As the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s new Director of Governmental Affairs, based in Washington, D.C., I want to tell you about our strategic direction and how we can influence policy, uphold the separation of state and church and stand up for the freethought community.
To briefly introduce myself, I’ve previously worked with the Secular Coalition for America and Compassion & Choices as a lobbyist to help democratize the playing field. I plan to continue in that tradition in representing you and the other members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation on Capitol Hill.
My goal as FFRF’s first director of governmental affairs is to bring nonbelieving citizens into government. I want to make government work for our freethought community; achieve tangible legislative victories; bring your thoughts and ideas into Congress; help make the Freedom from Religion Foundation the premier nontheistic advocacy organization on Capitol Hill; and use the legislative process to shore up the separation between state and church.
Each month, I’ll be giving you a legislative update that goes beyond the headlines so you can see, in plain language, what we are doing here in Washington, D.C., and how it is advancing the freethought movement.
One of the reasons why I wanted to join the staff of the Freedom from Religion Foundation as its first governmental affairs director was to go after the big issues. Those challenges include removing religious refusals and exemptions — especially in health care realms such as vaccinations to protect children — and creating a fairer system in which religious and nonreligious organizations are on a level ground.
And with religious fundamentalism comprising the primary opposition to LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom or to combat climate change, we will be there as well. FFRF will work with our allies in Congress, especially the Congressional Freethought Caucus, to make sure that a fundamentalist vision of America does not become reality.
Recent legislative victory
We have recently achieved a solid victory. Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee (the committee in Congress with jurisdiction on taxes and revenue), was advancing a bill (HR 1994) designed to make changes in retirement savings policy. In an attempt to make the retirement legislation appeal to conservative members, Neal sought to add an amendment to allow tax-free dollars from 529 accounts to be used to pay for homeschooling and certain K-12 expenses, including at private and religious schools.
FFRF quietly advocated on the Hill, with our allies in the National Coalition to Preserve Public Education, to educate Neal and the leadership and members of the Democratic Caucus why expanding 529 accounts is harmful to our secular values. And, to his credit, Neal heeded our advice and dropped the provision.
Sometimes our victories may not be known until they have been completed. Other times, we will be able to give you regular updates on what is happening, and let you know how you can influence the legislative process with office visits, phone calls, letters to the editor, or through FFRF’s automated action alerts. I am confident there will be more victories in the months to come.
I’ll be at the FFRF National Convention in Madison, Wis., from Oct. 18-20, where I hope we can spend a little time together. I want to know what is happening in your life and how we can use our legislative skills to help make a tangible difference.
All the best,
Director of Governmental Affairs
Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.