Representation requires more than votes

The Pew Research Center released its now-traditional “Faith on the Hill” study of religion in Congress. Among the not-so surprising findings are that Christians are overrepresented compared to their share of the population. The most underrepresented group, once again: the nones (nonreligious/atheist/agnostic). Emma Green has a piece up at The Atlantic blaming nonreligious Americans for their lack of representation in Congress. In essence, she argues that secular Americans don’t vote in large numbers and for that reason they do not have enough members of Congress representing them. She also makes an argument that the movement is not coherent because many nonreligious people don’t really care about religion enough to organize about the issue.

Both arguments are wrong. Let’s take first the first argument that the nonreligious do not vote enough to get representation. Green shows a chart from PRRI (full disclosure: I was once an employee of PRRI) showing the percentage of people who identify as nonreligious in the general population and the percentage of nonreligious voters in exit polls. The latter number is always much smaller, but that does not mean that we are certain that the secular cohort is less likely to vote. Most general population polls are conducted over the phone (landline and cellphones) and/or (increasingly) online. Exit polls are mostly done face-to-face. Considering how disliked are nonreligious people, particularly atheists, in the United States, it is possible that many secular-minded people are not willing to tell a stranger their real religious beliefs.

Even if it were true that secular Americans are less likely to vote, they are still a significant part of the of the electorate and should have more than 1 openly nonreligious member. But in our political system numbers do not translate to equal representation. After all, women do not account for half of our representatives and people of color do not comprise a third of elected officials. Just because the number of secular Americans has jumped in the last decade, mostly thanks to young people, doesn’t mean that they have a pool of people ready to run for office and win offices that are not very often open for business when we consider the high reelection rates of incumbents.

There are some changes coming that way. In 2016, the Freethought Equality Fund, a secular PAC, endorsed several candidates, many of whom got elected and did not run away from identifying with a secular label or from the support of a secular group. These candidates ran mostly at the state and local levels and represent a growing bench of secular leaders.

On Green’s second point, that is hard to organize a group of people with little in common except for their lack of religion, truth is there is a lot in common. Secular Americans regardless of labels agree on many social and economic issues. As a Puerto Rican, I have experience with imagined identities among groups with a hint of history together. Latinos have become an important force by combining the forces of groups that share some traits, but also have some major differences (I know a bit about this, trust me).

There are important problems of collective action in the secular movement that hinder its ability to become a major political force in the short term. I’ve written about this before. But there are important structural and cultural problems in this country exacerbating the lapses in political organization in the secular movement. Those are to blame for the lack of representation during this decade. We need to work on reversing them in the future.

 

Latinos, the Nones, and the Decline of American Catholicism

Last week PRRI released a new survey providing an in-depth look at the nones. The nones are now America’s largest “religious” cohort, surpassing Catholics. This is no coincidence. Former Catholics (or people raised as Catholic like yours truly) have been boosting the numbers of the nones for years. The stability of Catholic religious identification in the United States was a mirage. The growth of the Latino population in the 1990s and 2000s, back then overwhelmingly Catholic greatly contributed to the overall numbers and give the impression that Catholic identification was very stable in the face of overall declining religiosity in the country.

Back when I was at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) and we released the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey we noted that anomaly. On page 15 of the 2008 ARIS Summary Report Barry Kosmin & Ariela Keysar noted that “…Catholicism lost ground within every ethnic group between 1990 and 2008. If the Hispanic population, which is the most Catholic, had not expanded then the Catholic population share nationally would have significantly eroded.” This observation was based on an analysis of a subsample of nones that received additional questions on ethnic heritage. We found a substantial number of former Catholics of Irish descent among the nones that was further explored in ISSSC’s report “American Nones.”

Even as Latinos seemed to give Catholicism a boost, under the surface there were problems. The third ARIS report, published in 2010, was on Latino religious change. In that report we noted that Catholic identification among Latinos had declined from to-thirds of all Latinos in 1990 to 6-in-10 by 2008 while the share of nones had doubled. The decline in Catholicism among Latinos led us to conclude that “…while Latinos helped to mitigate some of the losses in Catholic identification in the U.S., the Catholic identification is much lower than it could have been.”

By 2013 I had joined PRRI and our Hispanic Values Survey found that the growth of Latino nones was fueled by an exodus of Latino Catholics. The next year, 2014 the Pew Research Center found that 20 percent of Latinos were nones.

In sum, though the growth of the nones seems to be a mostly white, male phenomenon because the most prominent secular faces are white dudes, people of color especially Latinos have helped the group become the largest “religious” cohort in the country. So, secular America, in the name of all former Latino Catholics I say, you’re welcome.

 

Contribute to YHC’s Green Light Project

The Yale Humanist Community is one of my favorite groups for various reasons: (1) it is very active in the state that I called home for more than a decade, (2) it is led by the amazing Chris Stedman, and (3) I’m part of their advisory board. They find new ways of promoting humanism and making people skeptical of our philosophy realize you can be good without believing in a god. One of their current projects is the Green Light Project. I’ll let Chris explain it, from his recent piece in TheHumanist.com:

After more than a year of planning and meeting with community partners, YHC has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund an interactive, nonreligious sculpture that will go up alongside the religious symbols and serve as a reminder that, even during the coldest and darkest months of the year, human beings can come together to create light and warmth.

By doing this, we have a chance to model that nonreligious communities can stand alongside our religious neighbors in peace. But we also have a chance to model humanist values—to exemplify a universal, inclusive humanism that can speak not only to the growing number of nonreligious Americans but also to the shared values of our religious neighbors.

Chris D. Stedman, TheHumanist.com

Go and support this project and if you contribute today you’ll be able to double your donation!

Secular History at Sin/God Blog

Luciano Gonzalez is exploring secular history and major figures in the secular movement. He starts with George Holyoake:

This post is meant to mark the beginning of a series I want to do talking about figures who have relevance to the history of irreligion. One of the first figures I’d like to talk about is George Holyoake. This guy was and is someone who has real significance to global secularism, partially because he coined the term “secular”. I’m sure that at least some English atheists, secularists, and otherwise irreligious people are familiar with him but I know that many free-thinkers from other parts of the world aren’t as aware of him and the work he did.

Luciano Gonzalez Sin/God

I learned about Holyoake when I was working at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture and I encourage Luciano to continue his unearthing of secular history. It is something I’ve been interested in for a while and served as the start of my first talk about diversity in the secular movement last year at the CFI Leadership Conference. Some books that have been helpful in my search are Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers and her fascinating biography of Robert Green Ingersoll The Great Agnostic, and John Farrell’s biography of Clarence Darrow.

Personally, I’m also interested in Hispanic/Latino/Latin American secularism which is why I am very interested in the history of the Spanish Civil war and the Cristero War in Mexico. About the latter there are two movies: an excellent La Guerra Santa (1979) a censored movie that my amazing in-laws tracked and found for me in Mexico a few years back but that you can watch in Youtube now. The second is the pathetic pro-Catholic propaganda film For Greater Glory. I also have in my to-read queue El Epistolario de Benito Juárez (the letters of Benito Juarez) to better understand his thinking on Churc-State separation. Finally, I have started re-reading a favorite author from my (Catholic) high school days Nemesio R. Canales, a Puerto Rican freethinker, lawyer, satirist, and politician.

Secularism and the Vanishing Latino Republicans

Are Latino Republicans an “endangered species”? That’s the question Prof. Stephen Nuño tries to answer in NBC Latino. Personally, I think that is the case. And obviously, I think growing secularism is a major contributor.

Although Prof. Nuño points out the past admiration of many Latinos for Ronald Reagan and the growing community of Latino small business owners were once a booming Republican constituency. Those factors, coupled with a grwoing anti-Comunist Cuban-American voting contingent (I may add) made the GOP attractive to many Latinos.

[I]t may surprise people to know that the GOP was once a party of promise for aspiring Latino businesspersons, parents who sought choice in education for their children, and Latino churchgoers where Catholicism still has a strong influence on Hispanic culture.

Dr. Stephen Nuño

I may also add that later on the growth of Latino evangelicals who shared the social conservatism (and some even shared the economic conservatism) of white evangelical Protestants made some scholars, like my mentors Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, to hypothesize that the GOP had a Latino future with this growing constituency.

This is no longer the case. Young Latinos, like other young Americans, are abandoning organized religion. Like other secular Americans, secular Latinos are more liberal in their issue preferences than the rest of the population. Thus, as more Latinos become secular, the proportion of Latinos who are liberal also increases.

The percent of Latinos voting for Republican candidates has declined since 2004. In 2012 Latinos registered a record support for Barack Obama’s reelection. Many factors have been cited as a source for this left turn such as the blatant racism of the GOP base on immigration and the GOP’s disdain of the working poor in the aftermath of the Great Recession, constituencies that many Latinos are part of. One that is seldom mentioned is the growing secularism of Latinos, particularly young ones. Increasing secularism adds an additional layer of complexity to Republican outreach efforts for two reasons: policy and outreach.In this post I am addressing the policy differences.

Secularism and the Vanishing Latino RepublicansIn terms of policy, secular Latinos don’t agree with Republicans on issues of social (economic) or cultural (culture war issues) policy. An analysis of the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey shows that Latinos are well to the left of Republicans in most issues. Secular Latinos are even farther from Republicans on most issues, too.

Increasing secularism adds an additional layer of complexity to Republican outreach efforts for two reasons: policy and outreach.

In terms of social policy Latinos consider that government aid to the poor  does more good than harm and that environmental regulations are worth their economic cost. This is consistent with the view of nearly two-thirds of Latinos who say they prefer a larger government with fewer services. Secular Latinos are even more liberal on matters of environmental policy and similar to all Latinos regarding aid to the poor. They are slightly less liberal on the size of the government. In all three questions they are well to the left of Republicans.

Latinos are more conservative on cultural issues like same-sex marriage and abortion and religion is probably the culprit. Unsurprisingly, on these two issues is where secular Latinos distinguish themselves from the Latino population in their liberalism. Needless to say, they are well to the left of Republicans.

A party that shows no concern for the poor, the environment, women, or LGBT Americans will have a hard time attracting secular voters. The Latino secularization makes sure that whatever inroads the GOP made with Latinos will become undone with this growing constituency.

Racial Diversity and the Future of the Secular Movement in Free Inquiry

That’s the title of my new piece in Free Inquiry  [subscription requited] as part of a volume dedicated to discussing “How do we Sustain the Growth of Unbelief?

From the abstract: “Seculars of color are more numerous than ever, but movement groups may need to offer broader programming to attract them.”

My main argument, that on paper secular Americans look like a socially and racially progressive group that seems open to address the concerns of secular Americans of color. But while…

. . . [i]t is possible for the movement to address the needs of the growing secular population of color. The question is whether the movement is willing to make the necessary adjustments to become a major force in American society.

Most days I am positive that we have the ability of organizing a racially inclusive movement. However, it depends on acting on stated thoughts and opinions on matters of racial and social justice in polls and prioritizing these preferences in a way that they reflect not just the opinions of many members of the community at-large, but also as guiding values and principles for the movement.

Other articles were penned by Tom Flynn, Ryan Cragun, Barry Kosmin, Christel J. Manning, Jesse Max Smith, and Phil Zuckerman. That’s pretty good company.

Representing Secular Family Values

It is a well-known fact that the United States is the only major industrialized country in the world without a decent mandatory paid parental leave. I was once again reminded of that sad fact of life in America after reading Jessica Shortall’s piece in The Atlantic and think that this should be a major part of the secular political agenda.

Parental leave is once another part of our health and welfare system left up to capitalism to figure out. As Shortall puts it ” the time for rest, bonding, and recovery often is determined not by tradition, or even by a doctor’s recommendations, but by the new mother’s employment situation.”

This happens in a political system where the national legislature and a majority of states are controlled by those who claim to be in favor of “family values.” Of course, we know that “family values” mostly means “opposing abortion.” It means caring about the binary life/death outcome of a fetus. But it does not mean caring about the fetus having decent prenatal care, or the opportunities to live a fulfilling life once out of the womb.

In the United States, however, the time for rest, bonding, and recovery often is determined not by tradition, or even by a doctor’s recommendations, but by the new mother’s employment situation.

Jessica Shortall

Those “family values” are promoted by elected officials who are mostly male, overwhelmingly white, economically well-off, and practitioners of a toxic brand of Christianity. These elected officials are not representative of the people, not only because they do not look like the American people, but because 82 percent of Americans are in favor of paid parental leave and 85 percent favor paid sick days.

Instead of those “family values,” I propose secular family values. Those are values that promote the equality of sexes, not the continual subjugation of women based on ancient scripture. Parents should have the right, not the privilege as it is today, to spend time with their children. This is why we need to do more than voting. We must promote our own candidates and become more involved in political activism. Until secular people become engaged in politics as a united front: running for office, contributing time and money, endorsing candidates, challenging candidates, hosting debates, our values will not be prominently featured. We can show the American people that we about things other than policing prayer and religious symbols in public. That we care about people. And that you do not need religion to do so.

3 Reasons a Majority of Latinos Support Reproductive Rights

A new survey finds, once again, that a majority of Latinos favor abortion rights for women. Unfortunately, the images the media have on Latinos mostly fall into two camps. There are those who think we are all Catholic and who pray for the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe in an hourly basis. Or, thinking that the fastest-growing religion among Latinos is Pentecostalism. Most people are wrong on both assumptions and it matters when it comes to understanding Latinos and abortion rights. A majority of Latinos are in favor of legalized abortion, access to healthcare for women, and other reproductive rights for three reasons: partisanship, religious practice, and growing secularism.

Legal access to abortion is a mainstream position in the Democratic Party and a majority of Latinos identity as Democrats. While there may be pockets of socially conservative Latinos who identify as Democrats, most Latinos agree with their co-partisans as I pointed out a few years ago. Thus, it should be not surprising that a group in which a majority identify with a party where most members approve of legal access to abortion are in favor of a woman’s right to choose.

Of course, abortion and contraception are still banned by the Catholic Church. But PRRI’s Hispanic Values Survey found that Latino Catholics are split on the matter of abortion. It is fair to assume that a majority of Latino Catholics who identify as Democrats are in favor of legal abortion. The same survey find that many Catholics disagree with the Church’s teachings on many issues. This makes sense because, as I pointed out in my interview in The Ra-Men Podcast earlier this week, there are variations of belief and practice among Latinos, especially Catholics. Many Latinos are Catholic due to tradition or cultural inertia and do not think much of it. They may celebrate Catholic holidays and practice sacraments once in a while, particularly those that are part of life-cycle events such as baptisms and marriages, but not think about the religion and its rules as a matter of everyday decision making. In other words, many Catholic Latinos live very secular lives.

Although Pentecostalism among Latinos makes headlines, the truth is that the fastest-growing “religious” group among Latinos is the nones. Most of the nones are former Catholics who are admitting what has been obvious for a long time. Many Catholics are so by tradition and now feel free to admit what they have felt for a long time. The Latino nones are more liberal on social issues, as nones in general tend to be in American politics. This is confirmed by many polls, including the PRRI and Pew polls linked here.

We try to rationalize why Latinos’ historically conservative attitudes on social issues keep shifting to the left as if the population is predominantly Christian. It is still is, but not to the extent it was a generation ago. The growth of Latino secularism has implications for American politics as candidates and strategists, and the community’s leaders attempt to understand how to harness the power of Latinos’ numbers. As progressives we need to realize that a secular left is slowly forming, that it has the potential of being a multi-racial and multicultural coalition. Most importantly, progressives need to stop pandering with token religious language to a constituency that with each passing day becomes more secular. It is shortsighted, shows a disregard for facts and trends in favor of stereotypes, and it is insulting to those that are a key player in the future of the movement.

Photo Credit: USC University Church Sign by Jason Eppink (Flickr)

 

 

 

The Nones are an Important Super Tuesday Bloc

Last week Public Religion Research Institute published a short report on the religious affiliation of self-identified Democrats and Republicans in states with contests on Super Tuesday (tomorrow).

It is not surprising that the nonreligious comprise a larger portion of the Democratic Party coalition than the Republican’s. According to the data collected for the American Values Atlas, more than 1-in-5 (22 percent) Democrats are nones, but only 1-in-10 Republicans are.

In three states the nones comprise at least 3-in-10 Democrats: Colorado (34 percent), Massachusetts (31 percent), and Minnesota (30 percent). Among Republicans, Alaska has the highest rate of nones in their coalition. One-in-five (20 percent) of Alaska Republicans are nonreligious.

Considering that the PRRI analysis divides the party coalitions in large racial and religious groupings, it is fair to assume that in most of these states the nones represent the largest segment of the Democratic Party.

Unfortunately, contrary to most of those racial/ethnic/religious groups, the nones are not as well organized politically. We do not have a well-organized secular left even though the nones have been consistent supporters of Democratic candidates for nearly 4 decades and were an important part of Barack Obama’s coalition. But until we take party politics seriously, we will not be more than a vote taken for granted but not actively mobilized. The time is due for a powerful and strong Secular Left to serve as an antidote to the damage the Religious Right has done to this country.

Photo Credit: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton facing off in the Democratic debate at St. Anselm College, December 19 2015; Ida Mae Astute ABC News via Flickr.

Political Secularism Moves Forward (Slowly)

Secular Americans want to be taken seriously in the political arena. And for good reason, the nones now rival Catholics as the single largest “religious” group in the country. Our numbers keep growing and we have little to show for it.

Two online pieces last week may me think that the tide may be finally turning. First, a press release by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation announces the (re)launch of their “I’m secular and I Vote” campaign. From the release:

The campaign will include outreach to voters across the nation through FFRF chapters, a national TV ad buy this month focusing on the separation of church and state, paid digital media ads, efforts to mobilize students on college campuses, and coordination with the nation’s other major freethought associations as part of the June 4, 2016 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C.

This sounds like a beginning of an organizing strategy. However, the final quote by Annie Laurie Gaylor “[m]any [secular voters] appear to be waiting for a candidate who acknowledges them as a group and speaks forcefully about keeping religion out of government,” makes me think that FFRF may be free from religious affiliation but not free from religious thinking. The quote indicates that secular Americans are waiting for a messiah, a “chosen one” politician who will finally pay attention to us.

Luckily, better news come from the American Humanist Association. An article in the Houston Chronicle there’s a brief description of the work done by the Center for Freethought Equality.

[T]he political action arm of [Roy] Speckhardt’s organization [the American Humanist Association], maintains an Internet report card, rating lawmakers’ voting records on humanist issues. Texas congressmen generally rate F’s. It lobbies secret nonbelievers in Congress to “come out of the closet” and, in coming months will make public its endorsements for November’s election.

We need to do more of this elite-level type of politics. And our organizations need to take steps like endorsing candidates and contributing to campaigns. But if we want politicians to listen to us we need to produce our own political class. The secular leadership needs to come up with a game plan to develop candidates. Not just for Congress, but for lower local and state offices, places where future secular members of the national government can be trained in the art of governing. We cannot keep just relying on individual candidates outing themselves as secular and running fringe campaigns (as Libertarians or Greens), then complaining that “we are the most hated group” and that is why we cannot get elected.

Photo credits: “Reason Rally – Science, Reason & Secular Values” by Marty Stone (Flickr)