I got my undergraduate degree in Political Science. Thus, much of my professional network is made up of elected officials and people vying for office. I also have a lot of other atheist friends and acquaintances. Often, more than one might expect, these two circles overlap. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down at a bar with a School Board official or someone running for City Council and talked about our non-belief.
The problem is that none of my politically minded friends are “out” about their non-belief. Instead, they take part in the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of every meeting, proclaiming that this is “one nation, under god” and bowing their heads during public prayers. To do otherwise, they explain, would be to end their careers before reaching their potential. Indeed, long-term US Senator Barney Frank came out as gay in 1987 but kept his atheism bottled up until after leaving office.
This is a problem currently without any remedy. In 2012 two separate Gallup polls showed similar results. In one, 54% of Americans would vote for an atheist president. The other showed only 45% would. Even if we’re optimists and focus on the half full glass, that’s still pretty damning for any would be atheist candidate. To immediately lose 45% of the vote is almost certainly a death knell for presidential aspirations.
This is why I am against atheists, even atheists in public office, who refuse to step out of the closet. Atheists might be few in numbers, but they are growing. Last year those claiming no religion hit the 20% mark. That is one out of 5 Americans. If 46% of Americans refuse to vote us into office, it’s likely that it’s because they don’t realize how many of us there are. To put this number into perspective, there are more religiously unaffiliated people in the US than there are blacks and Asians combined. That’s about 62,000,000, almost double the population of California! There are almost as many religiously unaffiliated people as there are Catholics. The number, while small, is actually quite significant.
While, religious non-affiliation does not necessarily mean atheist, agnostic, or any other identifiable religious belief, it does show an increasing acceptance of secularism in the US. I believe this is the perfect point in US history for all non-believers to publicly self-identify as atheist, agnostic, secularist, spiritual, or whatever their belief system (or lack thereof) is.
The religious right in America needs to accept that as we continue to grow and mature, faith will become less important, and more secular social issues will continue to come to the forefront of the public discussion. Refusing to vote us into office won’t stop this natural progression into secularism.