By Mark Dann
To paraphrase Taylor Swift: Legislators are gonna legislate. And the Freedom From Religion Foundation is making your secular voice heard in that process.
Congress is resuming normal order and looking to pass appropriations bills to fund the government. FFRF has been using this part of the legislative process to fight for your secular rights. FFRF has also continued to build bridges and cultivate allies in Washington during the COVID crisis by joining the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
FFRF has been urging the House to use the appropriations process to tell the Trump administration that religious exemptions are not acceptable and that the separation of state and church must be preserved. This year, we’ve worked with our allies in the Congressional Freethought Caucus to focus on inserting strong nondiscrimination language and defunding harmful regulations that promote religious exemptions. The House has delivered.
The appropriations bill includes strong language (Section 248) denying funds to any organization that discriminates on the basis of age, disability, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact, the bill goes further and bars funding for the implementation of several anti-religious-liberty Trump administration regulations and administrative actions that greatly expand religious exemptions in health care (Section 245), the awarding of federal contracts (Section 114) and in abortion and reproductive care (Section 244). (The bill currently retains the Hyde Amendment barring federal funds from being used for abortion care for low-income recipients on Medicaid and Medicare, which FFRF opposes.)
These types of issues — securing rights and denying funding for regulations that harm the separation of state and church — aren’t usually brought up during appropriations. However, these are not traditional times and, with FFRF’s help, the House is recognizing the uniqueness of this moment.
Unlike legal victories, policy requires building strong relationships with like-minded organizations. We have achieved a major milestone in this area: FFRF has officially become a member of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights. The Leadership Conference was born out of the civil rights movement. It was founded by A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (and a freethinker who declared, “Prayer is not one of our remedies,”); Roy Wilkins of the NAACP; and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. The Leadership Conference networks FFRF with other like-minded organizations fighting on a whole host of issues that touch on state-church, from making our courts fairer to removing religious exemptions in health care. We’ve been able to share intelligence and coordinate grassroots lobbying, communications efforts and polling data.
The Leadership Conference will make our advocacy more effective and help to increase the impact of your donations and grassroots efforts. Our participation in this group is also raising FFRF’s profile and helping showcase the importance of secular government across a whole host of other issues, including education, science-based policy, global climate change, religious freedom, health care, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, reproductive justice — and so much more.
The news has been brutal over the past four months. But FFRF has never stopped fighting for your rights and taking that fight into new arenas. These two highlights are victories, and we should savor them.
With your help, we can expect more victories and a strong finish in 2020.
Mark Dann is FFRF’s director of governmental affairs and lives in Washington, D.C.