Focus on the Swing Districts: LD 18

by Karen Cook

The upcoming election will be a crucial one for secularists in Arizona. Fifteen of the 30 legislative districts are highly likely to be won by Republicans with strong ties to the religious lobby organization, Center for Arizona Policy, and only 10 by Democrats, so the 5 remaining swing districts— if won by Democrats— could give our legislature a new and rare status: parity. Having a balance between the parties would have many possible outcomes, the most positive being a decrease in religiously motivated legislation.

LD 18 is one of these swing districts. Located in southern Maricopa County,  34% of the district is made up of Phoenix and the rest encompasses part of Tempe, some of Chandler, and a little bit of Mesa. The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission carved it out of parts of former legislative districts 17, 20, and 21—17 having traditionally voted Democratic, and 20 and 21, Republican; the district is now up for grabs. In the last gubernatorial election, for example, 47.3% of voters in what is now LD 18  voted for Terry Goddard, 49.2% voted for Jan Brewer, and the remainder for others.

Voters in LD 18 have an important opportunity to have a positive impact on the makeup of our new legislature, so the pressure in on to make the right choice at the polls! Voters from other districts are encouraged to learn about this race as well so that you can educate LD 18 voters, volunteer for secular candidates in this important race, and encourage candidates who are scrounging for every possible vote to speak to Secular Values Voters. 

To help voters assess the slate, following is a list of the LD18 primary candidates for the offices of State Representative and State Senator, a little info about them, and the results of the questionnaire SC Arizona gave them (from the pamphlet, "Engaging Candidates on the Role of Religion and Politics," courtesty of the Interfaith Alliance, a national advocacy group that promotes secular government).

Secular Coalition for Arizona Announces Fall 2012 Intern

Secular Coalition for Arizona is pleased to announce its Fall 2012 Intern: Juan Pablo (JP) Martin of Flagstaff’s Northern Arizona University.

“This is kind of an historic moment for us,” said Seráh Blain, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for Arizona. “Many of the national organizations in the secular movement have internship programs, but as far as I know, JP will actually be the first ever to take on a paid internship position within a state-level nontheistic organization. We’re pretty proud of the fact that we’re able to offer this opportunity.”

Center for Arizona Policy and the Arizona State Legislature

by Karen Cook

When you see the initials 'CAP,’  do you automatically think of the Central Arizona Project? Think again!

Center for Arizona Policy
(CAP) is a conservative nonprofit organization that has muscled more than 100 of its supported bills into law. Its goals? Among them is to ‘protect human life from conception to the end of natural life.’ To do this, CAP has championed legislative efforts aimed toward outlawing abortion, blocking aid-in-dying policy, banning human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, as well as suppressing science-based sex education. In addition, CAP wants to maintain laws that define marriage as the union between one man and one woman; stop all gambling (including the Arizona State Lottery); and limit government involvement in education.

How is it that CAP has been so successful in its endeavors? Through commentaries on radio stations throughout Arizona; its network of supportive churches; staff members who make personal appearances at community functions and, perhaps most importantly, The Truth Project.

From the CAP website:

The Truth Project is a revolutionary DVD-based small group curriculum produced by Focus on the Family. It is designed to build a systematic and comprehensive biblical worldview in the lives of believers.

The Truth Project is unique because it doesn’t tell Christians what to think – it teaches them how to think – to evaluate every aspect of life through a biblical perspective. 

We have already seen what a 'biblical perspective' can do to Arizona!

Announcing SC Arizona's Fall Internship Program!

Secular Coalition for Arizona is pleased to offer a paid part-time internship position for fall 2012. SC Arizona is seeking a highly motivated undergraduate student with a demonstrated interest in being active in the nontheistic movement. The student must live and attend school within the state of Arizona and have reliable transportation for travel throughout the state for grassroots organizing and events.

Join Our Inaugural Monthly Conference Call!

Monday, June 4th at Noon Arizona Time (3:00pm ET) will be a historic conversation you don’t want to miss! 
 
The Secular Coalition for America and Secular Coalition for Arizona are hosting the inaugural Secular Coalition for Arizona Conference Call! This call invites all individuals and organizations interested in defending the secular character of our government to learn more about dangerous legislation and regulation in the state of Arizona, actions Secular Coalition for Arizona is taking to combat religious privileging and fight legislation that makes the rights of all Arizonans dependent on the religious beliefs of people in power, and find out how to get more involved! 
 
These calls seek to educate and inform as many Arizona citizens as possible about bills that undermine secular government and assault the rights of politically vulnerable people in the name of religious freedom, and to coordinate efforts to combat them before they can become law! Click here to download the agenda. The call will be mostly informational. No one is required to speak up, but there will be opportunities to do so. This is an excellent opportunity to “meet” your lobbyist at the State Capitol, Seráh Blain, and also get connected with the Secular Coalition for America.
 
Please join the call and encourage others to do the same by getting the word out that this call is happening!

The conference call number is 530-881-1400. Enter the code 978895 to join. We hope you all can make the call Monday, June 4th at Noon Arizona Time (3:00pm EST).

Kelly Damerow
Research and Advocacy Manager, Secular Coalition for America
 
Seráh Blain
Executive Director, Secular Coalition for Arizona

Secular Coalition for Arizona to be joined by New State Chapters Nationwide

Phoenix, AZ (May 30, 2012)—The Secular Coalition for America (SCA) this month announced the implementation schedule for 50 state chapters planned to launch nationwide this year. 

Secular Coalition for America—a lobbying organization representing nontheistic Americans and advocating for a strong separation of religion and government—will launch chapters in 48 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico by the end of 2012. Two state affiliates, the Secular Coalition for Arizona and Secular Coalition for Alabama, are already operational.
 
Secular Coalition for Arizona (SC Arizona) is SCA’s first state affiliate and launched in October 2010. SC Arizona is independently funded by the Arizona nontheistic community and lobbies full-time at the State Capitol to defend secular principles, safeguard the wall of protection between church and state, and ensure that religion is not used as a weapon to discriminate against politically vulnerable people.
 
“Politics in our state is largely dominated by the evangelical Christian lobby group, Center for Arizona Policy, and frankly, Arizona’s legislators have just not fully considered how damaging it is to the freedoms of all Arizonans to legislate the views of a religious minority. It’s really oppressive,” says Seráh Blain, Executive Director of SC Arizona. “Secular Coalition for Arizona is committed to making sure lawmakers understand that secular civil government guarantees freedom and fairness for all Arizonans—regardless of religious belief or non-belief.”
 
SCA will host an informational call on SC Arizona’s efforts and future plans on June 4, 12 p.m. Arizona Time, led by Seráh Blain of SC Arizona and Kelly Damerow, SCA’s Research and Advocacy Manager. The call-in number is 530-881-1400, conference code 978895.  

“Too much erosion to the wall of protection between religion and government happens at the local level, and can best be addressed by grassroots, secular organizing,” says Blain. “This is where SC Arizona excels. In addition to lobbying at the State Capitol, we’re working on growing local nontheistic communities; implementing a school board task-force to protect our secular public schools; and engaging the broader community in conversations about the importance of secular government. We’re looking forward to getting more people involved in secular activism.”

While SC Arizona and SC Alabama will continue to operate as independently run affiliates, SCA has adopted a chapter model for the subsequent 48 state groups as well as Puerto Rico and Washington DC. State chapters will receive websites, as well as training, promotional and educational materials. Chapters will be trained, organized and supported by the Secular Coalition for America. 

Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of Secular Coalition for America, said lobbying at the state and local level is important on several fronts and from a long term strategic perspective. 

“In our current U.S. Congress, 38 percent of Representatives held local office first,” said Rogers. “When we get to law makers at the local level, not only are we going to help curb some of the most egregious legislation we’re seeing, but we are also building relationships and working to educate legislators on our issues, before they even get to Washington.” 

SCA will be hosting state chapter organizing calls throughout the summer. Official dates and times will be announced at Secular.org/about/states.
 
Secular Coalition for Arizona is a 501(c)4 political advocacy organization working to defend secular principles and safeguard the wall of protection between church and state.  SC Arizona stands against privileging a single narrow, ideological religious viewpoint over the views of other religions and nonreligion, and fights for equality, security, justice, and basic fairness for all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. The coalition consists of 15 nontheistic and secularist organizations throughout Arizona and is a state-affiliated organization of the Secular Coalition for America in Washington D.C. For more information, please visit www.secularAZ.org.

Secular Coalition for Americais a 501(c)(4) organization that serves as the national lobby for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. Composed of 11 diverse member organizations, SCA works to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. For more information, please visit www.secular.org.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Atheist Organization Calls on IRS to Investigate Tax Status of Center for Arizona Policy

(May 21, 2012) Phoenix, Ariz.—Secular Coalition for Arizona (SC Arizona) filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service this week asking for an investigation into Center for Arizona Policy’s 501(c)3 public charity tax-exempt status. SC Arizona has been looking into Center for Arizona Policy’s tax status as part of the secularist organization’s commitment to ensure that religious organizations do not receive special privilege under the law, including tax law.

Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) is a religious lobby organization that seeks to develop and influence public policy and inject fundamentalist, evangelical Christian values into legislation in the state of Arizona. Part of CAP’s original Articles of Incorporation explicitly states: “The character of business which the corporation initially intends to conduct will be to facilitate the exchange of ideas pertinent to the strengthening of families in the state of Arizona through the development of public policy.” An organization which intends to spend a substantial portion of its resources on a public policy agenda is not eligible to be designated as a 501(c)3 and should instead register, like SC Arizona, as a 501(c)4 organization, which can engage in unlimited lobbying. In contrast to a 501(c)3, donations to a 501(c)4 organization are not tax-exempt.

It is SC Arizona’s belief that CAP is abusing its public charity status and illegally using tax-exempt donations to engage in substantial lobbying activities to advance a religious agenda over and above what is allowable for a 501(c)3 organization.

“It concerns us that this religious lobby institution is able to receive tax-exempt donations, which it seems to be using almost exclusively to work on lobbying activities,” says Seráh Blain, Executive Director of Secular Coalition for Arizona. “We just want the IRS to take a look at the Center for Arizona Policy to make sure this isn’t a case of religious preference and that CAP isn’t improperly soliciting and spending tax-exempt donations in a way that violates tax law.”

Several other individuals and organizations, including No Longer Silent, a 501(c)3 organization made up of clergy speaking out on social justice issues, have also filed complaints as concern grows among Arizonans about Center for Arizona Policy’s operations as a lobby organization despite its 501(c)3 status. A new website, www.StopCAP.org, has been set up in a collaborative effort to detail CAP’s violations.

“Taxpayers are not supposed to be forced to subsidize political lobbying,” says Blain. “I’m not a tax lawyer, but it appears to us that Center for Arizona Policy is operating as a taxpayer subsidized lobbying organization—so they’re using money that should belong to all Arizonans in order to inject their narrow religious ideology into public policy. This is simply wrong, and we’re asking the IRS to check into it.”

About the Secular Coalition for Arizona
The Secular Coalition for Arizona (www.secularAZ.org) is a 501(c)4 lobby organization that represents the Arizona nontheistic community—a vibrant and growing community of Arizonans who self-identify as atheists, agnostics, Humanists and freethinkers. The Secular Coalition for Arizona mediates the relationship between the nontheistic community and elected officials, and works to ensure that the law is never biased to the detriment and interests of Arizona's nontheists. The coalition consists of 13 nontheistic and nontheistic-friendly organizations from across Arizona and is a state-affiliated organization of the Secular Coalition for America in Washington D.C. For more information, contact Executive Director Seráh Blain: serah@secularAZ.org; 602-363-8018.

Legislature Adjourns Sine Die

Thursday, May 3, the State Legislature adjourned sine die and has finally stopped generating policy that attacks the separation of church and state--at least until next year...but Secular Coalition for Arizona isn't resting! In the off-season, we'll be keeping you informed about the upcoming elections and compiling candidate questionnaires about secular values. We'll be improving our visibility by attending events around the state, like Flagstaff Pride. We'll be working on developing our School Board Task Force to help monitor secular education. We'll be visiting your community to find out what issues are important to you in a series of Town Halls with Executive Director Seráh Blain. And we'll be preparing for the next legislative season and growing secular influence in our State Capitol! So stay tuned for updates, announcements, and action alerts as we continue to advance the secular movement!

Brewer Rejects Reason, Atheists in Arizona Respond

(Apr. 19, 2012) Phoenix, Ariz.— In opposition to the recent flood of religiously-motivated legislation penned by policymakers in Arizona, Secular Coalition for Arizona, on behalf of its 12 nontheistic liaised organizations throughout the state, called on Governor Brewer to declare May 3, 2012 a Day of Reason. The Governor rejected Secular Coalition for Arizona’s request for a proclamation, but the group will nonetheless be collaborating with local nontheistic communities to organize events as part of a larger countrywide movement advocating a National Day of Reason.

“The purpose of the Day of Reason is simply to celebrate reason—a concept all Arizonans can support,” says Seráh Blain, Executive Director of Secular Coalition for Arizona. “We also hope the day will raise awareness about the ways religion is affecting legislation in our state. Everything from property tax exemptions for all religious associations even if they provide no charitable services, to reproductive healthcare laws based on religious assumptions about human development, to State resolutions about Israel’s sovereignty based on verses from Leviticus...these things really underscore the prevalence and perilousness of religion in government.”

The legislature in Arizona has been focused heavily this season on what religionists on the Right are calling “religious liberty.” Examples include refusal clauses that allow professionals or employers to withhold certain kinds of care or coverage because of religious conviction, as well as a whole host of abortion-related measures driven by religious morality; in all of these cases, policymakers in Arizona are attempting to invoke the right of “free exercise” in order to drive an agenda that threatens individual freedom of conscience.

“Many of our legislators, and certainly the Center for Arizona Policy, are conflating religious liberty with religious privilege,” says Blain. “Religious liberty absolutely does not mean that the religious ideology of those in power can dictate morality and public policy for everyone. Our Founders called that idea tyranny.”

The National Day of Reason is a project of the American Humanist Association (AHA) and originated in 2003 as an alternative to the National Day of Prayer. The AHA maintains that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, advocating instead that secular Americans take the day to affirm a commitment to the Constitutional separation of religion and government and to celebrate Reason as the guiding principle of secular democracy.

“Religiously motivated policy can be divisive and oppressive because particular faiths are not universal. But human reason is,” Blain stresses. “When we insist that law is based on reason, we ensure religious minorities and nonbelievers are not marginalized; the National Day of Reason is both a celebration of human reason and a sober recommitment to that insistence.”

National Day of Reason Events in Arizona include the following:

Atheists in Phoenix will be participating in the National Day of Reason by spending the afternoon with friends and family at the Civic Science Park in downtown Phoenix, 424 N Central Avenue, from 3:30-6 PM. Individuals from nontheistic groups in the Valley including the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix and the Phoenix Atheists Meetup will be gathering to call for reason in government and society, and will write to elected officials about the need for reason-based policy. Details can be found here: Phoenix Celebrates Reason at Civic Science Park!

Secular Student Alliance at Northern Arizona University
joins the Flagstaff Freethinkers in National Day of Reason celebrations beginning with an Ask-An-Atheist event in the afternoon at the Northern Arizona University Union from 2-4 PM, followed by a walk to the Flagstaff City Hall where the groups will show their support of reason and will encourage voter registration until 6 p.m. Details can be found here: Flagstaff Celebrates National Day of Reason!

The Prescott Freethinkers along with the Secular Student Alliance at Embry-Riddle and the Secular Student Alliance at Prescott College will precede their regularly scheduled Thursday night dinner out with a public walk around the Prescott Town Square (Gurley and Montezouma), drawing attention to the need for reason in our government and the value of reason in our society. The groups will then get together over dinner to write to elected officials about the importance of reason-based government. Details can be found here: Prescott Celebrates National Day of Reason!

The Sedona/Verde Valley Secular Freethinkers will be spending the afternoon with friends and family at Garrison Park (100 Brian Mickelson Parkway) in Cottonwood, Arizona from 3-6 PM. The group will be demonstrating for reason in government and society and will be writing to elected officials. Details can be found here: Verde Valley Celebrates the National Day of Reason!

Atheists in Tucson will be participating in a virtual, web-based event. Individuals from Freethought Arizona and the Tucson Atheists will collaborate through a Facebook Event page to write to elected officials on the need for reason-based policy. Details can be found here: Tucson National Day of Reason Virtual Event

For more information about the Day of Reason in Arizona, contact Brian Wallace, Community Outreach and Development Director of Secular Coalition for Arizona: brian@secularAZ.org; 928-699-2877.

For information about Secular Coalition for Arizona, contact Executive Director Seráh Blain: serah@secularAZ.org; 602-363-8018.

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