In recent years of my activism for the separation of religion and government, I have considered how to approach potential church/state violations.
Should I be ‘heavy-handed’ and immediately contact organizations like the FFRF and the ACLU, whom I have happily worked with in the past, encouraging them to send demand letters…or should I first be more ‘diplomatic’ and attempt to rectify potential violations by speaking directly with government officials before contacting organizations?
Some have considered I give government officials the benefit of the doubt – thinking that they may not be aware of their wrongdoings and only if they were contacted, they would correct violations without the need of organizations having to send demand letters or file lawsuits.
Perhaps an e-mail or phone call from a constituent would change someone’s mind without having to contact a national organization who would send a demand letter or file a lawsuit? My experiences have shown otherwise – that lawmakers pushing the envelope of church/state separation have an agenda, a history of misdeeds, are stubborn, and present really poor arguments attempting to justify their actions.
Over time, I have become more cynical, coming to realize that a kind e-mail or phone call to a lawmaker does not accomplish much…but I generally still prefer more ‘diplomatic’ means in most cases, hoping not to establish adversarial relationships with government officials and leaving a possibility for change open.
When dealing with officials who have a history of church/state transgressions when really should know better, though, I have little patience and seek help from national organizations who will be more persuasive than my phone calls or e-mails.
Even when working with national organizations, prior to sending demand letters or filing lawsuits, we have frequently tried means of diplomacy: making phone calls and sending e-mails before demand letters, threats of lawsuits, or lawsuits. Such organizations, like the FFRF, publicly announce that they wish to resolve matters without legal action when possible, but sometimes — although we do not want it, namely because of the high financial costs — legal action is necessary.
Little do people know, even though I often don’t want to government officials the benefit of the doubt, I first try diplomacy — as do the national organizations I work with — and hope to settle issues without legal action or ‘heavy-handed’ demand letters. People often do not know what happens behind the scenes and assume the worst. With many reasons to distrust government officials and have little patience, diplomacy remains the first course of action and more ‘heavy-handed’ approaches follow when diplomacy fails.
As always, feel free to comment below.