Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse will be honored at the Secular Coalition for America (SCA)’s second annual Secular Awards Dinner on June 14 in Washington DC. In partnership with the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Center, the SCA annually honors members of Congress and activists who have stood up for the separation of church and state, science-based policy, and nontheistic Americans.
Whitehouse is the recipient of the SCA’s Visibility Award because “during the confirmation hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Senator asked a question pertaining explicitly to secular Americans.” The SCA observed that “by referencing [nontheist, secular Americans] during this important hearing, Senator Whitehouse showed his commitment to ensuring that nonreligious Americans are a part of the national political conversation.”
“Roger Williams left the theocracy of Massachusetts to found Rhode Island, where tolerance and religious openness would be the new standard,” wrote Whitehouse when asked for a statement, “It is in that tradition that I work to bring the voices of all Rhode Islanders, regardless of their religious beliefs, with me to the Senate every day.”
During his questioning of Sessions during the confirmation hearings, Whitehouse said that in Rhode Island, “we have a long tradition back to Roger Williams of separating church and state, and as an Attorney General and as a US Attorney, we also have a tradition of allowing career attorneys to follow the policy dictates of other administrations and not holding the career people responsible for that. I’m wondering how you’ll react to this. Do you have a problem with career attorneys if their private religious beliefs are secular ones? And will you support the career attorneys against the pressure from these right wing organizations seeking to wash them out like filth, to paraphrase the Heritage Foundation?”
Later, Whitehouse asked, “A secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious. Correct?”
To which Sessions answered that he would treat “anybody with different views fairly and objectively.”