Over on Hemant’s blog they’ve been reporting on the challenge to Arizona’s “In God We Trust” license plates after it was revealed that the money those plates generate goes to fund the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). On Monday, I was in attendance at the Secular Coalition for Arizona’s (SCA) ‘Secular Day’ at the Arizona State Capitol and I have some additional insights.
Arizona Secular Day Launches Campaign Against ADF Plate, Despite Funding Gap
Secular Day at the Capitol is a yearly event by SCA that aims to demonstrate to legislators that atheists, non-believers, and other strong supporters of secular governance are active constituents in their districts who won’t stand for having their views ignored at the behest of theocratic religious interests. Activities include speakers, signing people up to participate in the AZ legislatures Request to Speak system so members can comment on proposed legislation, and packing the galley of the legislative session to show just how many of us there are with the time and resources to show up on a Monday afternoon in Phoenix. The point is to make our presence known.
This year, the two big issues are the ADF license plate, and a lawsuit ADF is pushing to try and get Phoenix’s LGBT+ protections overturned. The most poignant opposition to which is best expressed by former candidate for Arizona Legislative District 25 Johnny Martin in an interview with local NBC affiliate 12 News.
For the second year in a row I was at the event as a member of both The Satanic Temple-Arizona the Secular Coalition for Arizona. This year, with the license plate campaign, Nick Fish from American Atheists was in attendance as well because American Atheists put up the money for the billboards. I like Nick, he’s a very data driven guy and a fine departure from his predecessor’s “Firebrand Atheist” approach. I’m sure SCA is happy for support from national groups like American Atheists, but that support lead me to do some digging and illuminate how much of an uphill battle secularists really have ahead of them in the face of such campaigns like Project Blitz.
Ironically, This is a David and Goliath Situation
Look, the truth is these organizations are woefully outmatched in the money game. Arizona’s ‘In God We Trust’ license plate has raised $827,000 for the ADF since fiscal year 2014. That seems like a lot of money until you find out that in that same timeframe the group has brought in more than $250 million total.
It’s good that secular groups are pushing back against state funding programs that funnel money to Southern Poverty Law Center identified hate groups. But if we’re being honest, apart from the high-visibility of the campaign it won’t do much. It hurts to know that even if successful the LicencePlateHate.com campaign will result in, at best, eliminating less than 1/250th of the money that flows into ADF’s war chest.
It is, I think, important and under-reported just how much secular advocacy groups and activists manage to get done when the financial resources are so obviously stilted. American Atheists only brings in about 1/50th of what ADF does. The Freedom From Religion Foundation? Not even 1/10th.
This Raises an Interesting Problem
If, as Nick Fish put forth in the talk he gave at this year’s Secular Day in Arizona, our best estimates for non-believers in the United States show that we are 24% of the population, then why is the financial backing of secular organizations so disproportionate?
We can bemoan the outsized influence of money in politics all we want to, and we can applaud secular groups for doing an amazing job working with the resources they have against the capital concentrations which theocrats are able to muster. But atheists don’t tithe. Many of us like to joke about how becoming a non-believer comes with an automatic 10% bump in income because of that fact. But it is equally true that financial contributions are what keep the organizations we rely on to defend our rights as a non-believers running, and that money needs to come from somewhere.
This is true across the spectrum of activism and outreach. Those of us in the media receive fractions of a cent per click for our efforts if we’re lucky enough to be hosted on a platform that shares ad revenue (which is why we all have Patreon accounts). The Richard Dawkins Foundation may bring in over $1 million a year to support science education, but the Child Evangelism Fellowship that funds Good News Clubs brings in over 15 times that.
I guess my point here is that advocates for theocracy in the United States have a lot of built-in organization that secularists have to make up for. Churches have weekly meetings to spread their messaging; they have a population convinced of the threat of eternal damnation that can be held over their heads to cajole them into donating; and despite the lauded growth of the nones and atheists in recent years theists remain in the majority and have a huge funding advantage. If we are to expect secular advocates to mount compelling challenges to encroaching theocracy, then those advocacy groups, individual activists, and legal teams need to be funded.