Groups gather to fight Bush’s faith initiatives

Forty to 60 humanists, atheists, nontheists, secular Jews and ethical culturalists began an emergency summit yesterday at a Dupont Circle hotel to discuss strategy over how to fight President Bush’s faith-based initiatives planned for his second term.

“The situation is now as bad as we’ll ever see it,” said Roy Speckhardt, deputy director of the American Humanist Association (AHA), a conglomeration of 80 grass-roots activist groups that promote humanism, a philosophy of living without supernatural influences.

Mr. Speckhardt said this year’s so-called “inauguration summit” dwarfs a similar 1981 meeting at the University of Maryland after Ronald Reagan won the White House with the help of the Moral Majority.

“We convened the meeting because of the unprecedented challenges, such as the election results and how they’re being interpreted,” he said. “A slim victory is being interpreted as a mandate on moral issues, so we are concerned.”

Mr. Bush, an evangelical Methodist, made his Christian convictions clear once again last week when he told a group of Washington Times editors and reporters, “I don’t see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord.”

The organizations intend to hire lobbyists to stymie any legislation that would limit abortion rights or deny homosexual rights. They also oppose giving federal funding to religious social-service programs. Some $1.2 billion was appropriated in 2003 for such programs, Mr. Speckhardt said.

“Faith-based initiatives mean public dollars given to faith-based organizations,” he said. “The minority religions and us will be left out.”

Anne Gaylor, founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said organizations like hers are quite concerned about the president’s agenda.

“There is complete scorn on the part of the current administration as to the separation of church and state,” Miss Gaylor said. “There has never been any less respect in Washington for church-state separation, even though church-state separation is one of the things that made our country possible in the first place.”

The ad-hoc group kicked off its summit with a reception last night at AHA headquarters on T Street in Northwest, and a strategy session is planned for today at the Jurys Hotel on New Hampshire Avenue in Northwest..

Today’s speakers include the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women; and Chris Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Some 20 groups will be represented, ranging from the Association of Humanistic Rabbis to the Freedom From Religion Foundation to the Internet Infidels.

Concern among the nontheistically-minded is at an all-time high, AHA officials said, citing a 5 percent jump in membership to 7,000 persons since Mr. Bush was re-elected Nov. 2.

“The present Bush administration is identifying itself with faith,” AHA editorial director Fred Edwords said. “That’s the kind of thing nontheistic organizations are concerned about.”

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