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.

Education:

  • 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.

Discrimination:

  • 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.

Military:

  • “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.

International:

  • 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.


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