Secular group plans Va. atheist lobbyists by 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A national secular group is planning to have a lobbying interest in Virginia by next January with an unabashedly godless agenda.

Virginia is among the first group of states the Secular Coalition for America is targeting for new chapters with trained lobbyists in each statehouse.

Spokeswoman Lauren Youngblood says SCA will focus on the states because that’s where the group sees the most egregious legislation emerging.

For Virginia, she singled out a measure passed this year that shields religious-affiliated child-placement organizations that object to gay unions from being forced to place adoptive children with same-sex couples.

"You can hold religious beliefs and still belong to our chapter," Youngblood said. "We’re not just for nontheists. We’re for anybody who believes in keeping religion from dictating secular laws."

SCA already lobbies Congress and federal agencies in Washington.

Youngblood says she knows SCA will face a chilly reception in Virginia, where every House of Delegates and state Senate floor session begins with a prayer, and other Bible Belt capitals and is prepared for it.

"If they open their sessions with a prayer, then we need to be in those states to remind them that there is separation of church and state," she said.

Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William and a conservative whose fierce Roman Catholic faith has made him one of the legislature’s most prolific sponsors and advocates for the religious right, joked about the SCA’s plans.

"I hope to drive them to their knees in prayer, … but this time in Washington," said Marshall, one of four seeking the GOP nomination in Virginia’s June 12 U.S. Senate primary.