'None' leaders to chart path for more political, cultural power for religiously unaffiliated
The Reason Rally -- sponsored by secular organizations -- draws a crowd to Washington in June.
January 25th, 2013
08:51 AM ET

'None' leaders to chart path for more political, cultural power for religiously unaffiliated

By Dan Merica, CNN
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Washington (CNN) - The religiously unaffiliated - the "nones"  - have noticed their ranks are growing. And at a meeting Saturday, a group of leaders will look to turn those swelling numbers into workable political and cultural power.

It's one of the top priorities of the eighth annual Heads Meeting, which will be held in Atlanta. Some of the nation’s most influential leaders, representing various organizations, will convene to chart a path forward and discuss the most important issues facing "nones" today.

“It is not enough that we are growing in numbers,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We have got to find a way to bring those numbers to bear in an organized fashion so that people will take us seriously.”

A number of studies have found that religious “nones” - people who either don’t believe in God or do not affiliate with a religion - are increasing rapidly in the United States. A 2012 Pew study, for example, found this faction to be the fastest-growing "religious" group in America and determined that one in five Americans now identify with no religion.

These numbers have emboldened atheists, humanists, agnostics and other secular Americans, many of whom have long expressed a desire for more political power.

In particular, they point to the fact that they are widely underrepresented in the halls of the highest U.S. legislative body. Though 20% of the population classifies themselves as “none,” according to Pew, only one member of Congress, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, identifies as such.

Speckhardt said it’ll take presenting “viewpoints in an organized way” to see change.

Dale McGowan, executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief and one of the Atlanta meeting's hosts, said building awareness through community engagement will be a key topic of discussion.

“Part of it is trying to consolidate that cultural presence,” McGowan said. “That has something to do with politics, but it is also more generally cultural.”

Much as churches and synagogues foster and nurture communities, McGowan said he thinks atheists can do the same to gain clout and broader acceptance.

But the meeting is more than just a forum for "none" leaders to outline their plans going forward. It is also a way for these leaders to meet face to face and discuss differences that they may have with one another.

According to McGowan, finding ways to work together was the original goal when the meeting was first held in 2005.

For years, McGowan said, “These groups operated separately from each other and sometimes at odds with each other. There was a realization that we should meet once a year and come together on the goals that we have in common.”

Other leaders echoed this viewpoint.

“One of the biggest benefits of these meetings is that it is human interaction,” Speckhardt said. “You get people face to face, and you dispel these negative ideas. You realize that we are all endeavoring toward very similar goals and that we can cooperate to make them happen.”

But while the leaders stress the need for cohesion, they also have long highlighted, even celebrated, diversity of opinion in their movement. This diversity has, at times, caused friction.

For example, the Christmas season revealed a growing rift among American atheists. Some activists want to seize the holidays to build bridges with faith groups, while other active unbelievers increasingly see Christmas as central to confronting religion.

“We certainly do disagree,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists. “But we are on the same side. What we have to do is sit down at the table and say, ‘You are going to do your thing, and I am going to do my thing.’ ”

McGowan called cohesiveness “really the central challenge” for people who thrive on independence. “This is a group of people accustomed to taking a critical approach to things, and that means not just letting differences slide and saying, ‘Hey, these differences matter.’ ”

Other attendees in Atlanta will include Ron Lindsay, president of the Center for Inquiry, and Margaret Downey, founder and president of the Freethought Society, according to Silverman.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Politics

soundoff (1,751 Responses)
  1. Science

    Free speech helps educate the masses................POLITICIANS too !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN


    Gravity is not up for debate !

    BY the way ...................Splat goes a fairy in the sky !...............bye bye tinker bell !

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    Apr. 25, 2013 — A strange stellar pair nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth has provided physicists with a unique cosmic laboratory for studying the nature of gravity. The extremely strong gravity of a massive neutron star in orbit with a companion white dwarf star puts competing theories of gravity to a test more stringent than any available before


    Hey James Madison................religion has none it looks like.............with the comments on this blog.

    The Big question is ETHICS ! does religion have any ?

    The Ethics of Resurrecting Extinct Species

    Apr. 8, 2013 — At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption.


    April 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |

    May 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |

    Dinosaur Egg Study Supports Evolutionary Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs: How Troodon Likely Hatched Its Young


    And NO ANGELS the pope KICKED them OFF the TEAM last year !

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    the wrong path is Adam and Eve !

    Human Y Chromosome Much Older Than Previously Thought

    Mar. 4, 2013 — The discovery and analysis of an extremely rare African American Y chromosome pushes back the time of the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree to 338,000 years ago. This time predates the age of the oldest known anatomically modern human fossils.


    No god(s) needed or required to graduate from public schools in the US

    Remember : Adam had to POKE himself hard with his OWN BONE to create Eve.

    No god(s) needed................... Old. DNA works..................also catches crooks !

    Ancient DNA Reveals Europe's Dynamic Genetic History

    Apr. 23, 2013 — Ancient DNA recovered from a series of skeletons in central Germany up to 7,500 years old has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern Europe.


    Ca-nabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) – National Cancer Insti-tute


    Mar 21, 2013 – [1,2] These plant-derived compounds may be referred to as phytocannabinoids. ... have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors. ... In lung cancer cell lines, CBD upregulated ICAM-1, leading to ...

    Good stuff !

    The fact...............the earth is to old for this nonsemse ! Time to EVOLVE !

    Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle

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    For what...................... ? Make sure to read what the pope said !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN


    Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

    Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

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    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says updated Tue May 17, 2011
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    April 7th, 2012

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    The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth


    Make sure to read comments

    April 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |

    Breaking News

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    NASA: Mars could have supported life

    Star Dust we are



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    BACKFILL on E =mc2.....

    Einstein letter, set for auction, shows scientist challenging idea of God, being 'chosen'

    By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

    Decades before atheist scientist and author Richard Dawkins called God a "delusion," one world-renowned physicist – Albert Einstein – was weighing in on faith matters with his own strong words.

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends,” Einstein wrote in German in a 1954 letter that will be auctioned on eBay later this month. "No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”


    May 4, 2013 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |

    May 4, 2013 at 7:00 am |
  2. Carl

    Pretty soon these communist liberals are gonna think that child molesters are ok. CNN is a stupid liberal trash news organization

    February 4, 2013 at 12:11 am |
  3. Dawkins is an idiot

    Look at all the stupid atheists! The Racist philosophy of evolution is a myth!!!

    February 4, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • Science

      Creationist LOST at the Dover Trial FOREVER !!!
      Can not teach CREATION at all in public schools as FACT.
      Take it up with the courts BLA BLA BLA !


      New STEM science standards for 2013 make ears for transplant from stem cells

      Can't you read EVOLUTION IN A TEST TUBE Jan. 30 2013

      News Release

      3-D structure of the evolved enzyme (an RNA ligase), using 10 overlaid snapshots. In the top region, the overlays show the range of bending and folding flexibility in the amino acid chain that forms the molecule. The two gray balls are zinc ions. (University of Minnesota)

      University of Minnesota researchers unveil first artificial enzyme created by evolution in a test tube

      Thanks Doc.

      February 6, 2013 at 7:18 am |
  4. Marie

    Why does god kill thousands of children daily from starvation ?

    January 29, 2013 at 9:37 pm |

    • Starvation works as well as anything else.

      January 29, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
    • Science

      Check your god(S) at the cave enterance before entering.. No god(s) required for studying humans..

      updated 1 hour 55 minutes ago
      Jan. 29 2013

      Scientists have unearthed and dated some of the oldest stone hand axes on Earth. The ancient tools, unearthed in Ethiopia in the last two decades, date to 1.75 million years ago.


      Ancient DNA reveals humans living 40,000 years ago in Beijing area related to present-day Asians, Native Americans January 21, 2013

      Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-01-ancient-dna-reveals-humans-years.html#jCp

      January 30, 2013 at 8:25 am |
  5. Marie

    Why does an unborn baby have hands, fingers, feet, eyes, and a heart that beats?

    January 29, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      why do we eat animals that have the same?

      January 29, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  6. Marie

    Why are there males and females?

    January 29, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
  7. Marie

    Why do liberals think it's okay to have bizarre ideas from the use of drugs but not from religion?

    January 29, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Can you provide examples of each?

      January 29, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      I would also like examples for this empty supposition.

      January 29, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  8. Marie

    Why isn't the existence of matter good enough evidence of a creator?

    January 29, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Manny

      Because the fact that there is matter isn't nearly as mysterious as it once was. We are learning more and more every day. The mystery is being unveiled, and God lives under the veil of mystery.

      Before certain magicians began to reveal how tricks and illusions were done it was possible to be awe-struck by magic, and permissible to even believe that magic was real in a supernatural way. Now, when we see an illusion we know that there is a human-made solution and, while we may applaud the showmanship of the magician, we are never fooled into thinking that only one person has the power to do it. The real mystery of magic is gone, just like the real mystery of the universe. All that remains is working out how it works. Nobody suspects that the solution will turn out to be supernatural.

      January 29, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
  9. Marie

    Why do atheists get upset when a Christian's prayers are not answered?
    Why is it any of their business?
    Why isn't this between the Christian and his or her god?
    Why must atheists be such meddling busybodies and interfere in this relationship?

    January 29, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why is it any of your business what a woman chooses to do about her pregnancy?

      Why is it any of your business who is allowed legal marriage?

      January 29, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Or if a transgender Christian wants to offer up his genitals to God and become a woman in order to take vows and wed the Lord as a nun, who are you to say that's wrong, Marie?

      January 29, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Manny

      When you see somebody being freely cheated by fast-talking con men who don't fear being stopped, don't you get upset? In my opinion Christians are being cheated, and that's a damn shame.

      January 29, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • phoenix


      January 31, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  10. Marie

    Why should the Christians of today be held responsible for what other Christians did many centuries ago?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  11. Marie

    How come the Christian god-asshole thinks it's OK to torture people forever for minor stuff they did wrong in their short lives on earth? He'd be quite the evil jerk to do that, so good thing he just ain't there.

    January 29, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  12. Marie

    Why do Christians keep pretending that they weren't responsible for the burnings at the stake of the Inquisitions and all their other crimes?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  13. Marie

    Why does the rule seem to be: "Freedom of inquiry is okay, just watch what you ask."?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • czarney

      Why do ask so many inane questions? I could ask silly questions about christians, what good would it do me? Accept the fact that your god doesn't work for other people. I'm sure that many people who don't believe as you do, have questions as to why and how you could believe in a deity that is so dysfunctional, repressive, and intolerant. If there is a god/goddess I am sure he/she/it wouldn't be as screwed up as humanity has become.

      March 16, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  14. Marie

    Why don't I see Christians with torches and pitchforks marching on the homes of atheists and burning atheists at the stake?
    Why don't I see any hard, solid, tangible, concrete evidence of this?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Kim

      If the could get away with it they would, but they value their freedom more than the wrath of their god.

      January 30, 2013 at 12:01 am |
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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.