Secular Coalition Gets Namby Pamby About Obama and Jill Stein
One subject that hasn’t come up in any of the presidential debates orchestrated by the Republican and Democratic parties: Upholding separation of church and state. The candidates have been pushed by moderators to justify their public policies using private religious beliefs, but in no debate has anyone asked what the candidates plan to do (or not to do) to protect Americans’ First Amendment right to be free of government establishment of religion.
One organization that has pledged to speak up for separation of church and state when others fail to do so: The Secular Coalition for America. The Secular Coalition lobbies Congress for policies that respect the American tradition of leaving government out of matters of religion.
As lobbyists, rather than grassroots activists, the people at the Secular Coalition have a delicate line to walk. They have to stay true to the secular Americans who fund their organization, but they also have to maintain a friendly relationship with elected officials, so that they can keep up an effective line of communication on relevant issues.
The danger of cultivating friendly relationships with elected officials for issue-oriented lobbyists is that these relationships of power can come to overshadow the issues that motivate the lobbying in the first place. In order to keep access to elected officials, lobbyists can compromise the ideals that they are supposed to represent.
The Secular Coalition for America appears to have taken a step in that direction with its 2012 General Election Presidential Candidate Scorecard, which, as its name implies, scores the presidential candidates on their policy positions – in this case, on the candidates’ positions on issues related to the separation of church and state.
The grade earned by Mitt Romney on this scorecard is easy to predict. He got an F. Mitt Romney proposes all sorts of ways of giving the federal government more power to control American citizens’ relationships with religious organizations.
Barack Obama doesn’t offer a stark contrast to Mitt Romney’s failure to uphold the ideals of the First Amendment, however. Barack Obama has used churches as campaign tools. He’s worked with a string of bigoted preachers who promote government establishment of restrictive Christian social engineering. Obama has expanded the corrupt White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives and refused to reform that program’s allocation of government money to projects that engage in employment discrimination on the basis of religion. So, Obama gets a low grade from the Secular Coalition, too: A C.
So, what can secular American voters do? Where can we look for a leader to support the separation of church and state?
We happen to know that there is another choice: Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate. The Secular Coalition scorecard acknowledges Stein’s existence. Sadly, the Secular Coalition found a way to brush her off, giving her a grade of incomplete.
What we know about Jill Stein is extremely positive, when it comes to the separation of church and state. In fact, the Secular Coalition finds that for every category in its survey that Stein has addressed, she receives a grade of A – a perfect grade.
So, why did the Secular Coalition give Dr. Stein the incomplete grade? Its explanation is that Stein has not addressed every single aspect of separation of church and state that the scorecard addresses.
Is it really a disqualifying problem that there are some particular church and state issues that Jill Stein hasn’t spoken to? It’s hard to understand why it would be, given that Stein has clearly given strong, categorical support to the idea of separation of church and state, and has never, like Mitt Romney and Obama have, supported policies that undermine separation of church and state.
Every position Jill Stein has taken on the separation of church and state reflects a perfect, passing position. Stein has represented herself well on these issues. Yet, the Secular Coalition’s incomplete grade makes her seem absent.
I don’t know the internal politics of the decision to grade Stein in this way, but to my eye, this “incomplete” grade looks like a move calculated to forestall anger at the Secular Coalition from Democratic politicians and voters.
That’s a crass maneuver, and one that doesn’t represent the secular voters of the USA well.