Report from D.C.’s New Secular Lobbyist: Lori Lipman Brown

By Lori Lipman Brown


Lori Lipman Brown

Since starting as the first paid staff for the Secular Coalition of America on September 19, 2005, I have been welcomed in more than 60 Congressional offices, lobbying on issues such as our opposition to religious discrimination in Head Start and the Workforce Investment Act, our struggle against vouchers for private religious schools, support of legislation to require that legal prescriptions be filled regardless of a pharmacist’s religious beliefs, supporting legislation requiring that federally funded sex education programs be factually based — not based on theologies, opposition to imposing a religious definition on civil marriage, and asking Congress to follow the law and stop supporting the Boy Scouts of America which discriminates based on religion.

The question I am most often asked on these lobby visits is, “Do you represent people in my district?” The answer to this is best expressed in the phone calls and emails received in response to our Action Alerts. If everyone reading this article were to sign up to be on this e-mail list (the sign up is available on the web at it would increase our power in Congress tremendously. These contacts carry much weight.

The Secular Coalition for America has been welcomed into three large, active lobbying groups. A group working on the Head Start issue, which includes religious organizations, civil rights groups, and labor unions, was happy to include our secular perspective. To fight religious vouchers, we have joined with education organizations as well as other church/state separation organizations. And those opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment were pleased to include our take on the FMA’s mixing of religion and government in all of their materials. We have experienced virtually no resistance to our organization’s inclusion in these larger groups, and none expressed any trepidation regarding aligning themselves with an atheist lobbyist. The simple fact that atheists and agnostics are now a part of these established political communities is, I think, progress in itself.

Our reception by viewers of right wing media has been less welcoming. The hate e-mail came fast and furious after my appearances on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor. (Less vehement responses followed appearances on John Gibson’s The Big Story, and Tucker Carlson’s The Situation.) However, my television appearances also resulted in new support from some viewers.

Media exposure in USA Today, Mother Jones Magazine, a front page story in The San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous other print and radio appearances resulted in positive feedback and additional support. My speaking engagements with groups like the Northern Virginia Ethical Society, San Francisco Atheists, the Philadelphia Freethought Society, and our active support at events regarding discrimination against nonbelievers in the Boy Scouts of America (Scouting for All), and the military have also garnered the Secular Coalition for America broad support.

We are especially fortunate that Ron Millar came on board as legislative assistant for a six-month internship on a very small stipend. His research, writing, and administrative work have made it possible for me to be an effective lobbyist and media spokesperson. So effective, in fact, that the board of the Secular Coalition for America agreed to continue its fundraising to a level which allowed it to offer Dr. Millar a permanent position, which he has accepted. Millar recently won an award for his outstanding Ph.D. dissertation which looked at the effect of interest groups on Supreme Court decisions.

Both Ron and I have agreed to work for a much smaller salary than would normally be offered for this type of work because we are passionately committed to securing constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state. We are also committed to combating society’s denigration of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists. In fact, our business cards (as well as our brochures) specify our constituencies on them: “Atheists. Humanists. Freethinkers. Americans.” While it may be the first time some of these Congress members and their staffs have ever received a business card which specifies “atheists” on it, not one has ever flinched or in any way treated me with any less respect than any of my religious colleagues who work on these issues. We are already making tremendous progress.

We are especially excited about the addition of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to our Coalition this year. The staff, directors, and other member groups of the Secular Coalition for America have long admired the amazing work the Foundation has done in the courts, in their writings, in the media, and, of course, in the world of secular song. We are honored that FFRF agreed to become a member organization of the Secular Coalition for America.

Foundation member Lori Lipman Brown served in the Nevada State Senate and worked as a lawyer and an educator before being hired as Director of the Secular Coalition for America ( in September of 2005. In this position, Brown is the first Congressional lobbyist representing atheists and freethinkers. She works on federal church/state issues.

Brown is the recipient of awards from numerous organizations including the ACLU of Southern Nevada, the National Association of Social Workers Nevada Chapter, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, Valley Outreach Synagogue, and Interweave Continental. Brown is a national media spokesperson on television, radio, and in print. She also presents workshops, participates in panels, and presents talks around the nation.

Freedom From Religion Foundation