Thousands of agnostics, humanists, free thinkers, and atheists gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington Saturday for a day of reasoning.
The Reason Rally 2016 aimed to show lawmakers that non-religious believers are a community of voters worth being courted in the upcoming November presidential election, according to organizers.
“We’re like ten blocks from the White House, so let’s make [President Barack] Obama hear us. We’re also calling this a voter bloc party,” declared Lyz Liddell, executive director of the Reason Rally Coalition.
Organizers were expecting about 30,000 people to attend the all-day event which included "science guy" Bill Nye, comedian Julia Sweeney, magician Penn Jillette, Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin and NASA scientist Carolyn Porco, among others.
Porco told the crowd the only way to address issues in the governance of our nation is not to “pray the problems away, but to think the problems away.
“Just practice respect for the truth. Follow logical reasoning... We need to use scientific guidelines in crafting the laws governing our national life if we are to have hope in arriving at the right answers,” she said.
Speakers also addressed science-based sex education in schools, evidence-based responses to climate change, dialogue with lawmakers in Congress and transgender people's use of public restrooms.
Larry Decker, executive director of Secular Coalition for America, said members of the secular group met with more than 300 members in the Senate and House of Representatives to express their views.
“Over the years we have watched them cave into the demands of the religious right even though the nonreligious outnumber them... We have watched our lawmakers give away and compromise our civil rights way too much,” Decker said.
Attendants agreed with Decker when he said nonreligious people are done playing defense.
“We are done hoping that the rights guaranteed to us by the constitution will be there for our children and our grandchildren,” he said.
Warning the religious right
The reason rally was at once a call to action and a warning to the religious right to stop violating the constitution and desecrating the dreams of the American founders to impose religious beliefs.
“If you want religion, by all means, believe if you want,” Alan Gold, a Pennsylvanian attending the rally for the second time, said.
The growing reason movement wants to reinforce the message that it is unaffiliated, but members are still voters.
Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin, who is also a democratic candidate for the U.S. Congress, addressed the crowd by evoking “our last great Republican president Abraham Lincoln, who spoke of government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
“He was the kind of Republican who would never make it out of the Ohio caucuses today,” Raskin said.
Raskin, a constitutional law professor, said a progressive coalition between people of religious faith and free thinkers has worked in American life and has been winning in every generation.
“We must tell the world of how America broke from theocracy and religious war by protecting both freedom of thought and freedom of worship. Both secular government and religious liberty [were protected] simply by the ingenious act of separating the church from the state,” Raskin added.
Singer Shelley Segal tells the audience they should be really proud of the movement they support. (A. Barros/VOA)
Faith groups were also at the event. Not in the audience, but close enough, “preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ” with a megaphone.
Oscar Pina, member of D.C. for Jesus, said his group was at the rally to learn and reason with participants.
“It’s the reason rally... The Bible tells us that people are going to get upset because we’re teaching the gospel,” Pina said.
But to people like Gold the concept of God as presented by holy books is “laughable.”
“Don’t spout it out in form of forced attendance like school or like a public arena where I have to listen to that garbage. It sort of insults me,” Gold said.
The Pew Research Center said it's hard to estimate the number of atheists in the United States.
The matter is complicated, researchers said, because some adults who describe themselves as atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Meanwhile, some people who identify with a religion, such as Catholicism or Judaism, say they do not believe in God.
To Decker, secular America is a place where people are not denied service at a restaurant because of who they are and who they love.
In secular America, he said, a woman’s right to choose is absolute and is a conversation between only her and her doctor. It is also a place to live life according to a personal world view, he added.
“Freedom, equality, inclusion - that’s what religious freedom looks like,” he said.