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Conventions leave atheists asking: What political party represents me?
A voice vote to change the DNC party platform turned to chaos Wednesday night.
September 6th, 2012
03:24 PM ET

Conventions leave atheists asking: What political party represents me?

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – This convention season has not been good for atheists.

The word "God" was reinserted in the Democratic platform after it had been removed. A plan to raise atheist billboards in the convention cities was stymied by opponents. And though there were preachers and rabbis and other religious leaders opening and closing each day of each convention, there wasn’t an avowed atheist talking up unbelief on either convention’s speaking list.

The political lockout has left many nonbelievers asking, “What political party represents me?”

“We are deeply saddened by the exclusion of a large number of Americans by both parties,” said Teresa MacBain, a spokeswoman for the group American Atheists, in an interview on Thursday. “It amazes me that in modern-day America, so much prejudice still exists.”

After word spread Wednesday that Democrats left God out of their platform, atheists rejoiced. “Truly amazing news,” wrote Loren Miller on Atheist Nexus, a popular atheist blog. “The Republicans remain in the firm grasp of right-wing Christian religiosity, and I really don't know what it's going to take to free them from it.”

But the convention committee immediately received huge pressure get God back in the platform. Even President Obama, according to CNN reporting, said, “Why on earth would that have been taken out?” when he first heard of the omission.

In an awkward session that required three voice votes on the convention floor, the Democrats opted to add “God” back to the platform.

For atheists, the Democrats were seen to be taking away a hard-fought victory. “We had 24 hours of joy as we felt (that) finally our government values all people,” said MacBain. “But that was short-lived. The vote last night angered many atheists and left them feeling excluded once again.”

Online, atheist websites and Facebook pages went from upbeat to downcast as news spread of the platform revision.

“Obama was the first president to acknowledge non believers,” Mark Musante wrote on the American Atheists’ Facebook page. “I wish he would stick to his guns.”

Musante was referring to Obama’s 2009 inauguration speech, when the president said, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.”

Beverly Sitherwood, on the Friendly Atheist blog Facebook page, accused the Democrats of “Pandering for power.”

Some atheist leaders used the platform defeat as a rallying call.

“I guess a tiny step was too much to ask for,” David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, told CNN. “This was a clear message to the 16% of the voting population we don’t count. Well, guess what, Dems we do. And we vote.”

Silverman says that 16% of the voting public identify as nonbelievers. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 12% of the electorate in 2008 was made up of people with no religious affiliation, though experts say the number of avowed atheists is much smaller.

While acknowledging atheists, Obama has given platforms to high-profile religious leaders, including Rick Warren, a megachurch pastor who prayed at his inauguration, and Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is giving the final prayer of the convention on Thursday night.

American Atheists’ plans to raise billboards ridiculing the presidential candidates’ faith ended in failure. After the group put up billboards in Charlotte, North Carolina, the site of the Democratic National Convention, last month, it quickly removed them due to “physical threats to not only our staff, but the billboard company as well.”

American Atheists had also planned on a billboard in Tampa, Florida, to coincide with the Republican National Convention there. But American Atheists said that all the billboard companies in Tampa rejected a sign taking aim at GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.

Perhaps because of the Republican Party’s ties to conservative Christianity, atheists tend to be Democrats. According to a 2012 Pew study, 71% of Americans who identified as atheist were Democrats.

“The Republicans who spoke at the RNC seemed more like televangelists than politicians,” MacBain said. “The message was clear from the RNC: Get God, or get out.”

The Republican’s 2012 platform mentions God 12 times, many of which describe the “God-given” rights that the Republican Party says are inherent to the American idea.

Though most atheist groups claim that there are closeted atheists serving as representatives and senators, only one has come out as such.

In September 2007, Rep. Pete Stark, Democrat of California, affirmed his atheism in a speech at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Atheism • God • Politics

soundoff (3,922 Responses)
  1. Adam

    Meh. I'm sure I represent a large number of atheists when I say, "Who cares?".

    September 7, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Keel Hauler

      You do. A lot of Atheists are almost militant. as an atheist, I don't have any more use for them than some right-wing religious nut. I sure as Hell don't need my own political party. I just want the existing parties to make objective, thoughtful decisions with everyone in mind, not along party lines.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Keel Hauler

      When I say "You do", I mean you do indeed represent many atheists in that respect. Just clarifying. :)

      September 7, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  2. Phil

    I'm atheist and I couldn't care less if God is inserted into the platform. Just as long as they don't insert it into my private life and public politics

    September 7, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Byzas1

      well said!

      September 7, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Keel Hauler

      Exactly. You want to re-assert your personal faith every 30seconds, be my guest. Just don't make decisions affecting us ALL based solely on that religion. Romney will.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  3. think4yourself

    As an atheist, I see nothing wrong with respecting the religion of others. I find nothing wrong with a prayer before starting an event or eating. Just because I may think prayer is pointless, I see no harm in letting others partake in something they embrace so devoutly. In the same instance, my expectation is to be respected for my beliefs, or lack thereof. You may pray, but please do not expect me to subscribe to your faith. I may bow my head during a public prayer out of respect of those who feel they benefit from such practice, but do not try to "convert" me. It makes no sense to me that Atheists care so much about eliminating God from anything when there are so many people who believe in God. Just because we know there is no Santa Clause, does not mean that we deny children the enjoyment of believing in such until they come to the realization he does not exist. Let people pray, respect their beliefs, expect the same in return and everyone should be happy.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Imelda

      Well said. I respect your right not to believe.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Rich

      Sadly, your respectfullness seems to be a rarity in most these days. Aggression begets aggression, and whether it's believers throwing religion in the faces of unbelievers, or unbelievers being hostile and ridiculing believers, nothing good comes from it.

      We're supposed to tolerate differing viewpoints in this country.

      September 7, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  4. bxgrrl

    I'm not an atheist, and I don't think every damn speech has to be closed with "God Bless America." It appears they're all cowed by the religious right. WHY? "Good Night and Good Luck" works for me.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • think4yourself

      I doubt an atheist believes in luck any more than an atheist believes in God.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • TTRRCC

      Love it!

      September 7, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  5. CarrotCakeMan

    Is there anything more tiresome than Christianists in the GOP jumping up and down and insisting we adopt their "beliefs"? We know the Democrats are respectful of non-believers, and we need to prevent GOP religious juts from abusing public office further.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  6. Closet Atheist

    Shocker alert... political pandering!!!

    The DNC already has women, minorities, and poor people. Now gotta try to out-religious the right and pull away voters from the GOP base.

    Pathetic.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  7. DEBRA

    BECAUSE NO ONE CARES WHAT THESE PEOPLE THINK.....

    September 7, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • pastmorm

      Well debra, it looks like you do...

      September 7, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  8. footnotegirl

    JJ, if you're an atheist, it's actually very relevant.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  9. Really....

    Why would athiest feel left out... after they have people of faith do their thing why would you want an athiest to get up on stage and have nothing to do but say that all the people of faith that have done their thing did it for no reason and basically be anti religion... With athiest being athiest you are going to eaither have them angry and upset that people have their faith and are open about their faith or you are going to have people that have some kind of religion upset because if you go the athiest way you are stomping on the freedom of speech and freedom of religion by opressing religion

    September 7, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • myweightinwords

      Why wouldn't an atheist feel left out? It was made pretty clear that religion and belief matters, and those without religion or belief could certainly translate that to mean that no one thinks they do matter.

      Why, in a country where we are guaranteed the freedom to believe, or not, as our hearts lead us, must our political rhetoric be so wrapped up in words that exclude so many people?

      I'm not an atheist, and I certainly feel slighted by this need to Christianize our politics. I have nothing against a politician having his/her own beliefs, but the pandering to one side of the religious spectrum needs to stop.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • RJ A

      The point is not that we need someone up their railing against religion, the point is that not a single open atheist is even invited to speak or to otherwise represent what amounts to 16% of the US population. For the record, most atheists are not the hateful people you seem to think they are. We differ about the existence of god and generally only get worked up at the continuous attempts to insert god into a secular government. Remember "render unto Caesar what is Caesars?" Even the Bible preaches separation of church and state. These men are not running to be religious leaders their running to represent the entirety of a nation that has widely varied religious beliefs.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • RJ A

      lest I be attacked for a typo...."they're" not "their" yes I know the difference.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  10. pastmorm

    What I don't get is why Atheists have to be as militant as evangilical christians. They act just like them. Why not be Agnostic? Atheists cannot prove that "nothing" exists after death anymore than evangilical christians can prove that there is "something." Why not find a middle ground and be Agnostic and mind your own business? Perhaps both sides could find a little more peace where the string is not drawn to taut and not let out to loose....

    September 7, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Amniculi

      Because agnosticism makes some allowance for the existence of God. I would not feel that I were being honest with myself I I claimed to be agnostic. You might as well ask a hard-core Christian to be "spiritual" (in its new-age sense).

      September 7, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • pastmorm

      But you cannot prove that there ISN'T a god any more than religious freaks can prove that there is! You're just as illogical as they are. Honesty to yourself is KNOWING.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Amniculi

      The burden of proof does not lie on the side of atheism. You wouldn't ask someone to prove there are no leprechauns. "God" is no different.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • pastmorm

      I think you're grasping...little green men have no place in this discussion. You demand that people believe that there is NOTHING after death and yet you don't know for sure. Nobody does. Your way is no different than that of organized religion.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • BRC

      @pastmorm,
      NO, I can't disprove the existence of a universe crafting being that is outside of our knowledge taht could be refered to as God, but the lack of ANY evidence of its existence can be considered evidence of its non-existence. Even more, I CAN disprove the gods of many religions, and show the glaring falsehoods in those religions themselves. If the religion is false, why believe the god is real? That is why I'm an athiest, not agnostic.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Amniculi

      I don't demand that people believe anything. I just don't want them telling me what to believe.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • pastmorm

      BRC, and yet you continue to evangelize like the christians do. Why do you have to convince me? If you believe that there is nothing after death, then be content with that and stop arguing. Why do I have to be wrong as an agnostic while you still think that the lack of a god coming down to earth proves that there is NOTHING outside of our human experience. Frankly I think that tends toward megalomania. Who are you, any more than freaky Billy Graham, to tell people how to believe? You still have not convinced me that you are right...and why do you need to? I simply asked why you have to be as extreme as an atheist as christians are....

      September 7, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • pastmorm

      Unfortunately Amniculi, you live in the human world. Someone is always going to disagree with you; they have the right to, as much as you do. Until you can prove that nothing exists over something, people will always argue with you if you must post on a board that is here for the very point of arguing. Psychologically, I think that the belief in self annihilation is somewhat disturbing, but if it gets you through the night, then good for you

      September 7, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • BRC

      @pastmorm,
      Reign in the indignation champ. I defy you to find one post anywhere, in any article, over the last year of commenting about every other day, that I have EVER told anyone to change what they believe. I am completely fine with people being agnostic. You asked why people are Athiests instead and I answered. End of post.

      NOW, why do I sometimes rail agianst organized religions in my posts? IT's not to evangelize, it's because ignorant, backwards thinking, vaccous humans who believe in something that has 0 evidence with absolute conviction, even to the detriment of their own ability to apply rational thought, are trying to change MY nations government so that it follows THEIR absurd religious rules. That is why many of us actively speak out against religions- because they affect our lives, and not for the better.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • pastmorm

      LOL! Ok BRC...if it makes you feel happy if I say you're right and I'm wrong, then you can believe that. I don't need to be right...I'm confused as to why you do, but then that's the way of the world anymore isn't it? Good luck with that!

      September 7, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  11. patrick harris

    God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that's getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time moves on

    September 7, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Tom

      From your lips to... oh wait.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  12. HMMMMMMMMMM

    if you don't like it move....to another country.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • sam stone

      if you don't like it, hmmmmmmmmmmer, eat the business end of your sidearm

      September 7, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Amniculi

      USA! USA! USA! Yeah! 'Merica! What a bunch of bull.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  13. am

    Since when did being an atheist become a religion!!? if you don't believe in God don't pray or acknowledge references to God. If you are as enlightened and logical as you think you are then show some tolerance for other peoples belief.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • sam stone

      some are, some aren't. just like christians

      September 7, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • footnotegirl

      But atheists have to tolerate other peoples belief all the time. Is it SO HORRIBLE to ask to be tolerated and accepted in return? To have our existence (thoroughly provable through the scientific method) acknowledged in public discourse? Why must we always be the ones to 'sit down and shut up and be tolerant'?

      September 7, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  14. btechno

    I find it interesting that the religious attempt to insult atheism/agnosticism by calling it a religion...

    September 7, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  15. Keel Hauler

    As an Atheist, I say "To each, their own." In other words, you believe what you want and so will I. But when you start imposing your beliefs upon me through religion-influenced government decisions, we're going to have a problem. Morals in government are fine, even vital, and religion is often a source of many people's moral upbringing. But in no way is it alright to get on a presidential election platform and spout "God this" and "God that" like some theological dictator and expect acceptance from all. Keep your God out of my government!

    September 7, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • am

      I get your point because it is dangerous. However, dont you feel better when someone calling the shots has a moral compass as opposed to someone else that has nothing guiding him/her except self preservation?

      September 7, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Keel Hauler

      You imply, wrongly, that atheists have no morals. I'll stack my morals up against the average Christian any day. Right and wrong are not dependant upon religion. Atheist are not "lost souls", quite the reverse.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Amniculi

      I love it when theists say atheists have no morals. How many people did you murder today with your lack of a moral compass, Keel? I haven't had a chance to get started yet on my daily quota.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • am

      You are right. I apologize for that because when i was an atheist I did have morals.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Tom

      I'm digging the civil discourse people! Restores my faith in HUMANITY. Nothing more, nothing less.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • sam stone

      i have not murdered anyone today, but i took candy from children and kicked a couple of dogs. oh, i so wish i were a christian so i could realize those things are wrong.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  16. JJBABE

    Don't understand why so many Atheist care if others believe in God or not...I sure don't care if you don't believe. No one knows 100% so why does it even matter!

    September 7, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Keel Hauler

      WE don't care what you believe. We just don't want what you believe to be the ruling basis for how we ALL must live.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Ed

      Many atheists don't care what you believe as long as it doesn't interfere with their rights, there is however a movement called New Atheism that answers your question. Google it for more info.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  17. jayh

    It's pretty obvious atheists should not vote republican.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Ed

      A vote for the GOP is a vote to reject science.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  18. sophie

    Obama had to make a political call. I can understand why some atheists are offended. I think it's terrible that they had to remove their billboards. We have freedom of religion in this country and freedom from religion. We also have freedom of speech. As a Christian who follows Jesus' teachings I believe that if we are able to talk about of beliefs, go to church and worship freely, they should be able to share their beliefs (or lack of belief) freely as well. The fact that they were threatened goes to show that if we let religion run rampant in our country, we will loose the very important separation of church and state that protects us from turning into a theocracy.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Amniculi

      Finally! A Christian with some sense! Welcome to the discussion.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • Proud Atheist

      Very well said Sophie! I have never posted before, and your comment made me want to sign in and post.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Ed

      Your open, rational mind is a breath of fresh air.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Liz

      Sophie – you got it all correct about the billboards and the right of atheists to discount religion/God, etc. However, our country was founded on the Judeo-Christian ethics and our money is a clear reminder of that (in God we trust), prayers before Congress, etc. But there should be no place for those who threaten harm to atheists or their freedom of speech, advertising, or whatever.
      Let everyone have their say without so much anger and hate. I don't think faith-based comments will ever be completely out of speeches if the speaker is a person of faith. Either it's part of who you are, or it isn't. I wouldn't be offended if an atheist politician left out any reference to faith or God or religion. Let's make room for all thought and debates.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • BRC

      @Liz,
      1) "our country was founded on the Judeo-Christian ethics "- No it wasn't. This nation was founded on certain core principles (independence, freedom from tyrany and control, personal responsibility, a foundation of citizen driven law, and the ability of all to come together and works as one to defend the common good). Some of the values, and the personal moralities of the founding fathers are the same as those espoused (though in my opinion not always followed) in Judeo/Christian techings, but none of them came from Christianity or Judeaism. All of those principles existed outside of and in many cases before anyone ever even heard of Jesus, or cared about Abraham. So no, it doesn't matter how strongly you're opinionated to make it so, this Country is not founded on Judeo/Christian beliefs/morals/ethics. It is founded on principles that resemble them, and yet are so much better.

      2) "our money is a clear reminder of that (in God we trust)" wasn't added till almost 100 years after the nation was formed, not a founding aciton.

      3) "prayers before Congress" wildly innapropriate actually, what type of prayers? What about those Congressmen with different beliefs? How is that NOT a violation of the 1st ammendment?

      Other than those 3 points I actaully pretty well agree with you.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  19. HMMMMMMMMMM

    "I wish he would stick to his guns"......now you are seeing the real obameeee.....he looks at the percentages and goes with it...sorry but your a lower percentage right now......this is our politics in this country

    September 7, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  20. jj

    This doesn't deserve a story line. There are much more relevant issues today.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • dpcfoh

      And there are many stories to choose from on CNN and others that probably address those issues. Just because you aren't interested in the story (which makes me wonder why you clicked on the link other than to tell people that you aren't interested in the story) doesn't mean that other people aren't.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:04 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.