Branstad to Parents: Convert Atheist Children by Bringing Them to Church

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On Wednesday, Iowa atheist Justin Scott asked Gov. Terry Branstad about his thoughts on the rise of nonbelievers in the country, particularly among young voters and how to “get them involved” in the political process.

“I think we need to try to lead by example,” Branstad said. “I mean, it’s like, you know, taking our children to church and encouraging them to get involved.”

“But many of the non-believers don’t go to church,” Scott replied.

“I know. But that’s a reason why parents need to try to provide some leadership and encourage that. And encourage our children to stay involved, even when they go off to college. And that’s a challenge.”

The governor’s comments are consistent with a proclamation he signed earlier this year encouraging Iowans to take part in a “99 County Bible Reading Marathon” during the summer outside county courthouses and read the Bible every day until the second coming of Jesus Christ.

In response to the proclamation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened to sue Branstad for using state resources to promote Christianity. Plano, Texas-based First Liberty, the religious group that defended former Newtown Daily News editor Bob Eschliman after he was fired from the newspaper over a homophobic post on his personal blog, said if a lawsuit happened, it would support Branstad.

As Patheos noted yesterday, the Amherst-based secularist organization Center for Inquiry issued a response to Scott’s video. “Proselytizing and church sermons are not how you engage secular Americans in politics — it’s how you alienate them,” said Cody Hashman, an Iowan who organizes the group’s Openly Secular campaign. “For a sitting governor to assert that church and religious belief are the way into political involvement is deeply disappointing. As an Iowan, I would hope our governor would look to connect with his secular constituents, not convert them.”

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.