Congressman Comes Out as Nontheist, Wins Re-election
Washington, DC – Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) is the only member of Congress who is on record as not holding a god-belief, the first such Congress member in history. Rep. Stark publicly acknowledged his nontheism in 2007 following a nationwide search conducted by the Secular Coalition for America. In an election year when national candidates' religious beliefs were given unprecedented importance, the Coalition sees Stark's re-election, with 76% of the votes in his district, as a sign that religious tests for candidates may become less common.
Polls have shown that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America, and that most Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office. At the same time, however, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2008 saw a "small but significant" increase in the number of Americans who say they are "uncomfortable when they hear politicians talk about how religious they are."
"This year, we saw an incumbent U.S. Senator not only defeated but roundly criticized after trying to paint her opponent as godless; and now we see an openly godless member of the House handily re-elected," said Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America. "This looks to us like progress, and we praise Rep. Stark for his courage and leadership."
Surveys vary as to the number of atheists, humanists, freethinkers and other nontheists in the U.S., with about 16% (over 50 million people) a reasonable estimate, making this a larger group than Jews, Presbyterians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Roman and Greek Orthodox combined. "If the number of nontheists in Congress reflected their numbers in the larger population," observed Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition, "there would be 86 nontheistic Congress members instead of one."