ICYMI: With Wit and Humor, Secular Organizations Host Inaugural Congressional Reason Reception

Congressional Freethought Caucus Presents 1st Annual Freethought Awards

May 10, 2024

Washington, D.C. – Last week, U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02), Co-Chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus (CFC), joined the Secular Coalition for America, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the American Humanist Association for their inaugural Congressional Reason Reception on Wednesday, May 1, 2024 on Capitol Hill. A recording of the event may be accessed here.

Coinciding with the National Day of Reason (annually on May 4) and the Secular Week of Action, the inaugural Congressional Reason Reception celebrated the invaluable role of reason in public policy and honored the enduring legacy of Thomas Paine, who wrote “The Age of Reason” and strongly supported the concept of separation of church and state during the nation’s founding. The event featured the wit and wisdom of advocates and members of Congress, and served as a strong contrast to the doom and gloom and victimization that is pervasive in Christian nationalist circles.

The reception was also attended by Huffman’s CFC Co-Chair Representative Jamie Raskin, CFC Member Representative Greg Casar, and numerous Congressional staffers, community members, and religious and secular activists.

“It's only fitting that we are holding the Reason Reception on May first, because when it comes to threats to the constitutional separation of church and state, all of us are yelling, Mayday! Mayday," said Rep. Huffman at the event. “When I founded the Congressional Freethought Caucus with my friend Jamie Raskin six years ago now, along with a couple of other colleagues, I never dreamed how far our movement would come.”

“Thomas Paine inspired people in the colonies [...] to launch a nation founded on principles of democratic self-government, the rights of men and of women, and reason and science -- these are things that definitely inspire everyone of us in this room tonight,” Huffman remarked. “We are proud to present the inaugural Freethought Awards in Thomas Paine’s honor. These awards will recognize the brightest luminaries of Paine’s legacy and we’re also going to call out one individual who exemplifies everything that Thomas Paine opposed.”

Representative Huffman commented that the Congressional Reason Reception is a “counterweight to the National Prayer Breakfast.” Representative Greg Casar discussed that he was “sent here from my constituents in Texas because we badly need help back home here at the Federal level fighting to make sure we are working on inclusion and kindness and helping people and not relying on old theocratic ideas in order to bully people.”

“Our people have had it with conspiracy theories, disinformation, fake news and propaganda. It’s time to stand up strong for reason, science and Enlightenment values,” said Representative Raskin. “I was delighted to attend the inaugural Congressional Reason Reception with my friend, the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, Congressman Jared Huffman, as well as the Secular Coalition for America, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the American Humanist Association. With democracy under siege, we're putting truth, critical thinking and common sense back on the public agenda.”

The full house enjoyed the program packed with insightful discourse, wit and humor. Doug Lindner, a democracy advocate for a major environmental rights group, kicked off the inaugural event. “When I was asked to speak here tonight, I hesitated. I thought about it and I prayed. And something miraculous happened. It was a rainy day and the gray skies parted over H Street, and from betwixt the clouds a mighty pillar of fire descended from the heavens, and touched down outside my window. And from the pillar of fire, I heard the deafening ethereal voice of the Almighty himself. The Lord spoke to me and he said, ‘Thou shall go forth and join your friends in the mockery of Mike Johnson.’”

Attendees had the pleasure of hearing speaker Kate Cohen, Washington Post columnist and author of “We Of Little Faith,” deliver a keynote address, where she warned about the “elevation of religious belief above other kinds of belief” and the “increasing willingness to ignore our country’s foundational dividing line between government and religion.”

Three awards channeling Thomas Paine writings were bestowed. Representative Casar presented the Age of Reason Award to Texas State Representative James Talarico. “I am so proud that our members voted overwhelmingly to give the award to a rising star in Texas Politics,” adding that Talarico “is a theologian against theocracy.”

It is more important than ever for Americans to know about the dangers that Christian nationalist ideologies pose to our democracy. As award recipient Talarico put it, “There is nothing Christian about Christian Nationalism. From the schoolhouse to the statehouse, Christian Nationalists are gaining power and pushing legislation to take away our freedoms — perverting Christianity and subverting democracy.”

Representative Huffman introduced the Common Sense Award, which is dedicated to someone who has stood up for reason, secularism, science and church-state separation. Huffman presented the award to Rev. William Barber who, “has been for years an outspoken critic of Christian nationalism. He refers to it as a well funded, coordinated political movement that has co-opted his faith tradition and exploits so-called traditional values to undermine democracy and divide people across the land.”

Kate Cohen, in announcing the Uncommon Nonsense Award, prefaced her remarks by noting it was a “crowded field that includes Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker, with an opinion citing God 40 times.” But, Cohen added, “There’s still a clear winner. This year it goes to a man who has said that God put him in the job to which American citizens elected him, that his position on every issue can be found in the Bible, that America is a Christian nation, and that ‘separation of church and state’ is a ‘misnomer’: My Speaker of the House and yours, Mike Johnson.”

Given the success of this year's event, the secular community plans to return next year on Wednesday, April 30, 2025 to celebrate the next Congressional Reason Reception.