Secular Coalition for America’s Edwina Rogers Featured in The Washingtonian

The September, 2013 issue of Washingtonian has a long feature on Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America:

Reporter Libby Copeland writes:

During one of several interviews for the job, the room was packed with staff and advisers who were, in the words of coalition bigwig Woody Kaplan, “flabbergasted” and “incredulous” at Rogers’s presence.

“My purpose was not to interview Edwina to see if she was right for the job,” recalls Kaplan, an adviser to the coalition, “but to destroy her.”

Yet Rogers “turned the entire room around,” Kaplan says. He’s been a civil-liberties lobbyist and donor for decades, school in the art of political sausage-making — but he’s still slightly awed by Rogers’s powers of persuasion: “She walked out and we voted 100 percent for her.”

Most of the information wasn’t new or revealing to me, though, until I came across this passage:

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FFRF Responds After Getting Blamed for Mingus Park Cross Explosion

Late last week, there was a small explosion near the Mingus Park Vietnam War Memorial cross in Coos Bay, Oregon. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the cross was slightly damaged.

As I wrote over the weekend, atheists were getting blamed for the crime. Specifically, a Christian leader was blaming the Freedom From Religion Foundation for “fomenting hatred” because they had challenged the constitutionality of the cross on public property.

Today, FFRF released this statement about the cross explosion:

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Is Atheism a Religion? That Question’s at the Heart of a Lawsuit Over Housing Credits for ‘Ministers of the Gospel’

For a couple of years now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been in a legal battle to end the “parish exemption” that allows ministers to deduct the cost of their mortgage/utilities/parking/furnishings from their taxable income. FFRF argues that this shows preferential treatment for religious leaders.

In fact, FFRF’s own board has paid its co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor $15,000 each as part of their housing allowance, but because they don’t qualify as “ministers of the gospel,” they’re arguing that the law doesn’t apply to them and, therefore, it’s illegal. (For what it’s worth, they didn’t try to obtain the exemption and get rejected; they’re simply speaking on principle.)

In a recent twist to the case, the U.S. Department of Justice is arguing that atheism is a religion, so Barker and Gaylor should be able to qualify for the exemption:

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In the Wake of a Skeptic’s Death, Indian State Takes Small Steps Toward Rationality

Today’s New York Times features an article on Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, the skeptic who was assassinated earlier this week, presumably because his debunking of supernatural claims angered a few too many people…

The article is a glowing tribute to what he accomplished in his life and how far India still has to go:

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Pastafarians Detained in Russia After Complaints from Orthodox Church Group

Russia’s government is technically a federal, semi-presidential republic, much like the United States.. It has a history of being very secular, explicitly atheist while under Soviet rule. However, in recent years, the church has become a powerful institution, quite the change for a once-Communist country.

Earlier this year, Russia passed an (unopposed!) anti-LGBT law. Russia also has very strong anti-blasphemy laws (as demonstrated in their arrest of punk rock band Pussy Riot) and a new law to essentially protect the feelings of religious believers.

Despite the growing number of visible “Pastafarians” over the last few years, Russia’s Orthodox Church does not find the satire funny at all — nope, not one bit. While Russians are not necessarily known for their sense of humor, this response goes overboard.

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