Atheists may not believe in God, but they do believe in the power of the Almighty Dollar.
In a small conference room at the National Press Club Wednesday, the Center for Humanist Activism announced the launch of the Freethought Equality Fund PAC.
It’s the first atheist political action committee with a paid staff, ever.
The Freethought Equality Fund said in a press release that its goal is “to change the face of American politics by supporting candidates who identify as humanist, atheist, agnostic, as well as those who share our goals of protecting the separation of church of state.”
Twenty percent of the American public identifies as nonreligious, according to recent surveys, yet they are woefully underrepresented on Capitol Hill.
The only declared atheist in Congress is Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.). That makes adulterers and, up until recently, former KKK members more represented in Congress than atheists.
American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said that after enduring the rise of “agents of theocratism” such as Pat Robertson, former President George W. Bush, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.), and the Tea Party, a coalition of the skeptical is ready to fight back.
“Faced with the prejudices that it was supposedly impossible to be good without a god, freethinkers of all stripes, under the names atheist and agnostic, skeptic, non-theist, nonbeliever, and more, began to come out of the woodwork, to face the prejudice we’re seeing head on,” he said.
The national coalition of secular and humanist groups is small and has modest means—nonbelievers being a harder demographic to rally than the devout—but they have counted minor victories in recent years.
This year’s tenth-annual National Day of Reason, created to counter the National Day of Prayer, attracted endorsements from Rep. Michael Honda (D., Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D., D.C.).
However, according to American Humanist Association communications director Maggie Ardiente, the prejudice remains.
“Today, in many parts of the country, atheists and humanists experience discrimination, bullying and fear for expressing their non-belief,” Ardiente said at the news conference.
“Whether we recognize it or not, Americans are held captive to the will of Religious Right leaders who remind us of our inferior position by using the power of government to enforce laws that put truth claims about religion in front of us at every turn.”
Ardiente’s grievances include the Pledge of Allegiance, references to God on money, public buildings, and ceremonies of public office, tax dollars spent on religious charitable organizations that exclude atheists, and neighbors who “go unpunished for child abuse because they claim a religious exemption to certain laws.”
Speckhardt said he knows of at least two dozen current members of Congress who are “closeted” atheists.
The goal of the PAC, he said, is to convince candidates that there is enough public support (and money) in declaring one's atheism.
The Freethought Equality Fund will also score congressional candidates on such questions as, “Should theories such as Intelligent Design be taught in public schools?”
The PAC will increase the atheist lobbyist presence on Capitol Hill in addition to supporting candidates.
One of the bills cited by the fund as an example of a lobbying opportunity was an amendment to a House bill that would have allowed humanist chaplains in the military. It is unclear what a humanist chaplain does.
Although all the candidates the PAC listed as support targets were Democrats, and the list of issues is solidly Democratic, the organizers said they’re hopeful a GOP candidate will strike their fancy one day. Currently, not one Republican member of the House passes the Freethought Equality Fund’s scorecard test.
However, Republican atheists are not mythical creatures.
For example, Edwina Rogers, who was handing her card out to reporters after the presser ended. Rogers is currently the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. She was formerly an economic adviser in the George W. Bush White House and an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.).
There is even an overtly partisan GOP atheist group, she said, the Republican Reason Caucus.
The mood among reporters in the room—NPR, Huffington Post, National Journal, and of course the Washington Free Beacon—was polite but tinged with disappointment over the lack of free food or coffee.
As a fellow freethinking, humanist-secularist, agnostic non-believer, I look forward to the day when atheist PACs have enough clout to afford a catering spread.