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President Obama acknowledged me in his first speech as president. He looked up from the podium on the steps of … Continued

President Obama acknowledged me in his first speech as president. He looked up from the podium on the steps of the capitol of this country and he seemed to look right at me, in my living room hundreds of miles and thousands of feet of television cable away. In one phrase he included me and made me feel part of the country I live in, the country I was born in, my country: The United States of America.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” Obama said. “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.” Including the words non-believers was a first. Never before has a president recognized people like me in the many others, sub-groups or factions that they might mention so as to be inclusive of all who call this country home. Never.

So January 20 was a big day. Not only did I watch as our first ever black president sworn in, not only did I feel immense happiness that the guy I voted for made it all the way, but on top of all that I, a non-believer, was welcomed in a whole new way. My group of Americans was mentioned, my kind was allowed out into the sunshine on the steps of the capitol, we were invited to bask along with all the others in the greatness of the day.

Polls show that people like me are a growing portion of the population in America. We are coming out more and more, declaring ourselves as agnostics, atheists, nothings, secularists, humanists and many other tags that describe our state of not believing in a god or gods. Books describing our views catapult onto the best-seller lists, movies are made about us and we are more willing to let people (neighbors or even our own families) know about us. But over the past eight years we never dreamed that our leader, our president might acknowledge our existence. We always figured it would be a tacit nod, a wink or a tiny, almost imperceptible word directed toward us. We got used to George W. Bush and his brand of Christian thinking, his refusal to understand that those who don’t follow a religion can still be Americans, even great Americans. Now all that is over and our new president has made it clear: being religious is not a test one must pass in order to be part of this country.

During the inaugural events preceding the speech I was beginning to feel a little outside of some of the goings on. I am not hostile toward religion, and in fact I help out at my local church and volunteer at a soup kitchen in my neighborhood run by some very wonderful nuns. I knew that there would be prayers offered during the ceremony, and I knew that the oath would include the phrase “so help me God” and would be part of the swearing-in of the 44th President even though it is not mandated in the Constitution. Oh, sure, part of me was hoping that Mr. Obama would leave that part out, but most of me knew he wouldn’t dare. I know that the president has to be religious. I know he has to go to church and close his eyes during prayers and talk about his relationship to Christ, and assure us all that he is not a Muslim even if his middle name is Hussein and his forefathers followed the word of the prophet Muhammed. I may not be religious, but I know I live in a country where a large majority of the population is Christian.

The part of the morning that made me feel most left out was when Pastor Rick Warren got up to deliver the invocation. Again, I was not surprised by his words but I did hope for a little more inclusiveness. Pastor Warren did not speak to me, or to anyone who differs with his views. Many other religious leaders manage to do both, stay true to their beliefs and open themselves up in a way that can allow for other ideas to be included – or at least acknowledged.

It is as simple as somehow stating that they understand the fact that in a crowd of 2 million there would be (statistically speaking) about 280,000 people who would fall into the non-belief category. That is 14 percent of the general population which, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, is the percent of the American population that has no religion or does not believe in God. Never mind figuring out how to acknowledge all the other religions that would also be represented, all the non-Christians who live in this country and vote and are as American as Mr. Warren. It has become too easy for people like Pastor Warren to think that this is a Christian nation. And during the last eight years it felt as if it was leaning heavily in that direction.

It took our newly minted President to remind us that indeed it is not. Our country has no religion embedded within its government and thanks to the Constitution it never will. It took a man who is part black, part white and whose extended family truly represents the new American family in all it’s mixed up crazy diversity to remind us that the patchwork that is America is what makes this country so special and so great. I am honored to be part of that patchwork. And I thank my new President for thinking to include me, and the 42 million other Americans like me, in it as we face forward and work together to fix problems, celebrate greatness and overcome divisiveness.

Nica Lalli is a writer, educator and former PTA president. Her latest book “Nothing: Something to Believe In” was published in 2007. She is about to launch a blog called Pink Atheists and is working on a young adult fiction book. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Nica Lalli
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  • dolph924

    Excellent point. I had the same reaction when I heard his speech live — WOW, he included me! I have no problem with being in a minority but it is nice to have my existence acknowledged in public. That was a first for a President in recent memory. Sorry, but I just can’t get worked up about Rick Warren. In the great scheme of things he’s a LOT less toxic than the likes of Falwell, Robertson, Roberts or some others. At least he’s in favor of actually helping others, something that the more rabid right wing evangelicals don’t even consider while they pass the plate to get their Cadilac money from the poor and stupid and rant about how “god” favors their hate-filled views.

  • InterfaithNation

    Nica, me Dear Happy Camper;Fact; It was His Honorable MITT ROMNEY, during ‘the-Race’ that set or trend as the First-Words, coming-out of Presidential Contender’s Mouth Piece, and a MORMON at that, not a Moran, whom sang, [a New Song coming from Old]”Secularist whom believe in something “GREATER THAN THEMSELVES” [Similar said]. Note i also give credit to Moderator Greg Epstein, on todays main-Page; entitled, “NON BELiEVERS ARE BELiEVERS TOO”.Secret: Any One who ‘beleves’ in HISTORY (OUR JURY if Truth) aka PAST, is a Believer Such that, He or She must posses ‘HOPE’. And HOPE, do not Deny, is a Religious Experience, Both known & unknown! i HOPE the best for You!Example: If YE believeth in the “Big Bang” or Arrow of “TIME” (think in terms of holy-TEMPerature not Clock-time nor space-time), aka Space-Forthing Prophetically…..> Then you hath HOPE… a Future-Bound experiences via S.S. EARTH. Soo, Happy Every Day; Brother’s & Sister’s!HALLALUYA! Praise The Holy NO-Man, nor Womb!

  • Flipper1

    Nica, how wonderful to read this article on the Washington Post. I fully agree with every word you said here. I was outraged with the terrible Rick Warren speech and the constant mention of “god” until Obama mentioned us non-believers. My husband and I jumped with joy. There are many smart people out there who are not brainwashed by superstition. Thanks for writing this. Hopefully our President will read it, and one day we will be very, very respected.

  • Non-RuralSouthernWhite

    His forefather may have been Muslim but his mother was a nonbeliever.

  • BlueTwo1

    A world in which God is actively engaged is not highly dependent on the wisdom and behavior of leaders like George Walker Bush. George figured he could rely on God to fix up his mistakes. And so, he was relieved of due diligence. Some else, who hasn’t had the experience of relying on religious beliefs to bail himself (or herself) out of alcoholism, may have been a more effective President. God may or may not exist. It isn’t provable one way or the other. And His exact nature is mysterious. We’ve got serious problems down here on Earth. We can pray to God. But He helps those who help themselves.

  • najafmahmud

    dear nica i believe in one God but i found your article very interesting

  • scpony

    Hi Nica. To clear some confusion, Pastor Rick wasn’t praying to people. He was praying to God. It was a prayer, not a speech. Therefore it was not being addressed to the audience.

  • MPatalinjug

    Yonkers, New YorkIndeed, if my memory serves me right, this is the very first time that an American President has publicly acknowledged the existence of “non-believers”–constituting a hefty 14% of the U.S. population now, or some 42 million–and put them alongside Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religious aggrupations in an America that flaunts itself as diverse and where people, all people, are supposed to enjoy religius freedom.Mr. Obama was simply stating a fact of life in America. Other former Presidents have simply ignored “non-believers” because they did not have the courage to admit publicly that they are here, fearing a politiall fallout from religious bigots.But it seems that Mr. Obama is not one of those politicians who are faint of heart, who is not afraid to state a fact out, loud and clear, and who therefore is not a hypocrite.Barack Obama may very well turn out to be a “breakthrough President” for America which needs one very badly now that the nation is going through “a time of troubles” (borrowing the words of Arnold Toynbee).Mariano Patalinjug

  • MaryAnnEvans1

    I too appreciate Obama’s inclusive comment. It’s wonderful to have a president who possesses the intellectual capacity to understand that our nation’s promise of liberty and justice for all includes non believers. As to the issue of Obama’s religion, my best guess is that the religious views he express are genuine. The difference is that he focuses on a religion of universal love and tolerance rather than one with an absurdly jealous and angry “god” of hell fire and brimstone. It’s all just primitive nonsense, of course, because we are just another animal. Most of us are herd animals, but others seem to enjoy pack hunting–not for food but rather for fun. Perhaps were are the least of living organisms rather than the highest order.

  • girlfromNY

    I too felt amazing when Obama included “non-believers” in his speach. Identity is a funny thing. I always have had my personal beliefs and views about religion. But I never felt that I somehow belonged to a group of people who felt the same or similarly until Obama made that reference. It was an extraordinarily validating to hear. That said, I think that religious and non-religious people most often have commen hopes, dreams and goals. I think that Obama’s biggest strength is his attempt to get people to work together on solving these issues, without bickering about what the motivation is.

  • hammond1

    Excellent column. I agree 100%. Keep up the good work!!!

  • ScienceLady

    We’re coming out of the closet. Actually I am only part way out. I’m came out to my in-laws (Lutheran) after I was asked why I stopped attending the many religious events they are involved in. They don’t like it. They want me to pretend for the sake of the children. which I don’t. I won’t indoctrinate them into any faith. They can discover their own faith, or not. My side of the family (Catholic) wouldn’t get it at all. Wouldn’t accept it, but I don’t know what they’d do or say.

  • JamesPDBuchanan

    He included non-believers as an afterthought, and many of his changes will certainly stave the damage to secularism caused by religious fanaticism on both sides of the aisle for the last eight years, but the mention was a single moment bookended by two entire speeches from two very extremely devout individuals who signified far more clearly that the nation at large, particularly the sheeple that follow these demagogues, don’t even grant us that small consideration the President granted us.

  • GuySturino

    Well said. Thanks.

  • jlh6789

    I didn’t feel included by the statement, but then again I don’t really accept the label of non-believer. Or atheist. Or agnostic. Whenever I consider adopting a religious label, I end up coming up with a reason not to have it, often the acts of some of the more extremist elements push me away. I also find myself tempted to adopt such labels when I see the followers making good points or doing good things. I do have beliefs. What the heck label would apply to all that? Seeker might fit…but then again I don’t expect to find a definitive answer to all my questions and concerns.It is good to see toleration and positive acknowledgment of the contributions by “non-believers.” There are many atheists and agnostics who have contributed to the good of society, both in minor and major ways…and plenty who have caused problems. Ditto those with any proclaimed religious preference. Perhaps something along the lines of “and anybody else who contributes to the common good, even if they don’t accept any acknowledged religious label.” That line would have made me fall out of my chair.

  • cabfineart

    I was standing on the Mall during Obama’s speech and cheered after he declared that I, as a non-believer, was part of the nation’s fabric. His mother would be proud.I found Warren’s prayer(?) pathetic, yet amusing. He informed “God” that the United States of American elected an African American as President. How little faith he has in his all-knowing “God”. Gee wiz….

  • UnusMultorum

    Isn’t it a little silly to criticize preachers for talking about God? Barack Obama asks a fundamentalist to give the inaugural invocation, and then includes unbelievers in his speech. He opposes gay marriage, but supports domestic partnerships, then regularly includes gays and lesbians in his speeches, and *as a candidate* gently confronts a crowd of evangelicals with their history of prejudice. Contradiction? Or true tolerance, leadership, and yes, Christian charity?Puritans and atheist prosyletizers are peculiarly similar when they take offense at others publicly differing with their views. But they differ in that Puritans never considered tolerance a virtue.Tolerance can be challenging. Many who believe that the US should be willing to talk to “the likes” of Mahmoud Ahmedinajad and Kim Jong Il, foam at the mouth about having to listen to Rick Warren. How will Rick Warren ever overcome his ignorance if those who can help him, won’t talk to him. Think that’s unrealistic? Google “jesse helms bono”. Miracles can happen, with or without external assistance.It seems to me that the first step for Americans to unify our nation is to listen to each other, to look for excuses to keep listening and stay connected, and to work to build friendships instead of to defend intellectual territory. America is my family. Sure, some of them are nuts. But we’re family.

  • ats0j8

    “Isn’t it a little silly to criticize preachers for talking about God?”It’s not that they speak about their God, it’s what they say and what their attitudes towards other religions are.Many religions in the world are inclusive and tolerant: they say “I have my beliefs, and you have yours, and maybe we don’t agree, but we may both be right”.Many Christian churches, however, are examples of exclusive monotheism: their leaders may sugar coat it, but in the end, in their mind, they are right and everybody else is wrong and will burn in hell.Churches and organizations that promote exclusive monotheism (e.g., Catholicism, Baptists, some other Christian churches and many forms of Islam) are intrinsically evil. Furthermore, organizations that promote exclusive monotheism and political actions based on their beliefs are arguably in conflict with the Constitution and basic human rights.

  • wmnathe

    I could not agree with you more. Having been a Catholic priest, attorney and social worker and now being retired and an atheist, I was thrilled to be included in President Obama’s speech. We are marching forward. 14% is a very low figure from what can detect. In talking to people, the number is much higher. People are now beginning to feel that they can express their non-belief in a divinity and not be shunned for it. Thank you for your statement.

  • harperissac2008

    As an atheist, I, too, was thrilled that President Obama included non-believers in his inaugural speech. President Obama’s mother was an atheist, so the inclusion was a nod to her as well. Let’s not forget that President Obama (while a candidate) said that the best parts of himself he got from his mother.

  • InterfaithNation

    Sister Nica, Sister Flake et al:Correction: “…the fact that, by and large, Americans believe in God, and even those who don’t believe in God believe in something bigger than themselves…”- Mitt Romney But then again, here’s another bomb:”….It is as if they’re [Non-Believers & Atheists] intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They’re wrong….”- Mitt Romney–Remember: As Apocalyptarian Nationals, not Pre-Apocalyptarian nationals, WE future-bound thinkers knoweth that The “HOLY-NO-MAN/WOMB”, is neither a He/Him nor a She/Her but, is an “IT” being “ITSELF” in and of Us ALL! No Mr. Rabbi Moses, No Mr. Rabbi Jesus, No Mr. Imam Muhammad, NO Mr. Swami Vyasa, NOT Guru Mr. Gautama, Not Confusion etc.. Interesting; Everywhere , in ANY Scripture, Sura, Stanza.. that one cometh across therein that wherever Ye seeth the word “HE” as G-D or a “HIM” as G-d or “HIS” referring to “Source-One” then simply plug-in the holy corrected word “IT” everywhere thereto. ie, “IT” Loves Ye.. “IT” “ITSELF” is working Miracles whin Ye .. and Yes, Hallaluya “IT” is Fearless & never can “IT” be a Jealous G-d, in Any Form. Think of “IT” (a.k.a “G-D”, by many Name or visions) as being The G-d of “The Religion of Everything Before the Science of Everything!” Hence, LIFE, as We Know “IT”, is a Miracle in Motion & there is zero ‘SIN’ to “IT” nor is there a Curseth-Effect to “IT” for being Born via the MAGMA-effect & via the Miraculous ZIRCON-SHAFT in the “OCEANIC MEGAPLUME WOMB” Effect! My Parents (Adam & Eve) are Blessed not Cursed.PS: All Men & Woman was bor “Pre-Baptized” & “Pre-Blessed” during the incubation of the Holy Cosmic NEBULANIC “DUE-TO-BE” effect, an awareness that We must Apocalyptically Worship, so to speaketh, instead of Pre-Apocalyptically thinking via Judeo-Jews or Judeo-Christs or Judeo-Islams or Judeo-Hindus or Judeo-Buddhists et al! Soo,EK, UNO.. [#1, aka Source-One] is, after all, not the Loneliest Number. Wherefore: One was never created nor can ever be destroyed, Justly try try to be good. Do not indulge in APATHY (the curse of Man-Unkinds) else ye art pathetic!note: this is a redundant post.

  • FactsDontMatter

    @CABINFART: You’ve picked up on what I did. Warren’s “prayer” included a lot of declaratory statements, “informing God,” as you put it. He took the opportunity to make a speech, staking out positions. Disagreeing with every one of them, I couldn’t help but notice. Obama’s statement actually repudiated Warren’s.

  • DWinFC

    I just want to join others in thanking President Obama for including me. After years of hearing that the US is a Christian nation, it was so nice to be included. Hopefully the us vs. them religious groups will evolve a little in this new climate. I respect believers who see their religion as the best way for them to explain what cannot be explained by today’s understanding of the world. Hopefully more religions will leave behind their “we’re going to heaven and you’re going to hell” mentality and work with each other and non-believers to make this world a better place for all of us to live together.

  • InterfaithNation

    att: DWINFC @ 11:20AM:Atleast YE art aware that more Fear is begot with Fear. Nice Nice, Very Nice.

  • bizecology

    I was also glad when President Obama recognized that those who do not adhere to a belief in any god have an equal standing in our nation. Both the Presidential Oath and the more general Public Trust Oath (which I took) are in the Constitution and neither includes the words “So help me God.” They are an optional addendum to the oath, not a required component.Article VI of the Constitution also states that there shall be no religious test for office or any other position of public trust. It’s nice to have a President who knows, understands, and believes in the Constitution.

  • hypocritebuster

    Wow, did I ever cheer that comment by Obama! How refreshing. But, hold your horses; don’t go thinking a revolution is in progress. Did you also notice that the remark got hardly any notice by the media!? Seems like they purposely ignored it. We still have a looooong way to go…

  • CCNL

    Unfortunately, BO is still a believer in killing womb-babies. Of course, the 70+ million “mothers and fathers” who are responsible for killing these defenseless children made him president, making the White House now the Bloody House of Obama for the next four years!!!!

  • chilblain

    Personally I find being defined by what I am not insulting. Especially as much as they pour over every word in those speeches. Blacks and Asians are were described as “non-whites”. “People of Reason” or “People of Science” would be a good start.

  • pfkauff

    Reading what you have to say, Nica, makes me feel much more included! Congratulations on a great piece!

  • MarcMyWords

    I think it was brave of Obama to stand up to religious political correctness and acknowledge that there are many patriotic Americans who happen to be perfectly happy with their “non-religiousness”. I hear alot of victim talk for religious folks about how they are a persecuted minority. Piffle! There has been a change in that non religious people are no longer afraid to criticize religion while religious people have always felt empowered to say whatever they want about whoever they want and hide behind “religious freedom”. It is hard for me to take seriously the idea that religious Americans are persecuted in a landscape peppered with 20 million dollar mega-churches and their own Cable networks…all conveniently tax free. The religous have a long history of persecuting those with different beliefs…it is a welcome change to see those who are persecuted by the church fighting back.

  • rostatler

    You’ve aired the sentiments of many. Glad you also caught those two words; well done. – Tom Tarter, Jr.

  • mullen3

    Amen, Sister, Amen!

  • edelruth

    I expect all of us who have no belief in matters supernatural were amazed at our inclusion in the inaugural address. Yes, the term “unbeliever” jars, but that is not a problem. From the inside, we can work on that perception. I have no belief in the supernatural. I feel embarrassed when people speak of how their prayers were effective, when I know, because I saw, because I was there, that it was their own hard work and determination. I think every athlete who thanks God for their gold medal should have to give it back – why should they have supernatural help when we do not even allow steroids! I believe. I believe in the strength, integrity and beauty that is the human spirit. I believe in the passion that led ancient Egyptians to build pyramids, medieval stonemasons to build glorious cathedrals, scientists to build spaceships that took us to the Moon, and exploration vehicles that still explore the surface of Mars. I do not begrudge anyone their belief in the divine. I used to be in that place. It felt so safe, so secure. But then I found that I could no longer believe in the existence of supernatural beings, and I had to leave that childish place behind. I realized that I believe in the power of the goodness and strength of all the people I share this planet with. That is my belief and it is enough; it is everything.

  • SweetSweetCan

    Obama wasn’t the first modern president to mention non-believers in a public forum. Bill Clinton did, as well, during one of his debates with Bob Dole.

  • InterfaithNation

    att: CCNL et al:Friend; We can Still think Globally & Act Locally, instead of tink Localy then Globaly. Note: That Subject on the “Mexico City Policy” (To FUND or Not To Fund Abortions Globally] of 1984 [Reagan/Bush Sr. Era] was a Good Bone to chew on. i’m smarter now. Thanks.Please see: —iMPORTANT: Friend; As Ye knowth, That (3) THREE of the major Curses (if any) on OUR Holyi-Cosmic-Built Space-Ship Earth, is 1) that there is Too Too Many right & wrong Competing for a name for G-d(s), as Tax Free, Religion SYSTEM(s). So LESS (Killer) tax free REligion is Best for All the HE’s & SHE’s.2) that OVER POPULATION is a Reality and the “Multiplyer Effect” is No Accident, not including Statistics… Remember Moor’s Law on How Many people ye can fit in a Planet or Chip? Soo, OBAMA & Co. Recinding the MCP1984 is for the best of What is Yet To Come, unless Ye want the likes of the Bush’s in control again. AND3) that Pollution via PETRO Carbon Combustion will only get worse, not better if nPopulation is not conrolled in this Pre Year 2012 Phenominon.— Something Interesting:According to how i see things; that there is a time for Season’s, AND there’s a Time for a Change of the Guards, so top spaketh Reality: Meaning;A DEMOCRAT .GOV is like when it’s time for the-MOTHER to take over the Household Choirs & evn Becoming, the so-called, Head of such. But, But; Then Again a REPUBLICAN .GOV is like when it’s time for FATHER to take over the Household, Choirs Too, as need be.In way: OUR Nation is a HOUSE & Mommy & Daddy, Uncle Sam’s & Aunt Liberty’s & Tax Payers & Tax Recievers, the Kids, Bratt’s etc.. is about F A M I L Y. Yes As the song goest “WE Break-Up only To Make-up..” “We are Family , All Me Brothers & Sister’s & Me..”THEREFORE: Sing Unto the HOLYi-NO-MAN-WOMB a New Song For A New Age of Faith Exchanging prophetically and bringing genuine PEACE, SHALOM, MIR, PAZ, SLAAM, AHIMSA, ZINGYU On OUR Community, a.k.a Space-Ship-Earth. Unless Ye haveth Space-Craft to planet hop Physically, not Spiritually like!PS: A AVION FLU et al is what Humanity needs to Avoid; Less Atomic An-HELL-ation!

  • EnemyOfTheState

    I need no validation for my beliefs, but it was nice nevertheless to hear Obama acknowledge those of use who are ‘faith-challenged.’

  • ashtonn

    I to thought it was inclusive of Obama, especially after Warren’s very much non-inclusive invocation, to use words that acknowledged that there are many religious beliefs represented in the US.

  • hchiba

    when I heard Obama mention “non-believers” (instead of agnostics or atheists – like myself) I also wondered if this mention ever came before. It did not. Not under Kennedy, not under Clinton. I always thought, growing up, the way of the herd I shall not go. Older with each day, I am more an atheist today, than yesterday. The herd runs as a group & believes as a group. Clearly the herd has always run in the wrong direction. How Obama got elected is therefore inexplicable. To mention herd believers first, before skeptics, doubters & non-believers is politically expedient. Nevertheless, Oboam did the right thing in not leaving out mention of those who do not run with the cow herd.

  • KeirGazelle

    non-ruralsouthernwhite,If Obama’s forbearers were Muslim they also were Christian. His father had left his religion behind when he came to America…and I would not say that His Mom was a non believer, but a deep beliver in the Universal good. What is funny is that scratch a Muslim, Jew or Christian and under it all is Paganism. I wonder what am I? The “believers” look down on me as outside, the fringe. The “unbelievers” look down on me as outside, the fringe. The Atheist sees us as tree fairy types. those who do not believe in science or who believe in fantasy…they disrespect us, not knowing what we believe, yet hate it when others do the same to them.Did the President have us in mind when he talked of unbwelievers or believers? I bet neither. Gays are mentioned and unbelievers are mentioned as being part of the quilt of America…but where are those who dance to a different drum?I guess we should be happy, while Atheists have had their emblem of belief for military tomb stones for years…Pagans finally got one a few months ago. It is a step I guess.terra

  • ccforbes

    Go Nica, Go! And yes, “God” bless Obama for including all spiritualities. I often say that were I a praying sort, I would pray for so and so or such and such. As a figure of speech. It helps me to bridge with those who do believe in prayer. And it puts me in a posture of venerating those forces that may make a difference. As an atheist, I don’t apologize for that and in fact, am grateful for a vocabulary that may not be truly mine but that others understand and can connect with.So, go Obama go!

  • Geliv

    First, I would note that the quote attributed to George H.W. Bush declaring that atheists may be an urban legend. Also, atheist seeking inclusion may want to look to George W. Bush’s remarks at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast of all places: “In our country, we recognize our fellow citizens are free to profess any faith they choose, or no faith at all. You’re equally American if you’re a Hebrew, a Jew, or a Christian, or a Muslim. You’re equally American if you choose not to have faith.”

  • asoders22

    Personally, I think the non-believers constitute more than 14% of the population – maybe twice as many. At least, talking to many Americans, that is my experience – that’s not scientific proof, but a strong impression. Many are in the closet, but when they come out of it they are often very radical indeed, and sick and tired of being polite to Christians who find it perfectly all right to talk about God as a fact. But in a democracy, if you are allowed to say “There is a God”, you must also be allowed to say “There is no God”, without making excuses or treat the religious as if they know a deeper and more valuable truth. Actually, we shouldn’t even need the label nonbeliever or atheist. We just – are. The believers are the ones needing labels.I am glad Obama addressed the “non-believers”. Not until then did it become publicly clear, the oppression of religion. But it is a sad fact that he himself enjoys no religious freedom. If you want to become president and think you are sorely needed, you cannot even contemplate saying you are an atheist. And this in a secular country! It is also sad that so many people don’t even know they live in a secular country. They think the swearing in must always be made with a hand on a Bible (which it doesn’t, and hasn’t) and that the words “so help me God” are mandatory. I even read someone who believed that religious freedom meant you could have any religion, but were not allowed to be free FROM religion. People should learn about those things in school.

  • edallan

    Well, I certainly agree that it’s an improvement that Barack Obama referred to a very substantial minority of Americans as “unbelievers” rather than as “infidels,” as I’m sure that many fundamentalists consider us/them, but it would have been nice if Pres. Obama had mentioned a couple more faith traditions as well. Unfortunately President Obama (and how I enjoy typing that) seems intent on keeping the Office of Faith-Based Unaccountable Patronage, but perhaps now additional non-Christian communities of faith can have a bona fide chance at getting funding.

  • beaucon

    Currently our national motto is “In God we trust”. In 1776, our founding fathers chose E pluribus unum, Latin for “Out of Many, One,” as our national motto. They ordered the same inscribed on the seal of the United States. It remained our motto until 1956. Then, in the same burst of national xenophobic fervor that gave us Joe McCarthy and added “One nation under god” to our national pledge, politicians found a statutory loop hole and switched it to “In God We Trust”; a troublesome condition that remains unresolved to this day. To attempt to claim to the rest of the world that we, as in “We the people” all trust in god, is false on its face.We the people of all conditions of faith, doubt and disbelief, must join together in contest against our great experiment. Our original motto sends a message to the world. In one stroke we declare that the United States of America categorically rejects using religion as a tool with which to divide. “E pluribus unum” is our heritage, our current condition, our most noble aspiration, and with, luck our destiny.

  • Geliv

    On George H.W. Bush, it is odd that he would have made such a comment at a press conference and only one reporter would have noted it. The elder Bush was also friendly with atheist and patriot Ted Williams. My point is that it is great that President Obama sees “unbelievers” as part of America, but he is not the first or even the most clear. Note also this article from Slate in 2004.

  • bluebirder

    “Non-believers” is a terrible expression to use to describe people not willing to assign themselves a labeled doctrine of religious affiliation. I find it insulting to be referred to as such, because I believe in many things–of both spiritual and earthly natures–which do not coincide with “faith-based” organizations claiming to have the infinite wisdom of the path to “god.” Moreover, one can easily have philosophical beliefs that adopt elements of the spiritual teachings, of the Buddha and the Toltec “beliefs” that are far from atheism and yet still spiritual foundations on which we may base our path through life. None of this requires an individual to trust in the unproven religions that are so often at odds with one another, and which have shed more blood than their progenitors would have believed possible. So please, do not call me an “unbeliever” sinply because the collective mind has yet to come up with a “religion” I am unwilling to sign up for.

  • US-conscience

    Non believers ? ! ? Non believers in what ? Muslims are non believers in the one million Hindu gods, Hindus are non believers in pagan tree fairies, Pagans are non believers in Mohammed, Jews are non believers that Jesus is the Christ, and Christians are non believers in Budhism. Basically everyon believes something and is a non believer in anything that doesnt line up with their beliefs. We are all non believers in something, I dont believe politicians promises for one. Isnt actually calling someone a non believer ( in the negative ) actually an underhanded blow inferring that there really is something to believe in ( God ) but some people just dont believe ! Some people think its arrogant and intollerant to believe that one can know the truth absolutely, and thats because they believe they know the truth and the truth to them is that no one can know the truth. But if they are right, then they are wrong ! ? ! I know one thing for sure, ten out of ten people will die. One day you and I will die also and on that day we will find out for sure that one set of beliefs were true and every other belief was wrong ! It seems getting that question right just might be the most important thing a person does this side of the grave.

  • Dallas35

    Nica,Thanks for the great post. My wife and I were also thrilled at his reference to non-believers. I can say that we contributed to your estimate of 280000 non-believers in the crowd because we didn’t get caught in the Purple Tunnel of Doom and made it into the purple viewing area.

  • ram9478

    It isn’t just nonbelief in God. A few here have commented that they believe in “one God”. So, do they also belief in an afterlife? Heaven and hell? The efficacy of prayer? Miracles accomplished by a supernatural being? The raising of the dead? Ghosts? Salvation? Etc. Etc. Etc. Belief in a god is pretty much a package deal. Count on it!

  • pinetree2

    I find the term “non-believer” to be offensive and condescending.Wasn’t it just great President Obama mentioned us non-believers when he is the first non-white to hold that office? After all he is almost a non-howlie, who manages to have both non-European and non-African ancestors at once, and certainly he is a complete non-Asian. Defining somebody by what they are not is insulting and implies that you must be the standard by which they should be judged.I believe in plenty, not just your foolish and false religion, thanks for asking. The word they really wanted to say was Infidel. Because that means “without faith” and everybody knows only those who subscribe to religious dogma are “people of faith”. I couldn’t possible have faith in anything without dogma, like liberty and justice, and really I am just an animal running around without morality because I don’t submit to your arbitrary and false theology. Glad you asked again. Oh yes, I am a bad citizen who risks the fires of god, or is it hell (hard to tell the difference sometimes), raining down on our nation because I don’t follow your delusions and everybody knows your god has the biggest ego in the universe, literally an infant terrible kind of domination and anger management problem.How about we call people who don’t subscribe to dogma as “free” and label them “free thinkers” and “responsible to mankind”. Our kind likes that better.By current standards we could call the religious, “imprisoned thinkers” and “mind slaves”? Frankly, believing that responsibility to my fellow humans comes first, I would reject resorting to sinking down to the level that currently prevails. But calling the religious, “the religious” would simply be using the technically correct term without judgment either way. And they don’t have the corner on either “faith” or “morality”.

  • NJGDuncan

    I attended the Inauguration last Tuesday, happy and thrilled at being there for such an historic occasion and witnessing the end of the terrible Bush years. All of that would have been enough for me, but as I listened attentively to our new president’s speech,I too heard the line that Nica Lalli points out in her piece: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.” And I had the same reaction as she did, I was amazed to hear President Obama include us “non-believers”, wondered if any president had done so before, felt all the import of it! I too thank President Obama for once again demonstrating his breadth of spirit and of heart! Better times are certainly ahead for all Americans, and for our world.

  • asoders22

    “In God we trust” should be removed as your national motto. For two reasons: It isn’t accurate – it doesn’t go for every American – and it is directly against the basic condition of a secular nation. “Under God” as a label of a section of this paper should also go. There are seculars regularly writing here, and they are not “under God”. But atheism is often treated as an odd subsection to theism.

  • legendarypunk

    Based on some of the comments in here from people saying how offended they are at being “non-believers”, I’m beginning to think we may have been better off if Obama had stuck with tradition and ignored us completely.We live in a predominately Christian nation. Never before has a President given any sort of mention to those who are not followers of a particular religion. A little naive to think that we would instantly be elevated to equal status when giving a speech in front of the entire country.Obviously I only speak for myself here, but I am perfectly fine with the term non-believer. After reading some of these comments I realize now that it could imply a certain amount of negative connotation, something along the lines of, “…and those other kind of people who just don’t believe in anything.”But you know what? I’m glad to be lumped into that group. You’re **** right I don’t believe in any of your gods – and proud of it.If anything, it makes me happy to show that despite all their religious teachings and “tolerance”, I can be the one not get in a hissy-fit over wordplay and semantics.

  • hrndnwmn1

    Rev. Warren was praying to his god, which he and most christians pompously assume is everyone’s god. He did better than I expected, however. I wasn’t horribly offended, and I had the feeling he had gotten some pretty strong marching orders about the language he could use. I also felt so happy to hear Obama acknowledge “non-believers.” The ranks of NBs include so many different views that I can’t think of a better phrase to use. It was just so nice to have someone include us rather than make like we don’t exist and thus are of no consequence.

  • MaryAnnEvans1

    I’m with you legendarypunk. The context was non-believers in religion. It’s silly to suggest that Obama meant to diminish us or suggest that we are lacking in an alternative belief system of our own. He was being inclusive which is a wonderful thing from my perspective. I think he threw us a juicy prime steak, while those who parse the term “non-believers see only a well-chewed bone. Oh no! Now I’ve offended the vegetarians.

  • DPHuntsman

    I too was appreciative of Obama’s inclusiveness (inside his inaugural address. Having only Protestant ministers was not inclusive, though. And we went the first 140 years of our history with no ministers at inauguration).. While even George Bush has said something equivalent (at his first press conference after being re-elected in 2004), no one believed him, because of his actions. But Obama has been saying things like this for years; for example, from 2006: I do not, in the end, accept the label of ‘non-believer'; I believe in a lot of possible things, I think. I don’t believe in Zeus or Thor, either; I don’t like that defining me.