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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. Arthur Paliden

    Speaking of Intelligent Design, IC, what is so 'intelligent' about putting the sewer outflows in the middle of the playground?

    March 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  2. f. carter

    Here comes a guy from some Island and joins Stalin and the rest of none believers who all of sudden who is refreshing the idea of no God. sooner or later Richard has to have some kind of church or corporation to sell his message, next he will run for president or pope, poor guy like to know why he left the English Island !!!!!

    March 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • SeinFeinnFun

      You're just not very bright, are you?

      March 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • marvelous

      so Great Britain is just "an island"??? What kind of idiot are you? Oh-let me guess-one whose ancestors probably came from that "island" just as our founding fathers did. Your inability to write a coherent sentence speaks volumes about what kind of fool you must be....under educated zealot.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  3. SconnieGuz

    It would make way more sense to worry about what happens when you're dead, when you're dead.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      too late

      March 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • James Kimble

      The sad part, is whether you are a believer or a non-believer, once this body dies, you are alive forever, either in Heaven or in Hell. Forever. Accept God's gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and you'll never have to worry again.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • starman

      \\The sad part, is whether you are a believer or a non-believer, once this body dies, you are alive forever, either in Heaven or in Hell. Forever. Accept God's gift of salvation through THE FLYING PINK UNICORN and you'll never have to worry again.\\

      March 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • John

      @James Kimble There are more paths to afterlife paradise. If you put your faith into Hugh Hefner, you will spend eternity on your own personal island of gorgeous naked playmates who will fulfill your every desire. So you keep your Jesus and spend all time mindlessly praising Him (on Earth and in "Heaven") and I will have my own fun.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  4. Byrd

    With proselytizing fundamentalists on the one shoulder and proselytizing atheists on the other, the middle road after a quick brush-off of both shoulders seems the preferred path to me.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      The middle is the broad road.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • SeinFeinnFun

      The road of "no convictions".

      March 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  5. Richard Dawkins is their god

    How can you fall for that ?!

    March 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • John

      Atheists have no Gods – durrrr. But hey, at least Dawkins is real. You guys fall for pretend friends!

      March 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • sophion

      at least dawkins is real. the bible god is nothing but paper.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  6. Ken

    I have no issue with people who believe in a "God". I have a problem with people who believe in organized religion!

    March 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Chris Synfield

      I have a problem with people who think their god is the only one, and they are duty bound to force him down everyone's throat.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Primewonk

      I have a problem with religious people who think their version of a god is in charge of my country, and want to put this god's laws into our secular laws.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  7. DD

    If anyone needs proof that God does not exist, one need look no further than the actions of those who claim to believe in him.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  8. Morgan

    People in theistic religions have to employ a lot of "lah-lah-lah-lah, I can't hear youuuu" to ignore their cognitive dissonance. Me, I value my critical thinking skills. I like having a world view where I am responsible for my own actions – where there is no destiny, fate, or eternity – where the one life we know for sure that we have matters. Reason and logic, action and love.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  9. Rich

    Atheism is a man made religion. Everyone should get rid of religion and get a true relationship with God through Jesus Christ

    March 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • SeinFeinnFun

      Lol@ Rich.
      What a clueless wonder.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Poor

      So god told you to worship him in the bible, therefore you think it is true. Well you also believe in God because of the bible. Thats circular logic. Literally nothing makes your religion any more reasonable than any other religion. They all have holy books supposedly written by god.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • God

      God is a fictional character in a story that somebody forgot to tell everyone else that it does not exist.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Fry

      Not sure if troll or just very ignorant...

      Atheism is in no way a "man made religion". Every single part of that is wrong.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Rich

      Atheist also has books they adhere to, books on the theory of evolution and their own religious symbol which is a fish with legs. And now atheist have a there international convention to spread atheism

      March 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • huh?

      uh, all religions are man-made genius. Even most theists will concede that. I actually believe in God but that's one of the goofiest statements I've read in a while. And while you fail to comprehend why your statement is false, the other interesting thing is that you show your bigotry in that you imply that only Christianity is legit.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • James Kimble

      An atheist looking for God is like a thief looking for a cop.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • John

      Atheism is a lack of a religion. You wouldn't say my lack of owning a Porsche and Ferrari is a sports car collection. Christianity is a man made religion. Any "relationship" with an invisible, intangible thing is a religion and no different than the "relationship" Muslims have with Allah, Scientologists have with Xenu, or the homeless man downtown who talks to the sky.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Chris Synfield

      No, man created the gods/god in HIS image, and god, being a gentleman, returned the favor.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

      Most monotheistic religions preach that their god is omnipotent and omnipresent. Most monotheistic religions preach that their god is compassionate and cares equally for all men.

      Why is it that in these monotheistic religions the prophet send by an omnipotent, omnipresent, compassionate, caring god is sent to one small group of people, in one place for a relatively short amount of time to the exclusion of all others?

      Why; because religion scripture was created by men to control men.
      Open your heart to his noodly appendages.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  10. Atheist

    To all you Christians who are so convinced that your god and your religion is the only way:

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

    Your religion is a dime a dozen.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • James Kimble

      Not really. It cost Jesus Christ his life. He did that willingly for you. You can't place a value on that.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • starman

      There was a true God in history who was born on December 25th had a star in the East and was adorned by 3 kings. He was a teacher by the age of 12 and by the age of 30 had his ministry/baptized with 12 disciples. This God was Horus... Egypt – 3000 BC (does this sound familiar?)

      March 23, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • John

      @James Kimble No one dies for anyone. And if your God likes to needlessly torture a person just for kicks, what does that say about your God? You can keep your God, my morals are superior to it.

      BTW, you're brainwashed.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  11. Fabjan

    Here's the problem. If Christians are right, then Atheists will spend eternity regretting their situation. If Atheists are right, no one will ever know about it. Given that eternity is such an incredibly long time, I would "play it safe" and give religion the benefit of the doubt. You never know.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • SeinFeinnFun

      Which means you have zero convictions in life. Not to mention you'd be worshiping a god not even remotely worthy of it.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Mike D

      That's Pascal's Wager, and it has been so thoroughly discredited as a philosophical viewpoint it's barely worth a response. All I'll say is if I am wrong in my atheism I'm sure Buddha will forgive me.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • OldSchool

      That is an incredibly flimsy argument for deluding yourself with myths and fairly tales.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Atheist

      Pascal's Wager is a sucker's bet. How do you know you've picked the right god? Duh.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      you are also skipping the 3rd possibility......both are wrong, there is a god but it isnt the one you are worshipping. I think you had better start worshipping them all just to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Poor

      If Christians are right, then God will know people only believe in him because of selfish based fear, and send them to hell anyway. Plus, based on your logic, it is equally likely that any other religion is God's religion. So playing it safe would involve being every religion.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • God

      Taking pascals wager into consideration, why don't you worship all man made gods and then make up your own just to make sure you are more certain that you are believing in the correct god.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Wes

      You realize that you can't just say "I believe in God just in case there is one" right? You're supposed to actually believe. Besides, it's HIGHLY unlikely that any religion is right (there are 10 major religions with hundreds of sects). If there is a God at all, I doubt he is swayed by prayer or attendance.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • John

      @ Fabjan

      Hey, how does one force oneself to believe in something? You either do or don't. Also, how do you know you're believing in the correct God? If I was made by an omniscient creator, and am an atheist, why should I go against His wishes and pretend to believe in something I don't? Also, isn't living a lie based on bronze age BS pretty pathetic?

      March 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  12. SconnieGuz

    If I came out telling you to believe what my imaginary friend was telling me, you'd think I was crazy. So what does that make you relgious people?

    March 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • John

      I would say they're nuttier than a tub of Baskin Robbins pistachio and almonds!

      March 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  13. sophion

    the God of the bible is an Atheist

    March 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • clarify

      Now there's an oxymoron:)

      March 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  14. al in memphis

    Isn't it great that God give us the ability and freedom of choice to not believe in His existence. Now if my overall goal was to have you live a life totally separate from God and die without receiving His free gift of salvation, where would I start - how about not believing God exist.
    I respect everyone right to choose, but trust me on this one - no one ever dies an atheist. We all die the same way, either accepting God's free gift of salvation or rejecting God's free gift of salvation.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Morgan

      Presuming that you "no one dies an atheist" is sick. Stop denying who we are. I don't question your right to believe in comforting illusions; stop denying my right to use logic and reason.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • starman

      You were born an atheist, at that point, depending on where you were born and what religion your parents are, you become a religionist. Now, there are 10,000 actively worshiped religions in the world so you have at ask your self, was I born into the right religion? Why, because every other religion says the same thing "I am right and you are wrong" and they feel that in their heart just as much as you do. So, what if you just happened to be raised in the wrong religion, the wrong God and just know no better? You best hope you got luck.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Eric G

      Please provide any evidencial support for your claim that your god exists.

      By the way, I will die an atheist.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • marvelous

      Really?? How on earth can you be so sure??

      March 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • SeinFeinnFun

      Another weak, pathetic simpleton who can't make sense of the world without a magical sky daddy...and thinks no one else can either.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • C'mon

      al in memphis,

      Why on Earth would I trust you? You can barely string words together into sentences... and you repeatedly chant that redundant "free gift" thang... as opposed to a "gift" that you pay for?!

      March 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Ryan

      Sorry, I'm calling BS here. "Nobody ever dies an atheist." Really? You seriously believe that tripe? There's being totally clueless and then there's being whatever you just became an example of. I don't know if there's even a word strong enough for it yet!

      March 23, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • marvelous

      C'mon-you made me laugh! Thanks!

      March 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  15. shawbrooke

    Equality? We know they don't mean that, because atheists have more than got equality now. Atheists get media coverage way beyond the proportion of the population they represent, and a pass on pretty well everything. This conference for example – where are the media comments running it down, like the media does to pretty well every conference of people of faith? Where are the negative comments about one person funding half the cost? Who could miss the presence of atheists in the public schools? Really.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • SeinFeinnFun

      You're just not that bright, are you?

      March 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Poor

      Yeah who would miss them? We mine as well kill them off now since none cares. Why do people wonder how the holocaust could have happened? Its obvious.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • deuce

      i can follow what you are saying up to about the fourth sentence. At that point it becomes very difficult to tell whether you are supporting atheists not. also what is the problem with someone using thier own money to support a cause they believe in? as to that thing about schools it has no point. do you mean there are too many atheists in schools or that they go to schools? please be clear if you are going to try to make a point like that.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • starman

      You are playing the "My religion is being persecuted" argument. You are telling a group that makes up 10-20% of the us population and by studies shows that religionst hate them even more then gays that they are the persecutors... funny... That's like blaming African Americans in the 1950's for "getting all the attention".

      March 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • clarify

      Starman, have you not seen the comments on here? The nasties are vastly coming in the responses from atheists. Not to say that there are no believers who indulge in the same behavior, but the claim of hatred is a two-way street.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • John

      @clarify I don't see hate, I see ridicule. And ridiculous beliefs like religions should be ridiculed.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  16. Paul

    I find it so sad that people actually badmounth God. If you do not believe, say it. If you insult and and hate something you do not understand, then you are like the ignorant romans laughing at what they do not understand.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Atheist

      Atheists badmouth religion, not a god they don't believe exists

      March 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • YBP

      Religion has a very violent history with millions and millions of casualties. Wars are still being faught because of it. Terrorism. Even bullying. All rooted deeply in religion. Everyone should learn more about it and speak out against it. Athiests understand these beliefs quite well, better in fact than the so-called believers do themselves. Many of us were once taught to believe. We've taken it very seriously, again, moreso than the faithful themselves. We've looked into it. We've investigated it. We've studied it. We've recovered from it because it is a very costly and lethal hoax, and as Dawkins puts it, "a delusion."

      March 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • jake

      no one is "insulting" or "hating" "god." the problem with you theists is that you try to cram your religion down other's throats (christians are the worst) that’s what we “hate.” but now that the atheists are gaining a voice you are accusing us of the same thing – proselytize.

      think about it….
      theists seem to need to proselytize – atheists generally keep their views to themselves.
      theists try to inject their beliefs into politics – atheists want to keep your religion out of politics.
      theists need the threat of a vengeful “god” to extract correct behavior – atheists just behave.
      theism has caused millions of deaths over the centuries – atheists have never organized a “holy” war.

      there are more examples, but I think you get the picture.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • John

      I understand God perfectly, which is why I reject Him. If your all powerful deity wants to resond to my badmouthing, He can come down here and BRING IT ON! I know Tae Boe! Waiting... still waiting.... he must be shy....

      March 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  17. Saboth

    I'd come out too, but I'm more of an Agnostic than Atheist. Why? I've seen no proof of anything, simply various books of fables written by humans.

    One thing I recall was back when I was a teen, a girl asked me about church and I said I don't go and I am not religious. She couldn't understand it, because I was moral and nice she said.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Edwin

      To people who get their morality from a book or a God, it is hard to understand that some get it from an internal sense of right and wrong.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • OldSchool

      You are an atheist because you are not a theist, it isn't very complicated.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Poor

      Same here yo.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • starman

      Most "atheists" are technically "agnostic". Mainly because a lot of us follow the scientific method which means were are ever skeptical and demand evidence. If proper evidence is provided, we form a theory and believe it. Religion simply has no evidence so we don't believe it. Now, if God came down and turned my monitor into a boat and showed me how the universe was created, I would say "praise the lord". to while I am an "atheist" I still see that their may be a thing out there defined as "God"... but the chance of that in my mind is .0000000000000000000000000000000000001%

      March 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Erik

      Being an Atheist is stating you don't know what is after death. Being an Agnostic is saying you will choose a Religion on your death bed just in case. Or in otherwords: A Religious person "knows without a doubt" what happens after you die, an Atheist has no idea what happens after you die but "believes" that there is no Magic afterlife with an imaginary friend, and an Agnostic has no belief of anything and will not make a choice, just in case there is a god, the Agnostic thinks they could somehow fool that god into thinking they were a believer all along.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Wes

      Erik, you're close, but not quite right. I consider myself agnostic because I don't follow a religion and I don't think there is proof either way that there is or is not a god. I lean more towards there not being one, but I don't feel like there is conclusive proof of non-existence. I will not "pick a religion on my deathbed". I believe when I die I will simply cease to exist, and I'm ok with that because I won't exist to know any better. If there happens to be a god or an afterlife, I don't think I will have a problem with that either.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  18. joey

    Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

    March 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  19. canuk100

    Dawkins might be a radical extremist on atheism but at least he is trying to put facts in to the conversation. Religions are an artifact of war, proffered and promoted as method to rally people around a cause, nothing more. For all the do-gooders who wear this mantle like a badge of honor, coming to grips with the idea that there are people who can a will 'do good' because its the right thing to do is hard to take. Given the astounding level of hypocrisy in religious concepts and actions of those promoting them; its about time the educated thinkers spoke up. You can be intelligent and do humanity a service; without needing to dedicate the work to a cause.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • f. carter

      science and tell you that poison will kill, but it can not tell you whether is good or bad for you....science has no morality the thing with a atheist!!!....it reduce you to the same level of an animal, and makes it easy for them to kill you with no conscience cause there is God, to make you walk the line

      March 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • marvelous

      F. carter-you are clearly an idiot....your post makes no sense!!! Go back to grammar school & learn to put together a coherent sentence, THEN come post all your nonsense in a way in which people with intelligence can understand!

      March 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  20. relians

    be human, go humanist.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:02 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.