“Regardless of your own personal worldview, making public policies that maintain the separation of church and state makes the world a better place.” This was the message from Sean Faircloth, executive director of the Secular Coalition of America, who spoke at fundraiser held at a private residence in Santa Barbara on October 7. The Secular Coalition is an advocacy group that lobbies for separation of church and state on behalf of 10 member organizations. Organizer Anne Rojas-Keenan said, “I was very pleased by the responses to the invitations. I think people paid attention to what Sean had to say and it’s nice to have a person of a caliber and class as Sean representing secular interests.”
Faircloth’s speech, entitled “One Nation Under the Constitution,” covered current public policy issues the coalition is addressing, such as proselytizing both in the military and in federally funded faith-based initiatives; and eliminating religious exemptions in child safety laws and business regulations. “There should be no special exemptions for religious reasons,” Faircloth said. “Everyone should be treated equally under the law.”
Faircloth also talked about the coalition’s more long-term goal of getting greater participation by people who believe that separation of church and state is vital. “The demographics are changing, more people are identifying themselves as nontheistic, and yet they tend to be underrepresented in politics,” he said. He cited the case of Jessica Crank, a 15-year-old Tennessee girl who died in 2002 of bone cancer after her mother opted to treat her with prayer rather than medicine. Tennessee law has a provision allowing such religious exemptions. “These are issues that can energize a Joe Six-Pack to take action against these laws,” said Faircloth.
Sean Faircloth began to rethink his views on religion when, as a child, he was reading a copy of the Children’s Bible and came to the story about God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. “It made me wonder, is it moral to ask a father to kill his own son to prove his piety?'” Later, after auditioning for a production of Inherit the Wind and receiving the part of Henry Drummond, he realized that things hadn’t improved as much as they should have since the 1920s. “There are still places,” he said, “where separation of church and state is not the law of the land.”
The attendees shared Faircloth’s views. John Coppejans said, “Religious groups have had too much influence in Washington and I don’t like it.” Mary Wilk, a board member of the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara, noted that getting people involved in such organizations is problematic. “Generally, people who share our views don’t join groups,” she said. “They tend to be individualist thinkers and they don’t realize there are organizations that share their views.”
Several students from UCSB also weighed in. Nathaniel Padgett, a senior, said, “Something like the Secular Coalition of America is necessary to help bring a voice to nonreligious groups in the United States. We’re built to be a nation that’s secular, which has separation of church and state.” Fellow student Meli Wasserman added, “It’s important to keep religious ideology out of the classroom.”