Dallas Morning News to Atheists and Agnostics: It's a Faith Blog, Not a Faithless Blog. Duh.

To refresh: The local Coalition of Reason is the atheist/agnostic group that bought all those "Good Without God" bus ads in Forth Worth last year, causing quite the stir.

Well, they're back -- this time in a slight kerfuffle with The Dallas Morning News's Texas Faith blog.

Zachary Moore, a coordinator for the DFWCoR, says the group wants a "secular perspective" represented on the blog, which features weekly discussions among panelists of different faiths. But Moore says the blog's moderators, op-ed columnist William McKenzie and reporter Wayne Slater, have been unresponsive to his requests. McKenzie disagrees.

"The DFWCoR wants to be a part of the community," Moore says. "They want to be out there, the public face for secular people. The last major survey that was done concluded that about one in six Americans wants nothing to do with organized religion. They pretty much look at the religious options and say, 'That's not for me.'''

He says his group represents "about 2,000 active members across all the different member organizations," including the Fellowship of Free Thought, the Metroplex Atheists and the Humanist Association of Fort Worth. The DFWCoR had a float in the Pride Parade a couple weeks back. They also do frequent clothing and food drives, Moore says, and they're responsible for cleaning up a section of White Rock Lake.

"We're active in the community," he told us. "We're serious about this. It's not just a 'let's get together and bash religion' club. We want to do something positive and make a difference."

That includes joining the conversation.

Moore points out that other religion blogs, such as On Faith at The Washington Post, include secular points of view. So for the last couple years, he's been intermittently asking the Texas Faith moderators to include a secular person on the panel.

He started with Rod Dreher, who was a moderator on the blog back in 2008. "I talked with him and he explained to me that he thought that the Texas Faith blog was a place only for religious people to comment," Moore says. "It was not really intended for any other perspectives and he didn't think, and the other participants on the blog didn't think, that somebody who was secular would have anything to say about this. I disagreed with him."

Instead Dreher offered to interview with Moore and talk with him about the organizations he's affiliated with. "That was nice, that was fine," Moore says. "But he didn't really follow up on the Texas Faith blog. He promised to bring it up with editors. I was waiting and waiting and waiting and then he left The News."

Earlier this year, Moore says, "I got fed up and tried to contact the new editors." He spoke with McKenizie, he says, "who seems like a nice guy, I've got no beef with him personally. But he basically told me the same thing."

Moore started posting his opinion in the comments section the blog each week. "I was frustrated," he says. "I thought, 'I'll go through the paces, and demonstrate to him that there are real responses that can be had from a secular humanist.' For the past almost six months, every week I've been commenting." He writes a 500- to 600-word response, "just to demonstrate to him that it is possible for a secular humanist to have something to say about these issues. I did that for months and months, then contacted him again. He said, 'Well, it's not up to me. We have to meet with the other participants and they have to vote. ... That's a little weird -- that's like asking a Texas heterosexual blog, would they vote to have a gay panelist?"

Moore also says he then he emailed several of the panelists directly, one of whom told him that the idea had been shot down by the group.

"I've enjoyed your regular voice in the comments section," she wrote in an email, which Moore provided. "I was at the last gathering of the panel when Bill brought it up before and it was 2 for (the Unitarian and I) and everyone else voting nay. The chance of that shifting a whole lot more in your favor is small."

McKenzie has told Moore he's welcome to continue commenting, even if he can't be a panelist. "For me that feels like a back of bus approach," Moore says. "'You can share your opinions, but they're not on equal footing with the opinions of religious people on the blog.' That feels unequal, a little discriminatory."

"I'm not advocating for me to be on the blog" specifically, Moore says. "I could. I would. I'd be happy to. But if they've got a problem with me doing it, I'll find someone else."

In an interview, McKenzie denied that the panelists were asked to vote on a secular participant. "No, that is not true," he said. "It was The Morning News who made the decision."

"He's not excluded from being a commenter on the blog," he added. "He put something up there the other day. He's done it several times."

Texas Faith began, McKenzie said, "as a discussion among people of different faiths. We started it to solicit their responses to topics that come from the intersection of religion and politics, religion and culture. That was our missions. We wanted to hear from people who represented various faith traditions, and we've had a good conversation going."

So what's the problem with including a secular voice?

"It's not -- the word 'problem' I guess is what I'm trying to deal with," McKenzie replied. "He is a part of the blog as being a commenter. The panelists are the start of the discussion. It's our choice to want to get people who represent various faith traditions. It after all is a blog with that as its mission."

He's familiar with the Post's On Faith blog, he said, but it's a "different type of blog," one that "doesn't put out questions to its panelists," he said. "Ours is a weekly discussion. ... He's welcome to be a part of the discussion in the comments. I don't think he's being excluded."

Moore disagrees that agnostics and atheists aren't being excluded. "We just want to part of the crowd," he says."We want to contribute to the community the same way all these churches do. When you say, 'This is not a place for humanists to comment,' it's a slap in the face that really bugs me."

McKenzie and Moore are tentatively scheduled to have a lunch date next week to talk about all this. Actually, that sounds like fun. Can we come?

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan

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