Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In Which I Travel To Our Nation's Capital With Americans United

I was fortunate enough to be invited to Washington, D.C. last month by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU for short) as part of a blogger outreach. This organization, in my opinion, is addressing one of the most important issues facing us as a democracy, for the blurring of the line between religion and government has a direct impact upon all the other problems facing us.

The lovely and talented Blue Gal e-mailed me the invitation (for which I am most appreciative!) - four days in our nation's capital with some of the brightest, most informed and passionate people I have ever met in one place. What I found especially intriguing was that it was a mixture of religious and non-religious people with the same goal - to keep church and state separate as it was outlined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. It wasn't just a bunch of atheist religion-haters trying to stamp out Christianity, no matter what Bill O'Reilly and his ilk like to imagine. No matter how the right tries to spin it, it's very clear that the intentions of our Founding Fathers were to protect both Church and State by keeping them out of each other's domain. When religion and politics mix, they both suffer badly.

I got to meet some great bloggers face-to-face - some new friends, some that I had only known online -

BAC from Yikes! who is also Field Director for AU and just as charming as she can be - our 'hostess with the mostess'!
Addie Stan from, well, AddieStan, a new friend who took me to a very cool blues jam on Monday night (good times!)
DCup from PoliTits (my fave blog name ever!)
Bruce Prescott - MainstreamBaptist
Dennis Mansker aka Farnsworth - One Pissed Off Veteran
Eric Haas from the Rock Ridge Institute - the think tank that works with Dr. George Lakoff's framing ideas - awesome!
Vast Left
Leo Lincourt of Neural Gourmet and Carnival of the Liberals
Maryscott O’Connor from My Left Wing - my girl is fierce!
Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy - science is kool!
PZ Meyers of Pharyngula - University of Minnesota
Tristero of the mighty 'Digby’s Blog'
Lambert Strether with Corrente Wire

I just wish there had been time for me to talk with everyone I wanted to talk to. Pretty much every person there was someone that I would have liked to sit down with and pick their brain for several hours. As part of the conference, we were set up with lobbying appointments to talk with our congresspeople about church-state issues in our home districts. Most people were meeting up with their House members, but the California contingent were meeting with people from our Senators' office. The issues we were there to talk about were the earmarking of funds to pay for the upkeep of the California missions, which do have historical value, but are also owned by the Catholic Church and have active parishes in 19 of the 21 missions. Also on the agenda was the issue of the Mount Soledad cross - a giant 43-foot cross that sits on public land and is a violation of California's constitutional church-state separation provisions, which are stricter than the First Amendment. Both Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer had voted in favor of these issues, and we wanted to be able to present the AU take on it to our senators.

Our first appointment was with DiFi's office. When we got there we discovered that her aide, who we were supposed to talk with, was too busy to see us, so we had to talk to the 'aide's aide' - a girl who looked about 12. We were not even invited into the office - we had to stand out in the hall (there were about 10 of us) and tell our story to the little girl, who stood there wide-eyed, clutching her notebook, solemnly nodding her head and writing occasional notes, although it was clear that she had absolutely no idea what we were talking about. While we were standing there, who should come clip-clopping briskly down the hall but DiFi herself. Since we were standing in a sort of semi-circle, she walked right through the middle of our group without so much as a glance to the left or right. No matter that we were her constituents who had flown 3000 miles to see her - she had to have known that we had business with her office, considering that we were talking to her aidette. She couldn't even slow down.

Our visit to Barbara Boxer's office couldn't have been more different. We didn't get to talk to her, but we were ushered into a nice conference room and talked to her senior counsel, who was up to date on everything we were there to discuss, and we felt that, although she took a position that we opposed, her people were at least gracious enough to listen to our concerns and treat us with enough respect to have a dialogue. Boxer also had, displayed prominently at the front door to her office, a large placard listing the names of the soldiers killed in Iraq, which was updated every week. It's nice to know that someone in Congress is actually keeping them in mind.

AU is also at the forefront of the evolution-'intelligent design' issue, and I got to meet one of the chief warriors on that front, Dr. Eugenie Scott, who is the executive director of the National Center for Science Education. Not only brilliant but delightful, she's fighting the good fight to keep real science from being undermined by the 'stealth-creationism' that calls itself 'intelligent design'.

I am so glad to have gotten a closer look at AU. When I got back home, I immediately joined my local chapter and am now on the executive board. When the President of the United States believes that he has been divinely selected to lead our country, and that God told him to bomb Iraq, it is imperative that we deal with the crumbling wall between church and state and do it right now, for it is a cancer that is eating away at our democracy.

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