Polls show that at least six percent of Americans do not believe in God, but their numbers are not reflected in Congress. A new political action committee or PAC will try to win them political representation.
Representatives Andre Carson and Keith Ellison are Muslims. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is a Hindu and Senator Mazie Hirono a Buddhist. But not a single declared atheist sits among the 535 lawmakers in Congress.
The recently launched Freethought Equality Fund wants to change that. Executive director Roy Speckhardt says among the public, atheists and those who question God's existence now outnumber Jews, Muslims and Mormons combined.
“We are in fact one of the largest minorities in the United States today. But you’d never know it from our organized numbers or political power,” he said.
He says the Fund will support candidates regardless of faith who support secular ideals. Candidates like New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt who recently asked Congress to honor Charles Darwin for his theory of evolution.
Maggie Ardiente of the American Humanist Association hopes some lawmakers will even declare themselves publicly as skeptics.
“I think this PAC is needed because there’s still a stigma against atheists and humanists and people who don’t believe in a God," she said. "I think many people believe that you can’t be good without a God and be an elected official in the United States.”
Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute takes the longer view. He said, “In the American context, the word atheism has a troubled past.”
It was associated with Communism during the Cold War, and Jones says belief in a higher being is still seen as a proxy for morality.
“And I think for many Americans evaluating and saying, ‘Does this person believe in God or not,’ is a sort of mental shortcut, I think, that many religious Americans make when they’re evaluating candidates,” he said.
It’s one reason so many official speeches end with “God bless America.”
But with surveys showing one third of adults under 30 don’t identify with any religion, God’s place of prominence in American politics may no longer be as assured.