A Good Time At The Ohio Secular Summit 4.0


On February 10th I attended Secular Summit 4.0 at the Ohio State House in Columbus. It was hosted by CFI NE Ohio. It was the second lobby day I attended and this time I tried to as prepared as I could be to speak to my representatives. As luck would have it, I got to speak to my state Senator and he seemed positive toward the secular issues I presented to him. Seculars need to do more in person lobbying of our elected officials in addition to phone calls and written messages.

The Secular Summit is a chance for secular people around Ohio to get together for a morning meeting then in the afternoon we have appointments with our state representatives and senators. 

Speakers at the 2016 summit included:

Amanda Knief, National Legal and Public Policy Director for American Atheists, author of The Citizen Lobbyist: A How-to Manual for Making Your Voice Heard in Government talked about the campaign for a Right to Know Act.

It would require health providers to inform patients if they would not provide any medical procedure due to religious beliefs.

Ohio State Senator Michael Skindell, 23rd District, stopped by to talk to us about SB-50, the Secular Celebrant bill he introduced at the beginning of the session last year.

Michael De Dora from the CFI Office of Public Policy gave a short training session on how to lobby an elected official.

Nancy Starner from Preterm and Stella Shaw from Planned Parenthood updated us on the continuing efforts of the Ohio Legislature to restrict abortion rights. The day of the summit, the Ohio House passed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood making it the 18th anti-abortion law to be signed by Ohio Governor John Kasich since he took office.

Participants in the 2016 Secular Summit - Ohio State House Columbus Ohio
Participants in the 2016 Secular Summit – Ohio State House Columbus Ohio (photo courtesy of CFI NE Ohio)

My first meeting of the afternoon was with my state Senator Cliff Hite (R-1). He was the one who, in 2015, introduced and got passed SB-121 that required the Meningococcal vaccine for children.

I lucked out and got to speak with Senator Hite personally because a meeting he was suppose to attend had been canceled. Most of the time, at these lobby days, we speak to staff people who forward our views to the representative or senator. Maybe if we gave a lot of money then we get more face to face meetings… 

*Personal side note* Senator Hite taught at my middle school when I was there back in the early 80s. He taught Civics although I wasn’t in his class. I also went to school (from elementary to high school) with the current Findlay High School football coach who was Hite’s assistant when he coach at FHS. So we spent a few minutes reminiscing about the great Glenwood Eagles.

My big pitch was about the Secular Coalition for America’s Put Kids First campaign in Ohio. The goal is to have all non-medical exemptions to required childhood vaccines repealed. Too many people abuse the exemption leaving children in danger of getting sick when they don’t have to be sick.

I noted to Senator Hite that the exemptions were left in his Meningococcal vaccine bill. He told me he did try to remove that language when he introduced the bill but because of political considerations he had to leave it in. He put a priority on getting the bill passed rather than fighting a religious battle.

Senator Hite also said he agreed with us on the vaccine issue 100% because his niece died from meningitis and being a former teacher he knows the importance of children being vaccinated.

I also mentioned SB 50 which removes the requirement to be ordained to allow any person or entity that registers with the secretary of state to solemnize marriages. Senator Hite was frank in telling me the bill probably won’t make it out of committee and he wondered why we would have it introduced knowing the makeup of the current legislature. I told him we had to bring it up and keep bringing it up on the chance it would be passed.

My next meeting was with Andrew, the Legislative Aide to State Representative Robert Sprague (R-83).

When meeting with a staff person you basically do the same spiel as you would if speaking to the actual person but unlike my meeting with Senator Hite, there was no immediate feedback.

Rep. Sprague is on the Health committee where an exemption repeal would start but he has been less than amendable to secular issues in general. Just this week I found out he co-sponsored HB 286 aka the “Ohio Pastor Protection Act” which, if passed, would allow members of the clergy and “religious societies” to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Even though I know that Rep. Sprague might not agree with my view on the issues I talked about in the meeting with Andrew, I would still do it. 

We need to keep talking to our elected officials about our issues and concerns so they know there are other views out in the district. Personal lobbying is a direct way to get our views across in addition to phone calls and messages.

I had a lot of fun this year and I plan on attending future Ohio lobby days and I hope you do too.