Another Huge Reason You Should Come Out as an Atheist: Politics

By Ed Buckner and Perry Mitchell | 22 March 2023
Letters to a Free Country


Perry Mitchell, a man who has succeeded as a commercial creative writer and in life more generally, is a friend of long standing who I respect greatly and usually agree with. Letters … is so much better because I can persuade friends like him who can write to write for it.


“Another Huge Reason You Should Come Out as an Atheist: Politics” by Perry Mitchell

In my first guest piece for Ed (see bottom of this message to find that one) I encouraged readers to come out – directly and clearly – as atheists, rather than using one of many less-understood labels for non-belief. Otherwise, people won’t fully comprehend that you don’t believe in any supernatural beings.

Here’s another crucial reason to publicly declare yourself an atheist: Politics.

That’s because, at the core of just about every divisive issue facing America right now is – you guessed it – religion. Whether it’s abortion … gay marriage … other LGBTQ+ rights … public education (school prayer and book banning, anyone?) … medical aid in dying … swearing-in oaths … blue laws – religious beliefs are the elephant in the room.

And let’s not forget the “forever” issues: In God We Trust … One Nation Under God … blasphemy (special shout-out to not showing any image of Mohammed) … opening every session of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate with a prayer (ditto for state legislatures, county commissions and school boards) … the list goes on and on.

It’s all depressing, especially since our nation’s government is, according to the Constitution, legally secular/non-religious. Period. It’s right there for every lawmaker and public official to read in the First Amendment. A lot of good that’s doing.

Okay, let’s take a look at a few of these issues in more detail …

Abortion: Isn’t it interesting that opponents almost never mention religion? It’s always, “We’ve got to protect the growing, precious life of the baby – and if you don’t agree, you’re a killer!” You and I know that’s not medically true; the clumps of cells present during a pregnancy’s first 20 weeks aren’t viable on their own. And overall there’s this: no scientific evidence shows that abortion itself is an unsafe procedure.

Gay Marriage: What happened to the outcries of God-fearing folks that “our society will be destroyed if two people of the same sex marry”? It’s been eight years since gay marriage was made legal throughout the U.S., and the last time I looked, our society was still here – only now, we’ve got thousands of loving, same-sex couples who have equal legal rights with all our heterosexual couples.

Religion in Public Schools: School officials can’t organize or participate in religious activities while on the job – any other time is fine and dandy. And kids can pray privately throughout the school day. Teaching comparative religions is fine, too – students should know facts about religions around the world, since such beliefs are important to understanding other cultures. But why do school boards feel compelled to start meetings with prayer – what’s that got to do with running schools?

Medical Aid in Dying (MAID): I’m really close to this one; for seven years, I was the volunteer president of the Georgia Chapter of Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest nonprofit devoted to advocating for end-of-life help.

C&C has been quite successful in the last decade: now 11 states and Washington, D.C., have MAID laws, which have helped thousands of terminally ill patients end their terrible suffering with dignity and without pain.

C&C’s biggest national foe? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I can sum up their opposition, somewhat irreverently, this way: “Only God creates life, so only God should be able to take a life” and “Jesus suffered horribly on the cross, so we should be prepared to do the same.” That sounds reasonable, right?

Swearing-in Oaths: Another personal story: To become the legal executor of my aunt’s estate a decade ago, I had to swear an oath before a county clerk. I knew there would be that ubiquitous “so help me God” at the end, so I told my lawyer, “I’m an atheist and I really don’t want to say those words – surely there’s a secular version.”

He said, “Well, there is one, but I happen to know the clerk we’ll be with is quite religious and if you tell her you want the secular version, she won’t swear you in and we’ll have to start the process all over – so please, just say the words and we’ll move ahead.” To my shame, I kind of mouthed those four ridiculous words. But right then, I swore (pun intended) I’d never do that again.

That’s enough of preaching to the choir in Ed’s congregation …

You get my point – entangling religion and government/politics is one of the worst, most divisive ideas ever. In fact, a great many religious organizations agree with that sentiment. They know that in monotheistic governments, every religion except one faces all kinds of sanctions … and that their religion could easily be in that dangerous position.

Atheists can play such a valuable role in all this by pointing out that beliefs in supernatural beings, superstitions, and prayer just don’t add up to reasonable arguments in favor of dealing with issues affecting our society.

I point that out every chance I get, and I’ve gotten a number of people to agree – religion shouldn’t be the basis of national policies. Science, rationality, common sense, recognizing the diversity of our citizens – all those should be the underpinnings of our laws.

It’s not going to happen overnight. You’re going to have to vote, and get others to vote with you. Plus, I’ve joined and financially support my local atheist organization, as well as American Atheists, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ACLU, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State – they’re all fighting every day to get the U.S. back to its founding, secular principles.

We atheists have been drowned out by the clamor of conservative religionists for far too long. Now we owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to speak out – louder than ever.

I’ll end with an alarming quote that should make you, as an atheist, even more determined to be heard:

This was in Freedom From Religion’s Freethought Today, January 2023

As always, the conservatives on the [Supreme] Court have seemingly bottomless sympathy for Christian plaintiffs who say their right to the fullest expression of their religious beliefs is being hindered. … For the conservatives on the Court, however, religion – in particular, conservative versions of Christianity – changes everything, even how we should think about commerce.

 They’ve been steadily carving out more and more spaces where religious claims under the First Amendment trump every other right or law, whether it has to do with health-insurance regulations or Christian prayer in schools.

Paul Waldman, in his column, “The Supreme Court keeps coddling the Religious Right. It shouldn’t.” Washington Post, 12-7-22

Ed Buckner is an American atheist activist who served as president of the organization American Atheists from 2008 to 2010. He served as executive director for the Council for Secular Humanism from 2001 to 2003 and was once the Council’s southern director. He is the author (with Michael E. Buckner) of In Freedom We Trust: An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty (Prometheus Books, 2012).

Harmonic Atheist – Interview with Dr. Ed Buckner

The Founding Fathers on Religion – In Their Own Words

The Right’s Fight to Make America a Christian Nation | CBS Reports

The Dangerous New Movement In Right-Wing America | The Mehdi Hasan Show

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