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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. DaMiddleFinger

    Who cares. Just a bunch of people gather to argue with each other. Achieve nothing at the end of the day.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Ken

      LOL, you nailed it.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • God

      Just like Congress.
      SMITE!!

      March 23, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Patrick

      Sounds like Church, except people are allowed to talk to each other.

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

      No, this should help the obesity problem Marching is at east a start.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  2. John

    How many wars has atheist started to try to force populations not be believe in God

    March 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Daniel Jackson

      Most Communist revolutions, actually.

      During the Red Revolution in Russia, for instance, thousands of churches were demolished and Orthodoxy in Russia was banned.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • AGuest9

      After choosing to conveniently ignore the Crusades, the Inquisition and the bulk of the Old Testament (Joshua, David, et al.) The entire religion is based on violence.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  3. Ken

    The Toddlers Big Wheel Club (TBWC) has also gained momentum. After years of suppression, this youthful group has emerged as a formidable force in the areas of pre-school rights and fair-use laws for the playground. Commonly banned from high school areas, the TBWC has sought support from higher faculty and even had meetings with the principle seeking recognition for accomplishments such as the ability to spin out on blacktop, skillful handing of tight turns on sandy surfaces and their halmark skid side ways on demand. "Yes, no other group has made such strides or rallied for equal rights like the TBWC" says the President and founder, Bobby Fisher. He has pledged to skip nap time twice a week and donate three juice boxes to charity to gain support for his small but determined group.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • closet atheist

      Ken, you're clever. It's amazing that you don't use your intelligence to honestly examine your faith and come to a better conclusion.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  4. Brian

    I like to ask why people do not thank god for getting them into the accident in the first place, or hurricane. Thank you god for destroying thousands of homes and killing those thousands of people but having the grace to allow me to live. Its funny.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Ken

      Why blame god? You think he controls every little crack in the concrete?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • blaqb0x

      @ken
      Is god not omnipotent and omniscient? Lookup the dilemma of Good and Evil.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  5. pragmatist

    Wouldn't wanna be standing next to 'em when the skies open up and the trumpet blows. Just sayin'...

    March 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • God

      I WILL BEGIN SMITING AT 12:30PM SHARP.
      Next week I'll be at the Boom Boom room in Vegas for 2 shows each day.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • bppack

      or when Santa and the Easter Bunny come skipping down the yellow brick road (while we are discussing fairy tales).

      March 23, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @pragmatist
      It keeps me up at nigth too!
      That's why I strive to live my life in teh way that will ensure I get to paradise.
      I keep a battle axe with me at all times to I can die gloriously in battle and wake up in Valhalla.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Patrick

      Yeah, Allah may come down hard on them.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Rationalintn

      @ GOD, is that 12:30 eastern? And will you be smiting the entire nation at the same time? Just wondering, I have a lunch date, should I cancel? I'll start praying for your answer asap.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  6. Anonymous010

    I am an agnostic. I think it's within everybody's best interests to try to get along, to that end, here are some guidelines I think will help with that.

    For the non-believers:
    1. Do not go out of your way to inflame or incite the religious. Let them have their beliefs.
    2. Do not remind religious people that you are not over trivial things like someone saying 'god bless you' when you sneeze. That's more about tradition than it is about religion.

    For the believers:
    1. Do not assume that everyone around you is a believer.
    2. Do not preach your religion to people in public areas. Keep it in your church.
    3. Do not tell atheists/agnostics that we're going to hell. We don't believe what you believe, so you're wasting your breath, and we're all more than aware of what your belief system says anyway. We still don't care.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Jessy G

      That is pretty awesome. I think I'll have to FB that.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  7. White

    It's curious to me that many religious people react to atheists and atheism as if they've been confronted with antimatter. Atheists in general don't feel the same way towards religious people. Instead of reflexively condemning an atheist to Hell, or feeling sorry for our unsaved souls, or spewing venom and reaching for a torch, try having a conversation with an atheist. It's not infectious; it's not going to convert you. Perhaps it will strengthen your own faith when you listen to someone's reasoning as to why they believe differently. Perhaps you will come to question what you have accepted without question for many years. If all of mankind had obediently accepted what was told to them without question, we wouldn't be sitting at our computers today. Questions and answers, and conversation, lead to understanding and an expansion of knowledge. There is no one on Earth who cannot benefit from learning more than they know today.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Daniel Jackson

      It's the concept of the vocal minority.

      Believe it or not most people (religious or otherwise) are not busybodies and frankly don't care about you or your beliefs.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  8. Larry L

    As an atheist I see a problem with the march. It's just hard to get atheists as crazy as you need to be to lead any sort of religious protest. We normally have better things to do. Still, I'm sick to death of the bible-thumpers trying to trample my rights to be free from their mythology. I don't care if people choose to worship a sacred goat... just leave me and my family alone.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  9. God

    I SMITE YOU ALL!!!
    (cue the lightining bolts and thunder)

    March 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  10. Gorman

    Ahhh...the unanswerable question of 'is there' or 'is there not' beating the drum of infinite vibrations. The humoor I see in all this is the coniptions we have and the way we twist the informatuion we use to support our belief and state that others are stupid. WE, I am the one with the correct answer and those others...they are all IDIOTS! I like the- 'explain to a blind person the color 'RED' problem. Another good one is 'prove there is or is not aa God'. I also like the 'Can God make a rock so large he cannot lift it" and the one 'how does something come from nothing by accident'. I do not know ANYONE who has the final word on any of these yet we claim WE are the smart ones and OTHERS are stuid and dumb becaseu their attempt to answer such questions is different than theirs. If there is a God, and there must be in some fashion as science proves that intelligent beings can produce life (are we humans not intelligent and able to do that?) it, God, certainly proves he has a sense of humor to have created us in such a way we can ask the questions and then spend our eternity trying to come up with answers we are not capable of answering but fight with each other over. Can you think of anything funnier than that? Let's go to a parade in the name of knowing the unknown and claiming we do and others do not. Sounds fun to me. :)

    March 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  11. Ira

    Belief in a god is irrational.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • nibiru

      Than why don't you join the march of the "band of loosers"?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Marly

      I like that. I am confused though. Believing in God is irrational. I am assuming that it means not believing in God is irrational. I wonder, though, how rational is it to not believe in something that does not exist. So, you must be talking about the 'idea' of God because you have proof that the nothingness you believe in exists. Oh my God, I think that is what some people call God. Now I get it. People who believe in God cannot possibly fathom the nothingness of God and so they praise the greatness of that nothingness we could never know. And, you have the ability to understand the greatness of God is due to the depth of his nothingness. This is getting to Ying/yang for me but it all seems very rational.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  12. Jason

    I wonder how many wars have been started over religious beliefs...

    March 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • An Agnostic

      All of them.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Daniel Jackson

      Actually, very few. Almost all wars pre-medieval were started not in the name of the Pantheon, but because of personal struggles between individuals; during the medieval era, only the Crusades and the counter-Crusades were started in the name of religion (by the Papacy), and even then, the vast majority of wars were fought, again, over personal issues; post-medieval, the only thing I can really think of is the 30-years-war, which really didn't start as a religious war, but because of Bohemia being an idiot.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • holdem

      Not many at all. I can only name 2 wars where religion was a focal point; The Crusades (holy war) and The Thirty Years War. Much more were not in the name of religion; World War 1 and 2, Vietnam, Korea, Falklands, American Revolution, Civil War, The 100 Years War, War of 1812, Persian Gulf War, Napoleonic War, Mexican-American War...the list goes on so quit being naive.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Marly

      Good question. Tricky though. first, we do not have great records of the wars before religion was founded but we were probably complacent good natured old blocks back then. US Civil War, French Civila War, WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam...Falkland Islands ...just to nae a few but we should throw those out- not enough loss of life there to make a difference. Bay of Pigs- nothin...Cuban missile crisi- never came to be. Thousands of warheads aimed at Russia, China...we could frame that I think in religious terms. Can you imagine what will happen to the worlds population if we kill God? No more wars...never....ever...for any reason. No, I suppose we will have tio dea with the Oil God, te Money God, the Rare Earth Materials Gods ...there are so many of them! :)

      March 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Average Joe

      I wonder how many wars have been started over mankind's boundless capacity for cruelty and greed, regardless of whether or not there is a God.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  13. richunix

    Same here, they block me to

    March 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  14. Bails

    well whatever. How's gonna "come out" tomorrow???!!!

    March 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  15. Daniel Jackson

    I don't give a damn about the atheist issue, what I care about is that they're actually letting Westboro into my own backyard.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Jason

      Go egg the Westboro freaks!!

      March 23, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  16. Atheist

    If God created man in his own image and likeness... then why don't we all look the same?

    If Jesus is Lord, then who was he talking to on the cross?
    If he's all powerful, then why allow himself to be killed?
    If he said he was coming right back, then where is he 2000 years later?
    Jesus was a Rabbi teaching his followers Jewish law, so why do Christians hate jews and judaism?
    Why do Christians go on about love, understanding and tolerance, but then turn into bigoted, hateful idiots when their beliefs are challenged?

    March 23, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Bails

      I'd rather rely on my blind faith any day of the week than your constant questions and unwillingness to have faith. Oh and by the way....I don't accuse you athiest of hatred...don't accuse me of hatred. Cause you are very wrong. The Lord that I worship teaches me to love all of his creation. In the end, He will judge you, not me. So get your facts straight before you start accusing me of hatred.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Scrappyike

      Guess you will get your answers after your death.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Brooklyn Boy

      These are all very good, reasonable questions and that is precisely why people of "faith" won't be able to answer them.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • cor

      Wow you're really misinformed.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Stuck in the Middle

      Bails, do you believe in Zeus? Ra? Odin?
      Is this due to your unwillingness to have faith?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Robert Brown

      “If God created man in his own image and likeness... then why don't we all look the same?” We are all human.

      “If Jesus is Lord, then who was he talking to on the cross?” He is talking to Father God.

      ”If he's all powerful, then why allow himself to be killed?” To reconcile us all to God.

      ”If he said he was coming right back, then where is he 2000 years later?” Maybe, he is waiting for you to believe.

      ”Jesus was a Rabbi teaching his followers Jewish law, so why do Christians hate jews and judaism?” We don’t.

      ”Why do Christians go on about love, understanding and tolerance, but then turn into bigoted, hateful idiots when their beliefs are challenged?” Christians are capable of everything unbelievers are, when they are acting in the flesh instead of in the spirit.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • LMAO

      "He is talking to Father God." – They are one in the same LOL! so he's talking to himself. LOL!

      "To reconcile us all to God." – who caused it all in the first place so god is reconciling to itself – pretty stupid god.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • LMAO

      "Christians are capable of everything unbelievers are, when they are acting in the flesh instead of in the spirit."

      Which means they must be in the flesh most of the time and their religion is useless.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Justsayen

      Q: If God created man in his own image and likeness... then why don't we all look the same?
      A: I thought it was obvious, but God is refering to human.
      Q: If Jesus is Lord, then who was he talking to on the cross?
      A: So your saying that in dispair you've never said to yourself, "Good move Mike" (if your name was Mike) or just looked up in the sky when things are bad and said, "why me"
      Q: If he's all powerful, then why allow himself to be killed?
      A: Why do soldiers throw themselves on grenades when they have the power to run away harms way
      Q: If he said he was coming right back, then where is he 2000 years later?
      A: How do you know he's not here. Jesus died at age 30...what if he's 2 or 10 or 20......
      Q: Jesus was a Rabbi teaching his followers Jewish law, so why do Christians hate jews and judaism?
      A: First, the entire Jewish torah is actually part of the Catholic. It's in the Old Testament called Deuteronomy (the book of Moses) Second, ah...since when do Christians hate Jews??? Do us all a favor, do not lump together EVERYBODY that has a cross around there neck, that's just ignorante.
      Q: Why do Christians go on about love, understanding and tolerance, but then turn into bigoted, hateful idiots when their beliefs are challenged?
      A: If you are a, "bigoted, hateful idiots when their beliefs are challenged"...then thats who you always were...as an Atheist you should know that psychologist and scientist claim that your personality is completely formed between the ages of birth and 8 years old...meaning that you are who you are WAY before religion becomes truly relevant in a persons life.

      I know you don't understand this...but don't look now...but Atheism is the fastest growing orginized religion in America. You choose to believe that there is no God because of the lack of empirical data (science terms) the same way I choose to believe with a lack of empirical data.

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

      If God created man in his own image and likeness... then why don't we all look the same? We are in his likeness like a son looks and acts like his father or mother...
      If Jesus is Lord, then who was he talking to on the cross? The Trinity is a false teaching. Jesus and his father are two separate persons. Jesus was the first born of all creation.
      If he's all powerful, then why allow himself to be killed? The father allowed his son to be offered up as a sacrifice so we would realize our sin and have forgiveness thru that sacrifice.
      If he said he was coming right back, then where is he 2000 years later? He is said to have a second coming, a second presence which he has. The starting of his kingdom started before 1914 and he has been ruling ever since. His first task was to cleanse the heavens of Satan and his demons which he did in 1914, then the world took a dark turn since they were locked here on earth with us.
      Jesus was a Rabbi teaching his followers Jewish law, so why do Christians hate jews and judaism? False christians abound. This was foretold. there was to be a great apostasy which you can see in main stream Christendom.
      Why do Christians go on about love, understanding and tolerance, but then turn into bigoted, hateful idiots when their beliefs are challenged? They are from their father the devil and do his works. Jesus reasoned with reasonable people and refuted the ignorant. False christians abound today. there's a church on every corner just wanting to take your money. Jesus said you will know true christians by their works. There works would not include killing in man made wars.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Bob

      "Justsayen", re "I know you don't understand this", clearly you understand neither the questions that were asked, nor your utterly absurd "answers". Furthermore, your final statement is a false analogy.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of religion in 2012.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

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

      Ken, you get full marks for your ability to both swallow and spew the standard senseless religious gobbledygook pablum, but no, those are not real answers that you posted.

      Furthermore, 'sacrifice' cannot exist for an 'omnipotent' being that can e.g. just snap its fingers and pop up a new son whenever it wants. That whole bit about sacrificing Jesus to save sin is an absurd and man-made tale, considering that a real "god" could do the saving without all that hoopla. And that is just to get started.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of religion in 2012.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      March 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  17. Brett

    I remember when several Religious leaders took umbrage when President Obama had the courage to address "Non-believers" in his Inaugural Address as part of the fabric of beliefs that make up the United States of America. It was the first time in history a President has made the acknowledgement.

    Yes, how dare the President acknowledge 34 MILLION American Citizens that make up 15% of the Population. Those Religious leaders remind me of greedy spoiled fat children. They throw a tantrum the first time mommy or daddy dares to give a little attention to the poor straving orphan child huddling in the corner.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  18. Mike D

    I'm expecting greatness when these guys face off against the WBC protestors. They're gonna maul the WBC fools.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Jessy G

      I sure hope not! I'd hate for a rumor to start that all atheist are cannibals...

      March 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  19. John

    Is it true that the peace loving leaders of North Korea, China and Russia are atheist or just communist?

    March 23, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Brett

      Is it true that you're a grown man that believes in the Easter bunny?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Stuck in the Middle

      is it true that Adolph Hitler was a Catholic? Is it true that the first Jewish Ghettos were established by the RCC?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Joe

      You could make an argument that a country like North Korea is really neither. It's a brutal and ruthless military dictatorship (not exactly "textbook communism") that demands nothing less than unquestioning faith in its leaders and a cult of personality figurehead (something that the vast overwhelming majority of atheists find horrifying).

      March 23, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Eric G

      Well, North Korea is a theocracy. The citizens worship the "supreme leader". In China, Buddhism is the most common religion practiced, but religious belief has no standing in schools or government. The government of Russia is a Parliamentary Republic and not communist. About 70% of the Russian population is affiliated with Orthodox Christianity.

      So, your question is logically flawed due to inaccurate statements of fact. Perhaps your post was an attempt at proving a superior position based on your religious beliefs? If so, your argument is based in one of two logical fallacies.

      One: You do not know that your statements are factually incorrect. This is called an argument from ignorance.

      or.......

      Two: You do know that your statements are factually incorrect but choose to use them because you think they support your position. This is an argument from dishonesty.

      In order to guarantee that the rest of us fully understand your future statements, please preface all future posts with what position you base your comment.

      Ignorance or dishonesty?

      March 23, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  20. Crad

    How embarrasing for the real athiests this must be.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:10 am |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.