CFI Advocacy Update — April 2018
April 30, 2018
April was a busy month for the Office of Public Policy.
It’s been a while since our last monthly roundup. With apologies for the interruption, this is my first update as CFI’s Director of Government Affairs. I’m excited to share our work advancing reason, science, and humanist values in government. Thanks for reading!
-Jason Lemieux, Director of Government Affairs
The Office of Public Policy (OPP) is the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy arm of the Center for Inquiry (CFI). Our mandate is to advocate for reason, science, and humanist values in federal, state, and local government.
In April 2018, CFI’s public policy advocacy was mainly focused at the federal level:
School Vouchers – When the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) alerted its member organizations that the arch-conservatives at Heritage Action for America were promoting legislation that would divert money from public schools in military communities to parents who shift their children to private religious schools, we came to action.
In April, CFI played a major role in the coalition’s efforts to educate lawmakers and staff on the harmful aspects of this bill. We met with dozens of members of the House Armed Services Committee, where the bill is expected to receive a vote in May, to make clear that we stand against legislation that carves out special benefits for religious belief and forces non-religious Americans to fund religious instruction. On April 17, Director of Government Affairs Jason Lemieux published an op-ed against the proposal in the San Antonio Express News. (A retired Army colonel even wrote a letter to the editor agreeing with Jason that school vouchers won’t help military families.) On April 23, we sent an action alert to CFI members.
We continue to stand with our coalition partners in calling for Congress to reject this legislation. Expect to hear more from us in the weeks to come.
Military Humanist Chaplains – Dr. Jason Heap was recently rejected from serving as a secular humanist chaplain in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps. The Navy’s decision came after a military advisory body recommended that it approve Dr. Heap’s application. Dr. Heap would have been the first secular humanist commissioned to provide pastoral care to the U.S. military.
Nonbelievers in the military face the same difficult questions about life, death, and morality as anyone else. Our constitutional right to freedom of and from religion requires that the military’s pastoral care be made available to every service member regardless of their individual beliefs. And much of what U.S. military chaplains do is overtly secular, whether it’s administering post-deployment transition programming, providing suicide prevention training, or just lending an ear to a grieving service member who lost their comrade. A secular humanist chaplain would serve our military on the same secular ground as any other chaplain.
But some members of Congress hate the idea that the military might embrace nonbelievers as full equals. Representative Doug Lamborn and Senator Roger Wicker led congressional letters demanding that the Navy reject Dr. Heap to protect theistic belief systems from “dilution” by atheists or nonbelievers in the Chaplain Corps. In other words, they want a government agency to discriminate against nonbelievers both in employment and in the provision of life-affirming services.
CFI joined the American Humanist Association and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to educate members of the armed services committees on two things: the right of nonreligious service members to full pastoral care that acknowledges and welcomes their lack of faith, and the right of nonreligious Americans to nondiscrimination in employment, which applies as much to military officer commissions in the chaplain corps as it does anywhere. It’s not clear where Congress will go from here, but CFI will be there to remind them that our military must include and respect the equality of atheists and nonbelieving service members.
Secular Coalition for America’s 2018 Lobby Day and Secular Values Summit – On April 25, Director of Government Affairs Jason Lemieux co-taught a workshop with Alison Gill, Legal and Policy Director for American Atheists, at the Secular Coalition’s annual Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. Nearly 100 attendees viewed Jason and Alison’s presentation on how to lobby the federal government before practicing in small groups for afternoon meetings with lawmakers. In the span of a few hours, secular Americans met with more than 100 congressional offices to defend our right to freedom from religious discrimination. CFI extends our thanks and congratulations to the Secular Coalition for organizing this incredibly successful event.
James Bridenstine’s Nomination to NASA Administrator – CFI issued an eleventh-hour action alert to oppose the impending confirmation of James Bridenstine as Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Why? Because Bridenstine denies humanity’s role in climate change, he supports discrimination against his would-be LGBTQ employees, and he has no scientific experience apart from managing an air and space museum. Disgracefully, Mr. Bridenstine was confirmed 50-49 on a party line vote. CFI continues to call for leaders who embrace science and evidence-based policy in our country’s government agencies.
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