The Secular Policy Recommendations That Will Make the Religious Right Squirm

The Secular Coalition for America is releasing its “Model Secular Policy Guide” for politicians with a briefing on Capitol Hill today. (For the sake of publicity, they invited runway models — get it? “Models”? — to serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres to the attendees… which sounds like they’re just gift-wrapping critics a reason to denounce them.)

The guide, endorsed at least in part by more than 86 non-theistic groups across the country, is “meant to help educate legislators on the views of secular and nontheistic Americans on pertinent issues.” The largest section of the report is devoted to advice on health/safety-related issues.

While most of the policy recommendations are no doubt obvious, here’s a rundown of the big ones:

Health and Safety:

  • Laws and regulations of women’s healthcare must be based on scientifically sound medical research and driven by a compelling government interest, not sectarian religious beliefs.
  • Patients should not be denied medical care through laws that allow medical professionals to deny patients abortion and sterilization procedures (or other services), and enable pharmacists to refuse to fulfill lawful prescriptions for contraception including emergency contraception.
  • Religious exemptions from a neutral law of general applicability such as the contraceptive coverage in healthcare plans should be limited only to houses of worship in regards to employees with ministerial duties.
  • Government policy on the use of stem cells for medical research should be based on scientific and medical research, with discussions of shared values free of sectarian influence.
  • Religious arguments made against the Right to Die and Death with Dignity are personal beliefs and should not set public policy for all Americans.
  • The government has a parens patriae duty to protect our country’s children. States relinquish that duty and leave millions of children vulnerable to mistreatment when they include religious exemptions in child abuse and neglect laws.
  • States should not endanger the public, especially children, through exceptions to state vaccination laws.
  • State standards for child care centers that are designed to ensure children’s health and safety and to provide parents with the assurance their children will be well cared for are important public policy. Exempting religiously affiliated child care centers from these requirements puts children at risk. Federal and state taxpayer dollars should benefit only those child care centers meeting all such health and safety standards.
  • While the confidentiality of pastoral communications is well recognized, due to the unique and vulnerable position of children and the recent history of abuse of this pastoral privilege, religious communication must not be exempted from mandatory child abuse reporting statutes.
  • Wherever recovery programs are offered or permitted by the government, a secular option must be available.


  • Taxpayer money for education should never fund a religious education or religious education institution.
  • All students and student groups, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs, should be treated equally, enjoy equal access to institutional resources, and protections on campuses.
  • All students should receive non-biased, medically accurate sex-education through programs that give them the tools to make informed decisions concerning their sexual and reproductive health irrespective of their religious affiliation.
  • Public schools and schools funded with taxpayer money should teach the scientifically undisputed principle of evolution.
  • As representatives of the government, teachers and administrators may not lead students in prayer; however, the right of a student to voluntarily engage in a non-disruptive private prayer has never been infringed.
  • The Pledge of Allegiance should be returned to its original form, as the inclusion of “under God” in the daily patriotic school exercise isolates non-theistic students, or unfairly and unnecessarily compels them to comply.


  • Same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights to civil marriage as opposite sex couples. Laws prohibiting this are religiously motivated discrimination which is improper and should be overturned.
  • Non-discriminatory hiring practices should be required of any federal or state contractor accepting government funds and laws protecting employees from discrimination should not contain any religious exemptions.
  • Youth groups receiving government grants and/or preferential tax status must be prepared to represent all citizens and not discriminate on the basis of participants’ religious affiliation or sexual orientation.

Tax Policy:

  • A simpler and fairer tax code can be achieved by removing the following three provisions:

    1) §508(c)(1)(A) which awards churches 501(c)(3) status without application;
    2) §6033(a)(3)(A)(i), which removes the requirement to file annual IRS reports; and
    3) §7611, which shields churches from IRS investigation.

  • Religious organizations, including houses of worship, which voluntary opt-in to a tax-exempt status must follow the 501(c)(3) regulations in place strictly banning partisan politicking.


  • “Humanist” must be added to the list of religious preferences in all branches of service and the Defense Manpower Data Agency
  • A qualified Humanist chaplain candidate should be appointed without delay.
  • Non-theist-developed training on the non-theist perspective (e.g., atheist philosophy, humanist values, beliefs, history, and practices, and non-theistic grief counseling) must be added to the Chaplain Corps College program of instruction in each branch of the military
  • Non-social, non-chaplain, command-sponsored events and activities constitute official government expression of religion rather than personal expression of religion. The Secular Coalition recommends these activities be eliminated.
  • Provisions for religion and belief should be optional. Services should be available for those who feel they would benefit but should not be mandatory or induce repercussions for those who do not participate.


  • The U.S. government should apply political pressure whenever possible to countries violating their international human rights obligations.

It’s hard as hell to get atheists to agree on anything (something about herding cats), but these policy recommendations offer a terrific rundown of ideas I suspect a vast majority of atheists would agree with. They ought to be put in place regardless of who’s in office, and they ought to be acceptable to a large number of religious people as well.

How many politicians are brave enough to turn these recommendations into realities? How many of them look to the Constitution when it comes to their decision-making rather than the Bible? I’m afraid to ask those questions because I think we all know the numbers are nowhere near where they should be.

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.

  • Fallulah

    Are they female models? Why would they do that, if they want to be taken seriously? Secular groups are already plagued by sexism and misogyny in their ranks…I just don’t get it.

    • Richard Thomas

      How is employing females sexist or misogynist?

      • John

        If you employ females specifically because they’re female, and when that has nothing to do with their ability to perform the job, then it’s sexist.

        • Richard Thomas

          Well to be fair, I’m pretty sure being female has at least a little bit to do with performing the job of “female model”.

          • Fallulah

            They aren’t hiring the models to distribute pamphlets and answer questions about policy…they are hiring them to “look pretty” while serving drinks and hors d’oeuvre. Anyways it didn’t say they are female models, I just asked the question…hopefully it was both male and female models.

            • Pattrsn

              You’re probably wasting your time.

              • Fallulah

                Well that’s my business now isn’t it?

          • John

            Male models also exist.

            • Richard Thomas

              I don’t think anyone made the argument that they don’t.

              • John

                My point was that I don’t know why you specified “female” in your previous post when there’s no good reason why they should have only female models.

      • abb3w

        Roles provide context essential to deciding cases.

        Employing a woman sends a different normative message if she is being hired to be a CEO, a lobbyist, a food server, a childcare provider, provider of sexual gratification, or a coffee table. In so far as the roles are “traditionally” correlated as being done by females, hiring all (or mostly) females signals sexism. In so far as the role is one considered “low” status (whether absolute or simply in reference to societal median) or “degrading”, it may be considered misogynist.

        Model and food server both seem to fit under the former. Median food server annual wage tends to be below overall US median; median for models is vaguely on the order of US median, but there’s the question of how the treating a person as a decorative object may be considered degrading.

        For a political messaging group, this seems serious incompetence.

        • Richard Thomas

          I see your point, I just don’t agree that inviting professional models to play a part in your event constitutes sexism or misogyny.

          • abb3w

            I don’t see what non-arbitrary basis you might have for such disagreement, unless you’re merely arguing that it’s not universal necessity rather than arguing about the current particulars. (Or noting that the reports still aren’t clear about what was the gender mix of the models.) Which is a perfectly cromulent bit of quibbling, as quibbling goes.

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        I agree with you but….

    • atheismFTW

      Yeah, they could have done without hiring models to serve the attendees. Things like that distract from the task at hand and make light of the secular plight. They’ve done such a good job with the policy book; it’d be a shame if the models took attention away from its message.

  • C Peterson

    I understand that some of these are probably dictated by currently necessary political pragmatism. But I really hate to see “houses of worship” given any special accommodation at all. That stands fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment.

  • baal

    While I like the list, I’m not sure about the strategy. ALEC does an amazing job getting utterly extreme legislation passed and here we are with what should be a basic floor of requirements.

  • Richard Thomas

    And here come the cries of religious persecution by the christians.

  • GusSnarp

    I wish I’d seen the YouTube video back when the Edwina Rogers appointment was fresh. It’s very disturbing, and has me thinking entirely about that, rather than about the content of this document.

    • DKeane123

      I thought the same thing.

    • flyb

      I can’t figure out if it’s real or some kind of sick parody using Republican caricatures.

  • L.Long

    Good list. Love to see this happen! Will not hold my breath!!
    Do not underestimate the breath and depth of human stupidity!!
    People are in a vary damaging relationship with their bigoted -HELP I need the state to protect me- religions.

  • flyb

    A very thorough and exhaustive list of policy recommendations. However, one thing I would like to see added is the recommendation to remove “in god we trust” from US currency.

    • Richard Thomas

      BUT IT’S ALWAYS BEEN THERE. Except of course for when it hasn’t, but that’s just more time that it SHOULD have.

  • Bobbie

    I wish that the discrimination section had a mention of gender identity. While I’m a trans*lesbian and therefore get covered by the sexual orientation bit, there are many straight t*men and t*women who aren’t addressed by that, and my gender identity isn’t covered either. T does tend to get brushed under the carpet when LGBT issues are mentioned by such societies…

  • Librepensadora

    Where do I get copies of this for my congressman and senators?

  • quasibaka

    The really suprising thing here is that these all seem like basic stuff that should have existed in any modern society .
    PS : some basic monitoring of homwschooling would be a great idea too – like once a quarter visit to the school and basic competency checking (can they count , read etc.)

  • Dave

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to add “None of the above” rather then “Humanist” to the list of religious preferences given the semi-regular assertions of many atheists that atheism isn’t a religion?

  • Erp

    I would argue with the statement

    “however, the right of a student to voluntarily engage in a non-disruptive private prayer has never been infringed.”

    I’m fairly certain it has been infringed in the government Indian boarding schools. Children in them were not permitted to practice their own religion (unless it happened to be an approved variety of Christianity) and not permitted to speak their own language.