Maryland atheists may soon have a lobbying group of their own.
The Secular Coalition for America, a nonprofit that lobbies of behalf of atheists, agnostics, free thinkers and "other nontheistic Americans," announced plans Wednesday to organize a Maryland chapter to advocate in Annapolis for strong separation of church and state.
The group put out a call for secular-minded Marylanders, regardless of religious beliefs, to take part in an organizational teleconference Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. The group plans to train volunteers in how to lobby lawmakers and mount a public relations campaign, said spokeswoman Lauren Anderson Youngblood.
Annapolis has a long history of lobbying by religious groups ranging from the Maryland Catholic Conference to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation to the Maryland Muslim Council. If the secular coalition is successful, the non-religious would have their own presence in the General Assembly.
Youngblood said the coalition has chapters up and running in Colorado and Arizona and hopes to have affiliates in all 50 states. Edwina Rogers, executive director of the Washington-based national group, said the group is stepping up its lobbying activities at the state level because that is where "some of the most egregious violations of church-state separation are being promoted."
Rogers estimated that 40 million Americans are not affiliated with any religion, but she said their influence has been limited because they traditionally have not been organized.
The group has not adopted a legislative agenda for Maryland but said it focuses on opposing bills that try to promote religious beliefs in secular laws or to steer public funds to groups that promote religious beliefs.
The coalition pointed to three bills introduced in this year's legislative session that it would have lobbied against -- a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman, a requirement that the governor proclaim March 1 as St. David's Day and a measure telling the Motor Vehicle Administration to develop a license plate bearing the words "In God We Trust."
The phone number for the teleconference is 530-881-1400, with an access code of 978895.