On January 28th, a bitterly cold Tuesday morning, approximately 20 people gathered for the second annual Secular Summit in the Museum Gallery in the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus. The summit was organized and hosted by the Center for Inquiry Northeast Ohio (CFI NE Ohio) but included people from the various secular groups in Ohio. In the morning we had several speakers, some training in lobbying, and then the afternoon was when participants visited their Representatives and Senators to introduce themselves and the issues of importance to seculars in the state. The extreme cold couldn’t keep us from talking to the legislature, most of whom have completely opposite views.
The Secular Summit was held in the Museum Gallery on the ground floor of the Ohio State House.
Monette Richards, President of CFI NE Ohio and Legislative chair for the Secular Coalition for Ohio, welcomed the participants to the summit. She then introduced the first speaker of the morning, Jamie Miracle from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio who spoke to the group about the continued massive attacks on reproductive rights by the Ohio legislature. She detailed all the laws passed and being considered such as HB 200 which would require women be told that fetuses can feel pain and that women who have abortions are more likely to get breast cancer. Neither of those “facts” are based on any science or factual evidence. HB 200 would also increase the waiting period before an abortion could be performed from 24 to 48 hours. It eliminates “medical necessity” as a reason to waive the waiting period. Basically HB 200 could kill women.
The summit also learned about the other method used to deny women their reproductive rights by using onerous regulations of abortion clinics. One regulation requires abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with hospitals yet the state prohibits public hospitals from having such agreements.
After such a disheartening story about reproductive rights in Ohio, the next speaker David Bowman cheered us up talking about his efforts to turn aside ultra conservative Tea Party efforts to take over his hometown school district. Bowman got active with other parents and friends who supported the teachers and administration of the Springboro Community City School District after he found out some of the extreme actions the school board was taking. It tried to gut the teacher’s contract and tried to force creationism into the curriculum. Bowman and his compatriots were able to stop the school board and eventually two of the extreme board members were voted out of office at the next election. His overall point to the summit was to pay attention with what is going on with school boards because they are one of the few government bodies that have little to no limits in what they can do and he also wanted us to organize against extremism when we find it. Bowman said it is the only way to protect our public schools.
Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America (SCA), talked to the summit about the national political scene as well as Ohio. She highlighted some of the early trends in polling for the 2014 Midterms and 2016 Presidential Elections. Although Ohio’s US Senators aren’t up for reelection in 2014, all 16 US Representatives and all 99 Ohio State Representatives are up for reelection. Rogers then gave a historical trend of Midterm elections where the party in power – this case the Democrats – has lost seats and due to gerrymandering the Republicans have a good chance of keeping the US House and taking control of the US Senate. She did stress that such an outlook can change before election day. I tend to believe that Republicans won’t have as good a chance as what has been seen historically in the Midterms.
Rogers also pointed out that more than 70% of people who identify themselves as “Nones” voted for President Obama in the last election. She explained that SCA has been talking to the White House on a regular basis and that has led to the President specifically mentioning nonbelievers in his speeches.
SCA has also published a Model Secular Policy Guide that spells out all the political issues seculars are interested in and what action we would like our elected officials to take. SCA will once again be putting out scorecards for members of Congress and Rogers announced that the Ohio chapter will be putting out one for Ohio legislators. Look for these scorecards sometime in September.
Just before the lunch break, Ohio Representative Mike Foley (D-14) made a few remarks. He thanked us for having the event and wanting to speak to legislators. He said it was important for all views to have a hearing in government.
The final speaker was Michael DeDora, director of the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy and the organization’s representative to the United Nations. He provided some training on how to lobby such as how to make phone calls and what to say when meeting in person with a lawmaker or their staff. DeDora also encouraged us to maintain future contact with the legislator to make sure our voice is heard in the statehouse and in Washington DC.
The rest of the day was when we met with our individual legislators.
I wasn’t as lucky as some. I only got to meet with staff people but I was still glad they met with me. I went with four other people (who were also in my local Humanist group) to meet with the staff of Senator Jim Hughes (R-16). Each of us were able to make our points. The staff person noted everything we said and accepted the folder of information we brought for the Senator.
Later I went alone to meet with an aide to Representative Cheryl Grossman (R-23). I didn’t think I did as well as I did in the Hughes meeting but I did make all my points and left a folder with her office.
The Secular Summit was a great experience and I hope to go to one next year. It was an opportunity to learn how to talk to lawmakers and hopefully clue them in that the secular view needs to be heard.
Check out a slideshow of some images I took at the event: