Rep. Jared Huffman: ‘Continue to make your voices heard’
These are the prepared remarks given by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman via pre-recorded video to the FFRF convention on Oct. 28 in San Antonio.
By Rep. Jared Huffman
I’m Rep. Jared Huffman, representing California’s beautiful north coast. Beyond this beautiful district, I’m the surrogate representative for countless folks across the United States who identify as nonreligious. I’m the token humanist in Congress. A few others are coy about how they describe their religious views, but I’ve come out and said it — I’m a humanist. I don’t believe in God.
I first dropped this bombshell in 2017 because, frankly, I was tired of avoiding the question. I believe my constituents need to know where I stand on not only the separation of church and state as issues, but the moral framework by which I try to live my life and informs the work I do in Congress.
At the time, it was pretty novel, to say the least, that a member of Congress would publicly acknowledge they don’t believe in God. Unfortunately, it is still extremely rare — as in, it’s just me, so far. But, I’m hardly alone. Many members of Congress share my views, and a large swath of my constituents share my views. And the Nones are the fastest-growing religious demographic in America. My constituents keep re-electing me, which suggests they’re comfortable with my humanist values and appreciate the hard work I do for the district, which is way more important than religious labels, anyway.
For me, being a humanist is not a political liability, it’s somewhere between irrelevant and actually positive. I’m doing my part to bring Congress closer to the secular institution that founders like Paine, Jefferson and Madison envisioned, and that the Constitution is supposed to require.
I helped found the Congressional Freethought Caucus in 2018. We’re an ever-growing group and now up to 17 members. Our work is driven by key pillars. First, promoting public policy based on reason and science. Protecting the secular nature of our federal government. Opposing discrimination against individuals for their faith or lack of faith. And providing a forum for Congress to discuss ethical frameworks and personal religious journeys.
The work of our caucus is more important than ever as our radical Supreme Court and an emboldened MAGA Republican base brings us to a dystopic theocracy. And white Christian nationalism is on the rise. We don’t need to look far for the proof of their intent. The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol made it clear that this violent ideology is a serious threat to our democracy.
I’m happy for the report from Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Joint Baptist Committee, showing the role white Christian nationalism played, not only during the Jan. 6 insurrection, but the months leading up to it, propelling disparate groups together.
I urged the report, and, after it was released, the Congressional Freethought Caucus held a briefing on its findings. It has informed my caucus members on the dark day and the work we need to do in response. I encouraged Congress to not only familiarize themselves with the insidious ideology of white Christian nationalism, but to stand up against it.
There’s no doubt that for many, religion plays a vital role in their lives, but using state and government resources, it’s entirely unacceptable and illegal. It’s time for us to wake up to this danger.
I have undertaken two other actions into the incursion of religion on the public sphere. I introduced the Health Share Transparency Act, limiting Christian so-called “health shares.” They peddle fraudulent, unregulated health products under the guise of religion. With my bill in place, we can protect consumers from the predatory practices and make sure they can make better health care decisions for themselves and their loved ones. Health shares will be forced to disclose a range of information to inform future regulation and they’ll be fined if they don’t comply. It’s a really good bill.
I also recently wrote a letter to the IRS, requesting they review the tax status of the Family Research Council and whether existing guidance is enough to prevent groups like this from abusing their IRS church status. Family Research Council claims it’s an association of churches, despite not having services and other characteristics the IRS requires for a church. They engage explicitly in political activity. There was an amicus brief for overturning Roe v. Wade, and sought religious exemptions to civil rights and on and on. Churches, by law, must not engage in politics. It is really clear that the IRS needs to do a lot more oversight and diligence to make sure political advocacy groups are not falsely qualifying at churches.
So, these are just a few of the things that we’re working on in Congress. There’s a lot more ahead of us. And I am so thankful to all of you for your partnership. Your voices are critical in this fight for, as President Biden puts it, the soul of our nation. Please continue to make your voices heard with your members of Congress. I think together we can protect our secular democracy and I look forward to continuing this important work with you. Thanks.