A national atheist organization has ramped up its plan to organize local chapters in all 50 states by setting up a lobbying group in Tennessee, among other locations.
"There are 40 million Americans who don't identify with any religion, but our political influence has been limited because we have not been organized," explained Edwina Rogers, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, in an email to Tennessean.com on Monday. "This year, that changes."
New York, North Carolina,Washington, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Kansas and Iowa will all also be getting local chapters from the organization, and the secular group plans to campaign for laws in each state that protect humanist and secular rights and ensure the separation of church and state.
In Tennessee, one law the coalition plans to lobby against is the so-called "Monkey Bill," which allows teachers to question evolution, which secularists fear will allow creationism to be taught in schools.
Other bills that will be debated include HB 3745, which provides a means for parents to request textbooks that inculcate principles of religion within the study of secular subjects. HB 3621, which teaches students against "gateway sexual activity," is also being challenged. So is HB 3576, which allows religious student organizations to exclude those not deemed to be "committed to that mission," which the group argues would include LGBT students whose lifestyle is considered a sin by some religious students.
"We are not trying to tell people that their religion is wrong," explained Laura Youngblood, communications manager for the Secular Coalition. "We take issue with religious beliefs being inserted into secular law."
"Being residents of Tennessee, the chapter participants are going to know better than anyone else – and certainly better than us here in D.C. – what issues are affecting the people in their state the most, and which pose the greatest threat to the separation of religion and government there," she added. "Each chapter is going to take the lead on setting a state legislative agenda and deciding what to focus on, provided those issues fall within our wheelhouse as an organization."