David Silverman (USA)
President, American Atheists
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon!
American Atheists has been fighting organized religion and its influence on nonbelievers in the United States since 1963. As we enter our 50th year of business, we are seeing major changes in the religious landscape and I am thrilled to be here today to update you, my esteemed colleagues, on the status of free thought in America.
Ladies and gentlemen, the word of the day is Progress, because we are making progress toward our goal of making atheism accepted and normal in America. As you know, America has a separation of church and state that is routinely ignored by our government and our people. Discrimination and hatred of atheists is everywhere. Indeed, polls have repeatedly shown that the atheists are regarded as the least trusted, least ethical, and least likely to be elected. For decades we have been reviled for our honesty, and demonized for our thoughts.
My friends, I am happy to be here today to tell you things are changing, and that after so long, the american atheist movement is having a measurably positive effect. New polls indicate that for the first time in history more than half of the population would vote for an atheist for public office. That’s great news, but it’s not as great as the fact that in the under 30 segment, that number climbs to 70 percent. Indeed, the young people in America are leading the change, with nearly 30 percent declaring no religion and a dramatically less bigotry than their older counterparts.
But there is more. As some of you might know, we just had an election in America, not only for president, but also for congress, the senate, and many state-wide initiatives. It was a very important election, and we did well. President Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, is a Mormon, and let me tell you it was a joy to watch the religious Right try to keep themselves relevant in the first election in decades that did not feature a Christian for them to rally behind. They had to choose between not participating in the election, supporting a Christian who is too liberal in president Obama, or supporting someone who belongs to a cult, by their own definition. There was no good answer, and as some chose one alternative over another, the Christian Right began to argue among itself, and fracture. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a beautiful sight.
Beyond the presidential election, the people of the USA elected a buddhist, a Hindu, a bisexual, and though our only atheist politician lost his bid for re-election, it was not his atheism that beat him. Gay marriage was on the ballots in 4 states, and they all passed easily. Abortion opponents lost in key elections, and death with dignity measures saw their strongest support yet.
In Florida a measure was proposed to change their state constitution to specifically allow the state to fund religious schools and churches. It was called the Religious Freedom Amendment, and was pushed hard by the religious right to funnel money into religion. In response to this proposal, American Atheists sponsored a large demonstration in Florida, which included speakers and musicians opposing this falsely named, very dangerous legislation. And on election Day, the amendment failed.
Yes, the general consensus is that America has spanked the religious right, and it was led by the young people and those others who have listened to us.
But still there is more to tell you. In 2002 American Atheists held a rally in washington DC, where 2500 atheists gathered in what was then the largest atheist gathering in history. In 2010, I proposed a coordinated effort to beat that effort. American Atheists, along with all the other major atheist organizations in the country, formed a separate entity. The Reason Rally was born. We wanted to beat the 2500 from the first march, and we wanted to beat the 4000 atheists that were scheduled to attend the global atheist convention in Melbourne immediately following. More importantly, we wanted to send a message to the country that the atheists were here, and that we would no longer be silent.
When the weather forecast predicted rain and thunder, we were scared. Two years of planning was on the line, and the weather alone had the power to mute our message. we needed 2500. we wanted 4000. we dreamed about 10000. And then, in the rain, 30,000 atheists descended on Washington. They brought their umbrellas, their ponchos, and their smiles, and most importantly, their voices. 30,000 atheists – the largest atheist gathering in history, times 10. A great success. But there is more. This was the first time ever that all the major national organizations in America put aside their differences and worked toward a common goal. We proved to America, and ourselves, that we are a united and coordinated movement, and the country heard us. The press heard us, and the politicians heard us, but most importantly, the other atheists heard us.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to give you a clear message from America – its working. nationwide, atheism is becoming more visible, more tolerated, and more accepted. 20% of Americans are nonreligious, and we are the fastest growing religious segment in all fifty states. It’s working. Bigotry is waning as is the religious influence in our politics. Its working. People young and old are coming out of the closet, and finding friends where they thought there would be enemies. Its working. We can see it. We can measure it, and we can’t see any reason for it to stop or reverse. Activism works. So as we work, as we must continue to do, please remember the era of George W Bush, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, and then remember how far America has come and how much we have changed thanks to atheist activism.
Of course we still have a long way to go, but change is obvious. The long dark tunnel is getting brighter, and we are making good progress.