The Secular Coalition for America has hired a new executive director: Edwina Rogers. She's been a Washington lawyer for 20 years, much of the time working for Republican administrations and causes: an Economic Advisor for President George W. Bush, working on International Trade for President George H. W. Bush, General Counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, etc.
The Republican Party has been consistently opposed to secularism, church/state separation, and atheists for decades. So how well can a committed Republican serve the interests of secularism?
Edwina Rogers says that she is a "nontheist" and a secularist and there's no reason not to believe that. The problem lies in the fact that her Republican background is being presented as an asset because it gives her access to Republican legislators to whom she can lobby on behalf of secularism.
That can be a real help, it's true, but it presumes that Republican legislators are receptive to such lobbying and are at least sympathetic to the keeping church separate from state. Is there any evidence that this is the case? No, not as a general rule -- and Edwina Rogers' statements on this issue in an interviews with Hemant Mehta do not inspire confidence...
Why should we trust you now to work for us after a career spent working for people who seem to be actively against us?
I think it's a misconception that the majority of Republicans are lined up against the secular movement. As someone who has been an insider within the Republican Party, I'm certain it's not the consensus of the majority of Republicans to have an [overt] influence of religion on our laws. Having said that, no one agrees with everyone they work with on every single issue. In these roles I never worked on anything having to do with issues of religion -- I worked primarily on economic issues. ...
I do think that for the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans, they are true believers of secularism -- the majority of Republicans believe in the separation of church and state. Many of them are simply laissez faire about the issues, which gives us an opening to recruit them to the movement.
How did she form any sort of reasonable conclusion about what the "vast majority of conservatives and Republicans" think when she admits she's "never worked on anything having to do with issues of religion"?
It's true that there are Republicans who are secularists -- Edwina Rogers, for example. There are even a few Republican legislators who have supported church/state separation. Not recently, perhaps, but they have existed. As a general rule, though, any bill or policy which advances the theocratic agenda of the Christian Right, ruining church/state separation and secularism, will receive near-unanimous support from Republicans.
Why would anyone expect them to budge much simply because a fellow Republican is making the pitch? If Republicans demonstrated themselves to be generally "on the fence" but leaning away from secularism, then I'd expect that a person like Edwina Rogers could make a lot of difference. But Republican legislators have not shown themselves to be on the fence -- they're off the fence, on the ground, and moved in down the street already.
It may be true that the "Christian Right" isn't a numerical majority of the Republican Party (it's debatable and depends on how you define "Christian Right"), but numbers aren't what matters. What matters is power and influence.
The fact that Mitt Romney dumped a highly-qualified, very conservative spokesman simply because Christian Right leaders complained about him being gay is all we need to know about how powerful and influential the Christian Right is. This is the Republican Party Edwina Rogers will be lobbying. This is the Republican Party she says she'll be able to influence for us.
In theory, in the right set of circumstances, a person like Edwina Rogers could be very effective. I don't think that we have those circumstances here and Rogers doesn't do anything to show that we do. Quite the contrary, her statements indicate that at best she doesn't understand what the circumstances are and at worst is being misleading.
So how can we trust her? Indeed, how can we trust the people who hired her?