On this National Day of Reason, it was announced that Edwina Rogers, whose previous experience is as a Republican DC lobbyist, who also had worked for President George W Bush and former Senator Trent Lott, was hired as the new Executive Director of Secular Coalition of America. Naturally I was a bit concerned but after reading some of what she had to say about her new job, I think she will be fine as long as she sticks to the SCA agenda.
From 2001-2002, Rogers served as an Economic Advisor for President George W. Bush at the White House, at the National Economic Council, where she focused on health and social security policy. She also worked on International Trade matters for President George H. W. Bush at the Department of Commerce from 1989 until 1991.
Rogers served as General Counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1994. She worked for Senator Lott while he was Majority Leader in 1999 and she handled health policy for Senator Sessions in 2003 and 2004. She practiced law in the Washington office of Balch and Bingham from 1991 until 1994.
In 1996, she was a Fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Rogers received her B.S. in Corporate Finance from the University of Alabama and a J.D. from Catholic University in Washington D.C
She has been a regular contributor to several newspaper columns, health and policy journals and has appeared as a regular guest on cable news television channels including MSNBC and FOX News.
That resume concerned me because President Bush and Trent Lott weren’t exactly friendly to members of the Secular Coalition. It did help me to learn Rogers applied for the job and the SCA didn’t go looking for a Republican to increase its lobbying cred.
Although hiring Rogers will do just that. Usually the religious right infested GOP would simply dismiss the work of SCA as liberal elitism anti-religion. Rogers is one of the few nontheistic Republicans I know.
Why the Secular Coalition?
I was drawn to the SCA because I believe that human rights are best protected by separation of religion and government—and unfortunately that separation is under attack recently. All sectors of society need to be included at the decision making table, and as of now there are 50 million secular Americans that are underrepresented and undervalued. The Secular Coalition and its member organizations have done a fantastic job of helping to raise the image of nontheists in this country. I plan to expand on what the SCA has already been doing and help take the organization to the next level. I was selected for this position because I am an expert in government affairs and a proven coalition builder. I am going to put my two decades of experience in Washington working for politicians and as a lobbyist, to use in effecting legislation—we want to see laws coming from both sides that are based on reason and logic, not religion.
Have you always been a secularist? How do you describe yourself and your beliefs?
I am a nontheist, but tend to shy away from labels, because I think they have a way of creating division within the movement. I have always been a firm secularist and an ardent supporter of the separation of religion and government. I am passionate about increasing the respect for nontheists in the United States and protecting the secular character of our government. I think that America is a place where there should be no religious test for participation in political life. I certainly feel that theists should be fully able to participate in public life—but no more than nontheists. I am not here to end religion.
How do you think your Republican background will play into your role here at the Secular Coalition?
My Republican background will help open certain doors that may have been closed to the secular movement before. It’s a misnomer that the majority of Republicans believe in the comingling of religion and government. The Religious Right is a vocal part of the Republican Party, but it’s also a minority. Most Republicans don’t necessarily agree with them, but may simply take a laissez faire attitude on that particular topic because they haven’t been engaged on the issues. If we aim to combat the political influence of those who want to see religion inserted in our secular government we will have to work with decision makers on both sides of the aisle—and I am uniquely qualified to help the Secular Coalition do that.
Hemant Mehta has a longer more indepth interview on his website. the Friendly Atheist:
This isn’t the first time a “liberal” group has hired a Republican to help deal with a conservative Congress.
Reading the comments from Mehta’s post reminded me that not everyone will think Rogers is a good fit. Just like the Focus on the Family/Pat Robertson Borg Collective, the atheist side has its party purity complainers. I agree with some of the comments that it is hard to be a Republican and support secularism since the majority of Republican work is anti-secularism as they pander to the religious right. The religious right may be a small vocal minority but the national GOP and state GOP parties pander to them all the time. Rogers comment about the right not being a real issue is a common GOP talking point that doesn’t fit the evidence.
SCA made a bold move hiring Rogers and I hope they hit a home run and that the more vocal critics hold back and see what she actually does rather than negatively imagine what she might do.
My eyes are wide open.