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Atheist rally continues in spite of rain; students highlighted throughout
March 24th, 2012
05:44 PM ET

Atheist rally continues in spite of rain; students highlighted throughout

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN)– Billed as a watershed moment in the atheism movement, a gathering of atheists, agnostics and humanists drew large numbers of non-theists to the Washington Mall Saturday despite bad weather.

Put on by a coalition of atheist and humanist organizations, the rally was touted as the largest gathering of non-theists in the history of the world. Headlined by a number of high-profile speakers, including Richard Dawkins, the author of “The God Delusion,” organizers said the event shows that atheism is a powerful minority in American life.

“We will never be closeted again,” said David Silverman, the rally’s head organizer. “In years to come, the Reason Rally will be seen as the beginning of the end to the religious right’s grip” on American life.

With thunderstorms moving through the area, rain had threatened to dampen the event. However, Silverman and other organizers said they were elated by the turnout, especially in light of the rain.

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

The idea of thousands of atheists gathering drew the ire of religious groups. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial group known for picketing and protesting at funerals of U.S. service members, were in attendance and chanted at the rally-goers.

In large part however, protests were rare and not aggressive.

Silverman had said prior to the event that the rally would not be an exercise in “religion bashing,” but in a number of instances, religion and the belief in God was, in fact, denounced.

Taslima Nasrin, the author of “Shame,” categorized the Muslim prophet Mohammed as a charlatan, a pedophile and a rapist. A wooden cross was constructed in the middle of the crowd and a sign that read “Banish the 10 Commandments to the dustbin of history,” was hung from it.

An iReporter takes on the Reason Rally

Under umbrellas and ponchos, college insignia and fresh faces dotted the rally crowd.

For many of the students in attendance, the event was more than just a large gathering; for them, it was a coming-out party.

“The reason why events like this help is because of the confidence people get in seeing other people that think like you,” said Mark D. Hatcher, founder of the Secular Student Alliance at Howard University in Washington. “It is important to realize you are not alone.”

Hatcher and other atheists have co-opted much of the same lingo used in the gay rights movement. “Coming out” and “in the closest” are both terms regularly used because, according to Hatcher, telling people you are an atheist is comparable to telling people you are gay.

“Being younger, you are especially exposed to being labeled a pariah when you come out of the closet,” Hatcher said.

Rebecca Cunningham, a graduate of the University of Michigan, said that her freshman year at college was that moment for her. Cunningham was raised in a Christian family, but a few months before leaving for school, she started to doubt her belief in God.

Shortly after arriving at Michigan, Cunningham went to a Secular Student Alliance meeting.

“It helped me come out,” Cunningham said. “It was the first group of people that I met who weren’t religious in some form. They taught me that it was OK; they taught me that I was OK.”

Jesse Galef, the alliance’s communications director, said stories such as Cunningham’s show why his group tries to mobilize on campuses.

“One of the biggest things we do at the Secular Student Alliance is connect them [local groups] with a larger movement that is supporting them and giving them a grass-roots presence,” said Galef.

Jessica Ahlquist, a 16-year-old high school student who won a lawsuit against her city for a prayer banner that was displayed in her high school, was also a speaker at the event.

She touched upon the need for more student groups in high schools and colleges during her remarks. After the speech, she told CNN that students are a critical place for the atheism movement to focus its efforts.

“This community is all about bringing people together and talking about a secular future,” Ahlquist said. “I think that future comes from the students.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism

soundoff (1,305 Responses)
  1. Fabjan

    Just remember, there are no atheists in foxholes. Or when you are looking down the barrel of a gun. When your life is about to end, it's funny how everyone suddenly starts to believe.

    April 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • max

      so you're saying religion is most present when the world is most mad and we are most fearful? sounds like some great correlations, let me sign up for some of that.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  2. Robert

    “Banish the 10 Commandments to the dustbin of history”

    I would be ashamed to be affiliated with a group that believed that stealing was okay. Or that lying was okay. Or that it was okay to be unfaithful to your spouse. Or any of the other things the 10 Commandments mentions. If this is the kind of people these folks are, then I don't want to have any thing to do with them.

    April 18, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  3. jack

    I am a true believer; I believe in reality. I am not stupid or delusional. Delusion is a false belief.
    Delusion is mental illness, source – professor of psychiatry Calf university.

    I you hold a delusional or religious or false belief you are not a true believer.

    April 10, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  4. George Veritas

    One thing I have learned directly from God is that there really is no such thing as an Atheist. The ones who call themselves that are like those who deny global warming. Even given evidence, they still cannot make a mental connection. I have noted in my long and blessed life, however, that even so-called Atheists can instantly become God-aware in the face of enough adversity or fear. My greatest hope for so-called Atheists is that they don't be fools about it in the sense of "Only fool will not change their minds."

    April 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Jack Kieser

      That's odd. I wasn't aware that I didn't exist. Hmm.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Bill Hill

      Would love to see that evidence!

      April 14, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • max

      hm. When I'm facing adversity and/or fear, I generally just try to work up the courage/strength to deal with it myself, rather than go knocking on some celestial door asking to borrow a cup of it. any other brilliant insights into supposed non-existence? by your current logic, a person of faith cannot exist because they simply haven't seen enough reason or body of evidence in support of whatever you'd like to label non-deism

      June 12, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  5. Biologist

    I am baffled by US folks arguing that there is microevolution, but there is no macroevolution.
    Dogs turning into small and big dogs, but not turning into a fish? Quoting Hovind-level failures with diploma mill PHDs is not very smart.
    Microevolution times couple million over vast amounts of time equals macroevolution. The only difference between the two is how much time it takes.
    If a dog would give birth to anything but a extremely slightly different dog, but still dog, this would spell a huge hole somewhere within the scientific theory that is Evolution.
    To anyone who wishes to check on observed instances of speciation, and to send their fabled "kinds of animals that bring forth" to the waste bin, google "ring species". I just checked out also an abridged description of the process on youtube, so you can check the 'tube for "ring species" too.
    I rest my case. Back to work for me.

    April 4, 2012 at 5:05 am |
    • GPC

      "Biologist, I am baffled by US folks arguing that there is microevolution, but there is no macroevolution."

      It would be a lot like saying I believe in seconds but I don't believe in millenniums.

      April 4, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  6. Wolfman

    If you think we believers are scared, were not, except for you. If you people ever read scripture, and kept up with current revelation from God, you would realize you are only fulfilling scripture. The fact that you are starting to reveal who you are means Christ is returning in our (your) lifetime. See 2 Th. 2:1-12.

    April 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Bill Lyons

      another crackpot who knows the end of the world is coming. you're why Christians are mocked, and rightfully so.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • bhigh

      Atheists are avid readers of the scripture of all religions. That's why they're atheists!
      "If you have a e on your bookshelf< you're most likely a Christian. If you have a Torah, you're probably a Jew. If you have a Koran, you're probably Muslim. If you have all three books on your shelf, you're most likely an atheist."
      (author unknown)

      April 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  7. Ali

    Wonderful goods from you, man. [sweet]e6a8‚e6œb5e381aeL'architecte(e4b8ade5b1b1e5ba—new open)e2™a5 | e8›‹e5a0a1e381aepeace e2˜ae & love e2™a5 I have understand your stuff purivoes to and you're just extremely wonderful. I really like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you are stating and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it wise. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is really a tremendous [sweet]e6a8‚e6œb5e381aeL'architecte(e4b8ade5b1b1e5ba—new open)e2™a5 | e8›‹e5a0a1e381aepeace e2˜ae & love e2™a5 informations.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  8. rick cutrone

    i would love to see the christians and all religious people annhilated, that would help get rid of ignorant duechbags i hate you people for trying to force your ignorant beliefs on thinking people. you rub me the wrong way. ive been hearing all this garbage all my life, with your corrupt preachers on tv stealing from people, your stupid tax free cults, its all sickening

    April 1, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • George Veritas

      Rick Cutrone . . . you truly have my greatest sympathy. I hope that given all the "abuse" of you by others that you will someday soon get a slap on your mouth that wakes you up and that God will be looking into your eyes. That would, I truly believe, be a great blessing to you and so many other unfortunates like you.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  9. KateS

    They're lucky all that happened was some rain.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • mandarax

      You know, if your god sat idly by while children were ra.ped, or while villages were bombed, or while Jews were gassed, I don't think he's going to suddenly pull out the big guns for some people expressing their views in a park. I'm calling BS on your wishful threat.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  10. JESUS IS KING

    Its Funny how in this picture. not 1 person looks happy. blessed or civilized. trust in the lord jesus loves us all even these sad humans in the picture.. god bless

    March 30, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Primewonk

      Perhaps the picture was snapped as a speaker was telling the crowd about how fundiots (fundamentalist ldiots) keep trying to force their religious myths into our laws and schools. I know I never smile when I hear about you wack-o nutters doing this.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • preacherman

      You're right – dozens do! That is, if you think smiling means happy.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      I count at least 4 smiling faces, so like your mystical book The Babble, you are full of sh!t.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Prayer for the country

      God keep our land.... prayer courtesy of the Canadian national anthem

      March 30, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Unfortuantely, in Canada we have our own fundamentalist christian assholes who force this crap on everyone. Good news is that Canada is well on the way, way ahead of the USA, to becoming agnostic if not atheist.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Prayer for the country

      God keep our land glorious and free Canada founded on Christ ruled by the right, atheists there as everywhere are totally useless

      March 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • rick cutrone

      jesus was bug food, now hes dust, get over it, loser

      April 1, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  11. rick cutrone

    the generation who is told the truth rather than the standars lies, will be equipped with the right tools to do something about planet earth, in a positive way. mankind needs to get to mars, and nanotechnology will be a big part of space exploration. mankind needs to prepare for any cataclysmic events, such as meteor strikes that could wipe man from the planet. the planet will keep spinning for another 5 billions years; man will end, the earth has much longer. as long as people believe in fake gods, there less reason to find another solar system to inahbit. this is an example of dealing with reality. scientific breakthroughs has propelled man into modernity, not ignorant moronic design, in other words, not fairy tales. mankind ill keep evolving, getting smarter, more capable to survive in the universe. one day, if man manges to free himself from ignorance, man will find other intelligent life, trek across the galaxy, and live to be possibly a thousand years old with the advancements in science and medicine, its not forever, there isnt supposed to be a forever. the country is more secular for a reason: people have better lives, education and intelligence have encouraged freedom of thought, rather than living in the dark ages. if you want to believe in fairytales, you have that right, but we athiests have been in the minority forever and we have been put upon for no good reason. you cant run for president and be an atheist. now, we may have had athiests in the white house, probably kennedy, that pig, but you cant get elected telling people youre an athiest, so theres discrimination and judgement from so called judgemental christians who are rattled when others shake thier so called beliefs, if their beliefs were strong, why would they alwyas be searching for some evidence of god? this is not a duplicate, its a statement, not a comment, mook.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  12. rick cutrone

    the generation who is told the truth rather than the standars lies, will be equipped with the right tools to do something about planet earth, in a positive way. mankind needs to get to mars, and nanotechnology will be a big part of space exploration. mankind needs to prepare for any cataclysmic events, such as meteor strikes that could wipe man from the planet. the planet will keep spinning for another 5 billions years; man will end, the earth has much longer. as long as people believe in fake gods, there less reason to find another solar system to inahbit. this is an example of dealing with reality. scientific breakthroughs has propelled man into modernity, not ignorant moronic design, in other words, not fairy tales. mankind ill keep evolving, getting smarter, more capable to survive in the universe. one day, if man manges to free himself from ignorance, man will find other intelligent life, trek across the galaxy, and live to be possibly a thousand years old with the advancements in science and medicine, its not forever, there isnt supposed to be a forever. the country is more secular for a reason: people have better lives, education and intelligence have encouraged freedom of thought, rather than living in the dark ages. if you want to believe in fairytales, you have that right, but we athiests have been in the minority forever and we have been put upon for no good reason. you cant run for president and be an atheist. now, we may have had athiests in the white house, probably kennedy, that pig, but you cant get elected telling people youre an athiest, so theres discrimination and judgement from so called judgemental christians who are rattled when others shake thier so called beliefs, if their beliefs were strong, why would they alwyas be searching for some evidence of god?

    March 30, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  13. JEN

    I AM GLAD YOUNG ADULTS KNOW THE DIFFERENT BETWEEN FAIRYTALES AND FACTS

    March 29, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 29, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Otto

      NOTHING....fails like pryaer

      March 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Otto

      After I posted the above typo I prayed god would fix it.....failed.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  15. Muneef

    Check link;

    http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/the-salafist-equation-1.996976

    March 29, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • just sayin

      Islam is not healthy for anyone or anything either.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Muneef

      I would have believed you if you were Muslim or some one who understands the true meaning of Islam.

      April 2, 2012 at 5:14 am |
  16. sure

    Yeah..hate begets hate.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  17. False Dichotomy

    Well okay then, Chad. You've convinced me. I've never been to a museum or looked at books or even looked things up online, so if you say there are no fossils I believe you. You're brilliant too, considering you've obviously debunked with one masterful stroke the work of generations of PhD level biologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, biological anthropologists, geologists, virologists, anatomists, geneticists, organic chemists, evolutionary psychologists, ecologists, naturalists, immunologists, and minimally educated people in more secular countries worldwide.

    (by the way, that big dog, little dog quote is direct from Kent Hovind – a creationist felon convicted for, among other things, lying to the government. Funny how you obsessively (mis)quote Gould, but fail to quote the actual sources of your ideas.)

    Your arguments are easily dismantled, but only in a world where both parties agree to stick to honest information. Done here.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • False Dichotomy

      Sorry, posted in the wrong location.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • False Dichotomy

      Don't get me wrong, though. Chad's still a desperately dishonest charlatan in any location.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • mandarax

      I've watched Chad make a fool of himself in debates with various people. It's quite entertaining. He'll disappear for a while and then come back and try to bait people with Darwin and puncuated equilibrium quotes. He's apparently a hired evangelist for Answers in Genesis.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  18. VestigialCraniums

    "Furthermore, the Bible posits a FLAT earth. The Hebrew word used in the original text is "Chug", which means a flat circle, like a coin. The word for orb/ball is "Dur"."

    When Isiah said: "I saw God sitting in the middle of a circle", he saw it through a vision. So I hope that you may pardon him if he failed to use the specific term for it, Galileo either. He used the term "round" not "sphere".

    March 28, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  19. hippypoet

    what exists is real and provable and what is not is not – need there be any more discussing on the matter?

    “Who knew that the devil had a factory where he made millions of fossils, which his minions distributed throughout the earth, in order to confuse my tiny brain?”
    ― Lewis Black

    think about it just for moment! but dead seriously, dwell on it like it was your first day alive not closer to your last as it is now...?

    “I tried to believe that there is a god, who created each of us in His own image and likeness, loves us very much, and keeps a close eye on things. I really tried to believe that, but I gotta tell you, the longer you live, the more you look around, the more you realize, something is f.uc.ked up.”
    ― George Carlin

    isn't it time to move on? Grow up!

    “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”
    ― Richard Dawkins

    March 28, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • UnEvolvedApes

      You're doing a great job quoting those people who failed to evolved as absolute facts. Way to go Hippy!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  20. Qubee

    "Why would your merciful, loving, all-powerful, all-knowing sky-fairy allow infants to die in their sleep?"

    Oh REALLYY?! Tom, Tom?..You ugly and loose thread TW*T! Read all my previous post before making some crap about me and waste some space on this board advertising your utter ignorance and stupidity.

    Your extreme arrogance and superiority complex is overwhelming that pose a great danger to our cause.

    March 28, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Sue

      Actually, Qubee, any reasonable analysis of your remarks vs. Tom Tom's would conclude that Tom Tom really is intellectually superior to you, and that in fact you are the arrogant one.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • uSe

      @Sue

      Just nn case you don't know it yet, utter arrogance and sarcasm is the official trademark of atheists here and we're getting used to it already likewise their erratic and hostile behaviours.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • Qubee

      Sue

      Your sight have been blocked by the wall in front of your face. But if will exert a little effort to look what behinds it you might know who's the real villain.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • rick cutrone

      hi, how about, if you dont believe in me, go to hell, sounds like some retarded california girl, not a god. if god is all knowing, why didnt he put any knowledge in that ignorant fairy take that men wrote, oops, the cats out of the bag... they didnt have much knowledge, they didnt even know about the dinosaurs, so no mention there, and you have morons believing the earth is 6000 years old, but they use cell phones, all the medicine and technology available, yet these were the people, the offspring of the people who burned scientists at the stake, said the world was flat, and thought the stars were heaven.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:26 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.