The White House has been known to confer with religious leaders on important political and social issues -- for instance, a meeting on torture with several religious denominations in June or Obama's meeting with Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama just last week. On Friday, however, White House officials met with 60 members of atheist advocacy group the Secular Coalition for America, to discuss problems that they believe are fueled by religion.
The coalition's press release notes that this is the first time an administration has met with a non-theist community.
The main discussion points were, according to Margaret Talev's McClatchy article:
* "child medical neglect" -- Many religious child care centers are exempted from the health and safety regulations under which secular health centers are run.
* "military proselytizing" -- The coalition asserts that the increasing number of evangelical Christians in the military is causing religious discrimination and that these Christians believe they must promote Christianity as part of their military duty.
* "faith-based initiatives" -- The coalition says the Bush administration created programs like the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to unconstitutionally funnel money to religious institutions.
The coalition represents atheist non-profit groups such as American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.
When asked, "What is your religion, if any?" 15% of Americans answer "None," according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey of 54,000 people.
Says coalition executive director Sean Faircloth:
Despite what we hear from Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, we're in a stage in history where millions upon millions of Americans share a secular perspective on American public policy. We think the real 'silent majority,' if you will, is the Americans who say, 'Enough of this religious and even theocratic nature to American policy.'
Faircloth told ABC that the White House Officials present at the meeting included:
* Tina Tchen, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement
* Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs
* Bryan Samuels, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services
* Mazen Basrawi, counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice
Some Christians, however, are outraged over this meeting like In God We Trust chairman Bishop Council Nedd, who told Christian Newswire:
It is one thing for the Administration to meet with groups of varying viewpoints, but it is quite another for a senior official to sit down with activists representing some of the most hate-filled, anti-religious groups in the nation.