February 7, 2019

Much More Than Thoughts and Prayers

This morning was the National Prayer Breakfast and what better time to reflect on our incredible successes and to ask for your continued support to fight for reason and evidence in American politics.

As you know, the Center for Freethought Equality is the advocacy and political arm of the American Humanist Association. The Center for Freethought Equality is actively lobbying Congress and building relationships to increase the visibility of the humanist and atheist community and to promote public policy based on evidence and reason to build an equitable and sustainable society.

In 2018, we helped Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-2) form the Congressional Freethought Caucus, which is an affinity and policy group for members of Congress. The importance of the Congressional Freethought Caucus to the atheist and humanist community cannot be overstated. The very existence of this Congressional caucus for freethinkers and humanists is a marker of how far the movement for secular and nontheist equality has come. In addition to advancing public policy to protect church-state separation, it is our hope that the caucus will help normalize the participation of atheists and humanists in politics by helping to end discrimination against nontheist candidates and elected officials, allow candidates and elected officials to be authentic about their religious beliefs, and encourage atheists, agnostics, and humanists to run for political office.

The Congressional Freethought Caucus will help

Normalize the Participation of Atheists and Humanists in Politics

The Caucus is not our only Congressional advance in 2018. The Center for Freethought Equality held a successful lobby day focused on protecting the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits nonprofit organizations and houses of worship from participating in electoral politics. The lobby day was preceded by a series of congressional briefings on this topic. President Trump is determined to destroy the Johnson Amendment and issued an Executive Order to limit its enforcement. We are working with many allies on this issue and so far legislative efforts to repeal this important church-state separation protection have been unsuccessful.

Trump’s Legislative efforts to Repeal the

Johnson Amendment have been Unsuccessful

While Congress has been notoriously gridlocked, we are determined to introduce legislation and not just oppose bills we dislike. For example, we helped lead an interfaith and bipartisan coalition to introduce two resolutions in 2018 to oppose foreign blasphemy laws, House Resolution 349 and Senate Resolution 647. These resolutions oppose blasphemy laws in other nations and ask the Administration to work towards their repeal and to free prisoners arrested for violating blasphemy laws. They also put countries that enforce these laws on the Countries of Particular Concern list, created under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which can lead to sanctions and diplomatic penalties.

An unlikely ally of the nontheist community in this work has been Sam Brownback the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. We were able to meet with him and discuss issues of importance to the atheist and humanist community and found that we had common ground in our opposition to blasphemy laws. This limited partnership has enabled us to be the only nontheistic organization granted access to State Department events and our presence has perhaps advanced Brownback’s thinking on religious freedom. In a recent interview, Brownback said, “Religious freedom is my top priority. Every religion. Or no religion at all. You’ve gotta be dogged about that. This is about protecting the right. It’s not about favoritism.”

“Religious freedom is my top priority.

Every religion. Or no religion at all.”

The Freethought Equality Fund political action committee (PAC), which is affiliated with the Center for Freethought Equality, had a very successful election cycle in 2018. The PAC reached out to over 6,800 candidates in every state and made 290 endorsements across the country. Of the endorsed candidates 221 won their primary election and of these 67 won the general election and will take their seats. Prior to the 2018 election the Center for Freethought Equality’s list of atheist, humanist, and other nontheist elected officials had 41 members, now we have 74 elected officials at the national, state, and local level.

In addition, our elected officials are being recognized by their peers and appointed to leadership positions. For example, Julie Fahey, an Oregon State Representative, and Chris Kennedy, a Colorado State Representative, were both elected to be the Assistant Majority Leader in their respective legislatures, and Athena Salman, an Arizona State Representative, is now the Democratic Whip.

The Number of Public Atheist and Humanist Elected Officials

is Multiplying Rapidly as is the Political Clout of our Community

Despite these historic electoral gains, the atheist and humanist community is still severely underrepresented in elected office. To equal our community’s proportion in the American population we need to obtain 1,500 more seats. We still have a lot of work to do to make real the Constitutional prohibition of religious tests for public office.

Being an atheist in politics has been a powerful political taboo in our nation. The Center for Freethought Equality and the American Humanist Association commissioned a national poll to measure the current power of this taboo and the results were very encouraging.

When asked if they would vote for a non-believer or non-religious candidate who stood for most of the things they believed in 72% of respondents would vote for the non-believer/non-religious candidate and 16% would not (11% did not know).  There was a difference between respondents who identified as Republican and Democratic, as well as, in using different terms like non-religious, agnostic, and atheist; however, a surprising 49% of Republicans said that they would vote for an atheist candidate who shared their policy positions. This Republican support of atheist candidates increased based on the age of the respondents with 68% of those under 35 and 54% of those under 50. 

The Taboo of being an Atheist Candidate

for Public Office has Diminished Tremendously  

The findings from this poll and related research should encourage candidates and elected officials to be authentic about their religious beliefs. Discriminatory attacks on atheist and humanist candidates and elected officials will no doubt continue to occur, but as revealed by this data such attacks will likely not affect the outcome of an election and may, in fact, offend voters in both political parties. Members of our community who have stayed out of the electoral arena because of the bias against atheists, agnostics, and “nones” should be encouraged by these findings to run for political office. Our political system depends on the active participation of all our citizens. The humanist, atheist, and agnostic community needs to be fully and openly engaged in our democratic process.

The efforts by the Trump Administration to turn back the clock on civil liberties and religious discrimination are alarming, but fortunately, we have built strong relationships on Capitol Hill and will be working hard to ensure that our issues will be given top priority.

There has never been a better time than right now to expand our political clout, and your support is essential for us to build on our successes. As elected officials realize the size and importance of our constituency, and members of our movement become more visible in the political arena, our clout will continue to grow. This tremendously challenging time provides an opportunity for the atheist and humanist community to organize and make real progress in the political arena. 

Help ensure that this progress continues by making a generous donation today.

Donations to the Center for Freethought Equality are not deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes.

The Center for Freethought Equality is a sister organization of the American Humanist Association dedicated to lobbying and political advocacy. The Center for Freethought Equality provides the humanist voice in key Washington advocacy coalitions, and has established a permanent lobbyist on Capitol Hill that fights for issues secular Americans care about like the separation of church and state and protecting civil liberties. Affiliated with the Center for Freethought Equality is the Freethought Equality Fund PAC. The mission of this PAC is to achieve equality for the nontheist community by increasing the number of open humanists and atheists, and allies, in public office at all levels of government. To learn more about the Center for Freethought Equality visit our website at www.cfequality.org and the Freethought Equality Fund PAC website at www.freethoughtequality.org.