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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. Rationalintn

    Where in the bible does it say Jesus was born on December 25th?

    According to Genesis, God created the universe in 7 days. The concept of time is relative to where you are, so it's pretty convenient that creation is based on "Earth time", eh?

    Did Noah move all the dinosaurs, too? How did that one old man get a pair of every land animal on his boat? Noah must have been several hundred years old to accomplish that task. The Ark must have smelled to high heaven.

    So after Adam and Eve, where did all the other folks come from? Adam and Eve had 2 sons, seems like civilization would have ended there? There must have been some major incest going on to create 6 billion people from just 2! Yuck.

    I want to see the guys from Mythbusters attempt to live inside a whale for 3 days. If it can be done, according to the bible, then why not try it?

    March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Paul

      Stole a pagan holiday. Winter solstice. hey look! Everyone is celebrating! Lets just pretend its about jesus!

      March 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • What Now

      These types of questions were the ones that got me tossed out of vacation bible school as a child. No one wanted to answer those questions and no one wanted me to ask. That was when I started having my doubts.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  2. John

    NJ Bob:

    "I think many of us atheists would be willing to believe if someone could only show us irrefutable, conclusive evidence of god's existence, but you'll have to excuse us if we don't find a 2,000 year-old book of Bronze- and Iron-Age myths to be very convincing."

    There are numerous outstanding books available defending the God of Christianity. I highly recommend "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek as one of the best.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • BRC

      @John,
      There are many books, btu I've never seen one with a convincing argument, I've always seen them falling back on biblical versus and personal interpretation.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Wayne

      I don't have enough faith to be an atheist, so i'll just pick one God and hope i'm right. Is that how it works?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  3. zaglossus

    Don't be ashamed, atheists. There is no evidence of a God remotely interested in human affairs and I would wager most religionists at least suspect it is true.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Paul

      Probably could have stopped at no evidence of god. Atheists ashamed? Of what?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  4. jrr

    Doing the same thing religious people do, preaching intolerance to people who don't agree with you

    March 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • damo12345

      Doing the same thing teachers do when a student says "2 + 2 = 5".

      Pointing out that no, that's factually wrong.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Peter

      Much like all those black people did when they rallied against whites who didn't want them drinking from their drinking fountains, right?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  5. Clos

    Perhaps I should have said, "When we die, we'll either know everything or we will know nothing."

    Well, AGuest9... let's say there IS a god. And if there is a god than there must be a place called hell. As a non-believer, you will go to hell and then you'll know THEN that the religious faithful were right.

    If there isn't a god then we just die and we will know nothing due to our brain dying.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Julnor

      Not all religions believe in hell.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Wayne

      "And if there is a god than there must be a place called hell. As a non-believer, you will go to hell and then you'll know THEN that the religious faithful were right."

      This is full of wrong. There could be a God and no hell, no heaven and no afterlife at all. How would you deal with that? Can you prove that's 100% not a possibility? Didn't think so.

      I

      March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Clos

      Yes, you're right, but you get my point. Not everyone goes to heaven.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Wayne

      No you don't have a point. Heaven is by any measurable account imaginary. Besides who the would want to go there anyway? Not me.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Saffrondog

      A kind of mean spirited regurgitation of Paschal's wager. But how about this. Suppose instead of the malicious, mean spirited, punitive god that you seem to believe in, it tuns out that god put you on earth to use the brain he gave you to think honestly and hard about whether he exists. And he was careful to only give enough evidence to leave the issue in doubt. When you get in front of his throne, he will ask you – so where did you come out on the issue of my exixtence. And you say – obviously I believe in you because there was no down side. And you are the one who pays the price for not using your brain. It could happen. What does it say in the book of Job? Who are you to presume to know the nature and purposes of god?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  6. Concerned Atheist

    Soo, what was harder, coming out as an atheist, or coming out as gay. For those of you, like me did both.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Fufu

      I finally had to admit to my loved ones that I was incredibly good looking. It was a tough day but I pulled through, and you will too.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Gumby

      Christian troll is trolling.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Concerned Atheist

      Actually no, I am gay and I am an atheist. My family is more accepting of me being gay than they are of me being a "non-believer".

      March 23, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Fufu

      Don't worry CA, Gumby gets his spiritual viewpoint from a comic website. He's a little off in the intellect department.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  7. blaqb0x

    Damn! Wish I could go.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  8. joey

    amway works, have faith

    March 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  9. Mott the Hoople

    JoeP199 writes: "I do believe that an honest look will show you many, many, selfish hedonists who are (or at least claim to be) devout followers of some religion or other." Yes, I agree with you 100%. Many followers of religion are actually, in their hearts. hedonists. Again, please do not confuse religion with theism.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  10. rick

    main reason for atheism: its 2012. time for humans to grow up and take responsibility for their own actions.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  11. Usher73

    Why are these athiests so fanatic about their beliefs?

    March 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • tony

      Reacting to years of pressure by ignoramuses

      March 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • boocat

      You missed the whole point. Atheists don't believe.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Gumby

      Why is a group with common beliefs meeting considered "fanatical" to you? If so, that would mean ever church is full of Christian fanatics. You're mindlessly swallowing Christian hate propaganda.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Mott the Hoople

      Because atheism is a new form of religion. It is a religion of selfish hedonism. "Religion", after all, is just a collection of beliefs and worldviews. They have their fanatics, just as Christian fundamentalism, Judaic zealotry and Islamic extremism.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Mott the Hoople

      boocat writes, "You missed the whole point. Atheists don't believe." Yes, atheists believe in something. Are you blind?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • MK

      To be a "fanatic" one would push their beliefs on others, believe themselves to be superior and proclaim that theirs is the "one true religion", and kill in the name of their god. None of which atheists do.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • just sayin

      MK
      What planet are you on? Atheists have murdered more people in the past 100 years, than were murdered in the previous centuries combined.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Ghost of Esther

      @Mott
      They believe, but they don't believe in a god or gods.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Ghost of Esther

      @MK
      Do you have any facts to back that up?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Ghost of Esther

      @just sayin
      Not for MK sorry

      Do you have any facts to back that up?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • MK

      It would be difficult for an atheist to kill in the name of their god since they don't believe that god exists. No, make that impossible.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Orly

      @MK
      I know many atheist who believe themselves to be "superior and proclaim that theirs is the "one true religion"". Also, I know someone who witnessed an atheist with a gun walk up to a girl who he knew to be a Christian and asked her if she believed in God. After she said yes he pointed the gun at her head and said "I am going to ask you one more time, do you believe in God?" When she said yes again he pulled the trigger and killed her. So I guess an atheist can kill in the name of their god, that being themself.

      March 25, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  12. boocat

    George Carlin's comment on religions and days of worship and days of "rest" is one of the best – "The Muslims have Friday. The Jews have Saturday. And the Christians have Sunday. God gets a three day weekend! And he probably needs it with all of the b.s."

    March 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • WASP

      @boocat: lmfao i love george carlin. his take on the ten commandments is great, true and funny.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • toxic

      And athiests get april 1st!

      March 23, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • boocat

      WASP – I agree....Carlin was not only funny BUT SMART!!!!

      March 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • boocat

      toxic – not funny.....

      March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • just sayin

      Of course, now Carlin is dead so he is not so funny anymore.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  13. hurdlethedead

    Here's what always stumps me...
    I was raised in a Christian household. My father is a deacon in his church, and a few months ago I finally told him that I was an athiest. Not an easy thing to do. I told him that to continue to believe, for me, was intellectually dishonest.
    Let me emphasize the 'for me' part.
    While I do not see things the same of my father, I will never criticize him for his faith. He is a smart, caring, honest, and wonderful man.
    I have no problem WHATSOEVER with people of faith, or them proclaiming their faith. They are free to do that. I only have problems when they try to shove that faith on others, and conversely I do not try to force my atheism at anyone else. I am always open to religious discussions, but I do not demean those who believe. Faith makes sense for them, and I respect their freedom. I simply don't share their views.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Paul

      Hear hear. My folks are evangelicals. Came to it late in life. It works for them, and they don't impose their views on me. If they're happy with their beliefs, and do no harm, great.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • GRS62

      Well stated. Too bad more people chose to persecute and discriminate than to open their minds.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • What Now

      That is exactly how I feel. Just keep it out of the schools. Education is for everyone, not just a few select religious groups.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • just sayin

      Put Christian religion back in the schools and return America to the land it was always meant to be.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Aine57

      I, too, grew up in a Christian home. In my late adulthood, I even went back to church for 9 years. However, after the age of 14, I never "believed in God" or "had faith." I still don't. Church was fine for me as a child, but once I got to the age of reason and independent thought, I had to conclude that God as depicted in mainstream religion did not exist. My return to church in my 40s had to do with a desire for community and not a resurgence of "faith," and the tiny congregation was very mixed and included at least a few atheists who saw all its practices as "metaphor" rather than as expressions of literal belief.

      Religion has its uses when the foremost among them are caring about oneself and others, treating the world kindly, respecting "creation" (living green, not polluting, and so forth), and other ways of exercising a "ministry of love." Religion is horribly detrimental when it oppresses outsiders (and insiders, too, actually), supports end-of-days scenarios which it attempts to realize, and brings its heavy hand down against science and other logical investigation.

      It is possible to be an atheist and yet still be "spiritual." I know it sounds contradictory, but it isn't. I don't believe in God, I don't pray, and I don't believe in one "holy book," because there are a lot of them around, in science, poetry, literature, and politics. My "holy books" get questioned, partially accepted, partially denied, and expanded, and I see new things every time I read them. I still go to church on Christmas Eve because I like carols and candlelight, not because I think virgins can bear sons of God, or that angels exist, or any of that. Beauty affects me in a spiritual way, not questionable literal "truths." The same happens under showers of Leonid meteorites, or walks along a deserted beach with microorganisms lighting the water, or watching seeds emerge from the earth as green loveliness, or laughter with friends that buffets my fading spirit and sustains me another day. If anything is holy, the individual human mind's ability to think must be included on the list. As Spencer Tracy says in one my favorite films, Inherit the Wind, (paraphrased) "The Bible is a book, it's a good book, but it is not the ONLY book."

      March 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Luch

      you are what my church (Roman Catholic)calls a person of goodwill, you are a kind thoughtful person and someone you can have a rational discussion not a hatefilled and bitter person...I command for your honesty and integrity (which my faith teaches comes from our maker i.e God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ)..God bless you on your journey and may come to know him who is the truth and way and the life!

      March 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Michael

      Thats an honest answer, I am a believer , I dont follow mainstream christianity, But I do believe in a creator , I look around at our amazing planet and I cant help but believe that our existence is not just some random coincedence. The other negative attacks on christians on this site are sad to say the least. You want to believe in nothing fine, good for you thats what freedom in this country is all about. But because atheists believe in no god everybody that does is a fool. Seems to be pretty narrow minded .

      March 24, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Michael

      Ever heard the term there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. Some day we are all going to get the chance to embrace our mortality . Atheists will contemplate a lights out scenario ,no after life , just a fade to black. While those who believe in a creator will go to our deaths comfortably with the belief that this is just the begining.

      March 24, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Know What

      Aine57,

      Very nice post. Thank you.

      March 24, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  14. Really?

    It seems as if Atheism is turning into a religion all on it's own. Why sit around and try to convince people that there is no God? With the new billboards, bus ads, etc., aren't you folks being just as annoying with your "beliefs"?? Hypocritial fools.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Gumby

      The point with the billboards and signs is that atheists have as much right to advertise as religious people do. Unfortunately, angry Christians try to have the atheist signs taken down as fast as they're put up, because Christians want freedom of speech to apply only to them.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • tony

      Anyone can believe anything. The issue is- is there any evidence for that belief that out weighs any evidence against that belief. In the case of the physics of the Universe that we have found so far. Nothing god-like appears to have happened anywhere for the past 13.4 ish Billion years.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • DrJStrangepork

      Don't confuse religion with belief system. Both 'ism's can provide a belief system but Atheism is not a religion. You might call it semantics but let's not muddy up the waters.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Mike D

      "Atheism is a religion" is popular song and dance amongst theists. We have a legitimate platform and a legitimate reason to endorse it publicly: We are against the influence that Bronze Age fairy tales have on our modern world. The secular power of religion has waned, mercifully, but it is still an immense entrenched interest that impacts society top to bottom. This is worth opposing.

      You don't like hearing atheist voices? Too bad. The cat's out of the bag and we won't be silenced. We will promote rationality and critical thinking no matter how the theists scream. And God isn't going to come down and stop us, either.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • rhobere

      atheism is not and will never be a religion. you can't base a belief structure on disbelief. doesn't work like that. very very few atheists try to force their views onto anybody, its just that when one of them does, it makes the news. those billboards are more to remind atheists that they aren't alone in the world because a lot of them tend to feel isolated (especially around the holidays) and isolation is one of the key factors to suicidal tendencies. think of those signs as more of a support group for atheists or undercover atheists as some call them, not as someone trying to convince believers not to believe.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Johnnyleen

      I don't find it annoying; just as I don't find posters annoying in the subway asking lapsed Catholics to return to the church. What I find annoying is when I'm told that I have to live life according to a certain faith. Even when I believed, I wasn't of the "right" faith and was harangued by proselytizers.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  15. lee s

    If there is a god, He is an Atheist...

    March 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  16. tony

    Anyone can believe anything. The issue is- is there any evidence for that belief that out weighs any evidence against that belief. In the case of the physics of the Universe that we have found so far. Nothing god-like appears to have happened anywhere for the past 13.4 ish Billion years.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  17. joey

    herd mentality – the human scourge

    March 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  18. Julnor

    Speaking as an atheist, anyone who denigrates another person's religion is a small and weak-minded person. I have known far too many people who were both highly intelligent and religiously devout to question another's religious beliefs.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • blaqb0x

      Go to the rally and see The Westboro Baptists.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  19. Gumby

    Too all Christians who think that they worship the One True God in the One True Way:

    http://www.cosmicsnark.com/2012/03/and-yours-is-right-god-why-exactly.html

    March 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  20. NutGrinder

    I don't try to argue with religious nuts. I just mock and laugh at them in the hopes that they will retreat in obscure oblivion. Its all you can do. Its a disease with no cure.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Gumby

      Oh, there is a cure. It's called "education". But fundies hate education, it destroys their delusion.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Julnor

      I assume you are an Obama supporter. He claims to be a religious person. You should send this comment to him.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • boocat

      Julnor – and I assume you're a "christian" – hateful and hypocritical.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Julnor

      boocat, nope, I'm an atheist. But I can see that you are hateful.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • boocat

      Who's the hateful one? You're the one castigating Obama and judging him....you sound pretty "christian" to me.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:32 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.