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

    The reason they are left out is because we are not advanced enough as a society. It is not the right time. At the moment, something as trivial as gay marriage is still a major election issue. That just goes to show how backwards we still are. All these religions should be ancient history, but we are still living in the dark ages in many ways.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • MasterWooten

      Well Adam you're free to leave America. Get packing!

      September 7, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  2. Dyslexic doG

    if you are wondering why athiests and agnostics comment as vitriolically as they do on this site, check out au . org which is a site devoted to the first amendment and the separation of church and state.

    many christians (but by no means all) in this country are behaving like the taliban and trying to change the laws and education to force the christian religion down everyone's throats. this has got to stop.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • JayneQP

      You are perfectly allowed to have your say. You should absolutely have one of your own run for office. It will be a nice change of pace. But see if you can be the better man...if you can refrain from dogmatic insults (religion is mythology with no basis in fact, etc.). See if you can get there without insulting the majority of the country. Christian politicians are in office because - whether you like it or not - 86% of this nation considers itself Christian (I am not one of them), and this is a Democracy where majority rules. You feel left out, because you are left out. You count about as much as the 8% of us who are strict vegetarians and want to see the meat industry closed down.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Maria in Abq

      Atheist feel left out now? Wait 'till the end of times. Miserable, lonely people.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • boh1066

      Very well said, JayneQP.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  3. anon

    Everybody has their fringe groups. The atheists shouting and looking mean, nasty and hateful, are really no different then the creepy Ron Paul supporters at the RNC. They are actually somewhat similar in religious ideals because BOTH groups think that religion ought to be kept out of laws, and the govt.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Shirogami

      The government is of the people and should be inclusive. That inclusiveness should pertain to religious tolerance. Now, can someone show me all these supposed laws legislating religion?

      September 7, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  4. Brooklyn Boy

    Unfortunately, in a close election, both parties feel they have to pander to the religious. That's what all this rhetoric is really all about. What they don't realize, however, is that the nonreligious is one of the fastest growing groups. There are already at least as many nonreligious as there are baptists in this country.Personally, I would hope that candidates might one day be elected on the basis of some rational criteria rather then there profession of belief in one imaginary man in the sky or another.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  5. saviour

    Governments spend millions on religion each year and somebody should put a stop to it. That money could be used for so much more and provide real benefit to those who really need it. Atheists won't have their say about how that money is spent for a long time yet, but time is on their side. No good has ever come from religion, only thousands of years of bloodshed.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Shirogami

      Proof. That atheists make ignorant statements too.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • boh1066

      That's quite a statement; "No good has ever come from religion." Really? NOTHING good? EVER?

      September 7, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  6. Ed Pokorski

    Since atheists want tom know who represents them I will give them God's phone number. They call but I doubt if there will be any answer.....

    September 7, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  7. Dyslexic doG

    Stephen Roberts said it perfectly:

    “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.”

    September 7, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Ed Pokorski

      You sound like a true Muslim ; love, change or DIE!

      September 7, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Dyslexic doG


      September 7, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • TexTheist

      Or a Christian: love, change or go to hell.....

      September 7, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  8. Just sayin'

    Atheist do not "lack" anything, just as a person who does not believe in the Tooth Fairy lacks anything. Instead of saying that atheists lack belief, it should instead be stated that non-atheists have belief in something that lacks evidence. Perhaps the correct phrase for religious folks should be "fact-less wish-thinkers".

    September 7, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Dyslexic doG


      September 7, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Sarcastro

      Perhaps the name for folks like you should be "Arrogant, close minded, hypocritical jerks".

      Seriously- what grade are you in that you think name calling has any place in a discussion? What worldview makes you so sure of yourself that you feel you have the right to mock others?

      I guess we were raised differently. I don't deride others for their beliefs, what they believe is fine with me.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • catholic engineer

      "Perhaps the correct phrase for religious folks should be "fact-less wish-thinkers". Atheists have made their minds up what "evidence" for God is admissable, and then closed their minds. Using your methods, you will never find God. God does not exist as other things exist, and so is not numbered among the things of the universe like a tree, rock, or atheist. God does not possess the property of being – He is rather the source of being. Consequently, God is closer to you, Just sayin', than you are to yourself. No wonder you can't find evidence.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Sarcastro "I don't deride others for their beliefs, what they believe is fine with me."????

      I have been reading your posts for the last half hour and you have been doing nothing but "deride others for their beliefs".

      Delusional on so many levels!

      September 7, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  9. lover of freedom

    Look I don't believe in the floating cloud man nonsense either but I don't expect either political party to give us a nod. doing so would alienate the majority of their party members. the republican party is generally conservative and while I am fiscally conservative, I can't imagine voting for romney because of his crackpot beliefs (anti-abortion, anti-equality). and the democrat party has to talk about god because the majority of their people want them to and if they don't the republicans will attempt to steal voters by saying – see, they don't believe in god.

    we're on our own politically. yes, what we believe is correct and makes the only logical sense but don't expect any political backing. i'd be proud to serve our country but i know i'd never get elected for the very reason that this article discusses.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • maf5454

      I agree withyou my friend. I have stated in the past I think an atheist will be the last minority to be elected to the highest office in the land. It is a shame too, we would be beholding to no God or made-up belief system, we would govern by logic, fact and science.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  10. butwhy

    Who's idea was it to leave God out this year, and why? That's one question I couldn't find answered. Right or wrong, this may well cost the democrats the election. I don't think even putting god back into the platform will help. Kind of like if chick fil a had totally backtracked (which they DIDN'T) and said they were wrong. It would have only made it worse on them since there would be no end to the hoops they would be expected to continue to jump through. Same thing with this. Although I haven't read yet about anymore additional hoops.

    That's the problem with Republicans, they always hold back too much and never get QUITE nasty enough. Oh and conservatives are always apologizing.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  11. Dyslexic doG

    “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 Roberts

    September 7, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  12. Shirogami

    I don't watch baseball any more. I feel left out by the conventions. 🙁

    September 7, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  13. Linda Shinn

    I firmly believe that the percentage of "athiests", or "nonbelievers" is much, much higher than anyone relializes, just as the number of gay people who exist is. I also firmly believe that the majority of us, just like the majority of the gay individuals in this country and in fact, in the world, are not ever counted, as we all do what the majority of the people in my family who do not believe have done for their entire lives, they hide, and pretend to believe. Religous people have been in positions of power for a long time, and they are our neighbors, and in our schools. The costs are just too high for most nonbelievers to risk "coming out of the closet", just as they are for most gays. It is a shame, because we allow the religuous people to behave as if they are the majority, when they may not be, at all.
    I have nothing at all, against religous people speaking and being represented at these conventions, and, in fact everywhere. But it is a real shame that a very large portion of our population are not represented, because the religious want to pretend that we are a very small and insignificant number of individuals, and the majority of us are too afraid to stand up and be counted. Doing so, results, just as it does for gays, very harsh consequences, not just for ourselves, but also for our families and children. Most of us, remain quiet, to protect our families, who we know will be judged with us, to be "Horrible Things", as my five year old was told he was, long ago, by an older woman. We might be brave enough to stand up and suffer the "slings and arrows" of those who often seem to think that if we are not belivers, then we must be "demonic", which I have been called by some religious "friends" when they were told, ourselves. But, we often simply cannot deal with knowing that our families and children, will be judged with us, and often told they are horrible, and other people's children, who they had been friends with told that they, "cannot play with them.", for fear that they, or we might "corrupt" their children. I have sometimes thought, that, IF we were ALL able to find the courge to "stand up and be counted", and to say to all of the government officials, just as some gays have, "We are here, and we vote. And we will vote for those government offcials who treat us with the same respect and dignity, that we do all of the religous individuals."
    And, we need to treat all of the religuous people with complete respect, if we expect to ever be treated with any kind of respect in return. The ridicule, disrespect, and hatred that we show toward those who believe, will just give them all exactly what they need and want, to use against us, to say that we are "horrible things". So, lets stand up and be counted, but at the same time, always treat anyone and everyone who we encounter with respect. That "Do unto others, as you would like be done to you." does have wisdom to it.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  14. Bob

    It's the ECONOMY, stupid!

    September 7, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  15. TexDoc

    Atheists are a very very small minority in this country. If they can not feel aligned with either party, just because God is important to most of us, then they can form their own.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Ed Pokorski


      September 7, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Ed Pokorski

      AMEN to you!!

      September 7, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Byzas1

      Wrong atheists are the fastest growing population in the world .. many just don't dare to come out yet (like you jk) .. give a look at the polls .. If you don't accept reason and the beauty of reality then you are religious and you should create your own Party which doesn't call itself Democrats it should be called "Afterlife" 😀

      September 7, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  16. BU2B

    The best way this has ever been handled is in the Declaration of Independence, where "our creator" was used. This one ambiguous term covers any god(s), nature (evolution), your parents, or whoever someone would consider responsible for bringing them into this world.
    The founding fathers were indeed ahead of their time. The god reference doesn't bother me very much, as I understand that they are just playing the game of politics and pandering to the majority.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • TexDoc

      It's not pandering if it's the majority. You aren't pandering you're reflecting the will of the people, that's called democracy.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • BU2B

      Just because the majority beLIEves it doesn't make it correct. Secular government should be secular, but they bring god into it to get votes. That is all.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  17. unknown11

    Why is it that athiests care so much how anyone else thinks? They are smug in their lack of belief. That is fine. Everyone thinks that they are "right" about these things. However, in the last several years athiesm has actually turned into its own religion. Does that even make sense? People who rail against religion, have taken it to the point of being a religion, and thus something that they seem to hate.

    But, it does make sense that they would find a home with the democrats. The democrats are all about tolerance... sorry, I choked a bit when I typed that. The democrats are all about tolerance as long as you agree with them 100% of the time. If not, then they are about labeling and marginalizing you.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • sam stone

      I wasn't aware that interest in other people's belief was unique to atheism. Ever hear of evangelicals?

      I disagree about the religion thing. I think it is more of a philosophy. . Religions have texts, and are top down

      September 7, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • sam stone

      And, I am a registered Republican, and a lifelong (55 years old) conservative

      September 7, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • BU2B

      So just because atheists are becoming more vocal means it is a religion? Do you consider that being healthy is a disease? Is bald a hair color?
      We are not asking the government to acknowledge that there is no god, just asking them to leave the reference out entirely. We don't want the pledge to say "one nation, under atheism".

      September 7, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • cedar rapids

      "The democrats are all about tolerance... sorry, I choked a bit when I typed that. The democrats are all about tolerance as long as you agree with them 100% of the time. If not, then they are about labeling and marginalizing you."

      The irony that your post in intolerant is lost on you I suppose?

      September 7, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  18. andy

    As an atheist, I cannot identify with either of these useless political parties. I'll probably vote libertarian.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Sarcastro

      So your personal beliefs on man's place in the universe mean so much to you that you're willing to vote for a different party?

      Hmm, I wonder why the major parties choose to recognize the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters believe in a power greater than themselves...

      September 7, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • dave

      Yes, because as most of you believe, it's all about you!

      September 7, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Ed Pokorski

      You have nothing to believe Andy, do you?

      September 7, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • ccarlssson

      When you have one party representing 10-20 percent on the far left, and the other representing 10-20 percent on the far right, most of us are unrepresented (atheist or not) and that is the source of most of our issues. I'm not a huge fan of the Libertarians, but I'll vote third party until we have congressional term limits. Term limits and same redistricting are the only way we'll break the stranglehold the extremists have on our political process.

      September 7, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  19. av8r88

    "I thought you had reservations about the gods."
    "Privately I believe in none of them. Neither do you. Publicly I believe in them all."

    From "Spartacus". Pretty much sums up politicians and religions.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  20. cutedog2


    September 7, 2012 at 9:06 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.