'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. Robert Brown

    Proverbs 2:1-5
    King James Version (KJV)

    My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;

    So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;

    Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;

    If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;

    Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

    January 26, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      A being of love would not want to be feared.

      January 26, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • End Religion

      Please learn to walk in the many footsteps of Bilbo. In His name I pray...

      "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of earth worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole, with nothing to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort."

      From the book of Bilbo, 1:1

      January 26, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Blessed are the Cheesemakers,

      He wants you to love and trust him.

      January 26, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      End Religion,

      Do your prayers to Mr. Baggins give you peace, hope, and joy?

      January 26, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • the AnViL

      Robert Brown, your post brings to mind another scripture:

      Tabari I:267 "And Allah taught Adam all the names as follows: He taught him the name of everything, down to fart and little fart."

      January 26, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Why would I love or trust anyone that wants to be feared?

      January 26, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • End Religion

      @BobbyB: no, prayer doesn't work, but I keep praying because I can't think for myself and I've been told it works. What's particularly funny is, like god, we all know Bilbo doesn't exist. That makes me particularly moronic.

      January 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      the AnViL,

      Touché, I guess you didn’t like the one about being ground to powder.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Blessed are the Cheesemakers,

      Have you ever been afraid of anyone?

      January 26, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      End Religion,

      The only prayer that God hears from a nonbeliever is the one for salvation. After that the line is open.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How would anyone here know if you had been, you dufus? You can pretend to be invincible here. Doesn't mean you are.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You presumptuous little twit! Now you claim to be an authority on what god hears??

      What a fvcking ass.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Good evening Tom, I hope you are doing well.

      Was your post addressed to me?

      January 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Yes, but not anyone who actually loves me.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • Robert Brown


      I don’t claim to be the authority on what God hears. The authority is his word. If it will help you, I will go look it up.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • Bob

      Let's call Robert Brown out again for the blowhard that he is.

      Robert, you have claimed to have had personal experience involving god. Present a description of that experience, and explain why you think a divine being was involved. And no, it is not acceptable to say that you already have posted that. If you had, you would be able to just copy it here.

      Put up or shut up, Robert Brown. Your blowhard time is up.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Blessed are the Cheesemakers,

      I don’t think God wants us to be afraid of him in that way. When Jesus appeared to them after he was crucified, it scared them, the first thing he said was fear not. There are several examples in OT where God communicated with people and told them the same thing. If God appeared in front of me right now I would say it would be frightening and hope he would say fear not.

      If you come to the point where you can say he is, then you might understand the fear of the Lord. If you can say he is and that what he said is true, then you would be in agreement with him and realize that you are a lost sinner. If you agree with him you will know that you are guilty and you may experience fear of the punishment. Instead of the sentence you deserve, he offers a pardon.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • the AnViL

      Robert Brown "Touché, I guess you didn’t like the one about being ground to powder."

      oh no – i happened to love that verse.


      why'd you think i didn't like it?

      didn't you like the scriptural verse i posted???

      January 26, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Hi Bob,

      Do you believe in God?

      January 26, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      the AnViL,

      I’m not familiar with that book, but I think I understand your point. The verse I quoted means about as much to you as the one you quoted for me, right?

      January 26, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • Damocles

      First things first.... Volbeat is a freaking kick-ass band. Now that that is out of the way...

      I continue to not understand why an all powerful deity would need a person to speak on its behalf. If said thing is all powerful, it should be known, period, end of discussion.

      Perfection, which I know is not the point of this particular thread but sort of ties into it, requires a consensus. If someone says 'X is perfect' and someone comes along and says 'no, it isn't', it is no longer perfect, it is flawed in some way and becomes less relevant.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I can see how a book that attests to its own truth, makes promises, and threatens eternal punishment if you put it down could make an impression on a young mind. Is that what happened to you, Robert?

      January 26, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
    • Bob

      RB-great job in keeping the focus on Biblical truth.
      Hopefully the 'nones' will come to their senses some day and not remain dunces

      January 26, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • ¿¿lol

      Bob and Douglas wouldn't know the truth even if it hit them in the face outside the closet in broad daylight.

      January 26, 2013 at 9:12 pm |

      hinduism ,absurdity from book of hindu Mithraism, savior ism, called Christianity.

      January 26, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Mr. Brown,

      So god says to "fear" him over 25 times and threatens all with eternal torment if they don't and you are claiming that is not the type of "fear" he menas?

      Your claim is a cop out and just the type dishonest equivocation that I hate.

      January 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I refuse to fear a god who thinks I should. If he's that kind of azzhole than he can't be trusted in any case for any reason, so what's the difference? If some god somewhere thinks I'm okay, then that's cool, but if he doesn't then he needs to behave differently than he is currently.

      January 26, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  2. Catholic hospital: fetus is not a person


    (article on page 1 of cnn)

    January 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Business as usual for the RCC.

      January 26, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • To be fair to the Catholic Church

      They have not argued that a fetus is not a person. They hired people to argue that for them.

      January 26, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      To be fair to the Catholic church: They didn't boink little boys. They hired people who did so.

      January 26, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "To be fair to the Catholic Church"

      Then they are not providing contraception either, they are hiring people to provide the insurance that provides contraception.

      See how that works?

      January 26, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  3. lionlylamb


    January 26, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  4. President John Adams & the U.S. Senate

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;

    January 26, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  5. John Adams

    The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

    Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  6. James Madison

    Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

    The Civil Govt, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success, Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  7. Thomas Paine

    As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a species of Atheism - a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man rather than in God. It is a compound made up Chiefly of Manism with but little Deism, and is an near Atheism as twilight is to darkness. It introduces between man and his Maker an opaque body, which it calls a Redeemer, as the moon introduces her opaque self between the earth and the sun, and it produces by this means a religious, or an irreligious eclipse of light. It has put the whole orbit of reason into shade.

    Each of these churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say that their word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say that their word of God, the Koran, was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of these churches accuses the others of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

    Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system.

    It is the fable of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament, and the wild and visionary doctrine raised thereon, against which I contend. The story, taking it as it is told, is blasphemously obscene.

    No man ought to make a living by religion. It is dishonest so to do.

    To do good is my religion.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  8. Thomas Paine

    The intellectual part of religion is a private affair between every man and his Maker, and in which no third party has any right to interfere. The practical part consists in our doing good to each other. But since religion has been made into a trade, the practical part has been made to consist of ceremonies performed by men called priests ... By devices of this kind true religion has been banished, and such means have been found out to extract money, even from the pockets of the poor, instead of contributing to their relief.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  9. John Adams to Thomas Jefferson

    I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  10. James Madison

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  11. Ben Franklin

    Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of the sermons which had been preached at Boyle’s Lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them. For the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to be much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  12. Thomas Jefferson

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  13. Thomas Paine

    I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    January 26, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  14. the AnViL

    FACT: no gods exist... none.
    FACT: all gods are imaginary

    those who believe in an imaginary man in the sky are delusional.
    delusional thinking is a form of mental illness.

    those who suffer from delusional thinking should be prohibited from voting, serving on a jury, holding public office, purchasing or owning firearms or teaching public schools.
    cha cha cha

    January 26, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  15. Thomas Jefferson

    The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.

    January 26, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • lol??

      The mob machines filled in where the vacuum was.

      January 26, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  16. Thomas Jefferson

    But a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State.

    January 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • lol??

      People seem to have trouble TJ, when it comes to their sense of time. You're a bit weak in that area, too.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  17. Thomas Jefferson

    [If] the nature of... government [were] a subordination of the civil to the ecclesiastical power, I [would] consider it as desperate for long years to come. Their steady habits [will] exclude the advances of information, and they [will] seem exactly where they [have always been]. And there [the] clergy will always keep them if they can. [They] will follow the bark of liberty only by the help of a tow-rope.

    January 26, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • lol??

      No need for clergy now that the beast is in charge of EVERYTHING, just like A god.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Yay, bring back the clergy !! Is this a decent list, or shall we find more ?
      1.25 Kent Hovind, 2006
      1.26 Ted Haggard, 2006
      1.27 Paul Barnes, 2006
      1.28 Lonnie Latham, 2006
      1.29 Gilbert Deya, 2006
      1.30 Earl Paulk, 2007
      1.31 Coy Privette, 2007
      1.32 Thomas Wesley Weeks, III, 2007
      1.33 Michael Reid, 2008
      1.34 Joe Barron, 2008
      1.35 Todd Bentley, 2008
      1.36 Michael Guglielmucci, 2008
      1.37 Ergun Caner, 2010
      1.38 George Alan Rekers, 2010
      1.39 Eddie L. Long, 2010
      1.40 Marcus Lamb, 2010
      1.41 Vaughn Reeves, 2010
      1.42 Stephen Green, 2011
      1.43 Albert Odulele, 2011
      1.44 Allan Cundick, 2011
      1.45 David Yonggi Cho, 2011

      January 26, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  18. Thomas Jefferson

    I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this [i.e., the purchase of an apparent geological or astronomical work] can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offense against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason. If [this] book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God's sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose.

    January 26, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • lol??

      TJ, the pharisees choked the life out of the nation. You wouldn't believe the number of laws. AND they are passing em without reading em!

      January 26, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  19. Jill

    Robert Brown, the primordial soup may have left you over but that is no reason to resort to market studies. Gobble the fertile gravel. There is no caveat to the Klein bottle, and there will be no gold watch for the unspoken zero.

    Focus your nose on the test tube. Stay succulently upon your velodrome and fear not the coming of the essential kangaroo. Strawberries are your incidental chemistry. Present the fulcrum in advance of the gypsum cookie, for as the tree is combed, so goes the predicate. Expand quietly but do not relish.

    Whether or not you agree with the plumber, harvest away ye hearties. Kalabash in Friebourg but not in spanners while it's raining. Bring out the mustard but flap flap flap until takeoff. Why would you say such a thing in the presence of the substrate? 64. 1112. Welcome to the new sandwich lumberyard. Bus stops follow movement, or do they?

    The impediment to your posterior is large but can be dissected with chestnuts. Obermeyer. Glasnost and shallot cookies will do the main job when a steamshovel is too distant for pomegranate. Hold your scrambled eggs close to your chest, for tomorrow might be at large.

    And remember, never ever miss an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

    January 26, 2013 at 5:45 pm |

      annnnnnnd Jill my dear you never ever want to see my Mohammad throwing acids on girls.

      January 26, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Akira

      I'd better not catch anybody throwing acid on girls.

      January 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  20. Thomas Jefferson

    Whenever... preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.

    January 26, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      January 26, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Got a new hobby, Loser?

      January 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • lol??

      TJ, I bet you had no idea the gubmint would morph into the Diverse Beast, AKA the Pale horse.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:48 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.