Although I’m an atheist, I almost always vote for a Christian, not because I’m impressed by their declared God beliefs, but because I usually have no other choice unless I vote for a third party or write-in candidate who has no chance of winning, and even they are probably religious believers. Nonetheless, in reality, closeted atheists have received hundreds of thousands of votes from constituents who probably didn’t know they were voting for an atheist.
The good news for atheists, agnostics, and humanists is the creation of the Freethought Equality Fund, a new Political Action Committee (PAC) dedicated to expanding voters’ choices by backing the candidacy of open nontheists to public office. It is the first such PAC with a paid staff. (Full Disclosure: I’m an unpaid advisory board member of the Freethought Equality Fund.)
Launched by the American Humanist Association’s Center for Humanist Activism, the Freethought Equality Fund will support candidates who share our goals of protecting the separation of church and state and defending the civil liberties of secular Americans. And it will probably also support some theists and “closeted” atheists who advocate for our causes.
But wait, there’s more. In the future, the Secular Coalition for America will form its own PAC, and other freethought groups are also considering similar political engagement.
Why now? I first heard talk of PACs like this some 20 years ago, but back then politicians would not want to be branded with the stigma of accepting money from “godless” Americans. However, to quote Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin.’
More than 20 percent of Americans now claim no religious identity, and the percentage is even higher among young people. Nonreligious Americans are one of the largest minorities in the United States, but you’d never know it because they have lacked political power. However, atheist and humanist communities are now better organized and more cooperative, and the new Freethought Equality Fund hopes to provide candidates who are good without a god the opportunity to make their voices heard.
Atheists are willing to be copycats, especially when there is evidence of success. The LGBT movement taught freethinkers that the most effective way to change public perception is to come out of the closet. Attitudes toward gays changed rapidly when people realized that their friends, neighbors, family members, and even famous people were gay. And so it will be with atheists. Interestingly, Congressman Barney Frank came out as gay more than 30 years ago, but didn’t come out as an atheist until he left office. We are also learning from EMILY’s List, the successful PAC founded in the mid-1980s to help increase representation by women candidates who share the List’s views. (EMILY is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast.”)
Before issuing an endorsement, the Freethought Equality Fund PAC will question candidates about their personal and political views on issues where religious belief could influence public policy. Examples include teaching intelligent design in public schools, the use of public funds to support religiously affiliated organizations, and questions about gay rights and abortion rights.
Besides advocating a more secular government, the PAC hopes to dispel the bigoted notion that atheists are “immoral” and lack values. When people see respected atheists and humanists serving in public office, these stereotypes will change.
As its assets grow, the Freethought Equality Fund PAC can be a substantial step forward. Though atheists and humanists don’t believe in an Almighty deity, we do believe in the almighty dollar. We’ve seen evidence of its power and influence in the political process, so it’s not beyond belief.
Image courtesy of Ron Cogswell.