Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

18 October 2008

CSG in the New York Times

By Diana Hsieh

I'm pleased to report that I make a small appearance in the just-published New York Times column "On Religion," written by Samuel Freedman: For Atheists, Politics Proves to Be a Lonely Endeavor.

The column focuses on Colorado's Amendment 48, particularly on the difficulty of mobilizing secular voters in opposition to this faith-based measure. I appear toward the end, as part of a gentle criticism:

With their trust in the power of reason, atheists might also be ill-equipped for the gritty work of retail politics -- the phone banks, the door-knocking, the car pools to the polls. If nothing else, they are coming late to the craft.

As founder and leader of a Colorado-based coalition for secular government, Diana Hsieh has written a detailed position paper attacking Amendment 48. Other atheist activists have written letters to the editor and participated in online forums about the ballot measure. Relatively few, however, have thrown themselves into the get-out-the-vote operations that conservative Christians, for instance, have excelled at.

"We need to get more of our people out," said Ms. Hsieh, 33, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Colorado. "It's just not the strategy I've taken. I'm a policy-wonk type. Going to talk to people outside the grocery store is just not going to be my strong suit."
It's true: my battle is philosophical. Support for Amendment 48 is rooted in the deeply-held but false belief that "life begins at conception." (By that, people mean that a new person, with the right to life, is created at conception.) Recent polls show that, of likely Colorado voters, 41% believe that "life begins at conception" and 39% support Amendment 48. The overlap is not coincidental. So as I said in a recent press release for the Coalition for Secular Government:
To effectively combat measures like Amendment 48, the whole 'pro-life' ideology must be challenged at its root... Reproductive rights must be defended on principle, based on the objective facts of human nature. With regard to abortion, the fact is that a fetus or embryo is only a potential person so long as encased within and dependent on the woman. Once born, the infant is a new individual person with the right to life. That view ought to be the basis for the laws of a free society. Any alternative -- any attempt to grant rights to the embryo or fetus -- would violate the rights of pregnant women.
While I don't dispute with the importance of "retail politics" for winning elections, the defeat of the religious right in Colorado will require sustained philosophic arguments about the nature, source, and scope of rights. I'm pleased with what I've been able to do on that score so far. And once I finish my Ph.D at Boulder this spring, I'll be able to do far more than I can now. Nonetheless, I hope to never stand outside a grocery store arguing abortion with random passersby!

Finally, I must mention that it was a pleasure to discuss these issues with Samuel Freedman. He was sharp, fair, and interested in my views. His column reflects that -- and I am very appreciative. (Plus, a hefty thank you to Mike Smith, who helped us connect!)

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