A number of years ago, the Secular Coalition for America (SCA) took a lot of criticism when they hired Republican lobbyist Edwina Rogers as their Executive Director. At the time, I supported Rogers because I thought she could make inroads with those in the Republican Party who value secularism. That didn’t end up so well. Now the Secular Coalition for America has hired Larry Decker as their new Executive Director. The problem is that Decker identifies himself as an “unaffiliated Christian.” A few atheists have done interviews with him already (here and here), but I had questions of my own. The following is my interview with Larry Decker about his new position as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America.
1. Your predecessor, Edwina Rogers, was a Republican. According to your bio, you started your political career working for a Republican congressman. What is your current political affiliation and how have your political views evolved over the years?
The Secular Coalition for America is a nonpartisan advocacy group, so while I do have my own personal political leanings, I will make sure they never influence the direction of this organization. That said, I am personally a lifelong, left-of-center Democrat.
It is true that I started my career working for a Republican member of Congress, former Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert. He was my hometown Congressman and I came to D.C. to do an internship in his office, which turned into a job. I am extremely proud to have worked for Congressman Boehlert – he’s the kind of Republican I think we are lacking in today’s political environment. He was the Chairman of the Science Committee, a fierce defender of the environment even when at odds with his own party, prochoice, understood the First Amendment, and he served his constituents well. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Congressman Boehlert. While we did not agree on everything, I miss his presence on Capitol Hill. He’s also just a helluva nice guy.
2. As an “unaffiliated Christian” why do you think the atheist community should trust you to represent our interests in Washington?
That’s a concern I can absolutely understand and appreciate. I’m not asking anyone to trust me right out of the gate. What I am asking for is the opportunity to earn their trust. I am here for the right reasons. I accepted this position because I believe in the mission of the Secular Coalition for America, I believe in the staff, and I believe that, together, we have the potential to be a leading political force in the upcoming 2016 elections.
3. As an “unaffiliated Christian” can you be a good spokesperson for an atheist lobbying organization?
That’s a very fair question. Just to be clear, the Secular Coalition for America represents not only atheists, but also agnostics, humanists, and the full spectrum of nontheistic identities. As I’ve said before, I feel very strongly that the nontheistic worldview is valuable and needs to be respected and represented in both the political conversation and in society at large. I will be not only a spokesperson, but an ardent defender of nontheistic Americans and a champion for our secular values.
I took this position at the Secular Coalition for America because I truly want to help move the needle on the public’s respect for nontheists and their world view. As a gay man, I have personally seen and experienced discrimination as a result of religious privilege in this country. I’ve witnessed it in the way close friends of mine who are atheists are treated. My values are much better represented in the secular community than in the religious community I was raised in, and I feel more at home in this movement than I do in any church.
4. How will you work to gain the trust of the greater atheist community?
I’ll do it by ensuring that under my leadership, the Secular Coalition for America continues to lead the charge against religious privilege in this country. We will win victories that the secular community can be proud of, and as I’ve said before, I will go toe-to-toe with anyone who dares to invoke their religious beliefs in an attempt to silence or marginalize nontheists. I am passionate about the mission of the Secular Coalition and I look forward to fighting for it.
5. What are some of the issues you would like to focus on in Washington?
In the 2016 elections and beyond, I will focus on making our constituency the political force I know we can be. A lot of presidential candidates have said this is a “watershed” moment for us as a country. I think that is true for us as a movement. We need to make sure that we are seen, heard and counted as we keep our elected officials and candidates for office accountable to the Constitution. I will also work diligently to cultivate respect for nontheistic Americans among both lawmakers and the public. This is absolutely necessary in our efforts to ensure that nontheists feel like they can live their lives as openly nontheistic Americans.
6. Who is your favorite legislator and why?
I really have too many to list, although I think now more than ever, my list of not-so-favorite legislators might be even longer. It’s easier to explain why my favorites are who they are. My favorite legislators are the men and women who run for office for the right reasons and take their jobs seriously. They care about their constituents. They take their duties seriously and feel a sincere level of personal gratification in the work they do – recognizing that legislating is both a commitment and a privilege.