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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. Samual

    I was told that if you burp and fart at the same time you will lose your soul. Is that true?

    March 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Rand Spears

      When you are as dumb as you seem to be? yes its true.. try it. hold your breath and smash your face into a wall a few times too. I hear that helps it escape

      March 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  2. John

    TEST

    March 23, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  3. Dave

    I find it hilarious that believers in religion want everyone to think that atheism is a religion, too. In essense it is the exact opposite and any attempts to containerize or stereotype it simply show the weaknesses in religious peoples thinking.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Rand Spears

      Oh Dave, it's not a religion its a cult LOL. Anybody that cries out for attention to be "noticed" is a tool. Especially when it comes to belief which should be kept private. All athiests are doing by holding this rally is showing how childish and stupid they are just like the churches and worshippers do to condem athiests.. heres an idea... believe what you want and shut up

      March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Mike

      Rand is absolutely right. This rally is ridiculous. Why duplicate the craziness under a different name?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  4. joey

    why when alter boys pass gas, it sounds like wind blowing through a barn ?

    March 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Rand Spears

      because your father always stuck his big joey in your little joey hole

      March 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  5. jerry

    There's no need for the hateful comments I see here. I'm also an atheist, but I have nothing against believers. There's never going to be a clear answer, so we each come to our own conclusions. Actually, I do believe in the amazing nature of the universe, and stand in awe of its manifestations. Study Darwin and you see respect for the miraculous-seeming life we are part of, within us and all around us. That's MY religion.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • QS

      Then you also have a vested interest in standing up to religious intolerance as well as they would like nothing more than to erase the Theory of Evolution from the books.

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

      QS
      Who is forcing who to have their daughters receive abortions without parental consent at the age of 12?
      Get real what has religion stopped you from doing this year?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Rand Spears

      Wow an intelligent athiest that isn't trying to force their opinion onto me (like the churches). I am impressed.. Thank you jerry. Atleast some ppl don't fit the stereotypical athiest image. Nice to know some ppl have your logic

      March 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  6. John

    I hope something tangible comes out of this. I want atheists to unite in demanding that religious organizations lose their tax exempt status. I don't see why we should subsidize something we don't believe exists so that they can espouse their fairy tale to even more people.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • QS

      Agreed.

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

      You subsidize religion for the same reason you subsidize the building and maintainance of a highway you don't use. Because that's the way it works. My kids are grown, but I still pay taxes for the school system, and I don't whine about it.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Rand Spears

      Sounds like your another athiest looking to cry and whine about something. You ppl are worse then the gays. ACCEPT US!! WE ARE HERE!!!..... LOL

      March 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Merc

      If we subsidize their taxes against our wishes, perhaps they should subsidize birth control.... :D

      March 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  7. Eric

    Two thoughts:

    1) I could take atheists more seriously if they weren't seemingly bent on converting me to their thinking. To the atheists: Belittling other people's thoughts doesn't convince me that you're right, it makes me wonder if you believe what you're saying.

    2) When explaining the universe, everywhere that a theist says, "God", an atheist says "infinity", as if tossing out infinity somehow provides more concrete evidence to support their position.

    Bottom line: both sides claim to subscribe to a moral code that demands better behavior than what we're seeing. Be nice and respectful and let everyone live in peace.

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

      You 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. Rational people get rather fed up with being constantly told otherwise

      March 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • QS

      "...and let everyone live in peace."

      And herein lies the crux of the problem....Atheists are more than happy to leave others be, but religious people generally can't do this.

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

      Believers and atheists alike do not have answers to the "big questions" about purpose and afterlife.. But that universal ignorance that we all share does not mean that believers have a better answer.. Making up an answer does not mean it's better than admitting that you don't know..

      The believer says, "I made up an answer; it's better than no answer at all."
      The non believer says, "I don't think any of the made up answers have any evidence so I'm sticking with "we don't yet know."

      It's really that simple.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Real

      Well-said.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  8. Prester Steve

    I think of Jesus like I think of Pink Floyd–love the music, hate the fans

    March 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  9. Will S

    Here we go again...the usual hysteria, tearing of garments, gnashing of teeth by those who publicly cry their disbelief in a angry bronze-age, white bearded (obviously male), tribal deity figure and everything associated with that image. Much ado about nothing.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  10. John

    If the christian god is so powerful and gave the ultimate sacrifice in allowing his only son to die in order to save the world, all he has to do is send a tangible message and the entire world would stop tearing itself apart over religion.
    SETI is all ready to receive this transmission right?
    Think about the lives that would be saved, the horrors avoided from terrorists if he would just take one second of his time to tangibly demonstrate his existence to all non-believers.
    Maybe he just doesn't care or just maybe he doesn't exist.
    I know, I know, I just have to have faith. The problem is that I do have faith that it is all rubbish.

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

      You mean like Obamas birth certificate? Some people will reject the truth even when it is staring them in the face! The subject word is Faith , please read the definition.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  11. sarah

    Why is every group the last group to be discriminated against? I wish that was true. lol.

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

      He didn't say "the last group to be discriminated against", he said "the last group it is politically correct to discriminate against."

      Lots of groups are still discriminated against....but we as a society usually tend to shun those people for their ignorance.

      For some strange, unknown reason, we simply refuse to shun religion as we should when it blatantly discriminates....religion gets a free pass.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  12. chemistphil

    Atheism is becoming a religion without a god. It's one thing to say, "oh I don't really think there is proof for a god out there so I won't be a part of a religion," and it's another entirely to do what people like Dakwins and Hitchens do. "Radical atheism" seems to just be that backlash against crazy evangelicals like the Westboro Baptist Church, but at the same time, making baseless personal attacks against religious people is no less wrong and immature than Christians telling atheists they are going to Hell

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

      Calling atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.

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

      I agree. Most people religious or atheist are just trying to get through their daily lives and really don't care what other people believe. Fairies? Unicorns? Fine by me.

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

      except that there are politically powerful forces, and brainwashed masses that support them, that would like nothing better than to make Christianity the law of the land. There is something very tangible being fought against – theocracy, whether official or implied.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • chemistphil

      madarax, atheists also want to make "atheism" the law of the land. just look at these posts. you know why? because people tend to want the government to conform to their beliefs. well i agree that it is silly for religious people to force you to be straight or have birth control because it is "sin," I also believe that you can't force people to disregard their religion. There is no "thought crime in America is there? Both sides have very tangible things to offer, but are too childish to acknowledge that.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Al

      sarah
      Wait until the fairy believers start lobbying Congress to make gardening illegal because it might harm the little, invisible, sprites.

      If religious people kept their opinions to themselves instead of trying to make them apply to all of us through political means then few would care what they think.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Jmom807

      @ Al

      March 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Jmom807

      @ Al

      And yet here you are doing EXACTLY the same thing you blame us Christians for doing to everyone else! Hypocrisy is not just a Christian act, I hate to inform you but so far all I've seen out of the athiets is complete and utter hypocrisy: "Christians want to shove their beliefs down our throats..." gee.....kinda sounds like you right about now! Try the do unto others thing and you might find you get more flys with honey than with vinegar. Goes for the radical orthodox Christians spouting hatred and being very UN-Christian like to everyone else. You believe what you want and I will believe what I want and leave it at that.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  13. Rob

    “We are the last group against whom it is politically correct to be bigoted,” You will always be that way. This is a Christian country, like it or not. Separation of Church and state does not mean removal of Church or religion from state. So you can learn to live in a Christian country or move to an Atheist state.

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

      That's why the rest of us and all the other religions don't want you totalitarians in politics.

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

      Rob, my comment above relates directly to you.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Ed

      You might wish this was a Christian country, but it ain't. This is the most religiously diverse country in the world, precisely because we do have separation of church and state. Many folks came here just for that freedom.

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

      mandarax- It always has been the law of the land in the US. So that is nothing new. Everyone isn't brainwashed or crazy or want to impose religious law. Don't listen to the spin media. Just because someone believes in religion doesn't mean they want to do the crazy things the media would have you believe. For example: If Santorum was elected, he would not do away with birth control. That is just silly, ridiculous media bull. Not true.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Rob

      Ed- I didn't mean to dispel any other religions. Yes, our country is very diverse. The majority is Christian and the majority of the founders were Christian. Many of our laws are based on biblical laws. So yes it is a Christian nation with freedom of religion. My point being you can practice any religion you want but the idea of removing Christianity from the USA is silly at best. They Atheist will say they are against or don't believe in any religion. However, I don't see them protesting against the Jewish or Arab, or Hindu religions. This should tell you which one is the largest majority……

      March 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Christian (ironic name for an atheist)

      The Taliban say the same thing about Islam in Afghanistan.

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

      You're proving the whole point of the rally. The ruling political class from the presidency on down make NO room for atheists among them. That means it's all but impossible to hold high political office in this country without espousing a belief in some kind of god, in particular the Christian god. That means atheists and non-believers, even non-Christian faiths, will NOT be represented at the highest levels because it's become necessary to pander to the religious beliefs of this great majority in order to get elected. See the problem?

      I know in my heart that there's a thousand miles of seawater between what these candidates profess – all these sanctimonious Santorums' and Gingrichs', etc. – and how they actually live their lives. It's sickening. Atheists are simply demanding that religious belief not be a litmus test to office. And when has religious belief ever been a good predictor of post-election behavior anyway ?? Try never.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Al

      Rob
      What if atheists some day make the majority? Would you be willing to move away then?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  14. Mike

    Organized religion is one of the largest problems in the world today. And it has nothing to do with belief in god, it has to do with people gathering together and filling each other with ridiculous ideas in the name of their believed cause. No one has ever had any communication with "god" if there is one, so god clearly isn't the problem. The problem is the crazy people banding together in the name of something insane. This rally, though atheist on it's face is no different than that. As a non-believer I am encouraged that not having a religious preference is no longer taboo, however, rallies like this are in directed conflict with the motives behind atheism. Atheism should promote eliminating religion, not creating an alternative.

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

      "Atheism should promote eliminating religion" Really? You don't agree so you should remove it. Isn't that what religion is being accused of trying to do? I do agree that a rally isn't beneficial to anyone. Does an Atheist really think theists don’t know they are out there or that there are a grown number of people that are Atheist? What will the rally accomplish?

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

      Good point.

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

      It sounds like they want to make atheists feel they're discriminated against. But what part of the law allows that? I know pro-life atheists, anti-gay atheists and so on. Religion "mysteriously" reflects people's personal beliefs and the more closely it reflects their beliefs, the more likely they are to join up.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  15. Atheist In A Foxhole

    Was mortared, rocketed, and ambushed throughout my one year tour of Vietnam. Never once thought about God. Survived just fine, thank you.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  16. supafat

    Wow. All of those people, and such an absense of faith, hope and yes, love.

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

      Boy you must be able to read millions of minds (wrongly). Are you a God?

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

      Atheists have hope, love and even faith. Faith in things based on evidence, which is really confidence that things are actually what they appear to be.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Jesse from KC

      You're as ignorant as the day is long. The idea that athiests don't have hope, or love. We don't REQUIRE a deity to have hope, or love. We don't "Love in the name of", or "Love through" a higher power, the ones I love I love directly, me to them. There is no God there, no Allah, Buddha, nothing. It's just me, loving them for who they are and what they are.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  17. tony

    I won't be there in spirit.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  18. Snorlax

    Dawkins is a liberal stooge, whose relevance is LONG gone.

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

      Any facts along with the empty emotion?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Mike D

      Stop the presses! Some random dude with a silly handle on a CNN comment board has declared Dawkins irrelevant! It must be true!

      March 23, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  19. alcourts

    http://www.Hear-The-Truth.com

    March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  20. God

    I have a secret. Jesus is really Barry Gibb. Hence the reason he is ' stayin' alive'

    - yes a bit dated but it still makes us laugh up hear in the cloud. Isn't that right Maurice and Andy?

    March 23, 2012 at 12:28 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.