Ask Mandisa 13 – Secular People in Politics

by | January 13, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the, if not the, largest organization for African-American or black nonbelievers or atheists in America.

The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religious community.

I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States. Here, we talk about secular people in politics.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The new year is in; we’re looking at new media, new exposure, and new interest.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What have been some notable stories of secular people in office? What is important in terms of civil and social rights?

Mandisa Thomas: I will start with the second question first. The importance of secular individuals in politicals is knowing that they will put the rights of the people, regardless of their religious beliefs or background, over their own personal views.

People who are secular will be inclusive of those who are LGTBQ and marginalized. There will be, usually, reproductive rights of everyone respected. It won’t focus on one particular group.

Secular doesn’t mean explicitly non-religious. But having a secular background or perspective, it means that you are not putting your dogma into that; that you’re not abiding by any set of rules or policies that will favor one over the rest of your constituency. There is one notable story out of Athens, Georgia.

One black woman was sworn into public office. She turned down the oath on the Bible. But she opted to swear on the copy of the biography of Malcolm X. While he identified as a Muslim, he is one of my heroes. Near the end of his life, he fought for the rights of blacks and individuals regardless of their religious background.

I think that is a very appropriate book to have taken an oath on.

Jacobsen: Why did Malcolm X have a change of heart towards the secular?

Thomas: Malcolm X had a change of attitude towards the Nation of Islam once he had a separation from the Honorable Elijah Mohammed. His parents were the followers of Marcus Garvey. He was notable for the Back-to-Africa liberation movement. It was so eclectic with his background.

He engaged people of so many different backgrounds. To me, that is a person who championed people first. He began to understand. He was not an educated man but an informed man; he was an informed individual.

He made sure to keep his ear to the ground – to so speak. He had a shift in position when he realized that he had a really powerful voice and was really powerful when he found out he was able to connect with leaders and the black community.

It was something that he was doing with the Nation of Islam, but was better able to do this when he stepped away. 

Jacobsen: Are there any other notable cases of those who have entered political office who are secular, or even trends of the same?

Thomas: Yes, you have Senator Ernie Chambers. He is in Arizona. You have Juan Mendez and Anita Colon, who are people of color. There was also an atheist elected to office in the Nebraska area. I do not recall the name.

Those are some notable people. I think former representative Barnie Frank was or is an atheist. I do not think he disclosed this while in office. But he did an openly secular campaign interview, once he was out of office. He then let his secular background or perspective be known.

These are some on the books in the states in the US where it is illegal to be an atheist and in office. It is dangerous and detrimental. Hopefully, in the future, these laws can be overturned.

I think that religious privilege needs to go away in public office and in politics, particularly in the United States.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.

Thomas: Thank you very much.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.

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