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March 22nd, 2012
06:36 PM ET

Atheist rally billed as 'coming out' moment for nonbelievers

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – A coalition of atheist and secular organizations are coming together on Saturday to hold what is being billed at the largest gathering of atheists in history.

David Silverman, chairman of the event committee and president of the American Atheists, said the rally is aimed at uniting atheist organizations and letting the religious know that there are nonbelievers among them.

“We need to stress to the theists that we are here,” Silverman said. “Atheism is growing in all 50 states. What people don’t seem to understand is all we demand at American Atheists is equality.”

Silverman initially told CNN that the rally would draw anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 people to the National Mall, and the National Park Service has planned for 30,000 people. With thunderstorms forecast for Saturday, however, Silverman told CNN on Thursday that he expects somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people.

The cost of the event is around $300,000, Silverman said, but philanthropist Todd Stiefel, Founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, is supplying half the money.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

The rally has been a catalyst for protests by the Westboro Baptist Church, a group well known for its picketing of funerals of American servicemen and servicewomen. Westboro Baptist has been granted a permit for the “grassy area between 14th and 15th” streets, according to Carol Johnson, a communications officer for the National Park Service.

Though a press release for the reason rally touts 17 groups planning to protest, only the Westboro Baptist Church has applied and obtained a permit. Johnson said rally organizers have notified the Park Service of other possible protest groups, but none of those have applied for a permit.

The rally's long list of speakers and presenters runs the gamut from intellectuals to celebrities to comedians. The event is headlined by Oxford professor and author Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins, who is widely regarded as the most respected figure in atheism, is lending his voice to this event because he says freedom for atheists is “constantly under threat from people who would like to turn this country into some sort of a theocracy.”

“The Reason Rally is part of an effort to combat the attack of the theocrats,” Dawkins told CNN. “There is in this country at the moment a great revival of atheism, and the number of atheists in the country is much larger than people realize.”

Atheist organizer takes ‘movement’ to nation’s capital

At a press conference for the event, Silverman was adamant that the rally won't be the last. He didn't say whether it will be become an annual tradition, but he intends a higher profile for atheists in the future.

“The next step after the rally is all eyes on the election,” Silverman said. “We want to post hard questions to the candidates.”

Dawkins, too, related the rally to politics.

“The nonbelieving constituency has not been vocal enough, and it therefore has been politic for them to be ignored by their congressmen, by their senators,” Dawkins said.

Directing his comments at Congress, Dawkins said, “You have been neglecting them, overlooking them and riding roughshod over them as though they didn’t exist. Well, they do exist and they outnumber some of the other lobbies that you have been so assiduously sucking up to all these years.”

The America Atheists also are holding their annual convention in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Secular Coalition for America has scheduled its “Lobby Day for Reason” on Friday.

The weekend is part of a larger blitz by a coalition of atheists to “win” equality in American culture, Silverman said.

“We are the last group against whom it is politically correct to be bigoted,” he said. “That is something that needs to change and I am very confident that we will within 20 years.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Politics

soundoff (3,073 Responses)
  1. A Country Divided....

    A Country divided can not stand. Too many divisive aspects to uphold a nation that thrives on hate, anger, and segragation. No one has any compassion or love for a fellow man. Sad to see the deteriation of a nation that utilizes such devices and venues in order to push a baseless agendas on others just to send this nation spiraling down a deeper and darker abyss of hatred and dispair. Just as the bible states in Mark 3:25, a house divided against itself can not stand. Just like any structure on an unstable foundation will be demolished at the shaking at its foundation that structure will crumble. For those who have an ear let them hear!

    March 23, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • mattinacan

      lol keep quoting your fictional book

      March 23, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • DownSouth

      Actually, you've got it exacly wrong.

      Since the human intellect, atheist and religious alike, tends to be imperilalistic, the division of the populous into myriad groups helps to impede a tyranny of the majority. Madison and Jefferson both realized this, and wrote about it at great length.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • NSfromIndiana

      Funny that you used a verse from the bible to make your point seeing as how religion one of the greatest contributors to this country's bigotry, hate, intolerance, and divisiveness.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  2. John

    Jesus christ died on the cross that all would comer to know God

    March 23, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  3. Willie

    I wonder if they will pray for good weather.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  4. mattinacan

    Finally! the sooner religion is wiped off this planet the better we will all be

    March 23, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • John

      Sound like your drean can be fulled by moving to north Korea

      March 23, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • NSfromIndiana

      No. The North Koreans have their form of Jesus. They just call him the Great Leader.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • mattinacan

      John: so ignorant you can't even spell, no wonder you believe in God

      March 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  5. Mark

    Belief in God also includes a belief in the after life. Belief in the after life is a coping mechanism against the fear of death. To challenge someone over their belief in God is to also challenge their belief in the after life and, thus, pull away their shield against the fear of death. That is the underlying reason why some religious people get so agitated (sometimes even violent) when you challenge them over their belief in God. The fear of death now creeps in and takes hold.

    An antheist, on the other hand, has to have their own personal coping mechanism in place to deal with the fear of death (typically is it just plain old resignation that death is it and there's nothng after it). So challenging an athesist on their lack of belief in God is fruitless, because they do not feel threatened by the challenge, unlike the religious who have a lot to loose by such challenges.

    On the other hand, being an atheist requires a very sound emotional structure so as to deal, head-on with the fear of death.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Bob

      What's to fear?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Unafiliated

      Mark, Great post. I am an Atheist, but unlike many, I don't try to pull anyone else out of their belief because it is comforting to believe in an afterlife, and if that helps people cope, fine.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • NSfromIndiana

      Or you believe as I do. Energy can not be created or destroyed, but only transformed. And seeing as how we are but energy, it must go somewhere... While I do not believe in the nonsensical stories put forth by the Bible (or any other religion for that matter), I do think that some part of us will always be in this universe (in what form, I can not say). And for the record, I consider myself an atheist-leaning agnostic.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • pockets

      Very well stated. I consider those Evangelical's to be stupid, and stupid doesn't know what stupid is. The US has built a society based on ignorance and its going to get us all killed. A country like Iran cannot function living next to a Christian country, they are incompatible. So once nuclear weapons are at their disposal, they will launch them. We have about 50 years left if that, before a major nuclear war occurs. I see it as the end of the world as we know it. Just the way it is, because to eradicate religion will take to long.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  6. beleef

    Wow, the religious are really displaying their hatred and fear on here today.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • AGuest9

      No, that's every day. Wait until the "night shift" shows up!

      March 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  7. Peter

    Finally! Let's see if we can get some traction. I feel like I live in the Dark Ages very often in this country.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Jesus

      Thank God I'm an atheist!

      March 23, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Pete the Ninja

      then go to communist china. they don't like God there.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  8. Steven

    I am an atheist and I saw on the rally website that gold VIP seats are $5000. I thought we were non-prophet...

    March 23, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  9. hurdlethedead

    I think I am a better person now, as an athiest, than I ever was as a Christian. Instead of abjectly decrying something based on the teachings of the Bible, I now think about the situation and make the most sensible answer I can provided the evidence. As an athiest, I don't want any kind of limit to religious freedom and conversely I want to be free from religion should I choose.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  10. Gaunt

    This old chestnut, the most ironic, false and self-defeating of all the zealot arguments: 'athiests have no right and wrong'.

    news flash. Every single moral you have, every rule you follow in civilised society, is a secular humanist law. All the laws we currently have came out of the age of reason, a backlash against centuries of secular 'moral' rule known as the dark ages. BECAUSE these morals came out of secular humanism and rejection of theological morality, they are recent. It crtainly wasnt divine morality that eliminated slavery, or allowed women to vote and own property: these are against the teachings of the bible. Every modern first world moral came from secular humanism, and a rejection of the horrific, bigoted violent 'morality' of the bible.

    "Fine", a zealot might say, "but what about the core principles of modern morality, like 'not killing? Those exist today and are in the bible".

    Firstly, you zealots did a pretty poor job of following that one for the last 2000 years. but then cherry picking the 'morals' of the bible you wish to follow is part and parcel of the standard hypocricy of religion. Ignore the 90% of the rules that you find inconvenient, and follow the 10% that happen to suit your desires. Do you think eating shellfish is an abomination? Do you think slavery should be legal and acceptable? Why not, those are Biblical morals!

    Secondly, yes a few key morals like 'not killing' do exist in the Bible. So here is the challenge. i DARE you zealots to find one 'good' moral of the bible, just ONE, that does not also exist in codes of laws written long before the bible was ever dreamed up. just one.

    No?

    Then how can you seriously claim ANY morality comes from your silly fairy tale?

    March 23, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • catLoversInc

      Excellent post!!

      March 23, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • DownSouth

      Gaunt said: "Every single moral you have, every rule you follow in civilised society, is a secular humanist law."

      Then why do the atheists bawl discrimination, if their ideology rules?

      With cognitive dissonance like that, no wonder atheism has made such a poor showing in America's free marketplace of opinions and ideas.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Pete the Ninja

      Actually, shellfish are ok for Christians to eat. you must be confusing the old testament with new testament. Jesus fulfilled OT law, and then provided for certain things that were in the law to be removed. Food became acceptable through His vision to Peter. Not surprised you missed that one, given that you are quick to complain about all the zealots using the same argument that the caustic group of non believers always like to use. Additionally, slavery isn't condoned by Jesus, but, as it was a part of life in the times, He provides rules on proper treatment of them until such a time that they would be free. I would make the argument that all peoples, being created in God's image, have an innate understanding of His Laws, which is why civilisations show evidence of biblical codes. I won't argue that christians can be a poor example of Christ, it happens, we are all humans, but classifying a group by its minorities would be like saying you must be like that group of non-believers i saw waiting for the aliens to come back and get is. Not particularly fair now, is it. Try having a conversation instead of calling me a zealot.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  11. Mike

    Both sides need to suck it up. Atheist don't believe in god, can't you understand that theists? Theist do believe in god, can't you get over it atheists? I understand the argument comes from stupid Christians not shutting the hell up when someone doesn't want to learn about god, but it also comes from stupid atheists not shutting the hell up when a Christian brings god up. Atheists chose not to believe in god in a nation that does believe in god. Why, all of a sudden, do atheists need recognition for being atheist? You think getting a big rally of atheists is going to stop stupid Christians from telling you that you're going to burn in hell? No. All you have to do atheists, when someone brings up god, is to suck it up and move on. Christians just need to keep their faith to themselves. Atheist don't believe. Who cares? Christians do believe. Who cares? keep it to yourself and all of this will stop. Atheist spend way too much time arguing over that which they don't believe in. Christians spend way too much time arguing over that which is unprovable. This rally of atheists makes no sense. Who cares if you don't believe in god. Your trying so hard to tell the world that you don't believe in god, and for what reason? That's a personal choice you should keep to yourself. You tell Christians to keep their belief to themselves, why can't you do the same? You are trying so hard to be different from them that you are exactly like them. Both sides are completely stupid and have no clue what the hell they're talking about or what they're doing.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • John

      Great post Mike! I'm a Christian and totally someone's right to believe in God as they see fit or not to believe. Crazy wingnuts that try to force you to believe as them, and ridicule you if you don't, are just narrow-minded bullies....and they come from all the groups, whether people want to believe it or not.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • BRC

      MIke,
      I agree with you, but there is one consideration that has to be made. There is a current trend of increasing attempts by religious people to create and effect legislation based on their beliefs adn dogma, that would affect everyone, even those of other faiths. It's not the ist time that has happened, it won't be the last, and hopefully moderate understanding heads on both sides will prevail, but it is a reason for those of no faith (or of faiths other than the Christian sects currently leading the pack) to stand and take notice, and in a calm rational voice say, "I understand these are your beliefs, and I respect that; but they are not mine,a dn you cannot make me live by your rules."

      March 23, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • JD

      As an atheist, I dont care what your religion is and what you do about your religion. The prime purpose of this rally is to demonstrate to everybody- to please leave us alone in our God-free world, Do not shout in my ears that " I will go to hell", Do not bias against me in the workplace or society because I do not believe in your bible or koran crap, and to make some of these people in Congress understand that we exist and if they want to impose religion and religion based laws on us – you won't get any votes from us.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • mikemmm

      This point of view can be applied to many aspects of our culture. I like it. People keep it to yourself why do you insist on telling me I do not care if you are comming out. Keep it to yourself.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • sam

      mike here is on to something. Athiests acting like evangelicals are really just evangelizing for something not christian. no difference at all between the two sides. While i agree that religion seems to cause alot of harm in the world since humanity has basically outgrown religion as a means to social/political organization and control, its not like atheism has offered anythingmore to the world than religion in terms of progress. Science and religion are completely compatable anyone who tells you otherwise is either brainwashed, or bitter and vindictive. Sound like anyone you know? this rally sounds like the meeting of atheist youtube trolls in numbers never before seen.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  12. Henkv

    As I have said numerous times: there is nothing worse than organized religion, and that is organized atheism.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • mattinacan

      so on numerous times you say something that makes no sense

      March 23, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Don

      You're right, there is nothing worse than organized religion.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  13. WDinDallas

    What is this, the latest "equal rights" movement? More like a "preference rights" movement. Just like the gays and all these other groups.

    Everyone is equal, now everyone wants preference!

    March 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • NSfromIndiana

      No. Not everyone is equal. If gays were equal, they would be able to marry the person they love, as you are able to do. This march has nothing to do with equality. It is more about awareness and knowledge. There are many people in this country that are afraid to tell their family that they are atheist. And if this helps them, then so be it.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • pockets

      Well said.....Everyone is equal........that's all you had to say.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Jason

      What preference is it that they are asking for?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Dave

      I think this is an equal rights issues. I think we will see a gay president before we ever see an "out of the closet" athiest president. And the same goes for the rest of our elected officials.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  14. AreAtheistReasonable?

    Richard Dawkins can hold a rally but still not have the courage to debate William Lane Craig...so much for logic and reason! It's much easier to tout your beliefs when you are behind a wall of yes men.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • pockets

      Perhaps Mr. Lane would like to debate Sam Harris or has he already. Feel secure in your belief that a nuclear cloud over New York will mean the Messiah is on the way coming down from the sky to say the day, like Superman. Righttttttttt. I have come to believe very strongly that religion in any form is a mental illness. Like mass hysteria. All based on Ignorance. There is no god, so relax and enjoy your lives, soon you will be dead and become worm food.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • AreAtheistReasonable?

      WLC has already debated Sam Harris, you should watch it...it was awesome. Scoring for debating is difficult unless a person is extremely up on the rules but I've never heard a philosophically trained atheist dismiss WLC as an idiot or loon. That is why it is so appalling to hear so much insulting of all theist on this board. You dont have to agree with someone but sometimes you have to give "the devil his due" in this case the devil is your opponent. Otherwise, you end up looking like a fanatical fool yourself.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  15. dentont

    I find it funny, that this article is posted under the be Belief section, since atheists don't believe in anything.
    imagine living in a country where atheism is the doctrine. I think most sane atheist would agree its better here.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Crad

      They are marching to let people know they exist.. But that god doesnt.. Ha ha.. And they blew 300 grand to let people know athiests are out there.. Instead of feeding the homeless.. Or cancer research, or funding to write congress to hae religion removed from school.. Etc.. What a bunch of egotistical hypocrites

      March 23, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • NSfromIndiana

      I would disagree. Some of the most intelligent people on this planet are atheist, or at least agnostic. So imagine living in a country that uses logic and common sense to make it's laws and regulations. I think I would choose that country any day of the week.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • J.W

      I define atheism as the belief that there is no deity. I think if we are to define something as a lack of belief it would be agnosticism, because they are basically undecided, so they do not believe either way.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • fk-god

      dentont, not believing is a form of belief when you think about it.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • freedom from religion

      it is wrong to say that atheists don't believe in anything. They foremost believe in our humanity and the right of all people to believe in anything they want. Religion is something that is forced upon one's mind, through education, culture, and society. It molds your thoughts in the shape that complies with someone's plan. Having no religion frees your mind to think for yourself.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • AGuest9

      Card, are you catholic? Take a look at the Sistine chapel, the gold and art in the Vatican, and then, make that statement. Didn't your "messiah" say: "The poor you will always have with you" (Matthew 26:11)

      March 23, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • pockets

      Yes "Card" or give your christian money to Pastor Eddie Long and his ilk. Give the money to hucksters and con men. Maybe Eddie is at it again with more young boys. Will have have to pay them off also. Look at all these so called 'preacher's' and the "tents" they live in. There's a sucker born every minute, and religion is a real sucker's game.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Crad

      Angry that your crew is blowing so much cash on such a tupid thing? Why come down on me, im just bearing the news..

      March 23, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  16. Crad

    Wow. They blew 300 grand just to let everyone know they exist! Ha ha, how crazy

    March 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • AGuest9

      How much does the KoC pay for their "unborn child" and "keep christ in christmas" campaigns yearly?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Crad

      I dont think people need to spend money to keep christmas alive.. Ha ha..

      March 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  17. Ray

    All the idiots saying we need more religion just don't understand. Non belief is not something turned on and off. A true atheist KNOWS their are no gods/superbeings. No bit of mysticism can change that. Why? Because it's the truth and knowledge is spreading. There's nothing you can do but complain and lash out. Humans will continue to evolve and gain knowledge, like all other religions, monotheism will eventually become irrelevant.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Crad

      Sorry. But atheism is just another religious fad. Man will always have a need to worship. Even if god isnt in the equation. Makes you wonder huh?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • georgex

      We can contrast Knowlege vs. Belief and Science vs. Imagination

      March 23, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Mike

      You can't KNOW anything without something to back up that knowledge. no one on earth can, or will, know if god exists. To claim that you KNOW is ignorant. You would have to be god to know something like that.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • MrHanson

      Science vs Imagination? Hahahahaha that's a good one. When trying to explain the complexities of the cell in and all its wonders and how it all came about by chance, evolutionists sure have a good imagination.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  18. Anti-theism

    Hey f***face (ALEX), do a little research and you'll discover the FACT that most of our founding fathers were actually non-believers.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • WDinDallas

      Start naming them.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • John

      wrong

      March 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • AGuest9

      Franklin (deist and atheist writings), Jefferson (like Christian ideas but cut all of the fantasy from his bible with a razor), Paine, Ethan Allen.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Icarus

      "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason." – Benjamin Franklin
      "Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies." – Thomas Jefferson
      "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government." – Thomas Jefferson
      " The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity." – John Adams

      There are plenty more.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Furthermore, ARTICLE XI of the Treaty with Tripoli (1796): "As the government of the United States of America is not in any fense founded on the Chriftian religion" (ibid)

      March 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  19. Fufu

    I would enjoy watching this march go down in Kabul.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • georgex

      Kabul doesn't have much freedom of religion. Might be suicidal.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  20. georgex

    I once saw a billboard saying "You can be good without God". I bet that caused some people to think about it.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Crad

      I know a lot of athiests who dont beleive in the concept of good and bad.. So you see, even that billboard is rooted in religion.. Go figure

      March 23, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Ray

      I'm an atheist and I know hundreds of other atheists. They ALL have a code of ethics achieved through philosophy. Why do you think we make up 15% of USA but less than .5% of prison population?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • AGuest9

      Well, Crad, you know what they say about the company you keep.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.