The Secular Coalition of America is a lobbying group and umbrella organization for several different secular, humanist, atheist, and skeptics organizations. The SCA is responsible for lobbying at state and federal levels, supporting legislation that is science based rather than “faith” or religion based.
Yesterday, the SCA surprised a lot of people by appointing a long time Republican operative, Edina Rogers, as the Executive Director. Rogers has been involved in the Republican Party as advisor or staffer to several senators and both Presidents Bush. She was the General Council for the Republican National Senatorial Committee in 1994, and has appeared on Fox News representing the White House on several issues including the war in Iraq and energy policy. Despite some efforts to distance Rogers from the Republican policies of the mid 1990s through recent years, there is no doubt that Edwina Rogers has been part of that process and on board with those policies.
Having said that, Rogers has worked in recent years, as a lobbyist, on projects that would not be expected to be part of the primary Republican agenda. She is a secularist and has shown evidence of having favored some policies that would be in alignment with some of the groups represented by the SCA. Here is the video produced by the SCA in which Rogers introduces herself to her new constituents:
The Secular Coalition of America represents organizations that by any standard are liberal or progressive in the main. That this is true is an unavoidable conclusion. The Right Wing and the Republican Party that represents it in Washington and elsewhere is explicitly in favor of breaking down the barrier between church and state, is explicitly anti women and thus anti-humanist, and is the most anti-science social institution that has existed in the West since the days of Galileo. The representatives of the right wing have venues they use regularly which are devoid of other voices, such as Fox News. Rogers has been part of that Right Wing, making policy, and speaking on its behalf in those venues for 20 years. Therefore, it is astonishing that anyone would ever consider her to be a good choice to head the umbrella organization.
On the other hand, Rogers states explicitly and repeatedly in the video introduction that she will lobby for legislation that is explicitly science based and not religion based. Elsewhere she has noted that Republicans are just as secular as Democrats, as a subset of society. This is actually probably true. I spend a fair amount of time hanging around with Democrats, in explicit Party political contexts, and as a group they are annoyingly not-atheistic. I imagine that as a group, both Democrats and Republicans are generally religious, just as Americans generally are. The difference, though, is that Democrats are explicitly pro separation of church and state, and Republicans are explicitly against it.
Rogers has suggested and a small number of others seem to agree that she can implement a policy of reaching across the aisle and making things happen. This is a great strategy that could be very useful, but I’m afraid that there may be one component needed that will be hard to come by: A Tardis or some other form of time machine. There was a time in the past when bi-partisan activities occurred, bi-partisan bills were passed, and in some cases, it there was even overlap in policy positions between the two major parties. Due to the Republican “one party” strategy initiated about the time Rogers was with the RNSC in the 1990s, recently advanced even further by the Tea Party philosophy that elected officials only represent those who voted for them, “reaching across the aisle” is no longer an option. It is very likely that the best Rogers will be able to do is to not get thrown out of as many representatives offices as she might otherwise. I am very doubtful that her lobbying efforts will cause any Right Wingers to go along with a secular movement in Congress.
But still, maybe she can do this job. Perhaps the hiring committee (which as far as I know is anonymous) at the SCA has made a brilliant move here. Perhaps Rogers will do well. I’m enough of a political realist to know that people’s surficial position and what they really think are not ever identical in Washington or in any State House. Rogers is a professional lobbyist, and she seems to have convinced an anonymous committee of presumably smart people that this will work. It does worry me a bit that the sorts of people who rise in the Humanist and Secular movements have a better than average chance of being politically naive. The idea of a “hands across the aisle” strategy working in 2012 suggests that this is the case. If Rogers is a good lobbyist and the anonymous committee of the SCA is not as politically savvy as they might be, perhaps Rogers just landed herself a nice job in DC to tide her over between important things. So yes, I’m saying that on one hand it is quite possible that the SCA has made a brilliant move, and on the other hand, it is quite possible that they’ve been had.
The proof will be in the pudding. However, I do not advocate the position of assuming that Rogers is sincere, at true secularist, and not a fox guarding the hen house. I can’t make those assumptions and I suggest other do not as well for one simple reason. The Right Wing, and the Republican Party that represents them have declared a war on Women, a war on Secularism, a war on gays, and a war on Science. Rogers was part of that political movement. In my mind, the evidence at hand requires that she not start out her new job in a position of trust. She will have to earn that trust with transparent action, stating and maintaining clear and transparent goals, and by getting results.
I have not heard any official word from the SCA itself on what they are up to. A phone meeting initiated between me and one of their representatives
never developed happened Friday afternoon, and I’ll be writing something up a bit later pursuant to that. My understanding is that even people in key positions in the organizations the SCA represents did not know she had been hired until minutes before it was generally announced.
Later in May, several extraordinary women will be speaking at the Women in Secularism conference. Edwina Rogers was added to that program, apparently, a few moments after her appointment was made known. To me, that conference is going to be a key moment. A representative of the Bush Administration and the Right Wing Republican Party speaking in that lineup … and speaking in that lobby and at those breakfast and lunch tables and over those beers and martinis… Will the women of that conference leave the event with a trust, even an admiration, for Edwina Rogers? If so, then I’ll support her too, because many of those women are trusted friends or colleagues.
To all the people going to the Women in Secularism Conference: I recommend that you order the pudding for dessert.
Elsewhere on Freethoughtblogs:
Attempting the Impossible?
Controversy comes with the new Secular Coalition for America Executive Director
I won’t comment
A Republican to Head the Secular Coalition for America?
Who is going to be our spokesperson on Capitol Hill?
Despicable Right-Wing Political Hack New Director of the Secular Coalition for America
Secular Coalition For… The Right Wing GOP?
Edwina Rogers vs. Michael J. Fox