September 20, 2005

One of Our Own

Non-believers raising voice in capital

Meet Lori Lipman Brown our new DC Lobbyist.



Christian conservatives wield enormous clout here through a network of advocacy groups and relationships with politicians from President Bush on down. Atheists, humanists and freethinkers, as Brown's constituents call themselves, are usually ignored .

Brown likens atheists today to gays in the 1970s: people just coming out of the closet to fight for acceptance. "There's been so much rhetoric in the past decade about how important religion is to being a good person," she says, that "it's been scary" for people to say they don't believe in God. She vows to "use the A-word and not cringe."

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 11% said they do not believe in God but do believe in a "universal spirit" or "higher power"; 3% said they do not believe in God or a spirit or power. In a separate question, 1% said they are atheists (those who believe there is no God), 2% said they are agnostics (those unsure whether there is a God), and 11% said they have no religious preference.

The no-preference category includes people "who may not be ready to declare themselves atheists or agnostics," Pew Director Andrew Kohut says.

Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, counts them as non--believers — part of "a 30-million-strong constituency that is informed about the issues and votes."

Brown plans to work for non-believers in three ways:

• As part of broad coalitions fighting policies rooted in religious beliefs, such as limits on stem cell research and access to emergency contraception.

• In alliances with groups opposed to policies they believe breach the wall between church and state, such as giving taxpayer money to "faith-based" service programs.

• On causes Brown concedes are hard for politicians and the public to swallow, such as eliminating references to God from the U.S. oath of citizenship. She plans to stay out of the Pledge of Allegiance controversy for now because "the courts are on our side." Last week, a federal judge reaffirmed an earlier ruling that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge's phrase "under God" in public schools is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.