A photo of Mark Pocan that is labeled Secularist of the Week

FFRF Action Fund commends Rep. Pocan and denounces public officials over Iowa fracas 

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U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan wins FFRF Action Fund’s “Secularist of the Week” for his commendable nomination of an atheist as Guest Chaplain — promoting free speech, equal rights for dissenters and religious diversity. For their ganging up against the Satanic Temple’s lawful display inside the Iowa Capitol building, the Fund is collectively branding as “Theocrats of the Week” two governors and an Iowa state legislator.
 
Rep. Mark Pocan, representing Wisconsin’s 2nd District, nominated Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Dan Barker as Guest Chaplain to deliver an invocation before the U.S. House of Representatives. In his nomination letter to Rev. Margaret Grun Kibben, chaplain of the House, Pocan urges her to invite Barker as the first-ever openly atheistic Guest Chaplain

Pocan was joined by fellow Congressional Freethought Caucus members Reps. Jared Huffman, Jamie Raskin, Hank Johnson, Julia Brownley and Jan Schakowsky in signing the nomination letter.

Pocan, who was awarded FFRF’s “Champion of the First Amendment” in 2019, previously nominated Barker in 2019 to deliver a secular invocation in front of the U.S. House, although the previous chaplain stymied that request. Pocan has earned his title of “Secularist of the Week” by working to ensure that secular and inclusive principles are represented in government proceedings. 
 
A group of extremist public officials in Iowa are determined to do the opposite. In their efforts to privilege only Christianity, they have denounced the inclusion of the Satanic Temple display at the Iowa Capitol, which has a public forum for holiday season exhibits. Iowa’s Gov. Kim Reynolds called the Satanic Temple display “absolutely objectionable” and shared images of herself and others praying in the Capitol near the Christian nativity display, encouraging citizens to join her. Although Reynolds admitted that “free speech is a right afforded to all,” she added: “But how we use it matters … in the battle between good and evil, good will always prevail.” Reynolds appeared to be calling the Satanic Temple display a symbol of evil. 

Iowa state Rep. Brad Sherman has called on Reynolds to remove the display. Sherman is meanwhile working on legislation that would prohibit satanic displays in Iowa’s Capitol and on any state-owned property, although he wants to make it legal to display the Ten Commandments in the Capitol and public schools. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seeking to make the display a presidential campaign talking point with his Christian nationalist base, argued that the satanic display was not “a genuine religious expression and should be removed.” DeSantis even publicly declared he would support the legal defense fund for the man who admitted to destroying the display. 

“It’s not surprising that the Satanic Temple’s duly permitted display was vandalized, after Reynolds and Sherman used their public offices to inflame the public against the free speech rights of minority views on religion,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Action Fund president. She called it “truly despicable” that a presidential candidate would donate to the defense fund of a violent zealot who believes lawmakers are “supposed to honor Jesus Christ as King” and that public forums are only for Christians.

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.