Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation
I've been saying for years that public officials, and the media, haven't caught up with the changing secular demographics in the United States. The newest Pew report on the growing population of religiously "unaffiliated," released last week, begs for attention by public officials and political candidates.
As Pew reported, "The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing." Christians have dropped 8% in just seven years, to 70.6%, while the percentage of those of us who describe ourselves as atheists, agnostics or "nothing in particular" has jumped more than 6%, from 16% to 22.8%. About a third of millennials remain solidly secular.
As New York Times writer Charles Blow points out in a recent column ("Unaffiliated and underrepresented"), 92% of Congress identifies as Christian, 5% Jewish, 0.4% both Buddhist or Muslim and only 0.2% "unaffiliated." The "unaffiliated" would be Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., not that these figures are fully credible.
While believing in God may be a "gotcha" issue, and it may be far easier to raise money if you're part of the Religious Right, there have always been closeted members of Congress. After all, a Pew poll last year found that not believing in God is the most negative trait a presidential candidate could have, so what ambitious national politician is going to look forward to coming out of that closet?
Blow correctly wonders "how long can this overrepresentation of Christianity and underrepresentation of the unaffiliated last in government?"
He also points to the paranoia of the Religious Right, which is panicking over what I call the "re-Enlightenment" in the United States, acting as if a return to secularism is an attack on Christianity. "The issue in America," Blow observes, "is less that Christians are persecuted as much as peevish."
The secular movement has the power to swing elections. Yet who is courting our vote?
If nonreligious Americans even get a nod, it's been as a mere afterthought by recent presidents in the context of religious freedom proclamations. Minorities much less statistically significant than the "nones" are routinely courted, while seculars have to pinch ourselves to know we exist. The fact that atheists and nonbelievers remain at the bottom of the totem poll in social acceptance shows the continuing domination of blind faith in our society.
Blow points out that the "unaffiliated" supported Obama over Romney by 51% in the last presidential election. For now, Blow writes, "unaffiliated is an identity as yet unaware of its power."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, while devoutly apolitical and nonpartisan, has long been aware of the power of secularists. We called attention to our presence in the last presidential election, releasing "I'm Secular and I Vote" T-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers (still available at ffrf.org/shop). We've also sponsored "I'm Secular and I Vote" billboards.
We nonreligious are purists when it comes to secular government. At nearly 23% of the U.S. population and growing, it's time to flex some secular muscle and demand that politicians not only pay us some heed, but start promoting secular platforms.
We're seeing the heartening and overdue rejection of religious influence when it comes to gay rights and marriage equality. Now it's time to direct some attention to the right to be free of religious dogma when it comes to women and reproductive rights, increasingly under attack. We need a reason-based, not faith-based, response to climate change. We need to safeguard secular education and reject schemes to defund public education.
"Freedom depends on freethinkers" is FFRF's motto, coined by "Born Again Skeptic" author and early FFRF member Ruth Hurmence Green. Freethought is not only an intellectually respectable position —it's a must for progress, for humane government and for world peace.
LISA TREU is our Director Of First Impressions at FFRF. She comes to us after working in broadcasting for iHeart Radio in Madison, Wisconsin. She hosted various radio programs for fifteen years. Lisa and her husband ran their own Birdhouse/Birdfeeder manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg., Inc. during the 1990’s where she had her own line of decorative birdhouses that she designed and painted herself. Lisa is the wife of Harry and is the mother of twin daughters Katrina and Karinthia. In her spare time she enjoys reading, painting, gardening, feeding the birds, getting silly with her daughters and lounging with her two cats.
JAKE SWENSON started as FFRF’s first graphic designer in 2015. He was born in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated with a degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. He enjoys music, cycling, photography, traveling, and coffee.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new legislation this Tuesday, May 12, that would offer up to $50 million annually in tax credits for donors who contribute to scholarship funds for private and religious school tuition.
Scholarship tax credit programs such as the one proposed by Cuomo have become a model for states that unwisely wish to subsidize private and religious education, particularly in states with a constitutional ban on school vouchers. These tax credit programs are yet another dubious "school choice" scheme that, like school vouchers, siphon funding from the public school system in support of private religious schools. Governor Cuomo's proposal creates a backdoor voucher system that would encourage donations to pay for private religious school tuition.
Education tax credits primarily benefit religious schools (which make up the majority of private schools). This bill is a huge priority for religious communities, particularly Orthodox Jewish and Roman Catholic. Cuomo even campaigned in support of education tax credits this week with the state's top Catholic leader, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who described the governor's proposal as "logical and so compelling." Many Catholic school administrators undoubtedly view the education tax credit program as a "Hail Mary" that they hope will stabilize declining Catholic school enrollment.
The proposed law is detrimental to New York's public schools. Tell your legislators, particularly members of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, that tax credits should not be used to finance religious instruction. Instead, tax money should be invested in the public school system to ensure that quality secular education is available to all New York students.
For more information about vouchers and tax credit programs, visit FFRF's Voucher FAQ: Dispelling the Myth of "School Choice."
Please phone and email members of the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee about this important issue.
Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste wording below. Mention if you are a constituent, a New York citizen, and if you have children in New York state schools.
[I am writing as a constituent, a New York citizen and taxpayer/with children in New York public schools.] I strongly oppose the Education Investment Incentives Act (including A02551 and S1976-2015), or any program to give tax breaks for donations to organizations that fund private religious education.
Tax credits should not be siphoned from public coffers and used to incentivize the financing of religious instruction. Instead, tax money should be invested in the public school system to ensure that quality secular education is available to all New York students.
Please vote against this unnecessary bill that would be disastrous for public education.