An atheist lobbying group based in our nation's Capitol is staking a claim in Virginia's Capitol. The group says it's in response to what they call some egregious legislation being passed this year.
It's a debate as old as this country - what is the proper role of religion in government? Now one group says there shouldn't be one, and they hope to persuade state lawmakers to see things their way.
Arthur Byrne does not believe in God, and he says he's fed up with Republicans pushing religious agendas. He said, "They are very intrusive, it seems, and are set on eradicating the traditional wall of separation."
A separation of church and state he says is slowly being wiped away.
"It's a question of balance," stated Byrne. "You obviously can't say, because we have freedom of religion, no there should be no religion in society, but there does have to be a delineation in the spheres of secular government."
A group of lobbyists in Washington D.C. feels the same way. The Secular Coalition for America is launching atheist lobbying efforts in state legislatures across the country this year - including in Virginia.
57th District Delegate David Toscano (D) said, "People bring their different values to government from different places."
Toscano is not endorsing the group, but he says they're certainly welcome in Richmond. "I think it's important to recognize that there's a role for everyone to participate in the governmental process," he stated. "As for the role of religion, it has a very strong role in politics. It always has, it always will be."
The coalition is not new to Virginia. This year they spoke out against legislation that shields religious-affiliated adoption organizations from being forced to place children with same-sex couples. But this will be the first time an openly atheist group will set up a permanent home in Richmond.
Byrne said, "It's another voice in the free marketplace of ideas, so I consider that part of it definitely a good thing."
The Secular Coalition for America says they're targeting state legislatures because that's where they see the most religion-backed legislation getting passed. Virginia's next General Assembly session begins in January of next year.
Atheist Lobbyist Group Sets Up Shop in RichmondMore>>
Derick Waller joined the NBC 29 news team in August, 2010. Prior to this, Derick graduated with degrees in both broadcast journalism and political science from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Email/Follow on Twitter/ Full Story