Monday, May 10, 2010

Doug Stewart – “Political Lobbyist”… Eh?

I recently visited Washington DC to attend the ‘Civic Days at the Capital’ event put on by the Center For Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy. The Center for Inquiry advocates for science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values and the Office of Public Policy hosts Civic Days to bring non-believers, secular humanists, and skeptics from across America to Washington DC to engage in citizen lobbying on important issues, and also to have a little fun!

I flew in to DC the afternoon of Saturday April 24th and met that evening with all the CFI staff over pizza, salad and beer. Matt Sapara, CFI Policy Analyst gave a Welcome to DC presentation, and the Director of Public Policy, Toni Van Pelt gave us an overview of the lobbying we were to be doing the following Tuesday. An added bonus was that a friend I met in New Orleans, Sean Faircloth, the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America was in attendance. Sean was the guest of honor at the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association’s 10th Anniversary Banquet last year.

The following Sunday and Monday were packed full of things to do. With interesting presentations by people such as Maggie Garrett of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Marissa Brown from the Alliance for Justice, and Dr. Stu Jordan, CFI’s Science Adviser. CFI also had ‘real live politicians’ come speak to us like Doug Crandall, Director of Legislative Affairs for the US Forest Service and now Acting USDA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations for the Obama Administration, who told us how Washington really works. (The quote, “There are two things you will never wish to watch: the making of sausage and the making of legislation”, is really true.) Also, the very charismatic, likable, and advocate for church~state separation, Congressman Brian Baird, (D-WA) talked about The Importance of Citizen Involvement in Government.

But that was just the half of it. CFI organized a tour at the Smithsonian Museum Hall of Human Origins where I got to meet all my distant cousins, my favorite being ‘Lucy’, otherwise know as Australopithecus Afarensis. It had been about 3.2 million years so we had a lot to catch up on. This was followed by an exhibition in honor of Charles Darwin called The Evolution of Evolution that focused on the significant role that Darwin’s theory has played in explaining and unifying all the biological sciences. The last “museum” I visited was the Creation Museum in Kentucky. (I apologize.) Believe me, the science, evidence, reason, and absence of the supernatural in explaining our history was refreshing to say the least.

A very entertaining walking tour was provided by Steve C. Lowe, a Director of the Washington Area Secular Humanists (WASH) on ‘The Great Agnostic’ Robert G. Ingersoll. He was the best-known orator and a political speechmaker of 19th-century America on subjects such as politics, ethics, human freedom, and he spoke against slavery and opposed the Religious Right of his day. Part of the tour involved reciting some of Ingersoll’s quotes. My favorite was Is there an intelligent man or woman now in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent.” Information about the walking tour can be found at

There was also a guided tour of the Capitol Building, which included both the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. It was quite awe inspiring.

The Monday evening culminated with a formal dinner attended by Dr. R. Elisabeth 'Liz' Cornwell, Executive Director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. http://richarddawkinsfoundation.%20org/foundation,RDFRSstaff.

Tuesday April 27th was lobbying day! CFI had previously instructed us on how to set up appointments with the Legislative Offices of our choice. I chose Congressman Steve Scalise, representing the 1st District of Louisiana, (Northshore, where I live), and Louisiana Senator David Vitter. David Vitter’s office never even acknowledged my emails and voice mails, (hmm?), but I did get an appointment with Scalise’s Legislative Assistant, Caitlin Songy. Assisted by CFI’s Matt Separa we discussed a number of issues, starting with the Louisiana Science Education Act, something dear to my heart, which allows school teachers to teach creationism along side evolution in schools. I tried to point out the national embarrassment that this Bill spotlights on Louisiana. I was told that this was a gubernatorial issue, but I did ask that my impression be conveyed to the Congressman. Other issues ranged from the Faith Based Initiatives to repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy concerning gays in the military. Congressman Scalise has a 100% ‘pro family’ (read ‘pro religion’) voting record, so there is little or no hope of budging his opinion. However, being able to vent my point of view so close to his ear gave me a real sense of achievement.

However, I would say that the highlight of the visit was when I went to the National Archives Building to see the actual Constitution of the United States of America. I approached the Bill of Rights and, leaning over the casing (you’re not allowed to touch the glass), I put on my reading glasses and read out loud, slowly and clearly the complete First Amendment. It bought a tear to my eye. I now have personal proof that it exists! This is in spite of legislation such as that for the engraving of “In God We Trust” at the Capitol Visitor Center. (See Photo 7.) In July 2009, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution (Senate by voice vote and in the House by 410-8) to compel the Office of the Architect of the U.S. Capitol to prominently engrave this religious motto at a cost of about $50,000 of tax payers money. In addition to being discriminatory against me, it’s in direct violation of those ten tortured words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. Maybe the politicians in Washington should do as I did and read them?

1 comment:

  1. Doug, It's so cool to see you got to meet all these wonderful 'good' people and hear of your trip in and around Washington DC. I was too young to remember my years living just outside of it in Suitland, Maryland till I was 5yrs before coming to Louisiana.

    I'm not suprised that you never hear from Vitter's office. Like Steve, you would've only gotten an assistant to speak with, which most likely are just as 'blind' as they are and wont relay your message or care.

    Seeing the Constitution as you go to do is also is on my To-Do list. It sounds like you had a great time and got to see and talk to Sean Faircloth again. Thanks for writing this up.