CHEYENNE — After 10 years of lobbying at the national level, an organization of atheists and agnostics is turning its attention to the states, including Wyoming.
The Secular Coalition for American will make its initial effort to organize a chapter in Wyoming this month.
If successful, the Wyoming chapter will lobby state lawmakers in favor of a strong separation of religion and government.
Lauren Anderson Youngblood is the coalition’s communications manager. She said the group didn’t single out Wyoming and its Legislature, which has debated controversial social issue legislation in recent years. Anderson said the coalition’s goal is to establish chapters in all states by the end of the year, and Wyoming was next on the list.
Youngblood said, “Some of the most egregious legislation that attempts to mix religion and government is happening at the state level.”
“Lots of legislation to insert religions into government and to create exemptions based on religion, this is something we’re seeing throughout the states,” Youngblood continued. “We felt we need to lobby state legislators and educate them on why the separation of religion and government is so important.”
The first organizing call for the coalition in Wyoming will be at noon Wednesday.
Interested participants are encouraged to call in to the meeting at 530-881-1400, participant access code: 978895.
Participation is open to anyone who supports a strong separation of religion and government and wants to get involved, irrespective of personal religious beliefs.
After that call, the coalition will start forming a chapter in Wyoming and will help set up a website and provide training and other materials.
Other chapters and the call-in phone number for chapter conference calls are available at secular.org/about/states.
No specific legislative agenda has been set for the Wyoming chapter yet.
In addition to legislation that attempts to insert religion into secular laws, the coalition targets attempts to use taxpayer money to promote religions or religious beliefs.
So far the coalition has held successful initial organizing calls for new chapters in 38 states.
The Wyoming Association of Churches shares the concerns of the Secular Coalition regarding the separation of church and state, said spokesman Chesie Lee.
“We don’t want the state to be telling religions what they should be doing or one particular religion,” Lee said Wednesday.
The church group doesn’t oppose the objectives of the Secular Coalition, which has the right to organize and have a voice in the Legislature, she added.
“It might be interesting that we could work together on some issues regarding separation of church and state,” Lee said.
The church association, which includes a broad diversity of denominations and a variety of beliefs, last month adopted a resolution spelling out its positions.
The resolution, among other things, says the churches “support public policies that both respect religious liberty and protect against the use of religious beliefs or traditions to discriminate or undermine equality.”
It also says that public policy “should not unnecessarily impose or give privilege to any one particular viewpoint.”
Edwina Rogers, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, said in a release that there are 40 million Americans who do not identify with any religions but have had only limited political influence because they have not been organized.
A recent Pew Forum study said that 29 percent of Wyoming residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and 53 percent disagreed that “religion is very important to their lives,” according to the coalitions release.
Another Pew study found that the majority of Americans (54 percent) say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters, and 38 percent say that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders.
The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)(4) organization that serves as the national lobby for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. Composed of 11 diverse member organizations, SCA works to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. For more information, visit www.secular.org.