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Austin Cline

Edwina Rogers: Can She Be Trusted by Secularists?

By May 4, 2012

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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?

Comments
May 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm
(1) Eric O says:

The SCA really screwed up in choosing her, I think. A few more points against her can be found here:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/05/03/who-is-going-to-be-our-spokesperson-on-capitol-hill/

To sum up:

- As you’ve already mentioned, she denies that the Republican Party is largely against secularism. This shows a very basic disregard for reality.
- She has worked for anti-secular politicians such as George W. Bush and Trent Lott
- She has made political contributions to Rick Perry.

I think the first criticism of her is probably the strongest. I can understand someone reluctantly supporting the Republicans because they agree with the party on economic issues (though that also concerns me – I don’t like the idea of a social Darwinist representing godless Americans; it doesn’t really help the atheist movement’s image problem), but if she is claiming that the Republicans are pro-secular, she’s either stupid or dishonest.

May 4, 2012 at 7:32 pm
(2) Andrew says:

I think it could be good for Republicans and Atheists.

It would be good for Republicans to see that not all Atheists and crazy left-wing wackos. And it’s easier to not like a group when you haven’t met any members of it you know.
It is easy to say, “Those scary Atheists,” if you’ve never met one, it’s harder to say that when you know one and you share some of his or her political positions, It won’t cause a sea change over night, but it can’t possibly hurt.

I can tell you that from personal experience that Republicans are more receptive to consider the arguments supporting church/state when it is from a fellow Republican who agrees with them on some issues, then from a liberal Democrat who agrees with them on practically nothing.
They may not agree in the end but you might win some hearts and minds, or at least tone down the level of opposition a notch.

It would be good for Atheists to have some diversity in these kinds of positions, and frankly because some Atheists have preconceptions about Republicans and conservatives that while have some basis in fact, are stereotypical and not always true.

I can say first hand that in a lot of Atheist sites if you bring up the fact that you’re Republican you’re in for it. This is one of the rare exceptions. Most of the time when on Atheist sites I avoid politics altogether to avoid the open hostility that goes way beyond honest disagreements.

So Republicans need to be exposed to Atheists in a different way than confrontational and Atheists can benefit from being exposed to a Republican who is on their side on church/state issues.

May 4, 2012 at 10:03 pm
(3) Austin Cline says:

I can tell you that from personal experience that Republicans are more receptive to consider the arguments supporting church/state when it is from a fellow Republican who agrees with them on some issues

Can you point to a single Republican politician for whom this has been true?

They may not agree in the end but you might win some hearts and minds, or at least tone down the level of opposition a notch.

Is there any real reason to think that any Republican politicians will give up their commitment to the theocratic agenda of the Christian Right? Using the example of Romney described above, what are the prospects really like for any Republican politicians to behaving in a reasonable, adult manner?

So Republicans need to be exposed to Atheists

Did you know that “atheist” isn’t a proper noun and shouldn’t be capitalized? This isn’t nit-picking on my part – capitalizing it says that atheism is an ideology when it isn’t.

Curiously, making the mistake of treating atheism like an ideology is most likely to be found among conservative Republicans and conservative Christians.

May 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm
(4) Karen says:

Edwina Rogers: Can She Be Trusted by Secularists?

She can probably be trusted to be a resourceful nontheist, but does she really have the inside access she thinks she has? I doubt it. It may well make her a lame duck in the job.

May 4, 2012 at 10:00 pm
(5) Austin Cline says:

She can probably be trusted to be a resourceful nontheist

Can a person who makes the comments she’s made be trusted to tell us the truth?

May 5, 2012 at 1:19 am
(6) Karen says:

Can a person who makes the comments she’s made be trusted to tell us the truth?

Good point. I still think she mostly has her head, um, in the clouds at this point… but if she can’t recognize truth, she can’t share it, either.

May 5, 2012 at 4:51 am
(7) Andrew says:

#3

Not trying means you will definitely make no progress. Opinions change. In 2010 in the Senate 8 Republicans supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and one incoming Republican senator expressed his support for the Repeal.

Now this is not about Edwina Rogers specifically but yes having a politically diverse representation in leadership positions in these organizations can make a difference. No one is saying things will suddenly change over night but one or two votes might make the position between winning and losing.

And you can criticize (legitimately) Republicans on separation of church and state issues I certainly do, but to call them theocratic is over the top hyperbole. Both sides do it but that’s no excuse. I mean can you honestly say that if Romney becomes President Atheism will be illegal and Christianity or Mormonism will become the state religion?

And Atheism is certainly not a religion but the lack of one can be considered a position depending on the society. If 50% of society believed the tooth fairy was real we’d have a word for those who did not believe in the tooth fairy and more than likely those who did not believe would form arguments as to why the tooth fairy is not real and discuss it with each other. You could consider this a belief even though it is just a lack of belief in the tooth fairy. That might be considered important enough for capitalization. I don’t know why this is a sore point with you, but there it is.

May 5, 2012 at 8:24 am
(8) Austin Cline says:

And you can criticize (legitimately) Republicans on separation of church and state issues I certainly do, but to call them theocratic is over the top hyperbole.

Why?

I mean can you honestly say that if Romney becomes President Atheism will be illegal and Christianity or Mormonism will become the state religion?

Theocracy isn’t limited to having a state religion. Every attempt to rule according to religion – to use the government to enforce standards that are based on some religion’s traditions or doctrines – is theocratic.

Banning same-sex marriage because homosexuality is a sins for Christians is theocratic. Putting up Ten Commandments monuments but nothing for any other religion or group is theocratic. Promoting traditional Christian prayers is theocratic.

Theocracy, like Democracy, isn’t an either/or, black/white issue. There are gradations and degrees. Just as a system can be more or less democratic, another system can be more or less theocratic. Just as politicians can promote democratic measures or positions, politicians can promote theocratic measures or positions.

In America, Republican politicians consistently promote theocratic measures and positions – measures and positions which are based upon Christian traditions, dogmas, and doctrines. The above are just a small sampling.

And Atheism is certainly not a religion

It’s not even a proper noun.

You could consider this a belief even though it is just a lack of belief in the tooth fairy. That might be considered important enough for capitalization.

No, because capitalization in English isn’t done according to some subjective feeling of “importance”. In English, being a proper noun conveys some particular meaning – in this context, it conveys the idea that one is talking about a belief system like Objectivism, Marxism, or Christianity.

I don’t know why this is a sore point with you, but there it is.

The only “sore point” is to misrepresent atheism as if it were a belief system. It’s especially egregious when you’re trying to defend conservatives and imply you’re an atheist, but then misrepresent atheism in the exact say that conservative Christians do.

If you are an atheist, then you know atheism isn’t a belief system so shouldn’t be presenting it as such. If you aren’t an atheist, then implying you are is misrepresentation to others. Either way, this raises questions about your credibility.

May 8, 2012 at 1:36 am
(9) American Secular Census says:

Our first-ever secular voter analysis is just out. It reveals that political diversity in the secular community is actually a myth: we are mostly Democrats in our candidate preferences, in our political contributions, and in our party affiliations. Also included: issues and qualities secular voters say they will consider in evaluating the 2012 presidential candidates. Learn more

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