'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. Marie

    Why does god kill thousands of children daily by starvation?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  2. Marie

    Why does the Christian bible teach Christians to be such hateful, racist bigots?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  3. 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 3:29 pm |
  4. Marie

    How can it be that I am the only person in the blogworld named Marie?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  5. Marie

    Why do atheists presume to know what the nature of a supreme being that they do not believe in ought to be?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Why do believers presume to know the nature of a god which they have no evidence of?

      January 29, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  6. Marie

    Why does the Christian bible teach Christians to be such hateful, racist bigots?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  7. Marie

    If atheists are such good and decent people, then why are they being deceptive by impersonating me in a blog?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  8. 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 3:24 pm |
  9. Marie

    Why would an atheist ask whether the supreme being he/she does not believe in would or would not do this or that?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      What's a rhetorical question?

      January 29, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Because the believers point out the good in the world as evidence of their god, but ignore or side-step the bad in the world which if the believers were correct and their god is omniscient and omnipotent it could prevent or change any situation. But doesn't which is pretty strong evidence that it does not exist, despite the sophistry used to explain or justify its inaction.

      January 29, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  10. Marie

    Why does god kill thousands of children daily by starvation?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  11. Marie

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

    January 29, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  12. Marie

    Why does atheism seem like a cult of hostility and hatred toward Christians just like Nazism was a cult of hostility and hatered toward Jews?
    Why do they spend their time being so hateful and hostile instead finding answers to life's persistent questions?
    Why can't they spend their time actually finding answers instead of just bashing and trashing?
    Why do they seem to love to hate Christians, as if that is their raison d'etre?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Many atheists believe that the quest for the answers to life's persistent questions is an ongoing process, best approached by application of the scientific method.
      It is the reilgionist who clings to ancient, dogmatic answers.

      January 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  13. Marie

    Why wouldn't such homely-looking people become bitter atheists?

    January 29, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • The Real Marie

      When they'd be so much better off hidden inside a church with all the other ugly folk.

      January 29, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  14. Atheist Joe

    I'm stuck in 1859!!!!!! And don't want to move on. The mounting evidence is putting evolution in crises, but I'm gonna believe it until I'm blue in the face!

    January 29, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • End Religion

      Empirical evidence continues to point to evolution. There is zero empirical evidence for creationism.

      January 29, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Science

      Fact creation/ID lost at the Dover court trial.

      To move forward take a blood test. It works well.

      January 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Bearing in mind that Behe has been throughly discredited, please cite some of this evidence that is putting the Theory of Evolution in crisis, especially since it's 5 laws are the cornerstones for an ever increasing number of scientific disciplines.

      January 29, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  15. Atheist Joe

    I believe a lighting bolt struck a mud puddle and the earth magically appears. What happens next is a space alien put the seeds of life on earth (that's what Richard Dawkins believes). Next, a frog turned into a prince! I believe a bellowing lung magically turns into an avian lung!!

    January 29, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • midwest rail

      Trolling should never be this boring.

      January 29, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      You appear to proud of your ignorance.

      January 29, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  16. Science

    New tools for Robert Brown Chad Topher Live4Him to use.

    updated 1 hour 55 minutes ago

    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.


    January 29, 2013 at 7:13 am |
  17. Dyslexic doG

    The Apostles' / Agnostics’ Creed 2013

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    January 29, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  18. Maybe

    quit it

    January 28, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  19. Robert Brown

    And you guys give me grief for posting bible verses...

    January 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      I just leave any article "who invited me" the worthless pile of shit is on.

      January 28, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
    • End Religion

      BobbyB, here's hoping you have a beautifully godless day tomorrow.

      January 28, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • *

      "I just leave any article "who invited me" the worthless pile of sh!t is on."

      That's precisely what that little snot wants. He/she thinks everyone is wasting their time here - much the same as scrolling past a bunch of his/her cr@p does.

      Don't let him/her get to you.

      January 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "I just leave any article "who invited me" the worthless pile of shit is on."
      Just hit the "Report abuse" link. I did. It only takes 5 clicks to make the post disappear.

      January 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • *


      I did too, so there's 2.

      If the report abuse is hooked up now, I sort of hope that it takes more than 5 reports to take effect. As evidenced by the Mom not teaching her kids about "God" article, those believers are negative-click-happy.

      January 28, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • pee wee

      i clicked abuse too.

      January 28, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • sam stone

      you quote verses as if they meant something. "who invited me" is just being a troll.

      January 29, 2013 at 3:54 am |
  20. Doctor

    Invite forgot his meds. Im here with them. Help me catch him

    January 28, 2013 at 7:44 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.