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Atheist Group Looks To Start Maryland Chapter

Secular Coalition of America reminds Maryland of separation between church and state

Amid the shrill zeal of bible-thumpers in today’s political conversation, it is sometimes hard to hear those who, echoing Thomas Jefferson, are mindful that the United States enjoys a wall of separation between church and state. The Secular Coalition of America (SCA) has been chiming in lately with reminders—including a push to create chapters in all 50 states by the end of this year.

The SCA was founded a decade ago to “protect and strengthen secular government as the best guarantee of freedom for all,” according to its web site (secular.org). Behind its recent push to broaden its capabilities is a realization that, as communications manager Lauren Anderson Youngblood put it in a recent phone call with City Paper, the “most egregious” threats to the church-state wall are coming at the state and local level.

In Maryland, Youngblood says, the past legislative session in Annapolis featured bills that would amend the state constitution to recognize only man-woman marriages (known as the “Maryland Marriage Protection Act”), make March 1 “Saint David’s Day,” and create license plates that say, “In God We Trust”—all matters that the SCA would’ve lobbied against, if it had a Maryland chapter.

The Free State’s history—originally, it was a Catholic colony of the British Empire, but after the royals converted, it became an anti-Catholic colony, with laws that penalized papists—illustrates the dangers of breaching the church-state wall. Today, Maryland is home to the theocracy-leaning Institute on the Constitution ( theamericanview.com), whose co-founder, Michael Peroutka, was the Constitution Party’s 2004 candidate for U.S. president, when he called for a return to the God-centered vision of governance he believes the founding fathers laid out in the U.S. Constitution (“God * Family * Republic,” Feature, March 17, 2004).

Among the local politicians who’ve gained and maintained public office thanks, in part, to support from the Institute, Peroutka, and his debt-collections law firm are state Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County). Dwyer, who was inspired to run for office after taking an Institute seminar, has been the lead sponsor of the Maryland Marriage Protection Act in every General Assembly session since 2004, and, among his other bills over the years, was one to allow the 10 Commandments to be displayed at courthouses.

Youngblood says a Maryland SCA chapter would comprise “citizens trained to lobby” against such measures, as well as any other “attempts to insert religion, privilege religion, or create exemptions based on religion” into Maryland law.

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