Religion

First non-believer in Congress

Well, he’s probably not the first, but he is the first to admit that he had no belief in any supernatural god: Representative Pete Stark. Here’s the press release from the Secular Coalition for America, which I received by way of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy:

There is only one member of Congress who is on record as not holding a god-belief.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Chair of the Health Subcommittee, and member of Congress since 1973, acknowledged his nontheism in response to an inquiry by the Secular Coalition for America.
Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, the Coalition’s research reveals that Rep. Stark is the first open nontheist in the history of the Congress. Recent polls show that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America. Surveys show that the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office.
Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, attributes these attitudes to the demonization of people who don’t believe in God. “The truth is,” says Silverman, “the vast majority of us follow the Golden Rule and are as likely to be good citizens, just like Rep. Stark with over 30 years of exemplary public service. The only way to counter the prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so.”
In November, 2006 the Secular Coalition for America, a national lobby representing the interests of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists, announced a contest. At the time, few if any elected officials, even at the lowest level, would self-identify as a nontheist. So the Coalition offered $1,000 to the person who could identify the highest level atheist, humanist, freethinker or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.
In addition to Rep. Stark only three other elected officials agreed to do so: Terry S. Doran, president of the School Board in Berkeley, Calif.; Nancy Glista on the School Committee in Franklin, Maine; and Michael Cerone, a Town Meeting Member from Arlington, Mass.
Surveys vary in the percentage of atheists, humanists, freethinkers and other nontheists in the U.S, with about 10% (30 million people) a fair middle point. “If the number of nontheists in Congress reflected the percentage of nontheists in the population,” Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition, observes, “there would be 53-54 nontheistic Congress members instead of one.”

Secular Congressional lobbyist Lori Lippman Brown will be at the Harvard Humanist’s convention in April, which I wrote about here.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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13 Comments

  1. Something about this post has totally mollywhoppered the page layout, making the stuff that's usually in the sidebar appear at the bottom of the page. This is true whether I'm viewing the front page or just this article. If I view other articles by themselves, the layout looks normal.

    If this was a cut-n-paste from somewhere, make sure there is no extraneous markup in there. I suspect an unbalanced div tag or something of the kind.

  2. Great news, now let’s hope this gives some more members of the US Congress the push needed to publicly admit that they don’t believe in ancient superstitious dogma.

    Let's not get our hopes up. All this shows is that one congressman doesn't believe in a particular ancient superstitious dogma. There are plenty of other ancient superstitious dogmas, and even an abundance of modern ones. It wouldn't thrill me to discover that my congressman was a Satanist or a Scientologist.

  3. Lori has mentioned that she uses "nontheist" for the benefit of all the agnostics, humanists, and "brights" who don't like the term atheist. I personally find the whole thing silly but I understand the desire to be as inclusive as possible.

  4. Pete Stark is now in the Pantheon, so to speak, with such elected officials in other countries as Winston Churchill, the President of Chile, former or present Prime Ministers in Australia and New Zealand, etc.

    I agree with Rebecca about the unimportance of distinctions in the names people apply to themselves, but we are all demonized by a majority of Americans and nearly everywhere we cannot be elected.

    Go Pete Stark!!

  5. I’ve recently moved to the term “Irrelevantist”.

    The question of whether I believe in invisible sky daddies is about as relevant as whether I believe in the tooth fairy – it’s a dumb question, really.

    I used to identify as “Christian – other” but that took much to explain.

    I grew up thinking the fella who may or may not have ever existed is reported to have said some worthwhile things like “do unto others” and “love thy neighbor” and these things are about the only things in the bible worth the ink used to print them. Hell, the best fable of all didn’t even make the cut! Lilith so rocks.

    And I just can’t in good conscience be affiliated with the crap that goes with the name. I often fell victim to the “No True Scotsman” thing anyway.

    They don’t want me, I don’t want them, it’s all good. Now I’m an irrelevantist. I’m gonna start a church and call it “The Church of the Kneeling Virgin”. Very Catholic sounding, doncha think?

    Anyone care to participate in communion?

    ;)

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