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Interview with an atheist lobbyist

by Brad A. Greenberg

December 14, 2007 | 2:57 pm

I spoke with Lori Lipman Brown, Washington’s first lobbyist for atheists, last fall when I wrote about godless missionaries. Last week, Jewish Transcript News caught up with her in Seattle.

JTNews: How are you being received in Washington?

Brown: Better than any of the people who started this organization ever could have dreamed. There was so much fear that I wouldn’t get into any doors, that groups like Interfaith Alliance, the Baptists Joint Committee and even Americans United for Separation of Church and State might be hesitant to bring a non-theist voice into the mix. None of that happened. Day One, I was invited to a briefing by public education groups on vouchers. Day Two, I was sitting at the table, lobbying with the religious and other church-state separation groups. Even on the marriage amendment, when we lobbied against that, I was afraid that the

LGBT community might not want the non-theist voice in the mix. But that wasn’t the case at all. Bottom line, it’s been a wonderful reception.

JTNews: What about in the media?

Brown: Now in the media, there’s been a lot more interest from right-wing than [from] left-wing media, even though Mother Jones did a nice article about our coming on the scene. For television, it’s been Fox News and Bill O’Reilly. I’ve also gotten a lot of requests from right-wing or Christian radio, which I always find interesting because it may be the first time they’ve ever heard someone like me.

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JTNews: You’re a Humanistic Jew yourself. Where do you feel Secular Jews, or just Jews in general, fit in when talking about non-theistic rights?

Brown: When you look at issues like stem cell research, or sex education, there’s so much overlap both with Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism and Humanists, and even Conservative Jews, to a large extent. I think, also, if you look historically, Jews have often been allies in other people’s civil rights struggles. They were so active in labor rights, in civil rights for African Americans, in the LGBT equality movement. So even religious Jews understand that you can’t just stand up for yourself, you have to stand up for people who are not religious Jews. So I think they can overlap and be our allies because they understand tikkun olam and they understand that it’s important to have diversity. They’re a minority in a Christian nation, so they have that understanding.

JTNews: Aside from the Secular Jewish Circle, do you work with other religious organizations very often?

Brown: Oh yeah. We work a lot with the Interfaith Alliance. We work a lot with the Baptists Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Unitarian Universalist congregations. All of these groups lobby with us from time to time — we work well together, we share materials, we help each other, and that, I think, has made us really powerful.

(Hat tip: Bintel Blog)

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