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. 1ofTheFallen

    Believing in the Big Dirt Ball in the Sky (Big Bang sounds cooler but same meaning) is not any better than believing in the Man in the Sky. Many of the theroies which we were taught as scientific fact have been proved wrong. The primordial ooze is the worst and scientist gave up on it decades ago. Now scientist say life must have come from space but have no idea how something as complex as the DNA programming needed to start life could even began. So choosing to believe in the Big Dirt Ball vs Man in the sky is not that different except the Christan Man tells us to treat each other with respect. The Big Dirt Ball says it all evolution so the strongest should survive over the weakest. Not very nice. It still comes down to choice.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • mandarax

      Some friendly advice: learn more, talk less.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Patrick

      Except that we have empirical evidence of the Big Bang and not of a god or gods. So your point is wrong at its base.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • 1ofTheFallen

      In addtion the Big Dirt Ball theory has problems since Universe expansion is still increasing and Big Bang says it should be slowing. Big Bang theory is still dirty and needs some cleaning up to make sense.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Patrick

      Big Bang theory does not include a speed. There are other theories about the movement of things in the universe, but they do not have a direct or dependent relationship on Big Bang theory, which is still the core of modern cosmology.

      Yes, we know the universe is increasing in speed due to the nature of space as a field that affects matter.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • mandarax

      ah, but that's the crucial difference, scientific ideas are amended to best fit the data. Religious ideas are clung to dogmatically regardless of the data.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • mandarax

      and by the way, 1ofthefallen, if you don't trust science how do you know the universe is expanding? How do you know the universe changes at all?

      March 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Yes creating, testing, revising, and discarding theories that don't fit the evidence is the exact same, clearly, as imagining up a diety and giving it human characteristics.

      The exact same. You've figured it out.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Anon

      Science is not based on absolutes. Heck the best thing about science is that you can improve theories with new evidence, unlike religion that ends everything with goddidit, that settles it and shut up.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • 1ofTheFallen

      Patrick don't use words like empirical evidence. It just means SWAG. Empirical evidence has been wrong more times than it has been right. Remember the 70's when scientist said the next Ice age was starting. Now scientist say Global warming or Climate Change. Scientist do not even fully understand how the oceans operate in global warming which create over 80% of the green house gases.

      Empirical evidence is not fact it is just observation. Any lawyer whos asks witnesses what they observed at a crime can get very different stories as to what people observed. It's still all theory and guess work. It comes down to choice. What you want to believe.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Chad

      Mandarax, that's where you're mistaken. Religious belief is not "clung to dogmatically regardless of the data." The beliefs are constantly evolving over time (read your history and compare the early church to the Protestant movement of the Reformation and to the evangelical messages of today). As man listens to the Holy Spirit, he is able to better understand the scriptures that exist. I find it very hard to believe that scientists and intellectuals simply follow the data. That's why we have scientists who fabricate test results to match their theories and intellectuals who reject evidence to the contrary of their opinions such as the facts that the universe is inherently rational and that matter follows immutable laws, then wouldn't that imply that there has to be an intelligent designer to everything.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • 1ofTheFallen

      Patrick and mandrax – Now that you have all the answers where did the Big Dirt ball in the sky orignate from? Give me a reasonable answer since Universe expansion empirically emilnates Universe contraction to start Big Bang over and over again.

      I don't have all the answers but neither does mankind. I promise not to call you stupid for choosing to believe in the Big Dirt Ball in the sky if you promise not to call people of faith stupid for choosing to believe in the Man in the Sky.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Remember the 70's when scientist said the next Ice age was starting. Now scientist say Global warming or Climate Change"

      Oh what nonsense. The idea in the 70s that we were heading to another ice age was an idea spouted by a handful of scientists and was not taken seriously by the mainstream scientific community. You got to hear about it because the papers like a good end of the world story.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • What Now

      Chad, you lost me at the listening to the Holy Spirit part and with the part about fabricating science. The really good thing about real science is called peer review. If something is fabricated or embellished, sooner or later peer review will find the problem. Unfortunately, we do not have tape recordings of the Holy Spirit speaking to people to help us understand your ever-changing faith.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Patrick 2

      The main thing that comes to mind is that Science is sometimes wrong, and it is ok with it. When theories are disproven, when empirical evidence proves true or false, it keeps move forward. I like that aspect of science, there is still mystery, and we can theorize, guess, and have "faith" in a way something is, but when there are new developments, those are factored into the equation.

      You could look at the protestant reformation, the emergence of hundreds of christian off-shoots over the years as progression and evolving, but it all comes back to being based on the same beliefs and ideas that I find fallible. I dont really see religion making an effort to grow with knowledge, but more so fighting it (not all religious people, just the heirarchys set into place)

      March 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Primewonk

      " Many of the theroies which we were taught as scientific fact"

      When you start out with a lie, it does not bode well for the rest of your post.

      Scientific theories are taught as scientific theories. And theories exist to explain sets of facts and laws.

      March 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Patrick

      "What you want to believe"

      That is not choice. That is desire. You are choosing believe something because you want it to be true.

      If I cannot use empirical evidence, then you have no printing press or electricity. Empiricism is how it all begins:

      Cognito Ergo Sum

      I you cannot empirically experience the bible, how can you believe what is inside?

      Also, don't confuse scientific theory or legal testimony for empirical evidence. That will get you in trouble every time.

      March 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Patrick

      the Big Bang is something I accept as a logical theory. Current science leads us to conclude that the universe had a starting point, before which there was nothing – no time or space or anything we know of. This is based on the lack of anything detectable beyond the background radiation of the Big Bang that we can detect. We have known the expansion is accelerating for a few decades now, so it could be that there will be a finite end also.

      So I think we have a theory of a non-eternal universe supported by scientific theory. While it may not be finite in our future, it certainly seems the past is finite.

      Also, current scientific theory already has established that something can come from nothing and this occurs in our universe, so that would coincide.

      March 23, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Patrick

      Also, it is not that believe in a god is stupid in comparison to scientific theory. It is just outside the realm of scientific method, so it will always seem unjustified and unsupportable because the methods we use to justify and support cannot be applied to the Man in the Sky.

      March 23, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  2. joey

    To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise ... without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence.
    - Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820

    March 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • mandarax

      But...but...all the Christians promised me that all the founding fathers were Jesus freaks....wait, could they be lying?

      March 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  3. joey

    Of publishing a book on religion, my dear sir, I never had an idea. I should as soon think of writing for the reformation of Bedlam, as of the world of religious sects. Of these there must be, at least, ten thousand, every individual of every one of which believes all wrong but his own.
    - Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Rev Charles Clay, rector of Jefferson's parish church in Albemarle County, Va., January 29, 1815

    March 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  4. Sheepleherder

    What does a religious fanatic fanatic know about lying? They have been lying to themselves for so long they wouldn't know truth from fiction, if it offered them an apple.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  5. joey

    f by religion we are to understand sectarian dogmas, in which no two of them agree, then your exclamation on that hypothesis is just, "that this would be the best of worlds if there were no religion in it."
    - Thomas Jefferso

    March 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  6. anonymous

    I think what Dawkins is trying to imply, is that religion is becoming a gamut of so much of our society. Religion is in our schools, our laws, pretty much everything. Atheists don't want religion shoved down their throats, anymore than any other reasonable human being who isn't a zealot. If you have your religion and faith, fine, believe what you want, but don't get all high and mighty when someone else's view is different from yours. There is no definitive proof that anyone's "gods" exist.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Chad

      Penn Gillette, an avowed atheist, said it best: (I'm paraphrasing) If I believed that I had the answer to your salvation and to your eternal life and I kept it from you, I would really have to hate you to do that. In other words, Christians talk about their faith with non-believers (I don't know of anyone who's truly "shoving it down others' throats") because they love non-believers and want to help them. I'm not saying there aren't people out there calling themselves "Christians" who still fight old demons and patterns of hate and hurt, but those who do follow Christ want to save others not because they get extra stars on their shirt in heaven but because they know what the alternative is to not accepting Christ.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  7. Charles Darwin

    Not only were my ancestors monkeys, some of my current relatives still are.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  8. scott

    It takes faith to believe. It takes faith to not believe. Why do people feel the need to force their beliefs on others, and why do people feel that government should force everyone to follow the morals set down by their faiths? Because they're afraid they might be wrong and will have a painful and/or unhappy afterlife. Since there's strength in numbers it must be better to force their beliefs on others so they feel better about it themselves. My advice, be confident in your beliefs and pray, or don't pray, that others can find the same confidence. Peace will be much easier to achieve when this happens.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Anon


      March 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  9. Marc Parella

    I don't feel like I am with "my brethren" when I am with a group of Atheists. Frankly the lot scares me as much as the Religious Right.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  10. joey

    No man complains of his neighbor for ill management of his affairs, for an error in sowing his land or marrying his daughter, for consuming his substance in taverns.... In all these he has liberty; but if he does not frequent the church, or then conform in ceremonies, there is an immediate uproar.
    - Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-82

    March 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  11. patrick in rhode island

    It cost 300000 dollars to put on this rally. The money paid by the atheists has "in god we trust" on it. Do you think the atheists have a valid gripe? I sure do.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • patrick in rhode island

      Hey they should all recite the original pledge together without "under god" in it.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  12. PumpNDump

    Unlike the mythical Jesus Christ, we know what Caesar looked like and we have a complete history of his life. In turn, general, orator, historian, statesman and lawgiver. We have words written by Caesar himself and words written by both his friends and his enemies. Artifacts confirm his life and death, as do his successors. Caesar established a style of government – and a calendar – which endured for centuries. Evidence that confirms the existence of Caesar is legion – in stark contrast to the utter dearth of evidence for Jesus!

    In an oddly distorted, negative universe Christian apologists declare that there is "no evidence" for their godman's non-existence, as if it should be quite natural to believe in the most fantastic, illogical and unsubstantiated claims unless there was evidence to the contrary. If this stance had any viability, why stop at Jesus? Why not believe in Zeus, leprechauns and the tooth fairy?

    A favourite tack of the Saved is to affect a yawn, mutter "that old stuff again" and impatiently declare that Jesus's non-existence is a 19th century rationalist's heresy long since disposed of by "solid evidence".

    The ringing claim of "more evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for any other person of his day" is followed by a potpourri of ancient sources, as if a list made long enough could disguise the fact that NOT A SINGLE SOURCE EVER QUOTED IS FROM THE TIME OF THE GODMAN.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Marc Parella

      Excellent point! There is a theory that Jesus was invented by a sect of the Jewish population determined to expel the Romans. They didn't have the political or military strength to fight the Romans and their proxy state armies but by inventing "A God Among Us", they were able to recruit followers and engender outrage and opposition. This group became the Christians. As a political movement, it seemed to have worked.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      We can’t prove to you the existence of God by use of physical evidence. The witnesses of the events recorded them in the Bible and those who have been saved can give witness or testimony of their personal spiritual experience. So, if you require physical evidence of the existence of God you are not going to get it, but if you can accept the testimony of multiple witnesses we may be able to help.

      References and or witnesses supplied upon request.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "So, if you require physical evidence of the existence of God you are not going to get it, but if you can accept the testimony of multiple witnesses we may be able to help. "

      So all those people that have witnessed UFO means that it's true too! Wow who knew. Oh and all those witnesses to Santa Claus means Santa is REAL! Yippee!

      March 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • The King's New Turban

      Robert Brown – "...accept the testimony of multiple witnesses..."

      Of old time there was a great king. One day a man came before him and said, "My king, I shall weave a turban such that one born in wedlock will see it, while the ba.stard will see it not." The king marveled and ordered that that weaver should weave that turban; and the weaver received an allowance from the king and tarried a long while. One day he folded up this side and that side of a paper and brought it and laid it before the king and said, "Oh king, I have woven that turban." So the king opened the paper and saw that there was nothing; and all the viziers and nobles who stood there looked on the paper and saw nothing. Then the king said in his heart, "Do you see? I am then a ba.stard"; and he was sad. And he thought, "Now, the remedy is this, that I say it is a goodly turban and admire it, else will I be put to shame before the folk." And he said, "Blessed by God! Oh master, it is a goodly turban, I like it much."

      Then that weaver youth said, "Oh king, let them bring a cap that I may wind the turban for the king." They brought a cap, and the weaver youth laid that paper before him and moved his hands as though he wound the turban, and he put it on the king's head. All the nobles who were standing there said, "Blessed be it! Oh king, how fair, how beautiful a turban!" and they applauded it much.

      Then the king rose and went with two viziers into a private room and said, "Oh viziers, I am then a ba.stard; I see not the turban."

      The viziers said, "Oh king, we too see it not." At length they knew of a surety that the turban had not existence.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Robert Brown wrote, "We can’t prove to you the existence of God by use of physical evidence. The witnesses of the events recorded them in the Bible..."

      Except of course, there are no contemporaneous witnesss to Jesus in the Bible.

      March 23, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  13. Atheist

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


    March 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  14. Angelo

    Our Lady of Zeitoun, also known simply as El-Zeitoun, Zeitun or rarely Our Lady of Light, was a mass Marian apparition that occurred in the Zeitoun district of Cairo, Egypt, over a period of 2–3 years beginning on April 2, 1968. The apparitions were also witnessed by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and captured by newspaper photographers and Egyptian television. Investigations performed by the police could find no explanation for the phenomenon. No device was found within a radius of fifteen miles capable of projecting the image, while the sheer number of photographs from independent sources suggests that no photographic manipulation was involved. Having been unable to produce an alternative explanation for the luminous sightings, the Egyptian government accepted the apparitions as true. (form Wikipedia)
    The pictures are hard to deny.....
    People should also do some real research into Saints and miracles that occured in our times, Padre Pio, Saint Gemma Galgani, Beata Chiara Luce Badano....doctors that researched these Saints seem to feel they are the real thing.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Atheist

      Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  15. Marc Parella

    I am an Atheist and I have grave reservations about Atheists becoming political much in the same way that the Religious Right became political in the late 1970s. Atheism is not a religion or a following. I am have very little in common with organized Atheism. I don't believe Atheism should evangelize – it is not my job to convert others to Atheism. Atheism properly understood is absence of faith in a mystical explanation on the origin of the universe. That's it; that's all there is to it. So to fill the gaps of understanding many Atheists choose different paths and philosophies, and explains why it is incompatible belief-system as compared to religion. Some of these gaps include religious teachings, metaphysical philosophies, etc.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Mike D

      Marc, consider for a moment the amount of sway theisms of various types have over the world, and how destructive they are. Isn't that worth opposing? If atheists don't stand up to these forces, who's going to?

      March 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Marc Parella

      Religion is worth opposing if the tenants of that religion teach hate, oppression, violence, and racism, among other evils. Many of the world's religions do not teach these things. The teachings of Jesus, whether he was real or not, are beautiful teachings – worth study. An atheist can incorporate many of the moral and spiritual values first proposed by religion and yet reject a mystical explanation of their origin, as I do. There are still many mysteries for science to explain, but there are also plenty of things that science can't explain. Religion for some satisfies these answers. Why work to destroy the good found in religion? Atheists need to show they are capable of walking on a higher plane.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Patrick

      Spot on! We don't want to evangelize. We want to normalize – to become everyday people who are accepted and not referred to as we have been on this board.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  16. joey

    On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.
    - Thomas Jefferson, letter to Archibald Carey, 1816

    March 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  17. AJR

    I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

    ~ Stephen F. Roberts

    March 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  18. Bhardin

    HeyZeus – this is not stupid. It is not to declare your believe, it is to state that we do exists and we want an equality and an end to the bigotry. Do you have kids in school? I do and they are constantly under attack for their believes.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  19. gaucho420

    Good job guys, I wish I could attend with you. But to say we don't have equal rights? I'm not sure I'd go that far, then again, I live in L.A. and not Kansas.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Goodnews

    The Bible said that the wisdom of this world is foulness’ with God. Atheist are really blinded by satan and his demons. Check out emmanuel tv and see demons cast out of people

    March 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Atheist

      Why would any rational sane person want to check out that 1st-century Sy-Fy channel? get a grip. And an education.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Bert

      Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      How about you shut the hell up you condescending piece of distended rectum.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • jgthinker


      The Bible said that the wisdom of this world is foulness’ with God. Atheist are really blinded by satan and his demons. Check out emmanuel tv and see demons cast out of people

      Wow, how do you come up with a username of "Goodnews" when you speak of such a spiteful, jeolous, hateful God? Why would you want me to support such a hateful creature? I could never believe that a creator of this vast incredible universe would be such a SOB. Sounds like a spoiled rotten brat.

      March 23, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      does it star Sylvia Kristel?

      March 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
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About this blog

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.