain for the separation of church and state that has developed among both Republican and Democratic politicians.
Reading on in the fundraising letter, I found what the Secular Coalition for America considers to be grounds for its claims of success:
“Since your last donation the Secular Coalition has grown dramatically. Our office now has five paid staff… Your continued annual support will allow us to plan our budgets and activities on a reliable foundation of dedicated supporter. A firm financial base permits us to seize opportunities to build on our successes.”
This is what Lori Lipman Brown suggests constitutes success for the Secular Coalition for America: That the organization has more employees, and more money.
While the Secular Coalition for America has been hiring more staff, the Democratic Party has been increasingly distancing itself from adherence to the First Amendment and the separation of church and state. The Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Barack Obama, has announced that instead of abolishing the abusive and unconstitutional White House program of so-called “faith-based” initiatives, he will expand the system of taxpayer-funded religious patronage.
In its letter, the Secular Coalition for America seems oblivious to this stark betrayal by the leader of the Democratic Party. The organization seems stuck in the belief that once the problem of mixing religion and government is confined to George W. Bush and his Republican followers.
“As you are well aware this Administration has been very successful in infusing President Bush’s personal religious beliefs into our secular government. From creating ‘armies of compassion’ through faith-based initiatives to his complicit approval of zealots in our armed forces – both civilian and military Christian evangelicals – who use their positions of authority to convert the ‘unchurched,’ President Bush has done a great dal of damage. When the Bush Administration leaves on January 20, 2009 (not that I’m counting), we must be ready to get to work repairing that damage.”
The sad truth is that with Barack Obama’s pledge to expand government-funded religious programs, when the Bush Administration leaves on January 20, 2009, the problem may soon become much worse. There has been no success in lobbying on behalf of Secular Americans. So far, the lobbying efforts of the Secular Coalition of America seem to have failed.
I’m not blaming the Secular Coalition for America for the general lack of success in defending the separation of Church and State from attacks by groups determined to grab government power and use it for religious purposes. It’s not the Coalition’s fault that Americans have become indifferent to the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. The Coalition has to work against extremely powerful forces, now that both the Democrats and Republicans are using churches as political campaign organizations and pandering to the leaders of big churches in order to gain their support.
In order to become successful, the Secular Coalition for America must grow as an institution. However, it is a profound mistake for the group to use its own institutional growth as a measurement of success. The primary purpose of the Secular Coalition for America is not to become big. Its primary purpose is to get political leaders to heed secular Americans as constituency that needs to be listened to.
So far, that hasn’t happened.