by Ms. Toni Van Pelt
President–Institute for Science and Human Values
When we at ISHV speak to our elected officials and staff, we state our group identification as secular humanists, skeptics, atheists, humanists, rationalists, naturalists, American voters. I argue that we humans are all complex and are at different stages of awareness. However, each of us and our groups self-identify, and we are a movement that is defined by the larger community. I think this is the most important thing for us to focus on in these dire times.
As dire as the next four years promise to be, we recognize that for the first time in our history more than half of U.S. citizens hold and cherish the values and principles of the Neo-Humanist Statement of Principles and Values as witnessed in the overwhelming popular vote in the U.S. presidential election. We must take the time to recognize this is a huge accomplishment and cause for celebration. We are only here for the blink of an eye and I’m proud to recognize how far progressive values have been instilled in our country by all of us. We have done well with our time here. As we know with progress comes backlash from those who do not share our values. So even as things look dark, take heart and remember, we are winning, year after year.
Fortunately for us today, the Religious Right has decided to openly embrace white supremacists and nationalists, sexual predators and hate groups and oh, yes, science deniers into its ranks demanding that we institute into law and public policy religious intrusion in our private and public lives, stating to do no less will force their followers to violate their beliefs . . . as if they are above those who do not believe as they do. In my opinion, one of the reasons they were so incensed by what they call “political correctness” and rail against gender and id politics is that they felt it was used to identify them as they are now doing so openly. They now have leadership who has given them permission to open the door and come out of the ‘ugly’ closet where they have been lurking all this time.
For all of us who believe in the life well lived, here and now, without thought of supernatural entities and strictures, stemming the tide of the threats sure to come from the next administration is of the utmost importance. We must guard our freedom from religious interference and challenge religious privilege, preferences and discrimination whenever they are introduced into our community, together. Know that we are welcome at the table.
Here are a few notes about why I believe it is urgent we link arms with other progressive and even religious groups:
The nominee for US Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions recalled one quote from Justice Sotomayor’s consent hearing that, he said, “still makes the hair stand on my neck.” “She said there is no objectivity, just a series of perspectives.” He suggested that the problem may be that Sotomayer [sic] and other judges aren’t sufficiently religious: “If you have secularization in the world and don’t believe in a higher being, maybe you don’t believe there is any truth.”
As a committed integrity in science supporter, you know how the in-coming administration, with the backing of the U.S. Congress, is prioritizing business deals for the wealthiest over the health and welfare of our populations and planet. This includes probable plans to scrub the archives of scientific data on global warming and to reduce regulatory department staff to annual salaries of $1. We must drive the outcry to stop this.
Edd Doerr of Americans for Religious Liberty shared “Betsy DeVos, nominee for Department of Education, and the other supporters of school vouchers want is for government to force all taxpayers to support the church-connected private schools that make up the vast majority of private schools. Let’s look at Indiana, the state mismanaged by VP-elect Mike Pence that is now the leading voucher state. On July 11, 2016, the Indiana Dept of Education listed the private schools approved to receive voucher funding. Here they are: Catholic schools, 154; Evangelical Christian, 60; Lutheran, 38; Islamic, 4; Adventist, 3; Jewish, 2; Baptist, 2; Presbyterian, 1.”
As for the sectarian religious nature of these private schools, in the Dec. 2016 newsletter of the Little Flower Catholic School in Indianapolis: “The 2005 statement from the bishops suggests that the reason Catholic schools exist is education and formation in the Catholic faith, the proclamation of the Gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ, community in Christ, service to others, and thanksgiving to God. Quality education and formation in self-discipline are critical, BUT THEY DO NOT PROVIDE THE RATIONALE FOR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS. // Father Bob.”
Public schools, serving 90% of our kids, are the backbone of American democracy. Installing DeVos as Education Secretary would be a horrible mistake for our country and our children. May I invite you to join us and resist in any way you are able. Our country and our world are counting on us to demonstrate courage. However you self-identify I have no doubt you will stand up for the values and principles of the Neo-Humanist Statement of Principles and Values. Be sure you let your elected officials know repeatedly, no matter their policy party, we will not allow our democracy to be destroyed. We are better than this: we are Americans.