Today’s guest post is written by Seráh Blain, an atheist activist and former Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for Arizona.

Arizona Rep. Juan Mendez with secular lobbyist Seráh Blain and Secular Coalition for Arizona's Matt Schoenley after giving his Humanist invocation in May 2013.

Arizona Rep. Juan Mendez with secular lobbyist Seráh Blain and Secular Coalition for Arizona’s Matt Schoenley after Mendez gave a Humanist invocation in May 2013. Photo Credit: SC Arizona, courtesy Mendez.

Arizona often makes national headlines for its extremely conservative political climate—but the Freethought Equality Fund, a new atheist initiative that seeks to support nontheistic politicians, may be set to change that.

The state of Arizona—notorious for laws that invite racial profiling, criminalize reproductive healthcare, and block gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community members from full inclusion in social and civic life—is an unlikely home for visible atheist politicians.

All branches of Arizona’s state government have moved further and further right in recent years. But ironically, the power of the Religious Right in Arizona and the exclusion of all other religious and nonbelief perspectives has created a unique environment where voices of protest have become robust and collaborative—meaning that even atheists, who according to a recent study are still the least electable group in the United States, are being given a seat at the table.

Why? For starters, it is in this state where the Secular Coalition for Arizona became the first organization in the country to fund a full-time lobbyist to advocate for the nontheistic community at the State Capitol—representing atheist organizations from all over the state.

It is in Arizona where atheist legislator Juan Mendez surprised the country by giving a Humanist invocation on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives rather than a prayer. Where Representative Stefanie Mach introduced and celebrated the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) on the same floor, and assistant minority leader Ruben Gallego offered an inclusive invocation for theists and nontheists alike in honor of the SSA. Where Representative Mark Cardenas preceded his six-second Catholic prayer at the legislature with a 30-second disclaimer reassuring constituents from other religions and no religion that he represented them as well. And it is in Arizona where James Woods, a progressive atheist who also happens to be blind, is running for the United States Congress.

None of this is a coincidence. Targeted organizing efforts by the Secular Coalition for Arizona, combined with community development for nontheists in every region of the state, created an informed and engaged secular constituency. This forced elected officials and activists to take notice. And national organizations have provided strategic support for atheists in Arizona, radically changing the way the atheist community is viewed in the state. The atheist-run Freethought Equality Fund, which just announced its 2014 endorsements, is a powerful example of this national support.

The Freethought Equality Fund (FEF) PAC was formed in 2013 to increase the number of “open humanists and atheists in public office.” FEF’s mission states that “when people see respected ethical humanists and atheists serve in public office, this will begin to dispel many myths about nonbelievers.”

To the general public—which is frequently unfamiliar with the strength, variety, and organization of the Humanist movement—an atheist PAC may shift perceptions of atheism toward a more legitimate, realistic appraisal.

The political success of atheists in Arizona is still insufficient, especially considering that the Pew Religious Landscape Survey shows there are more atheists in Arizona than Mormons (6% and 4% respectively), while nearly 20% of the state legislature is made up of Mormons—and only one atheist. Still, Arizona’s openness of public discourse around atheism and its visibility of nontheists in the political process is perhaps the best developed of any state in the nation thus far.

The courageous public admission of Arizona Rep. Mendez’s atheism has allowed the nontheistic community to feel welcome in the political process. The media coverage of congressional candidate James Woods’ radical honesty regarding his Humanist values has helped put a face on Humanism in Arizona. And the endorsement of both Rep. Mendez and Mr. Woods by the Freethought Equality Fund adds a measure of legitimacy to the national organizing efforts of atheists in politics.

Could more states mirror Arizona’s rapid expansion of atheist participation in politics? The visibility, political cover, and financial support the FEF PAC seeks to provide are critical weapons in ensuring that the political power of atheists and religious minorities is not choked out by majority religious rule.

The failure to bring atheists in from the political margins is nothing short of a failure in the American experiment—but the secular investment in Arizona politics is building exactly the kind of healthy pluralism that safeguards us all. Here’s hoping more states work with FEF and begin to follow Arizona’s example.

Secular lobbyist Serah Blain.

Secular lobbyist Serah Blain. Photo by John Grahame, courtesy Blain.

Seráh Blain has worked on and volunteered for dozens of political campaigns; led nonprofit organizations in creating issues advocacy programs; and most recently worked as the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for Arizona. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Arizona Interfaith Movement and the national Secular Student Alliance.

28 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, you are not going to win many converts when you start things out with as slanted a paragraph as this:
    “The state of Arizona—notorious for laws that invite racial profiling, criminalize reproductive healthcare, and block gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community members from full inclusion in social and civic life”

    If you have to slant every position your opponent holds, you are demonstrating extreme weakness, and are not likely to attract many followers. But I have noticed this about many atheists. They seem to act like this. Perhaps they believe their distortions, or perhaps they are incapable of gaining converts except to demonize their opponents, but it is worrisome for a group that says they believe in facts and evidence to go around slanting everything.

    • @Rodneyl

      That is not a slant.

      Arizona is a bible thumping, gun toting, creationist, faith-based backwater.
      There is more civilized discourse in Arizona’s caves where ancient barbaric scribblings still survive among its mesas!

      And the state’s politics reveals it.

      Senator McCain’s horrific choice of HOLY ROLLER THEOCRAT Sarah Palin on his presidential ticket in 2008 is a disgraceful legacy and will live in infamy for those of us who care about American democracy for decades to come.

      We won’t forget that Arizona voted for the Christian Theocracy to take over the country that year.

      • bp Benedict-Johns

        @Max, careful Max, as you continue to demonize your opponents you risk making them to be the underdog, the martyr. This culture loves to place the underdog on a pedestal; on second thought, Max buddy keep the good work!!!

        • @bp Benedict-Johns,

          If the culture loves the underdog, why do so many Christians want to kill gays?

          Arizona is a state that wants to destroy the freedoms of the minorities.

          That is not ‘love of underdogs’.
          That is shooting fish in a barrel.

          • Goldstein Squad Member

            Let Max rant…people need to know what atheists really want.

            Every time the atheists have actually gotten full political control of a country, they have killed MILLIONS of their opponents, especially Christians.

            Every. Damn Time.

          • bp Benedict-Johns

            Ah a straw man! When the aids epidemic and public opinion was swayed by their perceived plight, the GLBT community became the underdog and the culture has raced to correct perceived wrongs of the past. And some day when the culture recognizes the degree of intolerance put forth by extremists in your community you will be perceived as the antagonist. And really Max, where are you sources for the statement about the hoards of Christians lining up to terminate gay people with extreme prejudice. Christians are often judged guilty of unrealistic hyperbolic rethoric, aren’t you bordering on the same?

          • @bp Benedict-Johns

            The Religious Freedom Act of Arizona was an attempt to isolate Gays in the same way Hitler’s Peace Treaty with the Vatican in 1933 was an attempt to isolate Jews.

            For shame.
            Religion is ultimately inhuman, deferring the important questions of decency to an unresponsive, invisible celestial air pocket.

            Religion is the enemy of kindness, love and human decency.

          • Max brought up HITLER and, per Godwin’s Law, loses and is recognized as an Atheist Troll

    • I made billions and billions of galaxies, all are massive in size and contain billions of stars and planets in each one, I also made gravity, and over 350,000 species of beetles, so if I dont want you to work on a certain day of the week, then you better not work that day.

      Love,

      god :)

    • Winning over converts and telling the truth are two very different things.

      Arizona politics these days are notoriously just right of Mussolini. The level of batcrap insane legislation proposed there outpaces most states not named Texas. John McCain was the last relatively sane politician to be elected from there. Some things should be demonized. Especially when politicians treat personal liberties in a cavalier manner.

      Its that kind of insanity which is giving atheist political participation a boost in the arm. There is a real tangible threat seen by the political theocrats in the state.

    • You attack the article for publishing slanted views, then you yourself do the same. I’m an atheist republican that supports SB1070, and i’m against government funded abortions. Yes atheists tend to be liberal, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a significant libertarian population of atheists that support common sense government.

      • I share your sentiment, even though I completely oppose your political views and have trouble with the combination of “libertarian” and “common sense government” in the same sentence. :)

      • @Rick,

        I cannot figure out why you would use your freedom of speech, freedom to vote and freedom FROM religion to advocate for stupid religious laws like SB1070 which makes everybody free to enact Sharia Law.

        That is like using a getaway car to turn yourself in.

    • Exactly what atheists distortions? Like most theists, you make accusations without evidence. That’s not surprising, theists despise verifiable facts, they are always fatal to any religion.

      There’s not slant here, only easily observable facts. But those are unpleasant because, no matter how much you dislike or disbelieve them, they are stlil facts.

      If any religion had a facts to present, they wouldn’t need their threats of hell or empty promises of heaven. Nor would they have to engage in lies and deceit. That religion would sweep all others away.

  2. I would add to what she has said this speculation: the religious right has begun to alienate not just the young but much of the middle in the electorate. Since the religious right represents Christianity in the minds of many Americans (though in fact they are really a minority), the general public may well consider anyone who isn’t a Christian more desirable as a candidate for public office.

  3. I don’t believe this article is slanted. I thought it was pretty neutral. It can’t be denied that AZ has made national news for its legislation regarding minorities and the LGBT community. When federal law was passed allowing ‘Dreamers’ to stay in the country our governor made it more difficult for them to pursue thier goals and get a steady jobs by denying them drivers licenses. This is one example of the types of legislation that has branded our state. Don’t even get me started on our gun laws. I think it’s great that more than one group is organizing for fair representation in a country where the vast majority of political influence comes from very few with their own personal agendas. Great article.

  4. Goldstein Squad Member

    Politicians are corrupt enough as it is. Why would we think that atheists who are Moral Relativists and who don’t think they will ever be held accountable for their lives would be any better?

    History indicates that every time they have gotten full political control of a country they have killed their opponents in mass.

    • @Goldstein Squad Member,

      WRONG.
      Name these Atheists who you say killed everyone.
      Atheism is the lack of belief in a gods. Atheists do not believe superstitious nonsense.

      Religionists are always the mass murderers. Every single damn time.

      • He’s right. Even Hitchens admitted that Lenin and Trotsky were committed atheists who wanted to eliminate religion because of…yep…their atheism.

        And he referred to atheists who had full political control, not all atheists, even though you say “religionists” are always mass murderers, making you a lying bigot.

        You hate enough to be scary. Who knows what you would do if you had the chance.

        • @JD Jordan,

          I do hate religion and the immorality of Jesus, Yahweh, Mohammed and Allah – that is true. They are a cancer to civilization and always have cooperated with barbarians.

          But I hate the cancer. Not the cancer patients.
          You don’t seem to be grasping the difference at all.

          You have made personal attacks on me for being an Atheist.
          I have a right to hate your god.

          • Atheist Max is full of hate. But I think he is trying to say he hates God, although he does not believe God exists, but that he does not hate believers.

            I don’t believe him.

            But one thing fills me with confidence, and that is that scum like Atheist Max will never get elected to political office because they can’t quit spewing their bile.

        • @JD Jordan,

          I’m sorry indoctrination has made you frightened.
          I don’t mean to be ‘scary’ but only to speak the truth regarding Arizona.

  5. Look up “The League of Militant Godless”, just one of many atheist organizations devoted to eliminating believers, you lying sack.

    I have no particular sympathy for believers, but you are a loser, Max.

    You are so stupid, you may even be a believers posing as an atheist to stir up the hate.

    • @JD JORDAN,

      You are demonstrating the RELIGIOUS SWITCH OF DEATH.
      Christian feels happy – he preaches love.
      Christian feels angry – he wants to kill everyone.

      Witness the killer God in action:

      “bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King and Execute them in front of me.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)
      “The Master shall cut him to pieces” – Jesus (Luke 12)

    • @JD Jordan,

      Yahweh (supposedly) identified hundreds of sins through His prophets.
      Simply looking at Yahweh’s list of sins, one is faced with the fact that Jesus sinned.

      You are aware of Jesus’ sins, are you not?
      Jesus was the first Christian sinner.
      And he was among the most sinful by Biblical standards.

      What is amazing is the spell people are under that they do not recognize those sins for what they are.

  6. This is a great thing, and even refreshing to find a religious take on it that isn’t filled with falsehoods and mere name calling reactions. Especially on a site like this. I find it interesting that a humanist publishes here.

    I can only hope that our government will have less superstition involved in it, especially on our national science committee.

  7. Ms. Blain understands that the political equation here in AZ is quite complex. The Mormons are a very powerful group because
    1) They are backed by the formidable treasury of the LDS church (see CA prop 8) and
    2) Large numbers of what I can only describe as ‘fellow traveller Christians’ vote for whatever religiotard candidate is fielded by the GOP.
    The East Valley (little SLC) is the big driver in all this. The Mormons have a death grip on most political organizations in the East Valley and they have parleyed this fortified base of operations into state legislature dominance.
    However there are other forces at work; Tucson returns mostly Democrats but the Tucson area has failed to grow at the pace of metro Phoenix and lacks numbers. Also the Hispanic element in Tucson is starting to dominate and Latino communities have their own agendas.
    It is to be hoped that the secular initiative will shake loose some of those centrist christians from their knee-jerk voting patterns. Regardless, AZ has earned its execrable political reputation and I fully expect it to be maintained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.