WASHINGTON – Members of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships recently welcomed a group of atheists to discuss public relations between the Obama Administration and American secularists.
In a press release issued on Monday, the Secular Coalition for America (SCA) announced that several of its members had visited with Melissa Rogers, Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and David Meyers, Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. As stated in the release, the purpose of the gathering was “to brief the Administration on secular and nontheistic issues, and to establish better lines of communication that can ultimately lead to greater nontheistic involvement.”
After the meeting, SCA’s executive director, Edwina Rogers, praised the White House officials for their willingness to meet with the atheist lobbyists.
“We are pleased that the White House is looking at ways to better include the nontheistic community,” Rogers said. “The Administration seemed to recognize the need for nontheistic inclusion and seemed open to finding areas where we can work together. We hope this meeting will lead to increased cooperation going forward.”
Another participant at the meeting, Maggie Ardiente, suggested that this was just one example of increasing acceptance of the atheist community.
“Doors are opening for the secular community like never before,” she stated, “and we thank Melissa Rogers for recognizing the significant contributions nonbelievers can make toward a better society. We’re making tremendous progress and we must continue to connect with lawmakers at the federal level to make our issues known.”
Since the meeting took place, SCA members have been unwilling to disclose in detail what was discussed during the event. However, a comment obtained by Patheos from one of the meeting’s participants revealed that the White House officials “spoke about the inclusion of nontheists by the administration,” in addition to “other issues that were both policy-based as well as symbolic overtures.”
According to the White House website, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships “works to build bridges between the federal government and nonprofit organizations, both secular and faith-based, to better serve Americans in need.” The office also strives to follow President Obama’s principle that “the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us.”
While this meeting was a fairly rare occurrence, it was not the first time the Obama Administration has benevolently opened doors to representatives of the atheistic community. In February of 2010, SCA published a similar press release, celebrating the fact that—for “the first time in history”—the White House received a group of outspoken atheists to discuss “issues of great concern to the secular movement.”
“President Obama was the first U.S. president to acknowledge nonbelievers in an inaugural address,” the release reads, “an event which began a constructive and meaningful relationship between the administration and American nontheists.… [The meeting is] the latest indication that the secular movement is gaining significant momentum, and that secular Americans, numbering in the tens of millions, are a constituency that must be included.”
SCA spokespersons assert that non-believers are an increasingly influential component of American politics and culture, with nearly 20% of U.S. adults identifying as nonreligious. However, others question the usefulness and purpose of integrating secularism into the higher levels of a government founded on historically Judeo-Christian values.
Photo: Secular Coalition for America