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. pervert alert

    Stats on the "crowd"
    1% atheist
    1% qu eer
    8 % agnostics
    10% indifferent
    80% just passing by

    March 25, 2012 at 6:05 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Ignorant ass!! You know nothing of what you attempt to speak and do not help the christians out there trying to be decent...people like you give christianity a worse name than it already has.

      March 25, 2012 at 6:13 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Which camp are you in, pervert?

      March 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Stats on "pervert alert": Lying troll.

      March 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      Look to me like atleast 15% qu eer

      March 25, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 25, 2012 at 5:40 am |
    • Otto

      Nothing fails like prayer.

      March 25, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • tallulah13

      Nothing fails like the redundancy of the person who keeps posting this lie.

      March 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  3. Albert

    Let Yahweh and Yeshua save you @ http://yahweh.co.il

    March 25, 2012 at 5:27 am |
  4. David

    The thing that seems entirely ridiculous about his article is to take seriously the claim that people have some fear about admitting they are Atheists. Religion bashing is so commonplace today, especially against anyone who takes the Bible seriously, that it's obvious that the atheists have the biggest megaphone.

    March 25, 2012 at 4:22 am |
    • mandarax

      I disagree. That may seem true in the anonymity of the internet, but try standing up to religion in the Bible Belt. My wife's job was threatened when I pointed out that it was inappropriate to have opening and closing prayers at the Board of Education employee meetings. People were outraged (not about the prayers, but that her spouse would question the role of Jesus in our community). I'm serious.

      March 25, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  5. ahumanbeing

    Christianity is the most successful, well-organized hate-group in human history.
    Couriously enough they are the accusers, their own Satan...

    March 25, 2012 at 3:20 am |
    • Gudrun Ennslin

      No, they are really just a dim bunch of ultramediocre bovines who only achieve evil when some smart person (very rare in Christianity) organizes them to some twisted end.

      March 25, 2012 at 4:07 am |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      – christians hate
      – moslems blow themselves up and a few around them
      – atheists coldbloodedly build gas chambers and purge en masse

      March 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Jake

      Mr. Osama. I take it your gas chambers reference was supposed to be to Hitler. He was raised Catholic. He did what he did with the complicity of the Pope. Mein Kampf containes numerous references to God and the idea that Hitler was to do God's work. There is no evidence whatsoever that Hitler gave up his belief in God during his lifetime. But, thanks for playing!

      March 25, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      "Mr. Osama. I take it your gas chambers reference was supposed to be to Hitler. He was raised Catholic."

      most atheists are! most atheists are! indeed. proof positive.

      March 26, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • tallulah13

      Mr. Osama, if you are referring to Nazis, please keep in mind that the majority of German Nazis were also catholic or lutheran. It matters little what Hitler believed, when those who gave him power were clearly christian.

      March 26, 2012 at 3:37 am |
  6. ahumanbeing

    Tlaloc, the mayan god of rain, was mad because of all these non-believers =(

    PS: Don't worry, Tlaloc is imaginary, just like Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna and Thor.
    No, wait, I saw Thor with the Avengers, he must be real.

    March 25, 2012 at 3:00 am |
  7. dilberth

    As an atheist, I am intrigued by the believers juvenile, wishy-washy prayer rituals. They are like little kids who don't know just exactly what they want. When it's raining, Christians pray for sunshine; when the Sun is out, they pray for rain. Of course, they can never have the Sun shining and raining at the same time. but try telling them that. It's impossible.

    March 25, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • some guy

      not to generalise of course.

      March 25, 2012 at 3:04 am |
    • dilberth

      Sure. Of course I don't have the balls to tell any of them that to their faces.

      March 25, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • dilberth

      That comment at 3:12 is not by me. Someone on this board is using that name. Would the moderators please check this out?

      March 25, 2012 at 3:35 am |
    • Jesus H. Christ

      There are no human monitors, the "report abuse" button does not work, and the naughty word filter can be easily fucking bypassed.

      It's the Wild West here. Learn to like it, to use it to your whims, or get out of town.

      March 25, 2012 at 3:59 am |
  8. Beelzabubba

    Santorum won Louisiana! Hot Damn!

    March 25, 2012 at 2:42 am |
  9. WDinDallas

    Did God rain on your parade? Boo Hoo.

    March 25, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • Oooga Boooga


      Nope, natural precipitation due to a weather system. Inconvenient, but not disastrous in this case.

      Tell us, do you still toss virgins into volcanoes to appease that god.

      p.s. you sound like a pr!ck

      March 25, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • Donna Martin

      No. rain rained in DC today. and then it stopped and then it started again. I'm pretty sure the weather patterns over the mid-Atlantic had a bit more to do with it.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • Whatever

      Texas? You're still around? I thought you guys seceded.

      March 25, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • TING

      Too bad God didn't answer your prayers last year. He certainly works in mysterious ways.

      March 25, 2012 at 2:23 am |
    • There's Texan logic for you

      So every day it rains on you, that means God doesn't like you? Nice thunking, Tex!

      March 25, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  10. lastofall

    It is quite a remarkable thing that the godless do not know that we all have known for a very long time now that there are many unbelievers in the world, and that the unbelieving world makes itself known in many ways. How is it that the godless are portraying themselves as having not been known?

    March 25, 2012 at 1:29 am |
    • Popeferatu

      I bet you thought that made sense when you wrote it.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • Donna Martin


      March 25, 2012 at 1:50 am |
    • b4bigbang

      i think lastofall is making perfect sense.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • b4bigbang

      Then again, I think my rice krispies talk a lot of sense as they snap, crackle and pop at me in the morning. They tell me of Jesus' love, and how I should kill strangers using a chainsaw.

      March 25, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Nurse Ratched

      Time for your meds, lastofall. And tomorrow, lobotomy – which in your case is a minor operation at best!

      March 26, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  11. † In God We Trust †

    † I cummed up with a new identity ta fool you atheists †

    † You can't tell it's the same old me cause you is stupid burn in the lake of fire atheists †

    † We saved ones is gonna enjoy watching you suffer your torture through eternity, cause we is filled with God's love †

    March 25, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • AGuest9

      No, when you can't figure out how to carry off a new ident.ity, it's pretty obvious. Most of us pretty much had "you" pegged quite a while ago.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • AGuest9

      Wait. You forgot the "Period" or "Amen", or whatever you're using with this new name.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      † Of Course I am having my period †

      March 25, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Donna Martin

      do you know that you spelled "coming" wrong. just an FYI

      March 25, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      "Poe's Law is an axiom suggesting that it's difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between parodies of religious or other fundamentalism and its genuine proponents, since they both seem equally insane."

      March 25, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • some guy

      no we got it – it was extremely heavily sign-posted. as for donna martin – we don't know what went wrong there.

      March 25, 2012 at 2:27 am |
  12. Donna Martin

    I'm 45 years old and haven't had a fresh face in YEARS! I was there today, Unless you live in the South you really have NO idea how difficult it can be to come out as an atheist. If I tell my boss on Monday that I am one-my next review will not be as good as my last. I can guarantee it. I am not a heathen, I am a good person without god and you had better get used to seeing people like me.

    March 25, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • AGuest9

      I hope that isn't your real name, then.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Donna Martin

      90210–I get it. funny

      March 25, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • AGuest9

      What??? I mean if you're worried about someone finding out, as soon as someone Googles your name, it will pop up.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  13. layne arnold

    i just love that a large crowd is standing in the rain and claiming to be doing so in the name of Reason.

    March 25, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • mandarax

      so a more reasonable person would, after spending months and thousands of dollars organizing something of importance, would say "oh, never mind. I might get wet."?

      March 25, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Then you would've been thrilled being here in Wisconsin last February and March, when it was cold, windy, and snowing, and hundreds of thousands of people turned out in the name of justice. Rain seems like kind of a minor annoyance by comparison.
      Wouldn't it be nice if we could choose our own weather? Well, climate change deniers think we actually can. They've invented their own fantasy climate and are busy trying to convince the rest of us that it's real. This is just one of many absurdities that can be laid at the feet of religion, which teaches that faith, rather than evidence, is the preferred way of arriving at conclusions.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • AGuest9

      But you'll do it to hunt or fish, though, right?

      March 25, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • Donna Martin

      Yes, I was one of them. I certainly didn't say "wow, looks like god gave us rain today"
      I figured out that I wasn't going to melt and stayed there. sounds reasonable to me.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • layne arnold

      Hell yes I'll do it to hunt and fish and lynch ni . . . to hunt and fish. Yeah.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • layne arnold

      incidentally, that last comment wasn't me. in regards to the initial post, I thought people might enjoy one of life's little ironies, but apparently i credited my fellow atheists with a sophistication they don't possess. learn to take a joke.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • layne arnold

      Then again, my original post just might not be as deep and pithy as I originally thought.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • Donna Martin

      Rain and reason have nothing to do with one another at all, It's spring in DC, we expect rain.. It's what happens in the spring
      in DC
      all the time

      March 25, 2012 at 1:58 am |
  14. unit63x

    The believer who says they are working in "god's name" is like the stranger in the car who says your mom said to bring you home after school. Threats of "meeting my maker" hold NO credibility when they come from a proxy. As an American, I naturally reject the idea of an unchallenged leader. As an Atheist, I take it one step further.

    March 25, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  15. † In God We Trust †

    It's getting too late. Have to wake up early tomorrow for church !

    Good Night.... Our prayer goes to everyone.
    I love Jesus forever

    March 25, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • AGuest9

      Awwww. He made up another NEW name!

      March 25, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  16. Ting

    So rather than healing faithful Christians who have cancer or saving thousands from starvation, God uses his great power to create a thunderstorm to pass near this rally. Nice.

    March 25, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      See that proves us that you really believe in God that he does "not" help hungry and sick people but punish silly atheists with bad weather 🙂 Merci!

      March 25, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • TING

      See that proves us that you really believe in God

      No but I do believe in creationism. I believe your god was created by man. It is sad that you believe in such an evil and vicious deity.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  17. † In God We Trust †

    "All babies are born Atheists"

    How could a baby even think/know about believe in God or not? This shows how silly atheists are.
    Feel bad for them..... praying

    March 25, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Atheism is the absence of belief in any gods. Babies are born without beliefs of ANY kind, including beliefs in gods. Ergo, they are what we call "primitive atheists". Then the brainwashing begins.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Actually atheists are brainwashed and have had bad childhood, that's why they don't have patient of seeing and trusting God.

      "Invisible man in sky".
      God will show himself after this short lived Earthly life.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • TING

      This shows how silly atheists are

      Really? Do some research. Start with Dictionary.com.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • TING

      Actually atheists are brainwashed and have had bad childhood

      Wrong again. After 18 years of brainwashing I learned to think for myself.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      The devil is inside you and you act like 👿 that's why you have no faith

      March 25, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • AGuest9

      "Actually atheists are brainwashed and have had bad childhood"

      Yep, in parochial school. The catholic church schools are proving grounds for future adults who are atheist.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • mandarax

      Actually, I had a pretty great childhood....

      So much for that stereotype.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      actually atheists are NOT brain-washed. their brains are still dirty and impure. thats why one washes ones brain. to get rid of the filth!

      March 25, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  18. dilberth

    Here is a clip which should be of great interest to all concerned. Enjoy!


    March 25, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  19. Mahesh

    @In God we Trust
    I don't think you can make those kind of claims without knowing atheists.

    You did not mention Hitler, though. Good on you. I don't know why others are telling you off on Hitler when you did not even mention him.

    March 25, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Hitler was Christian and half Jewish.... he grew up as Christian but later rejected his faith and became an atheist.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Hitler was a staunch Catholic his entire life and made no bones about it in either Mein Kampf or his later writings to his followers and flunkies. You could look it up, but I doubt that you will. The lie that he was an atheist has been spread, not surprisingly, by religious fundamentalists with no respect for truth or accuracy.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Nopp he became an atheist. Period.

      What about Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc.? They killed HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF INNOCENT RELIGIOUS PEOPLE!

      March 25, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • dilberth

      Hitler was baptized and raised a Catholic. He famously entered into a Concordat with the Vatican to help him kill Jews. He often referred to being a Catholic on many of his speeches. He told his Adjutant General, Gerhardt Engler, "I am a Catholic and I will always remain a Catholic."

      March 25, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      So what he was baptized? Many silly atheists were baptized too but left their faith and became silly atheist.
      Just because you are born and raised Christian does not mean you will remain that forever, until the devil comes inside you and you leave Christianity.

      He was born and raised Christian, but became an atheist later in life. Period.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      I am amused at the way one commenter on this board keeps ending his baseless assertions with "Period", as if that mindless grammatical convention somehow eliminates all possibility of doubt. My friend, I suggest you acquaint yourself with some of the English language's other fine punctuation marks, such as the comma (conducive to chains of reasoning), the ellipsis (for that pregnant pause while thinking), the semi-colon (for when a NEW thot is about to begin), and especially the question mark, something you seem to be in sore need of. Exclamation point.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • AGuest9

      @RichardSRussell, when he uses one of his OTHER names, he always ends with "Amen."

      March 25, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • An inconvenient truth

      Atheists quote Hitler for truth about Hitler ? What is wrong with that picture ? Hitler like all atheists never told the truth.

      March 25, 2012 at 6:01 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Incontinent Liar is a joke.

      There. Truth.

      March 25, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      If Hitler was such a staunch Catholic, he should have mentioned that in his numerous speeches he made in front of MILLIONS of Germans!! Since he made no reference to God, one can assume he was an atheist. what he said to his butler or his toilet cleaner means nothing.

      March 25, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hitler's religious beliefs and fanaticism (quotes from Mein Kampf)

      Hitler wrote: "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.." As a boy, Hitler attended to the Catholic church and experienced the anti-Semitic att itude of his culture. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler reveals himself as a fanatical believer in God and country. This text presents selected quotes from the infamous anti-Semite himself.

      March 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • SPA Knight

      Charles Manson thought he was a prophet of God but in fact he was crazy like Hitler. Try again.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  20. JP

    Not a coincidence that thunder and lightning greeted atheists on the DC Mall. God knows hate when He sees it. More: http://christiandiarist.com/2012/03/24/atheists-are-well-organized-hate-group/

    March 25, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Greg

      Oh yeah JP? And how about those tornadoes that rip through the Bible Belt... seems to me, your "god" hates believers more than non-believers... Sigh... theists can be so silly sometimes

      March 25, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Greg – those are sinners

      March 25, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • AGuest9

      No, it couldn't have been that cold front with an embedded low-pressure system that was marching across the country since early in the week. Of course not. If that were the case, you'd be able to pray your way out of any drought. Texas found out how futile that was last year.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • TING

      Greg – those are sinners

      So God kills his followers because they sinned? What, they skipped out on church? Didn't read their Bible? They had a beer? Mean while a serial killer on death row becomes a Christian and goes to heaven to hang out with his victims. Of course if the victims weren't Christian then they get sent to hell to suffer once again. Really nice religion you've got there.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • AGuest9

      Wow, In God We Trust/Atheism is/Herbie/just lyin, I challenge you to drive out Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky and tell some of those "sinners" that to their faces. Better yet, drive out there with some food, water and clothing for those folks. Make sure you're in the front row in the morning, too. So you can be SEEN.

      March 25, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Donna Martin

      it was weather
      Weather happens
      If your god does exist I think he'd have better things to do. Have fun praying tomorrow. You might do better by wishing on birthday candles by the way

      March 25, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • tallulah13

      Weather is never a coincidence. Perhaps if you studied meteorology instead of the bible, you'd catch a clue.

      March 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.