Why we need a Reason Rally

America is one of the most religious countries in the world. And if you are non-religious, it can seem that … Continued

America is one of the most religious countries in the world. And if you are non-religious, it can seem that without religion you cannot be elected to public office, cannot be considered a moral or ethical person, or be considered a patriot. It does not appear to matter what religious beliefs you cling to so long as you can tell anyone who asks, “Yes, sir or ma’am, I believe in God.”

The Reason Rally, a gathering of secular activists in Washington, D.C. on March 24, is a repudiation of these presumptions and these assumptions. The Reason Rally is an opportunity for everyday Americans to come together in our nation’s capital to celebrate a fundamental aspect of who they are. While the Reason Rally is a non-partisan event with attendees from all along the political spectrum, it is a statement to Washington, to our elected leaders, and to the rest of the nation that nonbelievers are a legitimate political segment of the American population.

Creative Commons licensed photo by Thomas Guignard

United States

Everyday atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists use U.S. currency that carries a religious creed on it. In school, our children are forced to recite a national pledge with a religious avowal. Our elected officials feel the need to use their own religious beliefs as tools to divide us by praying at the beginning of official meetings, the opening of legislative sessions, and other official events where U.S. citizens of many religious backgrounds attend and belong.

Some presidential candidates use their religious beliefs like weapons—waving their own values as swords, vowing to make everyone in this country follow the same religious dictates as what they believe. That is not what this country stands for, that is not the ideal for which this country was founded.

America means I get to be free to be an atheist, a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Mormon— without fear of reprisal from my government. I should feel safe knowing that my government will not force a particular brand of religious ideology on me through laws and regulations because it is practiced by the current president or because it is the most popular religious ideology in Congress.

Religion is how many people identify themselves—or at least part of themselves. It is no different for nontheists. But we do not identify ourselves as believing in nothing; rather we celebrate the lives we have now because we believe there will be no others. We celebrate the opportunities to assist our fellow humans, to leave the planet a better place than we found it, and to treat other creatures with dignity and respect. We celebrate life. We share the same hopes, fears, and aspirations as those with religious beliefs. We just don’t look to any gods or supernatural beings for answers; we look to ourselves.

The Reason Rally is not about eradicating religion. There is a difference between wanting a secular government and a nontheistic government. A secular government is one that gives no preference to any religion or to non-religion. This allows the government to remain neutral and to protect all religious belief. America’s great religious diversity is best protected when the federal government to stays neutral about matters of religion and ends special privileges for religion in law.

David Silverman is president of American Atheists.



More On Faith and atheism:

Nonbelievers to rally for unbelief in Washington

Edwords: The great atheist ‘coming out’

David Silverman
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  • Jassco

    Before my question gets pounced on, a little background… I agree 1000 percent that religion has absolutely no place in our governments or the laws they create. I also agree that everyone has the right to choose their own belief system. I do, however, challenge those who would seek to indoctrinate me to their chosen religion or non-religion, theism or atheism, to offer me proof that theirs is the gospel (pardon the pun) truth. Obviously nobody has been able to do so, therefore my path remains to neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of a god or other “higher power.” All that said, I find one thing curious about Mr. Silverman’s article, in which he states that the rally “…is not about eradicating religion.” I’ve seen one of the banners promoting the Reason Rally on a couple of friends’ facebook pages. It depicts a pac-man about to gobble up symbols of some of the world’s major religions. Can somebody tell me how that does not equate to eradicating religion, or at least the desire to do so?

  • gpineo

    What a wonderful thing to do!!! I wish I was able to attend.

  • Carstonio

    While the goal of the Reason Rally is laudable, it shouldn’t be identified as exclusively or primarily with atheism. The sound secularist principles that Silverman espouses apply to everyone regardless of religion, and whether or not atheism counts as a religion, it does count as a religious minority in terms of protecting it from the tyranny of the majority.

    It cannot be emphasized enough that secularism is not opposition to religion but neutrality among all religions. The key to this is that there’s really no such thing as “religion” as a single entity. In reality there are numerous different organized religions and individual positions on religions, where there is some agreement and some disagreement among the positions. Government’s role here is to stay out of those disputes as much as possible.

  • nojinx

    Jassco, that was a good start.
    As an atheist, I challenge all who would use indoctrination at all to show that it is not an intellectual crime equitable with brain-washing. We have to teach our children to not embrace any one faith, but to keep their minds open and strong so that they may make the choice for themselve when they are ready.
    Too many kids are beign taught a faith before they can even understand it, much less express it. Those kids deserve their freedom.
    Note that things you see on the facebook pages may not be official reason rally logos. But some of the ads are heavy-handed in my opinion. I see that as a backlash against theism by those who experienced indoctrination. They have a lot of emotion involved, often due to the abuse that can be part of indoctrination, and they push hard against religions. They don’t want others to go through the same experiences.

  • Rongoklunk

    As religion is so much a part or life in America – it’s essential for nonbelievers to speak out when they can, and to get together sometimes as a group to show we exist.
    For those religious people whose faith is fragile – and who doubt the veracity of ancient fairy tales – I’d say consider nonbelief. To actually believe (with the ancients) that there’s a really big fella up there in the sky watching over us, and who demands we live a certain way – naturally lacks evidence, because it’s not true. It’s a superstition we no longer need. We have science and commonsense now. We should be looking back and chuckling at the absolute nonsense the ancients in their ignorance believed in. We shouldn’t be copying them and buying into their superstitions. We know better now. We have science and commonsense – something the ancients lacked.

  • Chip_M

    Atheism having a voice is a relatively new phenomenon in the US. That voice tends to be a bit strident and combative because it’s a release valve for a great deal of pressure and resentment that’s built up over people’s lifetimes. As atheism continues to become more normalized and accepted that stridency will likely wane, but it may be another generation or two before we get there.

  • theFSM

    With every scientific advance, the notion of a theistic deity becomes harder and harder to believe. However, what most people are doing, without even realizing it, is replacing the belief of a theistic god, with that of a deistic god, and just calling it theism.

    Most people, however, don’t know the difference between theism and deism, and are just comfortable believing what they’re told to.

  • desertlady1

    I wish I could attend! Maybe next year.

  • SimonTemplar

    The notion that religion is something that everyone acquires in their childhood is simplistic and patently wrong. Many adults (even very highly educated rational adults) come to believe in God.

    I share Jasco’s question. The article is written as though the atheist position is strictly neutral with regard to religion. I find the realty, expressed in popular rhetoric today, to indicate something completely different.

  • SimonTemplar

    The article is written as though the atheist position is strictly neutral with regard to religion. I find the realty, expressed in popular rhetoric today, to indicate something completely different.

    It is my opinion that America is extremely pluralistic. I don’t see how anyone can realistically argue that American culture is becoming MORE devout. There may be an increase in the variety of faith views (including atheism) but the idea that atheists are marginalized in American culture can only be maintained in light of the appetite of the modern press for stirring the so-called “culture war.” When I look at my work place, I am surrounded by such a plurality of views and the atheists are well represented. In fact, I would say that the number of atheists to evangelical christians is about the same. Between those two positions is a larger majority of folks who seem to have little interest in either position.

  • SimonTemplar

    I meant to add that in my work place, the various view seem to coexist pretty well. I don’t see anyone walking around with duct tape on their mouths.

  • catatonicjones

    Atheism is a faith view …. right,.

  • Sara121

    You are confusing atheism and secularism. They are not synonymous. Not all secularists are atheists. And unfortunately, not all atheists are also secularists. The Rally is a promotion of secularism by showing that non-believers are a legitimate portion of the population. People can have their faith – but people are finally standing up and saying no to their politicians who try and legislate their faith.

  • Sara121

    The Rally is about secularism, a concept not synonymous with atheism. Secularism IS government neutrality among religions. Both believers and non-believers can be secularists.

  • ccnl1

    The following vitiates the need for any type of reason rally.

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (References used are available upon request.)

  • Sadetec

    There’s really no value to making a point about free speech, if you’re then going to criticise groups for speaking freely.

    Clearly conservative Christianity now has a very powerful voice in America, as witnessed by the way it influences GOP politics and the way it seeks to influence at a local level education and law. It isn’t easy being an elected official who is ‘out’ about non-belief in America, largely because there’s a lot of FUD spread about by loud and well funded right wing sources, and echoed by influential outlets like Fox News (the most comical being atheists are Satanists).

    If the purpose of a reason rally is to provide critique of the current conservative Christian political agenda, while dispelling some of the slurs they like to peddle, then I see no harm in it.

    You claim you don’t see people with duct tape over their mouths — so you shouldn’t have a problem if they choose to speak, should you?

  • Secular1

    SimonTemplar you said, “The notion that religion is something that everyone acquires in their childhood is simplistic and patently wrong. Many adults (even very highly educated rational adults) come to believe in God.” Are you kidding or in some kind of sub-moronic delusion? What percentage of people belong to the same religion as their parents? It may be simplistic but the facts are facts. What thought process go through your head for you to pen the above?

  • daniel12

    Advice for atheists in their defense of reason over religion.

    The best advice for atheists I can give in their defense of reason over religion is to first declare themselves agnostic, or atheistic in a light sense, rather than atheistic as they so often take it to be or atheistic in the “hard sense”–which is to say atheists should take the stance that they do not believe in God but of course admit they have no solid proof God does not exist.

    By being agnostic rather than atheistic in the hard sense–which is to say not taking the hard stance that there definitely is no God–atheists are freed from certain logical conundrums of atheism which call into question the atheistic defense of reason over religion. The truth is a hard atheistic stance has just as many problems from a logical standpoint as a religious fundamentalist stance.

    For example, if we are atheistic in a hard sense and declare there is no God–which is to say we declare there is no intelligent design behind existence–then obviously we get ourselves in the logical problem of what reason behind existence we expect to defend in the first place against religion not to mention why we would defend such reason.–In other words, if there is no intelligent design behind existence, then what reason exactly exists in our existence other than some relative and qualified reason and why would a person want to pursue such a reason which exists in a world of no intelligent design, a world with no fundamental reason behind it? Furthermore, if there is no intelligent design behind existence then why would an atheist worry about anything so irrational as religion, after all, if no intelligent design is behind things then fundamentally the non-intelligent is the order of the day. Certainly we cannot retort that intelligence is fundamental to existence.

    It would be better for atheists to say they do not believe in God, but have hopes in reason and that there is some sort of sense behind existence, or to say they have no p

  • GlassRachel

    I do want to point out that it’s not just Atheists, free thinkers, etc. who catch alot of flack. Saying you believe in more than one god, is almost just as bad as saying you believe in no god. Here in the Bible Belt it’s reinforced that the “God” mentioned in the pledge, on the money, etc. is not a generic god but “The ONLY God, The REAL God, The Christian God”. I’ve compared my Pagan notes with many an Atheist, and the horror stories are basically just as bad. There are also many people who hold religious beliefs who believe that ALL religions should stay out of ALL gov’t. It’s possible to be a Free Thinker and hold religious beliefs, and it’s possible to value reason and hold religious beliefs. We are not all crazy fundies, and you have many supporters in religious groups. We can just be hard to find sometimes, and we are busy fighting against these people as well. I hope everyone has a safe, fun time at the rally, and that it goes off without a hitch.

  • Jerry_R

    “without a hitch. ”

    no pun intended….

  • Jerry_R

    “Atheism is a faith view …. ” like bald is a hair color.

  • JCarizona

    The freethinkers (Atheists, agnostics, secularists etc..), are actively advocating for our rights in a country where irrational people try to subjugate us, or worse…We are working to be free to have a rational vocalized, open philosophy, not to be constrained by the hegemony of political and social control of those who are determined to silence us by bigotry and the blind belief in outdated dogmas. The past is full of examples of the harm that religious peoples have inflicted on those of us who live our lives by rationality, and substantial facts, rather than being controlled by false beliefs, and dogmas. I watch generations of children raised by these irrational people, brainwashed with fear and familial social control, never being allowed the chance to develop their own awareness. The cycle would be broken in one generation if this was not the case. My fear is most definitely not from some mythical god, it is from the humans that have no respect for other viewpoints. Yes, the Christians in this country can expect constant pressure and challenge from the non-believers in the world. It is far past the time to work on shaking off the shackles that have limited and harmed humanity for thousands of years. Put religion and all its falsehoods and dogmas in the museum of the past. Teach our children to be caring socially conscious people without the mental and social constrictions of ancient tribal religious beliefs. I know most religious people will have some trouble with seeing these conventions move out of the human consciousness, but they need to get over it…The second largest philosophical / cultural group in the US are non-believing citizens. We are NOT a minority, and we are growing every day…and please get the definition of the word atheist clear: Atheism is simply not having a belief in a god or gods. You can be both agnostic and atheistic at the same time.

  • holyspiritdenier

    I grew up in “rapture ready” Tulsa in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and I wish I could have joined an atheist group in my teens just to have some sane people to talk to. In fact I envy people who grow up as atheists because to me they seem like characters from an advanced, futuristic civilization out of science fiction.

  • Ed–words

    (Atheism is not a religion. Check the dictionary.)

    How many religious people want “God” removed from their money
    and the Pledge?

  • larryclyons

    Unfortunately the United States is not free when it comes to religion. In 7 states atheists are forbidden to run for or hold elective office, or serve on juries. Most of those coincidentally are in the South.

  • Claudiusmaior

    By their fruits, shall ye know them, says the Chrisitans’ Book of Mythology.

    So let me ask you. Have you ever met a more hateful group than these Catholic bishops or these fundamentalist preachers??

  • CarolGBOS

    What? Sure that is unconstitutional?

  • CarolGBOS

    “if there is no intelligent design behind existence then why would an atheist worry about anything so irrational as religion, “……. Because the religious oppress us. That’s why!

  • CarolGBOS

    btw – “For atheists have no definitive empirical or logical proof there is no God.” — The onus is not on us to disprove someone else’s fantasies. The onus is on those with the fantasy to prove it.

  • CarolGBOS

    But the christians have the majority of political power, regardless of how individual christians and atheists get along. Just ask any committed gay couple whether they think the US is too religious.

  • CarolGBOS

    But the christians have the majority of political power, regardless of how individual christians and atheists get along. Just ask any committed gay couple whether they think the US is too religious.

  • Artholman

    I do. I do.
    Removing references to God on our money and in our pledge to our flag may the beginning of a religion neutral government. More importantly, it could be a start toward a government and laws not biased by our narrow religious beliefs.

  • Sara121

    Article 6, Section 3, there shall be no religious test as a qualification for office. So yes, a ban specifically on atheists running for public office is unconstitutional.

  • Sara121

    alfiefinell, atheist and agnostic are not mutually exclusive. You can be both.

  • SODDI

    So much for the christians’ constant whine that they don’t oppress anyone.

  • GladysHeathen

    I’m an atheist, but Silverman is wrong about one fact. He wrote, “In school, our children are forced to recite a national pledge with a religious avowal.” I’m not a believer, but I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, and as a group they are very familiar with this issue.

    Silverman should know that the pledge is not compulsory, and it hasn’t been compulsory since West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette in 1943. This decision was even made BEFORE the phrase “under God” was added. So not only is the statement that children are forced to recite a pledge with a religious invocation untrue, it has NEVER been true.

    Even though I share non-belief with Mr. Silverman and American Atheists, I think we should endeavor to be accurate with our information.

  • GladysHeathen

    States have all kinds of crazy laws that are unenforceable. The only reason they’re still on the books is because there’s never been occasion to challenge them. It says a lot about the attitude of society that they exist, but if an atheist were to run for office in one of those states, those laws would be struck down in a heartbeat. The constitution is the highest law of the land, and it clearly says there shall be no religious test to hold public office.

  • GladysHeathen

    I really think there should be a class-action lawsuit from polytheists challenging the “under god” stuff. Even though we both experience similar problems, it’s still less politically correct to mock religion than non-religion. At any rate, I think it would have better chances in court than the atheist efforts thus far.

  • Rongoklunk

    I accuse religion for taking down the WTC on 9/11 and killing 3000 innocent people. If I had been religious on that terrible day – I would have become an atheist immediately, so stupid were the expectations of the terrorists after the horror. They expected they were off to Paradise to live forever and ever with the creator of the universe, with 72 virgins thrown in as a bonus.

    Is that any different from what Christians believe? During the Crusades Christians were persuaded that death in the field guaranteed them a place in Heaven with God, and who knows what else. And I’ll bet that there are American Christians today who would willingly give up their lives for their imaginary god – given the opportunity.

    It’s religion folks. And it makes people crazy.

  • catatonicjones

    Pope Urban II guaranteed that anyone who went crusading would be forgiven their sins past, present and future, and that anyone who died in the attempt would go straight to heaven.

    Does religion make people crazy, or does it arise from already crazy people?

  • Cafeeine1

    The first thing that jumped at me from this post is the claim “(…)rather than atheistic as they so often take it to be or atheistic in the “hard sense”(…)”. This intrigues me, since in my experience very few atheists appear to take that stance, and by this I mean that many who appear to do so, have already accepted an as given epistemology where claims reflect our best understanding of the world and can change with new information, and expect their claims will be viewed under that prism. I’m sure there are people who make hard atheism statements with the same certainty as theists do, but they are the minority.

    My second problem is the conflation of the idea of ‘intelligent design’ with the existence of order in the universe. Leaving aside the point that ID is already tarred as a term with its relationship with Creationism, there is significant equivovation between ‘reason: examination through logic’, ‘reason: motive’. and ‘reason: purpose’. The desire to understand the universe doesn’t require any intelligence in the creation of the universe, nor the absence of any intelligence.

    Finally, I’d love for things to be ‘science vs. religion’, but that attitude won’t faze those theists who, based on their readings of their favorite scriptures have decided that their god is obvious and anyone that claims to disagree, is really lying. There is no reasoning with that mindset.

  • unbound555

    Although technically correct, you know full well that a child not reciting the pledge will quickly be singled out by his or her peers…and potentially even the teacher. Force is not solely measured by law.

  • unbound555

    Interesting, but there are issues with the concepts.

    One item, as mentioned just above, is that no one can ever prove a negative. I can’t prove there is no god. Then again, you can’t prove there is no invisible pink unicorn. Both are equally absurd and should rightfully be declared imaginary until the ones making that claim prove their existence.

    What is the purpose of existence? Whatever you would make of it. Don’t be bound by religious strictures which are nothing but bindings put on you by another human being. There is so much to do, to see, to learn, to discuss and to discover…not only for ourselves, but for our family, our children and our community; even mankind itself. I personally strive for a better place for my family and community so that we can continue to grow and get better. What additional purpose could I possibly need?

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