Obama administration officials met with a group of nontheists Friday morning.
The meeting has been labeled "historic" as it marked "the first time in history a presidential administration has met for a policy briefing with the American nontheist community."
"We are very pleased that the Obama administration is affording us this opportunity to present our positions on issues of high importance, issues of freedom and fairness that affect every American, regardless of belief," said Secular Coalition for America Executive Director Sean Faircloth in a statement Thursday. "Our Founders knew that there was no place in American government for the privileging of religion, or of one belief over another, and that will be a central theme in our interaction with the White House."
Details of what transpired during the private meeting were not revealed. Paul Fidalgo, spokesman for the Secular Coalition for America, however, told McClatchy Newspapers that it went "very, very well" and they hope to be invited back for follow-up discussions.
President Obama did not attend.
The Secular Coalition for America is an advocacy organization whose purpose is "to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States." The group represents atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers.
Faircloth stated, "There has been a movement toward theocracy in America that is too often overlooked. As a result, good Americans, including children, have been harmed, and men and women in uniform denied their rights. This strikes at the very core of American values. The Secular Coalition for America seeks justice for every citizen, regardless of creed."
A religious advocacy group, In God We Trust, blasted the meeting and accused the Obama administration of meeting with a "hate-filled" coalition.
"It is one thing for Administration to meet with groups of varying viewpoints, but it is quite another for a senior official to sit down with activists representing some of the most hate-filled, anti-religious groups in the nation," said In God We Trust's Chairman Bishop Council Nedd in a statement Friday.
Nedd pointed to one of the coalition's member organizations, Freedom from Religion Foundation, to illustrate his point. The foundation's president, Dan Barker, has stated in his book Losing Faith in Faith, "Christianity is an enemy to humanity, and the antithesis of freedom" and "Religion also poses a danger to mental health, damaging self-respect, personal responsibility, and clarity of thought."
"President Obama seems to believe that it is a good idea to have a key senior aide plan political strategy with people who believe faith in God is a disease," Nedd stated. "Some of the people in this coalition believe the world would be better off with no Christians and no Jews and they aren't shy about it. The fact that this meeting is happening at all is an affront to the vast majority of people of all faiths who believe in God."
The Secular Coalition for America says that a "constructive and meaningful relationship" between the administration and American nontheists began when President Obama acknowledged nonbelievers in his inaugural address, which no other U.S. president has done, the group noted.
In his 2009 address, Obama described – and continues to describe – the country as "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers."
Though what was said during the meeting is being kept private, the coalition said in its announcement Thursday that it planned to address such issues as protecting children from neglect and abuse, ending "military proselytizing," and "fixing faith-based initiatives."