Minnesota – A Model for Building Strong Political Relationships

I was delighted to be invited by Suzanne Perry of HumanistsMN (a chapter of the American Humanist Association) to be a featured speaker for their 2024 National Day of Reason Breakfast and Reception at the Minnesota State Capitol. I first learned of the event from Sarah Levin of Secular Strategies, a consultant for the Center for Freethought Equality, after she spoke at their 2022 event. Sarah excitedly told me about the great turnout and the strong relationships between the elected officials and the humanist and atheist community. She thought that Minnesota was ripe to form a state secular caucus modeled on the national Congressional Freethought Caucus. Sarah organized Zoom meetings to explore the idea with HumanistsMN activists and elected officials and soon the Minnesota Secular Government Caucus was established. Today, this Caucus has thirty state legislators from a variety of religious and non-religious traditions.

This May, I saw first-hand the strong relationships that have been built between our community, religious allies, and Minnesota elected officials. There were over ninety participants at the event—up significantly over the previous year. In their presentations, the Senators and Representatives expressed their enthusiasm for the turnout and their plans for this and the next legislative session. The participants asked informed questions and were equally excited about the positive legislation (e.g. medical aid in dying and secular recovery options) being advanced by these elected officials. The event generated positive support for the legislators to continue to advance their and our community’s policy values and encouraged the participants to become more politically engaged.

Minnesota is an excellent model for how our community can and must build strong relationships with elected officials and foster the political engagement of our community and allies. The Minnesota House even issued a resolution this year recognizing the National Day of Reason and encouraged “citizens, residents, and visitors to join in the observing of the day and focusing on the central importance of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry in resolving social problems and promoting the welfare of humankind.”

So, how did they get to this point?

In 2006, the Minnesota Atheists (an affiliate of the AHA) started the National Day of Reason celebration with an event in the state’s Capitol Rotunda and invited legislators to attend. This became an annual gathering that HumanistsMN also co-sponsored. Minnesota State Senator John Marty, a Lutheran, and State Representative Mike Frieberg, an agnostic, became regulars at these events. Both would later become co-chairs of the Minnesota Secular Government Caucus. In 2019, humanist leaders decided they wanted to make a bigger push for secular values by organizing a Day of Reason breakfast with legislators. They met with Sen. Marty and Rep. Frieberg, who offered suggestions on how best to invite legislators to get their attention to attend the event. The suggestions worked.

Building and maintaining relationships takes work, but the results as demonstrated in Minnesota can be tremendous.

This can happen in your state, too.

Be visible! Have your group sponsor or co-sponsor an event in your state capitol. The event could be a lobby day and/or a celebration of the Day of Reason, Religious Freedom Day, Earth Day, Constitution Day or any program that energizes your group’s members and is amenable to your state’s legislative calendar.

Meet with your legislators! Start with your own legislators. You are a constituent and they want to hear from you. The Center for Freethought Equality has a list of elected officials who identify with the humanist and atheist community. Get to know them. Talk to them about their legislative priorities, share your policy priorities, and work together to get them enacted.

By increasing our visibility as a constituency, working with religious allies, and building strong relationships with elected officials the humanist and atheist community will build its political power and advance our positive policy values to, as the Minnesota House National Day of Reason Resolution states, resolve social problems and promote the welfare of humankind.

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