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Godless Lobbyist: Amanda Knief of SCA (Presented by University of Pittsburgh Secular Alliance)

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In December 2011, SA was able to host Amanda Knief thanks to the Speaker's Bureau from the national SSA. KniefThis article summarizes the experiences of that event for the group.

Towards the end of the fall 2011 semester, the Secular Alliance at the University of Pittsburgh had the privilege of hosting Amanda Knief of the Secular Coalition for America. The Godless Lobbyist lecture not only was our organization’s first major event on campus, but brought local attention to our group and labeled us as a legitimate club at our university. 

Funding for the event was requested and received from the Secular Student Alliance and the University of Pittsburgh Student Government Board’s Allocations Committee. The funds were used to pay for travel and lodging expenses for Ms. Knief, a food stipend, advertisements in the school’s daily paper, and raffle tickets for a fundraiser. 

After spending three nights before the event posting flyers around campus, a quarter page advertisement for the event appeared in The Pitt News. Although the event was on a Friday night, we received a solid and enthusiastic turnout. Before the event started, club members in their official club t-shirts sold raffle tickets to attendees, which entered them into a drawing for an autographed copy of The Greatest Show on Earth by famous atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

The actual event began with a showing of a video of Ms. Knief asking President Obama a question about faith-based initiative hiring practices. Afterwards, I, president of the Secular Alliance at the time, introduced Ms. Knief.  The lecture focused on the various issues of the Secular Coalition of America and current political positions that have an effect on secular and nonreligious Americans. For example, current religious exemptions for Catholic hospitals allow them to refuse to provide certain basic care to patients, and the current tax code exempts ministers of the gospel from paying income taxes on a housing allowance. Ms. Knief emphasized the pervasiveness of religious privileging in law and then told attendees how they could make a change.

As a lobbyist, Ms. Knief shared her experiences going into congressional offices as an underdog. The anecdotes regarding meetings with conservative and religious senators and representatives were reassuring in that people were open to listening to her, although they may not agree with her. She repeated the concept that it is important to reach out to everyone, and not just those who agree with you. Making others knowledgeable about your issues and forming a relationship that, at the very least, is not hostile is just as important as having people on your side. 

While the autographed book raffle raised just over $100, the main thing our group will take away from this event is that it is important to try. Your voice will never be heard if you don’t speak up. The event itself was also a big step for our organization, which had never before brought in an out of town speaker. The Secular Alliance at the University of Pittsburgh had an eventful semester, and hosting Amanda Knief of the Secular Coalition for America was culmination of months of hard work! 

This article was written by University of Pittsburgh Secular Alliance

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