As part of its Educate Congress Campaign, FFRF has been working hard to represent nonbelievers on Capitol Hill and to keep state and church separate. In April, FFRF sent Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel and Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott to Washington, D.C., for a lobby day hosted by the Secular Coalition for America (SCA).
FFRF is a member of SCA, which is a “nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to amplifying the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States.” Every year, SCA hosts its lobby day, where constituents from around the country visit D.C., and, with the help of SCA and its member organizations, lobby Congress on important issues.
Seidel moderated a panel on the First Amendment Defense Act and the Do No Harm Act, with attorneys from the Human Rights Campaign, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
He also penned an op-ed for Religion News Service, “Redefining religious freedom as religious privilege,” that focused on First Amendment Defense Act and was in every SCA packet that went to more than 90 offices for meetings and was discussed during the morning training.
During the lobby day, FFRF staff worked with SCA constituents who were flying solo, including Chauncey Williams from Colorado. As Williams, Elliott and Seidel were waiting in Sen. Cory Gardner’s office, Sen. Cory Booker walked in and exclaimed, “I hereby claim this office in the name of all Corys.” Then he went into a closed-door meeting with Sens. Jeff Merkley, Rand Paul, Elizabeth Warren and Gardner.
Seidel and Elliott were able to drop in on Reps. Jamie Raskin and Jerry McNerney and thank them for creating the House’s first Freethought Caucus “on behalf of our 33,000 members who are thrilled to see this happen.” This brought big smiles to staffers’ faces. Seidel and Elliott also met with several offices to discuss a number of issues important to the secular community, including the First Amendment Defense Act (boo!), the Do No Harm Act (yay!), and vouchers (boo!).
Along the way, they did have some fun, too. They were able to meet and briefly chat with Rep. Beto O’Rourke and thank him for leading the charge defending the Johnson Amendment. He insisted on a fist bump. Seidel and Elliott were happy to oblige.
Elliott and Seidel also saw Scott Pruitt, a long-time foe of FFRF, and his extensive security entourage perp walk into his widely televised House hearings. Seidel and Pruitt tangled quite a bit when Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma. They had a back and forth of letters and op-eds when Pruitt tried to defend the distribution of bibles in public schools. FFRF opposed Pruitt’s nomination to run the EPA and submitted questions to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for use in grilling Pruitt. FFRF has been keeping an eye on Pruitt using the bible to justify environmental policy.
At the end of the day, the SCA awards dinner offered plenty of opportunities for networking with FFRF’s secular movement peers, journalists and congressional staff.
Barry Lynn, former long-time head of Americans United, was on hand to receive an award for his lifetime commitment to the separation of state and church. Sen. Mazie Hirono, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims, Rep. Jared Huffman and activist Gayle Jordan also accepted awards. In his acceptance speech, Huffman announced the formation of a historic group, the congressional Freethought Caucus. (See Page 15 for story.)
Lobbying senators and representatives directly is one more vital way FFRF can help uphold the constitutional separation of state and church and promote nontheism.