NASHVILLE (AP) — A national group of atheists plans to lobby Tennessee lawmakers on issues involving separation of church and state.
According to The Tennessean, the Secular Coalition for America announced intention on Tuesday to organize a local chapter aimed at increasing the clout of local atheists and agnostics.
Edwina Rogers, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based coalition, said 40 million Americans don’t identify with any religion but they have limited political influence because they haven’t been organized.
“This year, that changes,” Rogers said in an email on Monday.
There are 11 atheist and secular humanist groups involved in the coalition, which has focused on federal lobbying to date. The umbrella organization is now turning attention to state legislatures. The Tennessee General Assembly this year passed a bill seen by some as questioning evolution and opening the door to class discussion of creationism.
Laura Anderson Youngblood, communications manager for the Secular Coalition, said the group is not anti-religion.
“We are not trying to tell people that their religion is wrong,” Youngblood said. “We take issue with religious beliefs being inserted into secular law.”
Thaddeus Schwartz belongs to Secular Life, a local social group for nonbelievers. He plans to be on a conference call next week as the coalition works to set up a chapter in Tennessee.
Schwartz said nonbelievers have been reticent to politick and protest but said he sees the church-state separation focus as a logical rallying point.
“People who believe and who don’t believe ought to have the same protections,” he said.
Kevin Pierce, a Franklin resident who described himself as a secular humanist, said the group’s work is cut out for it.
“They’ll definitely face an uphill battle here in Tennessee,” Pierce said.
An American Religious Identification Survey found fewer than 2 percent of respondents said they were atheists or agnostics. However, about 15 percent of Americans express no particular religious affiliation.