Yesterday we held our first Lobby Day at the Legislative Building in Raleigh. It was the first time for those of us participating and we all found it to be both exciting and enlightening! Please share this report with your membership. We encourage and welcome your participation in the Secular Coalition of North Carolina's efforts to support religiously neutral legislation in our state. You can find us on Facebook and at SecularNC.org.
Participants in SCNC 2014 Lobby Day all agreed the experience was educational, empowering, and, indeed, transformative! We visited 11 legislators’ offices, meeting with 4 lawmakers and 7 legislative aids, attended the joint Committee on Education and the House Legislative Session, and introduced our organization to visitors to our Lobby Table, most notably among them, the celebrated and recently retired Senator Ellie Kinnaird.
Our mission was to introduce SCNC to potential allies within the legislature, to advocate for HB 1075 (Repeal School Vouchers), and to speak against SB 370 (Respect for School Prayer). SCNC Co-chair Susanne Werner, husband and humanist activist Mike Werner, and SCNC Treasurer Jane Nelson had no sooner set up our Lobby Table when we noticed on the day’s schedule that the Education Committee was about to meet to discuss SB 370!
In the Education Committee meeting we were privileged to witness valiant attempts by Rep. Rick Glazier and Rep. Paul Luebke to amend the more egregious clauses in SB 370. These common sense amendments were met with remarkably emotional testimonies by the proponents of the original bill wording, who related the agony and distress experienced by students when not permitted to express their religious zeal in school under any and all circumstances and the deprivation felt by school staff when not permitted to join students in prayer.
Although the amendments received respectable support from progressive lawmakers, the majority prevailed, striking down the proposed amendments and passing the bill in its original form, permitting school staff to participate in “religious activities on school grounds,” “adopt a respectful posture” (heads bowed) during student prayer, and allowing unrestrained distribution of religious literature on school grounds. The majority in the NC Legislature appears determined to turn the unified focus on learning in the public schools into a divisive religious free-for-all.
On a more positive note, we were most gratified to experience warm receptions by lawmakers (Rep. Grazier, Rep. Luebke, Rep. Elmer Floyd, Rep. Pricey Harrison) and legislative staff with whom we met. Upon learning about SCNC and our mission to support religiously neutral legislation, many told us, “I’m right there with you!” Even those with differing perspectives were cordial and accepted our handouts, consisting of a SCA/SCNC letter of introduction, an SCA brochure, and a position paper on school vouchers, all provided by SCA.
All in all it was a good beginning. We were impressed by the dedication and perseverance of lawmakers who stand with us in our mission to promote religiously neutral legislative policies that protect us all, both religious and non-religious alike. And we look forward to strengthening these relationships and expanding our circle of influence in the NC Legislature.
Ps. As it turned out the Senate was unexpectedly not meeting that day, so we are considering returning on a Tuesday or Wednesday this month to talk with some of them. If any of your members are interested, please email me.
Also, for those groups who are not signed up as Endorsing Organizations with SCNC, you can do so by going to http://secular.org/content/sign-be-endorsing-organization.
Susanne Werner, Co-chair, SCNC