We had a chance to interview Larry Decker, the Executive Director at the Secular Coalition For America while in Phoenix, AZ at the Secular Day at the Capital, hosted by the Secular Coalition For America. We talked about the important issues facing secularism in society and government.
Ben Fama Jr: Hey guys. Ben Fama Jr. here. We are in Phoenix, Arizona for the Secular Day at the Capital 2016. We’re here with the Secular Coalition for Arizona which is actually part of the Secular Coalition of America and we’re talking about some really great speakers today. We’re talking about politics. We’re talking about religion. We got some legislators out here talking about some bills that they’re trying to pass here in Arizona that we don’t really want passed here.
So we want to talk about some great people doing some great stuff in politics, in reasoning and we actually have Lawrence Krauss that’s going to be speaking today, so we’re going to show you guys a little bit about that. But let’s cut some interviews with some of the people here and find out what’s actually going on.
Hey. We’re here today with Larry Decker. He’s the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. Thank you for joining me today.
Larry Decker: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Ben Fama: What brings you out to Phoenix today?
Larry Decker: Well, we were invited. We were asked by the Secular Coalition for Arizona to come out and participate in the lobby day and couldn’t be happier to be here.
Ben Fama: So with the political climate going on right now, how do you think the secular then fits within politics and what’s going on in America right now?
Larry Decker: Well, I think unfortunately one of the things we really have to do is educate, educate, educate. I think that we look at what we are seeing in Washington DC which is a completely divided congress. We’re seeing a lot more extremist values being brought up and being imposed on people and that’s one of the reasons I’m happy here in Arizona today to be able to celebrate this lobby day because this is where we really have an opportunity to make some very strong headway in helping to change the minds and the hearts of Americans across the country. But it’s going to take place in our communities.
I’m tremendously proud of the work that they’ve done here and I think that if we’re able to replicate that in all 50 states, and really talk about secular values as being American values, not just values that are for non-theists but they’re values that we as a country should be celebrating each and every day – freedom, equality, knowledge, and inclusion and quite frankly when we’re able to do that, we will be able to talk about these issues in a way that will seem A, less threatening to people who are religious but B, will allow people to unite behind a united front in the way that we look at any number of issues, from a woman’s right to choose to climate change to vaccinations for children.
Ben Fama: Do you think they were making headway? I mean it seems like – even in our community, it seems like we’re doing it. But every time you turn on the news, it seems like there’s a lot of divisiveness. How do we cut through a lot of that noise?
Larry Decker: Well, that’s the challenge. I think that one of the ways that we’re going to cut through it is by holding people accountable. We have candidates who are saying I’m a Christian first and completely ignoring the fact that we have a constitution, that we are a law of – that our laws are created by man here in our country.
We have to do that. We have to hold them accountable. We have to tell them that it is exactly that. It’s noise and we’re kind of tired of hearing about it. It’s the imposition of other people’s beliefs on everyday Americans and it’s just wrong.
Ben Fama: Sometimes we watch the news and we see politics. It feels like, “What can I do about it? What can we do about something like this?”
Larry Decker: Well, I think the big thing is exactly what happened here today and I’m glad that you’re able to capture so much of it because it really is citizen activism in action. Making it clear that – to our lawmakers that in fact we have a responsibility to speak up and to protect the values that our country was founded on.
I would go a step further though in talking about that and we have a great campaign that we at the Secular Coalition for America is a part of and it’s called “Openly Secular”. As an openly gay man, I know that when I came out to my friends and my family some 15, 20 years ago, it helped to change the hearts and minds of people who have known me their whole lives.
I think that for us, it’s important to come out as being openly secular in talking about these values to our friends and family and to making our voices heard. I think that when you know someone that you love, it’s hard to judge an entire community.
Ben Fama: So what about this notion where they say the least trusted people in America or one of the least trusted groups is atheists? Now I kind of find that weird because a lot of science educators are atheist secular people. Are we communicating our message correctly? I mean what’s going on there? Why are they the least trusted group in America?
Larry Decker: Well, I think it’s fear. I think it’s fear. You know, we’ve seen a lot of great progress on social issues in this country for the last 15 or 20 years. But it seems like the religious right still has what they would consider a stronghold on identifying who atheists are and in identifying the atheist community, they misrepresent who our entire community is and that fear creates a level of discord among those who are religiously affiliated in this country and leads to things like 51 percent of Americans say that they wouldn’t vote for a president who is openly atheist.
I will tell you I’m new to this movement and I’ve talked about it quite a bit with the press being new to the movement but our community, our – it’s filled with people of values and people who have united values and there’s nothing distrusting about the atheist community, whatsoever.
I’m proud to be a member of the secular movement and I’m going to stand and fight each and every day so we can actually change the hearts and minds of people in this country. But I will go back to one thing I said. The openly secular campaign in and of itself, again it’s – there are a lot of Americans who are afraid and for good reason to say that they’re openly secular.
They’re afraid of the backlash. They’re afraid of discrimination and it’s how we will change people’s minds on what it means to be openly secular whether it’s an atheist, a non-theist, a humanist or if it’s a member of the larger group of the 23 percent of people in this country. There are nearly 60 million Americans in this country that identifies as nones and that have no religious affiliation. That’s how we’re going to make it happen.
Ben Fama: It’s so ironic because I fight for all types of rights, for black people, for women, for gay people. But this is the first time I felt like I now understand what it’s like to be a minority, being an atheist. I’m a white straight male and yet now I get – there’s a struggle there. There’s a struggle to communicate that. So Larry, thank you so much. If people want to find out more about you and what you’re doing, how can they find out more about you and what you’re doing?
Larry Decker: www.secular.org. Absolutely. We’re a national advocacy group based in Washington, DC.
Ben Fama: Awesome Larry. Thanks for joining me today. I appreciate it. All right. Thanks for all your hard work.
Larry Decker: Thank you.
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