The Secular Coalition for America Met with White House Representatives… Will It Help?

Earlier today, the Secular Coalition for America announced that they had met with representatives from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It marked the first time since February of 2010 that an official, publicized meeting like this took place:

(from left to right) SCA Advisory Board member Wendy Kaminer, CFI’s Michael DeDora, AA’s Amanda Knief, Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein, OFBNP Director Melissa Rogers, MAAF’s Jason Torpy, SCA’s Edwina Rogers, AHA’s Maggie Ardiente, and SCA’s Aisha Goss (via

This month, Secular Coalition for America Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, along with several representatives from the nontheistic community, held a meeting with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The purpose of the meeting was to brief the Administration on secular and nontheistic issues, and to establish better lines of communication that can ultimately lead to greater nontheistic involvement.

“We are pleased that the White House is looking at ways to better include the nontheistic community,” said Edwina Rogers. “The Administration seemed to recognize the need for nontheistic inclusion and seemed open to finding areas where we can work together. We hope this meeting will lead to increased cooperation going forward.”

Two things.

First, that’s wonderful news. It’s great to see representatives from our community meeting with people who have a direct line to the President. Politico reported that the SCA was “pleased” with the meeting.

Second, it’s worth noting that the SCA’s press release is *very* vague. We don’t know what they discussed or what the take-away messages were. Hell, we don’t even know when this meeting took place, only that it happened earlier this month.

I spoke with the SCA’s Communications Manager Lauren Anderson Youngblood today to try and fill in some of these blanks… to little avail. She couldn’t tell me much more than what had been written in the press release.

But here’s what we do know.

The SCA requested the meeting and Melissa Rogers‘ office agreed to it. Given Rogers’ history as a supporter of church-state separation, it’s not unexpected. Still, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

Since that meeting in 2010, atheist organizations haven’t had much of a dialogue with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP). If this meeting leads to further discussions, great.

What issues did they discuss? We have no idea, but I’m hoping some of these questions were raised:

  • Will churches (like all other non-profits) be required to disclose their financial statements?
  • Will the government make sure that tax-exempt churches are not promoting political candidates from the pulpit (a la “Pulpit Sunday”)?
  • Why can church groups that receive taxpayer money through the OFBNP discriminate against LGBT individuals during the hiring process?
  • When will we finally get an atheist on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships?
  • Why does the OFBNP even exist?!

Youngblood wouldn’t give me specifics, but said that “they spoke about the inclusion of nontheists by the administration and other issues that were both policy-based as well as symbolic overtures.”

But, again, speaking about those topics doesn’t mean any action was taken (or even proposed) on them.

It’s possible that if these discussions between atheists and the White House remain private, there’s a better chance we’ll see steps in the right direction since the Religious Right won’t be tipped off and right-wing websites can’t pretend like the administration is “anti-Christian”… but that’s an annoying dichotomy: Publicize the topics being discussed and risk conservatives freaking out over them (and getting their based worked up over it) or keep the topics private and get a bit closer to significant changes being made.

Are you willing to live with that tension?

I guess what we can hope for is that this is only the first of many meetings to come. The more the two groups talk, the more likely it is that some real action steps will eventually be taken.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.