A Republican to Head the Secular Coalition for America?

Edwina Rogers has just been announced as the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, the national lobby on behalf of secularism in politics. She has a long career of service to the Republican party:

From 2001-2002, Rogers served as an Economic Advisor for President George W. Bush at the White House, at the National Economic Council, where she focused on health and social security policy. She also worked on International Trade matters for President George H. W. Bush at the Department of Commerce from 1989 until 1991.

Rogers served as General Counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1994. She worked for Senator Lott while he was Majority Leader in 1999 and she handled health policy for Senator Sessions in 2003 and 2004. She practiced law in the Washington office of Balch and Bingham from 1991 until 1994.

In 1996, she was a Fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Rogers received her B.S. in Corporate Finance from the University of Alabama and a J.D. from Catholic University in Washington D.C

The SCA posted an interview with Rogers yesterday:

Have you always been a secularist? How do you describe yourself and your beliefs?
I am a nontheist, but tend to shy away from labels, because I think they have a way of creating division within the movement. I have always been a firm secularist and an ardent supporter of the separation of religion and government. I am passionate about increasing the respect for nontheists in the United States and protecting the secular character of our government. I think that America is a place where there should be no religious test for participation in political life. I certainly feel that theists should be fully able to participate in public life—but no more than nontheists. I am not here to end religion.

How do you think your Republican background will play into your role here at the Secular Coalition? 
My Republican background will help open certain doors that may have been closed to the secular movement before. It’s a misnomer that the majority of Republicans believe in the comingling of religion and government. The Religious Right is a vocal part of the Republican Party, but it’s also a minority. Most Republicans don’t necessarily agree with them, but may simply take a laissez faire attitude on that particular topic because they haven’t been engaged on the issues. If we aim to combat the political influence of those who want to see religion inserted in our secular government we will have to work with decision makers on both sides of the aisle—and I am uniquely qualified to help the Secular Coalition do that.

Hemant Mehta also has a long interview with Rogers:

Can Republicans in Congress ever be receptive to our cause? Do you think your own background can help in that matter?

The answers are yes and yes. Last month I participated in SCA’s Lobby Day for Reason and was received very warmly by the offices of several high profile Republican U.S. Representatives. There have been times in my past as a lobbyist, where I was thrown out of politicians’ offices when they didn’t like my message — this wasn’t one of them. There is definitely an opening there, and we are going to work to make our issues known and widely accepted by those on both sides.

My Republican background will help open certain doors. The sky is really the limit. Good work has been done but it’s only a foundation, and now we’re going to build a skyscraper. On the top of my agenda for this year will be meeting with every U.S. House and Senate office, as well as the appropriate committees. We are going to educate them on the downside of allowing laws to be based on religion and faith and not reason and science…We need to strive to have an absolute division between religion and government, but keep in mind that we need to be respectful and open to people of all faiths and none. No one — religious or non-religious — should be excluded from the conversation. But ultimately, the laws shouldn’t be based on a religious perspective.

Read much more.

I have to chew this over a bit. Help me out. Your Thoughts?


My follow up posts: The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Republican To Represent Secularists and Edwina Rogers vs. Michael J. Fox

Elsewhere on Freethought Blogs:

IntroducingEdwina Rogers 
Attempting the Impossible?
Controversy comes with the new Secular Coalition for America Executive Director
I won’t comment
A Republican to Head the Secular Coalition for America?
Who is going to be our spokesperson on Capitol Hill?
Despicable Right-Wing Political Hack New Director of the Secular Coalition for America
Secular Coalition For… The Right Wing GOP?
Edwina Rogers: the unanswered questions


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Drunken Mall Santa
Discipline, Tradition, and Freedom
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • jamessweet

    I don’t like it. I’m not hopping mad or anything, and maybe she’s right that it will “open doors”. But I still don’t like it.

  • Rob Monkey

    I know they’re not Bob Jones University or anything, but Catholic University? Are we sure that there isn’t just a different definition for “secularist” among the Republicans, like one of those vegetarians who also eats poultry?

    She may say that the Religious Right is a minority within the Republican Party, but all the evidence of recent history seems to point otherwise. Maybe she means only a minority actually believe in Jebus, but that doesn’t matter if a majority still votes the way the godbots do.

  • mutt50

    The Republican party deliberately and cynically reaches out to bigots, even if they don’t buy into their beliefs, they empower these people. Then of course, there’s torture, endless war, etc.
    Yeah, I’ll bet some doors open.

  • slc1

    Having admitted to being a non-theist, her chances of a future in the Rethuglican Party are slim and none and slim is on the bus headed out of town.

  • http://consideredexclamations.blogspot.com/ Andrew T

    Oh good, more of the same from this level of the movement. Another upper class white person who is happy with pretty much anything so long as it becomes cool to not believe in God. Not holding my breath for a lot of innovation or pushing for social change from the SCA any time in the future.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    I’m cautiously optimistic about this. Like it or not, we secularists have a high political mountain to climb, and it can’t hurt to have a sherpa who understands how to navigate the cliffs. We’re politically disorganized, although strides have been made in recent years. I view Ms. Rogers as a technician with a skill set that is useful to building political clout. As distasteful as I find the Republican worldview, I’m not ready to reject help from anyone associated with the party on that basis alone. If she’s true to secular values and advocates forcefully for them, she might indeed help advance the cause. If she looks like she’s selling us short (or out), the godless hordes will turn on her soon enough.

    • Janstince

      A technician? I could understand her being in that position. She knows who to talk to to get whatever done, she knows how to approach people to not get their dander up immediately, she knows who will be willing to bend on each issue and who will not be worth wasting time on. So yeah, I could see her being very helpful as a political technician.

      But, and here’s the part that sticks in my craw, they appointed her Executive Director. That’s not a technician’s position, that’s more like a VP of Operations or Service or something. They’re not just using her expertise, they’re putting her behind the wheel. And that, my friend, is something I don’t like. Guess we’ll see how it plays out.

  • http://www.reason-being.com reasonbeing

    I too am cautiously optimistic about this. First, it is a common mistake to assume that all atheists are liberal or Democrats. I am both, but have had a few comments left on my blog from people who were not. Simply because she is a Republican is not enough to dismiss her in my book.

    Second, she if she can truly open some doors of government that were previously closed, that can only be seen as a good thing. Many people on both sides of the aisle do not listen to us. She has a history and a skill set that might change that.

    Third, like anyone else, I am going to wait and judge her on her record. I do not like being put in a box or judged for being a liberal, democratic, atheist. I want to be judged based on my record. From where I sit, she deserves the same chance.

    I used the word cautious at the start of this comment, because like many of you my initial reaction was a double take. However, give her a chance, time will tell us what we need to know.

    • Matt Penfold

      I too am cautiously optimistic about this. First, it is a common mistake to assume that all atheists are liberal or Democrats. I am both, but have had a few comments left on my blog from people who were not. Simply because she is a Republican is not enough to dismiss her in my book.

      She also identifies as being conservative, which should be enough. As Nick Cohen pointed wrote only couple of months ago, the problem with conservatives is that they have been wrong on every social issue for the last 200 years.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      She also identifies as being conservative, which should be enough. As Nick Cohen pointed wrote only couple of months ago, the problem with conservatives is that they have been wrong on every social issue for the last 200 years.

      Word is she’s pro-gay and pro-choice.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=567079972 craigmotbey

      Republican lobbyist, “Pro-gay and pro-choice”.

      So, instead of being a true believer in the bigotry that forms the core of modern Republican ideology, she’s merely someone who is willing to trade off the civil rights of her fellows in return for pay.

      Wonderful. Which fucking idiots were responsible for this decision?

    • Matt Penfold

      Word is she’s pro-gay and pro-choice.

      So not really a Republican after all, or one in name only. Are we supposed to think that other Republicans are so stupid they will not realise she is only pretending to be one of them ?

  • mutt50

    I don’t know if opening doors in gov’t is the key. Usually social changes happen from the bottom up. And I don’t trust the elites not to use secularism like they use the theocrats, if it’s to their advantage. After all, class is much thicker than religion.
    IOW, if secularism becomes another rich, white, yuppie project, we’re really doomed. It just means secularists can be greedy, warmongering assholes, too.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of repubs, like Rogers, weren’t closet atheists who didn’t want to piss off the believers.
    Of course, I’m sure she spoke out forcefully against the religious right when she worked for the Bush folks.

  • inflection

    I think she deserves every chance. Republicans are not the Devil.

    • Dalillama

      No, they’re far, far worse than the Devil, not least because they’re real.

    • Matt Penfold

      Well, it really rather depends on whether she actually is a Republican.

      If she supports the attempts of her party to oppose same-sex marriage, restrict access to abortion and all the rest of the illiberal baggage that party pushes these days. then she is clearly not someone most of us would consider an ally.

      If she does not support any of those things, why does she insist on identifying as a Republican ? It would not only be inaccurate, but it would be dishonest as well.

      Another point. If she truly supports the Republican agenda, then as I have pointed out, she is not someone who can be considered an ally. If she does not, then why would Republicans pay attention to what she says ?

  • Jeff Sherry

    I would like to think she has been thoroughly vetted by the SCA. I pause at the statement that she doesn’t like labels because they are decisive.

    My question is: what type of Republican is she?

    • http://secularstudents.org Jesse Galef

      Hi Jeff, it’s Jesse with the Secular Student Alliance. I used to work for the Secular Coalition for America, and I’ve gotta say – that’s a pretty good line for her to avoid labels. The coalition includes people who refer to themselves as atheists, secular humanists, religious humanists, humanistic Jews, secular Americans, ethical culturalists… and were very adamant that they weren’t [insert different label here].

      We found that everyone could get behind ‘Nontheist,’ which is exactly what we need for a coalition lobbying effort. I wouldn’t worry too much about her choice of labels.

    • Christian

      Nontheist, isn’t that the same as atheist? Minus maybe all those negative connotations.

    • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

      I’m just confused. Aren’t “conservative” and “Republican” labels too?

    • Jeff Sherry

      Jesse, isn’t nontheist equally threatening as the word atheist?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Jesse, isn’t nontheist equally threatening as the word atheist?

      It’s not to agnostics.

  • Nomad

    I’m willing to approach this with careful optimism.

    The chance to “open doors” is always a chance to make some difference.

  • ‘Tis Himself

    She said in her interview:

    The Religious Right is a vocal part of the Republican Party, but it’s also a minority.

    It may be a minority, but it’s an extremely influential minority in the Republican Party. Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Huckabee, Brownback, and Palin are all part of the Religious Right. About the only major Republicans who aren’t part of the RR are Gingrich (who gives them lip service but actually only worships himself) and Romney (who’s beholden to a different set of religious conservatives).

  • imthegenieicandoanything

    Some truly clueless comments here, with people thinking that if they have an ink drawing of a lamp it’ll lead them through the pitch-black cave.

    After years of the Conservative Inquisition, one can truthfully say that All “Republcians” are (at least politically and more often generally) essentially dishonest people; proudly stupid, ignorant, insane, and/or evil in being dishonest.

    They simply do not care, so long as their needs are met and the suffering they cause can be sub-contracted.

    Until sanity takes root among a fair-sized majority of the stupid and ignorant portion of this amalgamation of the worst of human tendancies, no compromise is possible. Only honesty and reason, tempered by real compassion, not woo-like sentimentality of wishful thinking, have any chance.

  • Bruce Gorton

    The chief issue atheists have in the US is that atheists are highly distrusted.

    The best case scenario with her is that she is an unprincipled political prostitute, who will put her name on anything if it pays. Someone who donated to Rick Perry’s political campaign is not a friend to secularism.

    Further, the decision was taken with minimal consultation with anybody else – which means that it alienates the demographic the lobbying group is supposed to represent.

    It stinks of Democratic politics, in that it is more interested in making a show of including opposing voices, than speaking for the people it is supposed to represent and it focusses too much on Washington, without considering how it affects the rest of America.

    The decision essentially neuters the SCA on several important fronts. She may open doors amongst Republicans, but hiring her reinforces several important narratives used against atheists, and may undermine several policy shifts the SCA is supposed to be gunning for.

    I could of course be wrong, but I sincerely doubt that I am.

    So the real question is – are there any plans to create an alternative lobbying group?

  • John Morales

    My thoughts? “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

    I have always been a firm secularist and an ardent supporter of the separation of religion and government.

    So very credible, this claim! ;)

    It’s a misnomer [sic] that the majority of Republicans believe in the comingling [sic] of religion and government.

    A misnomer, eh?

    (Ignorant pretentiousness is ignorant)

  • abb3w

    I’m most concerned with her stance on teachers/adminstrators leading/organizing prayer in schools.

    Beyond that? I think she seems an honest politician… and will stay bought as long as she’s being paid for the job.