Secular Coalition for America Forms an Illinois Chapter
The newly formed and still nascent Illinois Chapter of the Secular Coalition of America held its first in a series of open conference calls today designed to both raise awareness of its lobbying efforts on behalf of secularists in Illinois and inspire volunteers to form an executive committee and join future volunteer efforts.
Kelly Damerow, research and advocacy manager for the Secular Coalition for America, hosted the call, which attracted approximately 40 participants from Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, the north, south and west suburbs of Chicago, the city of Chicago and Indiana. Member from many non-theist groups were represented, including the Humanists of West Suburban Chicagoland, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Black Nonbelievers of Chicago, the Bloomington-Normal Freethinkers, Friendly Atheist.com, and the South Suburban Freethought Community. Also joining the call was Illinois’ most notable crusader for secularism, Rob Sherman.
Damerow explained the status and aims of the coalition, the only 501(c)(4) representing secular and nontheistic Americans, and identified a few of the more egregious activities being pushed through legislative process in Illinois. For example, religiously-inspired legislation can be found in IL HB 3774, which would amend the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. It provides that: a child welfare agency that is religiously based or owned by, operated by, or affiliated with a bona fide religious organization may opt out of fulfilling a request for services, including an adoption or foster family home application, including any licensure and placement, which would constitute a violation of the organization's sincerely held religious doctrines or beliefs.
IL HJR 95 would show support for the Illinois laws reserving the institution of marriage to one man and one woman by stating the General Assembly's opposition to any efforts to extend the institution of marriage to two individuals of the same sex, whether by statute or by court decision. It also urges members of the General Assembly to adopt HJRCA 50, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution stating that "Only a marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Illinois". Another bill, IL HB 88, would provide a property tax exemption for parking areas owned by any religious institution that meets the qualifications for exemption if the parking area is leased or rented to a municipality for free public parking.
The audience was encouraged to participate on the call and several voiced concerns about city and municipal issues around education. Sherman identified cases where religious leaders who doubled as legislators were writing bills that direct hundreds of thousands of dollars to their own religious organizations.
At this stage of the chapter’s development, Damerow said organizers were focused on setting up the chapter, putting leadership together and tracking state issues, an activity for which the coalition has secured a software application to help. Attention to local issues will be paid further down the road, but Damerow encouraged people to keep tracking issues and raising concerns on the conference calls or direct them to the leadership when it is in place.
The coalition is seeking qualified volunteers for those leadership positions. Contact Damerow at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next conference call will be Thursday, October 11th at 3pm ET/2pm CT. To register for the call, go to Thursday, October 11th at 3pm ET/2pm CT.