Political Activism & the Right to Know


Photo courtesy of Thomas Harvey

I have the utmost respect for anyone who can drop the f bomb and make it sound professional, however that’s only one of the reasons that I respect and admire Amanda Knief, National Legal and Public Policy Director for American Atheists. She is one of the hardest working people I know, a fierce activist, a fellow dog lover, and someone that I have the privilege of calling a friend. I had the opportunity to hear her speak Tuesday night in Waukee, IA about political activism and legislation that she has been working on, the Patient’s Right to Know Act.

The talk was two parts; political activism and the Patient’s Right to Know Act.

The Patient’s Right to Know Act is one of those pieces of legislature that make you ask, “Why is this not already a law?” What it does is it requires religious health care providers to be upfront about the services that they are not going to perform because of their religious-based moral objections. It doesn’t force them to do the procedures in question, they just need to be honest about it so they don’t waste patients time and money, as well as ensures that the patient is able to make an informed decision about different options with their health care. You can read more about this proposed legislation and the full text of the Patient’s Right to Know Act at atheistvoter.org.

So by now you’re probably thinking that sounds pretty awesome and ethical and it should totally be a law, right? Well, it needs sponsors, so get informed about the Patient’s Right to Know Act and talk to your state representatives about it and why it is important to you as an atheist voter.

The rest of the talk focused on political activism, and what you can do as an ordinary American citizen. The answer is that you can do quite a lot, as the United States is run by its citizens for its citizens. For atheist and secular voters to have a voice in government, we need to get involved. The easiest and most powerful thing that you can do is vote, and not just in the big elections, be informed and vote in every election. Not only does this give you a voice, but it shows that you are interested and invested in the process.

Atheists are grossly underrepresented in government because we don’t elect atheists to office. We can help do that in a couple of ways – either by running for an office, or supporting other atheists in their endeavors to hold a public office. Even if there isn’t an atheist candidate running, getting involved in a campaign is a good way to help get someone who supports secular values in office. You’re probably going to be the token atheist working on the campaign; use that position as a way to get secular issues heard. Some of those people you’re volunteering on the campaign with will get hired on. Establishing a relationship means that they’ll reach out to you when they’re looking for a secular take on an issue. Networking is always a good thing; do it often.

My biggest take away from Amanda’s talk was that we can’t criticize candidates for not knowing our issues if we don’t tell them. They can’t represent you if they don’t know that you exist. Other groups do a great job of telling politicians their issues and values and making themselves heard. The atheist community needs to start doing that to become a constituency that politicians want to work towards having the support of. So talk to your representatives, in person if possible, but calls or emails work as well. Let them know what is important to an atheist voter like yourself, let them respectfully know why you disagree with something, let them know why you care, and why they should.

This is just a quick overview of Amanda’s talk on Tuesday night. For more information about the Patient’s Right to Know Act, secular issues, and being an informed atheist voter, go to atheistvoter.org.