The Political Advantages of a Polysemous Secular
This paper uses the occasion of the Secular Coalition for America’s first-ever Congressional briefing as a case study for demonstrating the political advantages a polysemous secular affords secular lobbyists. The briefing, conducted primarily for the benefit of staff members from the U.S. House of Representatives, offers a rare public forum in which the Secular Coalition tried to strike a balance between the two halves of its mission: advocating for non-theists and promoting secular government. In its efforts to fulfill this mission, the Secular Coalition conflates and distinguishes between four distinct meanings of the secular and secularism: the separation of church and state, the secular public sphere, the ideology of nonbelief, and a nascent secular identity. By studying the ongoing efforts of secular activists to redefine the place and meaning of the secular and the religious in American life, this paper contributes to the study of how the secular gets made, who makes it, and why.