BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - By Jonathan Hardison
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Does religion play too big a role or too small a role in Alabama politics? It's a question that Governor Bentley's controversial comments on Inauguration Day has helped stir. Wednesday, a group says it's time to put more separation between church and this state.
The new group formed over the weekend is the Secular Coalition for Alabama, part of a larger national group aimed at representing atheists, agnostics, and anyone who considers themselves secular. Alabama is only the 2nd local chapter of this group in the nation, and its founders say they were already forming their group before Governor Bentley said only Christians were "my brothers and sisters."
But they say the incident shows the need for a voice on their side of the faith and politics debate. It's a conversation many Alabama Christians welcome.
"Primary thing is to enforce the separation of church and state," said Steven Moore, spokesperson for the Secular Coalition. "A lot of recent resolutions and legislation has been introduced that essentially is crossing the line. All we're doing is enforcing the law, make sure it's fair for everybody whether they believe in religion or not."
The Secular Coaltion says 570,000 Alabamians consider themselves secular and that's whose voice the new group wants to represent. But in a state of more than 4.7 million, that means they're vastly outnumbered.
"There's absolutely an uphill climb," Moore said. "Just using the term 'atheist' is considered a 4-letter word by a lot of Christians, even a lot of Atheists. They don't even like using that term. So there's a big perception issue. But I've gotta say we're not an Atheist-only organization."
"I do see some irony as our culture becomes increasingly more secular, that there are some people who feel it's not secular enough," said Dr. Gary Fenton, senior pastor at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church. "Separation of church and state is an important issue because it protects the church."
Christians may disagree with some of the secular foundation's positions, but Dr. Fenton says anything that stirs dialogue, including this new foundation, should be welcomed. "To some extent I think they've started the dialogue by even discussing fairness and I want to thank them for bringing up such a wonderful Christian virtue, although I know that was not their intent," Fenton said. "But I do think that is an example of how you can start dialogue."
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