My name is Melina Cohen, and I am honored to join American Atheists as the organization’s new Communications Director.
I first learned about American Atheists as a teenager in rural Iowa, where I was bullied for my secular views by a local youth pastor who worked at my public school. Those awful and alienating experiences served as a catalyst for me, as they have for many in our community. Ever since, I’ve been a passionate advocate for keeping religion out of public schools and public dollars out of religious schools.
Before joining American Atheists, I spent six years fighting school privatization in Nebraska, where I saw firsthand the outsized influence of the religious lobby. There were millions of out-of-state dollars in campaign contributions, personal calls from Trump-era Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to state senators, and mounting pressure from the Nebraska Catholic Conference and right-wing Christian Nationalist groups, funded by the Koch brothers and other billionaires.
But Nebraska’s story is actually one that gives me hope. For years, we successfully staved off all school privatization legislation—one of just two states to do so. When a voucher bill finally passed this year, I was part of a coalition that gathered nearly twice the amount of required signatures to put the bill before voters on the November 2024 ballot.
Whenever and wherever voters have been given a choice about so-called “school choice” bills, they have rejected them. It is an enduring truth that most Americans choose public schools and oppose the diversion of public dollars to fund private and parochial schools.
I believe that’s because facts do still matter to a majority of us. And the evidence is clear that vouchers defund public schools, lead to declines in academic performance, and are rife with discrimination and corruption. (Even new House Speaker Mike Johnson served as the dean of a fake Baptist school accused of financial impropriety.)
Despite its unpopularity, the Christian Nationalist-driven agenda to dismantle public education is advancing — and intensifying — across the nation.
- In 2023 alone, bills establishing or expanding privatization schemes were introduced in 42 states and passed in 14.
- Educational gag orders and book bans are also on the rise, with PEN America recording 3,362 instances in public school classrooms and libraries during the 2022-23 school year.
- Two weeks ago, a Colorado judge ruled that an anti-LGBTQIA+ Christian preschool must receive taxpayer dollars.
- Also in Colorado, televangelist Andrew Wommack launched a plan to infiltrate school boards because he believes, “This country ought to be totally dominated by believers.” And a similar school board coup is being coordinated in Pennsylvania by Moms For Liberty.
I wish my first communication to you could be less doom and gloom. At the same time, it’s more important than ever that this community—our growing community—be informed and involved in the fight to save America’s public schools.
When we stand together, it works. Last week, American Atheists sent an Action Alert to thousands of members in Texas about Governor Abbott’s devastating voucher proposal. Today, his priority bill appears stalled. Over the weekend, Alison Gill and I attended the Network for Public Education conference in Washington, D.C., where we met researchers, lawyers, teachers, union leaders, faith leaders, and activists from dozens of states that are pushing back.
Please help us preserve public education for all and promote facts over faith in policymaking.
Support our work with a contribution of $15, $35, $135, or more, so we can continue fighting back against religious overreach in our public schools.
I am so proud to join American Atheists, and I am so thankful for supporters like you who make this critical work possible.
American Atheists is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan, nonprofit educational organization that relies on the support of members like you. Contributions are tax-deductible. Our Federal Tax ID Number is 74-2466507 and our Combined Federal Campaign number is 52217.
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