White House Biden officials hold first meeting with atheist and secular groups
(RNS) – Representatives of atheist and secular groups held their first meeting with White House officials last week, marking the Biden administration’s willingness to work with growing networks of Americans not affiliated with religion.
The Secular Coalition for America hosted the Friday May 14 meeting with Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Leaders from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Secular Coalition for America, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry and Ex-Muslims in North America also attended the virtual meeting which included Josh Dickson, deputy director of the office. , and program specialist Ben O’Dell.
“Frankly, it always feels like we’re making history when we’re included or invited anywhere,” Debbie Allen, executive director of the Secular Coalition, told Religion News Service.
“Historically, organizations like ours that focus on the needs of unbelievers, non-theists, atheists, humanists, free thinkers, etc., are often overlooked when it comes to ‘spaces’. interreligious “.
Rogers welcomed the opportunity to cooperate with non-religious groups, alongside faith-based organizations that have engaged with his office.
“The partnerships office continues to meet with a wide range of religious and community leaders,” she said in a statement to Religion News Service. “We are grateful to hear from diverse Americans and explore opportunities to work together to serve those in need.”
Allen said staff members who are part of the 19 member organizations of the coalition of free thinkers, agnostics, humanists and other lay Americans attended the weekly meetings organized by the Office of Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. . Biden restarted the office with a Feb. 14 executive order, reorganizing it after the initiative went largely unstaffed during the Trump administration.
Allen said the coalition remains concerned about the effect of the previous administration’s policies relating to denominational social services and urges consideration of new policies to better protect the religious freedom of beneficiaries and to ensure separation from the church. and the state by government officials.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF, welcomed the first meeting with the new administration.
“With over a quarter of the population identifying themselves as ‘None’ (no religion), it is vital that our community, our voices are heard in favor of reason in social policy and the maintenance of our secular government “she said in a statement.
Gaylor, who attended the meeting with two other staff from his organization, said the FFRF had also listened to appeals from faith-based offices in current and past administrations. She also attended the 2019 State Department Ministerial Meeting for the Promotion of Religious Freedom.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said he viewed the latest meeting as problematic.
“If the Biden administration is going to manipulate the founding purpose of faith-based initiatives by welcoming the advice of secular activists, it would do us all a favor and simply destroy this office,” he said in a statement. “It’s obviously a bust.”
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