November 7, 2013 - 12:41 pm

It has become common place for politicians to toss around the term "religious freedom" as of late. But its meaning has become severely distorted.

Often when we hear today about religious freedom, it's in an attempt to inappropriately impose one's views on another, or to gain exemptions from generally applicable laws. At both the federal and state levels, we've seen this with organizations, businesses and individuals, asking for the government to privilege one particular brand of religion over others-and over non-religion. Worse yet, it's being done under a smokescreen of religious persecution.

True religious freedom allows for individuals to believe what they want. But that right ends when it infringes upon another's right to do make their own moral and personal decisions of conscience, or when it creates unfair exceptions or burdens that privilege one set of beliefs over another.

The assault on the true definition of "religious freedom," is part of a larger attack on the separation of religion and government. This is a war that is being waged at the state and federal levels via several avenues. It's a war that ultimately can lead to devastating effects on all Americans and our very way of life, if not stopped.

Not many years ago children learned about the separation of church in state, as outlined in our First Amendment, as a matter of fact in their public school curriculums. It was discussed as a part of our country's core set of founding principles and one of the primary reasons that the pilgrims settled on what would later become the United States.

Today, the very idea of a separation of religion and government has come under attack-from extreme politicians exploiting a populist sentiment to mobilize their base, to religious institutions who want our secular laws to reflect their doctrine, to junk historians and scientists who distort or outright lie in order to undermine public perceptions and sentiments.

One prime example of this is the fight over Texas school books. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that cast doubt on the Founding Fathers' commitment to a secular government and substantially downplayed the role of Thomas Jefferson, because he was a strong proponent of the separation of religion and government. Just this year, several of the state's textbook reviewers called for biology textbooks to discuss creationism. Thankfully, this time around, textbook publishers have vetoed the idea-for now.
But what we've seen in Texas is dangerous and has far reaching implications. School textbook publishers typically write books for the largest markets and sell copies of those books to smaller states -so it's not just Texas children who are affected. But what's worse, this demonstrates that the very idea of the separation of church and state is no longer considered a standard fact. Instead it has been blurred to a matter of political or personal opinion.

When we talk about the separation of religion and government, it's easy to see why it would affect nontheists-atheists, agnostics, humanists and others who don't have an absolute belief in God-which is why it's so easily distorted. But what gets lost in the discussion is how it also benefits the religious, as it does in so many ways.

Separation of religion from our government ensures that one religious denomination isn't privileged over another denomination. It ensures that churches are not taxed and shielded from political motivations and interference. It is the very essence of our freedom as Americans, because it allows each individual personal rights of conscience, rather than a religious institution imposing a set of beliefs on the people. Separation of religion and government is the very thing that allows the religious to choose which religion to adhere to, what tenets to follow and what sect or church to belong to.

Even the most devout want the freedom to make their own decisions and exercise their rights of conscience-even when those decisions don't coincide with the opinions of their religious institution.

Continue reading at the Venn Institute >>

It has become common place for politicians to toss around the term “religious freedom” as of late. But its meaning has become severely distorted.

Often when we hear today about religious freedom, it’s in an attempt to inappropriately impose one’s views on another, or to gain exemptions from generally applicable laws. At both the federal and state levels, we’ve seen this with organizations, businesses and individuals, asking for the government to privilege one particular brand of religion over others—and over non-religion. Worse yet, it’s being done under a smokescreen of religious persecution.

True religious freedom allows for individuals to believe what they want. But that right ends when it infringes upon another’s right to do make their own moral and personal decisions of conscience, or when it creates unfair exceptions or burdens that privilege one set of beliefs over another.

The assault on the true definition of “religious freedom,” is part of a larger attack on the separation of religion and government. This is a war that is being waged at the state and federal levels via several avenues. It’s a war that ultimately can lead to devastating effects on all Americans and our very way of life, if not stopped.

Not many years ago children learned about the separation of church in state, as outlined in our First Amendment, as a matter of fact in their public school curriculums. It was discussed as a part of our country’s core set of founding principles and one of the primary reasons that the pilgrims settled on what would later become the United States.

Today, the very idea of a separation of religion and government has come under attack—from extreme politicians exploiting a populist sentiment to mobilize their base, to religious institutions who want our secular laws to reflect their doctrine, to junk historians and scientists who distort or outright lie in order to undermine public perceptions and sentiments.

One prime example of this is the fight over Texas school books. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that cast doubt on the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a secular government and substantially downplayed the role of Thomas Jefferson, because he was a strong proponent of the separation of religion and government. Just this year, several of the state’s textbook reviewers called for biology textbooks to discuss creationism. Thankfully, this time around, textbook publishers have vetoed the idea—for now.
But what we’ve seen in Texas is dangerous and has far reaching implications. School textbook publishers typically write books for the largest markets and sell copies of those books to smaller states —so it’s not just Texas children who are affected. But what’s worse, this demonstrates that the very idea of the separation of church and state is no longer considered a standard fact. Instead it has been blurred to a matter of political or personal opinion.

When we talk about the separation of religion and government, it’s easy to see why it would affect nontheists—atheists, agnostics, humanists and others who don’t have an absolute belief in God—which is why it’s so easily distorted. But what gets lost in the discussion is how it also benefits the religious, as it does in so many ways.

Separation of religion from our government ensures that one religious denomination isn’t privileged over another denomination. It ensures that churches are not taxed and shielded from political motivations and interference. It is the very essence of our freedom as Americans, because it allows each individual personal rights of conscience, rather than a religious institution imposing a set of beliefs on the people. Separation of religion and government is the very thing that allows the religious to choose which religion to adhere to, what tenets to follow and what sect or church to belong to.

Even the most devout want the freedom to make their own decisions and exercise their rights of conscience—even when those decisions don’t coincide with the opinions of their religious institution.

- See more at: http://www.venninstitute.org/freedom-for-all-series/why-secularists-should-support-freedom-of-belief-for-all#sthash.yF6ewb4k.dpuf
October 4, 2013 - 11:42 am

Secular Artist of the Month: October

Filmmaker: Jeremiah Camara

Jeremiah Camara is an author, international speaker, activist, mini-movie and documentary filmmaker. He is the author of the books Holy Lockdown: Does the Church Limit Black Progress? and The New Doubting Thomas: The Bible, Black Folks & Blind Belief. Camara received national attention during his appearances on the Michael Baisden Show. Camara is the creator of the acclaimed video series Slave Sermons. Slave Sermons addresses the perils of religious intoxication and the consequences of being theologically conditioned to rely upon supernaturalism and divine intervention to deal with critical issues. In 1989, Camara created a roughly edited video documentary titled Psychological Wars, which examined subliminal messages in sitcoms, cartoons and commercials that negatively impacted the psyche of African Americans. Psychological Wars was endorsed by noted Black educators Na'im Akbar and Jawanza Kunjufu.

His Newest Film: "Contradiction"
Currently, Camara has produced a full-length documentary film entitled Contradiction [VIEW TRAILER HERE]. Contradiction explores the impact of religious loyalty and how an unyielding commitment to faith in an omniscient and omnipotent being is affecting society, particularly the African American segment. Contradiction seeks to understand the paradox between the abundance of churches coupled with abundance of problems and whether there is a correlation between high-praise and low productivity. Contradiction is scheduled for release in 2013.

"Contradiction" synopsis... There is a peculiar consistency that one cannot help but notice when riding through predominately African American neighborhoods in most major cities in the U.S. Black communities are typically saturated with churches. More often than not, the abundance of churches co-exists in the midst of impoverishment, despondency and deprivation on countless levels. The question then, becomes, if the presence of God allegedly dwells within these "holy" facilities, why are the surrounding areas laden with so many societal issues? If God answers all things (according to the bible) and if praise, worship, belief and love for God are prerequisites to prosperity, then why are Blacks, as a collective, in such an unprosperous position? Can there possibly be a connection between high-praise and low-productivity? This analysis is the crux of the film.

Want more? Visit Camara's website Slave Sermons and support the film on Facebook.

Film maker Are you a secular artist looking to share your work with the community at large? Artists, musicians, poets, writers, comedians -- whatever your medium, we want to know about what you're doing and share it with nontheists across the country!

Send submissions for Artists of the Month to lauren@secular.org, along with information about your work and any relevant links, videos, etc. that we can use to showcase it.

 

January 4, 2013 - 1:10 pm

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

A morning run down of the day's news stories addressing secular issues and church/state separation.

On the Hill/Washington
On religion, Capitol freshmen are more diverse than their incumbent colleagues
While 57.6% of incumbents, a majority of Congress, identify as Protestants, that number is lower among freshmen legislators, of whom 48.2% identify as Protestants, according to the study. Additionally, there are more unaffiliated, Unitarian, Hindu and Buddhists in the 113th Congress freshman class than in classes before.

General/National
Is spirituality bad for your mental health?

Researchers led by Professor Michael King at University College London have found that people who profess to hold "spiritual" rather than conventionally religious, atheist or agnostic beliefs are more likely to suffer from mental health problems.

Former Governor Huckabee Asks People to 'Stand with Hobby Lobby'
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is asking people to "stand with Hobby Lobby" as they "fight in court for the most basic American rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Hobby Lobby, mired in a legal battle against the new federal health care mandates on grounds of "religious freedom."

A Queer New Year
Look for all these stories-and some of the not-such-good-news we covered in 2012-to continue making waves in 2013.

International/Blashpemy

Old Greek Blasphemy Laws Stir Up Modern Drama
Philippos Loizos is a 27-year-old scientist. Loizos set up a Facebook page that criticized Elder Paisios as xenophobic and close-minded. He also mocked the monk's name - Paisios became Pastitsios, like the Greek pasta dish. He even Photoshopped a slice of pastitsio on the monk's face. Last September, they arrested him and charged him with blasphemy, which carries up to six months in prison.

SCA in the News
Post-Christian Era? The Future of Faith in America [VIDEO]

"Seventy-five percent up to 80 percent of Americans are Christians," he stated. "Americans are religious and may actually be becoming more religious in the years ahead." But Edwina Rogers, who leads the Secular Coalition for America, told CBN News, "I think the evidence shows just the opposite." Rogers pointed to research showing the number of non-theists and religiously unaffiliated has soared to 19 percent of Americans. And it's double that among the young, Americans under age 30."There are quite a number of 10, 12, 14, 15-year-olds who will just come out and say that they're atheists," she said. Gallup's Newport acknowledged this growth.  

States/Local
(Indiana) Lawmaker Wants Schools To Start Day With Prayer

An Indiana lawmaker wants to allow the state's schools to require saying the Lord's Prayer. State Senator Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) said his bill would allow

(Indiana) Eight Hospital Employees Fired For Refusing Flu Vaccines
An Indiana hospital has fired eight employees, including at least three veteran nurses, after they refused mandatory flu shots, stirring up controversy over which should come first: employee rights or patient safety. One of the employees, Ethel Hoover's lawyer, Alan Phillips, says his client had the right to refuse her flu shot under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination of employees.

(Texas) Catholic dorms to debut at two secular universities

The Newman Student Housing Fund is working to establish faith-based dormitories on two college campuses, housing students starting the fall semester of 2013.Florida Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University - Kingsville, both secular universities, will offer student housing coupled with campus ministry for Catholics next academic year. Texas A&M, a public school, is the sixth-largest university in the United States and the largest university in Texas.He told CNA that he contacted Zerrusen with his vision for campus ministry, and that "we want to make it into an intentional Christian community."

(Illinois) Gay Marriage Law May Not Have Enough Support in Illinois State House

Legalized gay marriage in Illinois may not pass after all. The bill's sponsor Democratic Senator Heather Steans said last night despite its narrow passage through a Senate Committee the bill probably lacks enough support whenever the full Senate takes its vote.

(Rhode Island)  3 E.P. Reps Sponsor Gay Marriage Bill

Reps. Gregg Amore, Katherine Kazarian, and Joy Hearn are among the 42 House
members sponsoring legislation to allow same-gender couples to marry in RI.

January 3, 2013 - 11:07 am

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

 

A morning run down of the day's news stories addressing secular issues and church/state separation.

On the Hill/Washington:
Kyrsten Sinema: A success story like nobody else's
Debates percolate on the Internet about Sinema's spiritual beliefs, a dynamic fueled by the vague responses she gives when asked about this aspect of her life. The fascination with Sinema's spiritual life is another source of pique for her. She is frequently referred to as agnostic or non-theist. But when I asked, she wouldn't go into detail, saying merely, "I am not a member of a faith community." What she does believe, she says, is that Americans deserve "freedom of religion and freedom from religion."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/kyrsten-sinema-a-success-story-like-nobody-elses/2013/01/02/d31fadaa-5382-11e2-a613-ec8d394535c6_story.html

Petition, lawsuits demand changes in tax perks favoring religious institutions
On Christmas, a petition was filed on the White House's "We The People" site, asking that the Obama administration lead an effort to get Congress to repeal the parsonage income tax exemption enjoyed by religious ministers. The petition has only 117 signatures.
https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/propose-congress-act-repeal-internal-revenue-code-section-107-allows-ministers-income-tax-free/tYVYb7yZ?utm_source=wh.gov&utm_medium=shorturl&utm_campaign=shorturl

State & Local News:
Chicago cardinal leads new fight against gay marriage
Chicago Cardinal Francis George has launched a last-ditch campaign to convince the lame-duck Illinois legislature not to legalize same-sex marriage, saying that government "has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible." The bill is expected to be introduced this week and debated before a new set of legislators is sworn in on Jan. 9.
http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/religion-news-service/~3/eLaSoyXhIGQ/

Texas ousts Planned Parenthood from its Women's Health Program
On 1 January 2013, a new law has taken effect in Texas that strips Planned Parenthood from receiving any monies that the state has allotted for its Women's Health Program. The law, signed by GOP Governor Rich Perry.
http://www.goddiscussion.com/106000/texas-ousts-planned-parenthood-from-its-womens-health-program/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+GodDiscussion+%28God+Discussion%29

Nontheist News & Secular Reads:

Defending the Faith: Secularism offers little comfort
Why, faced with appalling tragedies such as Newtown, does secular humanism seem so irrelevant? And not just in the face of extreme tragedies. "We have humanist celebrants, as we call them," says a secularist counselor interviewed by Freedman, "but they're focused on doing weddings" - happy, easy, non-challenging events. "I don't see celebrants working in hospice or in hospitals."
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765619222/Secularism-offers-little-comfort.html

In wake of Newtown shooting, why blame atheists?
I admire the people of all faiths and beliefs who have come together to honor the lives lost in the incomprehensible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary earlier this month. They provide support to those who are in mourning, and strive for a safer and more unified community. That said, I am concerned that some of these efforts have rendered people like me-nonreligious Americans-invisible. The interfaith memorial service in Newtown featured expressions from multiple faiths, including remarks from President Obama that reflected only a theistic perspective. A non-religious perspective was absent, and this, I think, is a problem. Especially since, in the human search to place blame for this tragedy, nontheists like me have become a target.
http://tv.msnbc.com/2012/12/27/in-wake-of-newtown-shooting-why-blame-atheists/

Reports to the contrary notwithstanding, secularization is not the wave of the future.
In 2012 a much trumpeted Pew study showed a record number of Americans professing to be religiously unaffiliated, with 20 percent declared as "nones." Although the same study showed about the same percentage of Americans attending church regularly as have for the last 80 years, it was widely heralded as proof of accelerating secularization.
http://spectator.org/archives/2012/12/31/religion-highlights-of-2012

December 18, 2012 - 2:02 pm

Sadly, long time Hawaii Senator, Daniel Inouye, died Monday. Elected in 1962, Inouye was the Senate's most senior member -- the longest current serving senator at the time of his death and the second longest in Senate history.

Inouye wasn't perfect on church state issues. He received a 67% rating from Americans United for Separation of Church and State in 2006, earning him a "mixed record" label. But more recently, Inouye earned an "A" grade on our own 2009 Senate Score Card.  

In the short term at least, we are losing a friend in the Senate and gaining a possible adversary.

Despite his best attempts, and an endorsement from Richard Dawkins, our own Herb Silverman didn't win South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley's appointment to Jim DeMint's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. Instead she appointed Tea Party Republican Congressman, Tim Scott.

Even more unfortunate, Scott is known for his refusal to separate religion from government. Scott, however, takes it a step further-not only does he want religion inserted into government, but he believes Christians are literally under attack and incorrectly asserts that they are a minority in the U.S.

"The greatest minority under assault today are Christians. No doubt about it," Scott said in January of 2012. "[...]We are in desperate need of a compass, a moral compass that tells us the difference between right and wrong. And I believe that you can look no further than the word of God to find that compass."

As a member of the Charleston County Council in 1995, he placed the 10 Commandments outside the building because according to him, the display "would remind council members and speakers the moral absolutes they should follow.

Thankfully he was successfully sued by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. But Scott had no trouble using thousands, possibly millions of dollars in taxpayer funding to further his religious agenda. "Whatever it costs in the pursuit of this goal (of displaying the Commandments) is worth it," he said.

It seems we have a long row to hoe.

December 12, 2012 - 4:33 pm

An open atheist in the U.S. Senate? Could be if South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appoints SCA President, Herb Silverman, to fill the vacant spot being left by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint.  

Herb has some stiff competition though: Stephen Colbert. According to Public Policy Polling for South Carolinians, Colbert tops the list of possible Haley appointments with 20 percent of those polled. But not with the people of Colbert's hometown, Charleston! In fact, according to an ongoing poll conducted by the Charleston City Paper, Herb is leading Colbert, 86 percent to Colbert's 11 percent. Not even close.

Herb for senate is a long shot, perhaps, but he has already been endorsed by Richard Dawkins.  (Take that, Colbert!)

As for DeMint, he announced last week he would step down to join the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank dedicated to (among other things) fighting "attempts to relegate religion to private life," including promoting abstinence-only sex education and "traditional marriage."  

Just how sweet would it be to see our own atheist activist replace the Religious Right Senator who claims God put Christians in charge of America?   

Want your say? Take to Twitter and tell Stephen Colbert to debate Herb! #SenatorHerb

Vote for Herb or view results here.

December 4, 2012 - 4:21 pm

Protecting the lives of children, even from their own parents, is the duty of the state. In most cases, the state does its best to step in when children are being abused and neglected.

But when religion is involved the lines become blurred. In Wisconsin, for example, the state protects children from a parent who would intentionally deny a child necessary medical care-unless they are doing it because of their religion. Wisconsin's prayer treatment exception doesn't shield parents from homicide prosecutions, only prosecutions for child abuse and neglect.

But in the case of the Neummans, whose child slowly died of diabetes while they prayed for her, the parents now argue that Wisconsin's law did not give them clear notice of when medical care became necessary under the law. The Neummans' defense is that the faith healing exemption is ambiguous and they weren't sure at what point it applied.

Today the Neummans will attempt to persuade the state Supreme Court to overturn their homicide convictions, because they believe the state law protects them from prosecution. "The case presents charged questions for the court about where religious freedom ends. The justices for the first time will have to weigh whether the state's faith-healing exemptions protect parents from criminal liability if their choices lead to a child's death," said one Associated Press article.

The obvious solution to future problems like this is to remove faith healing exemptions completely. If an adult rejects medical treatment, that is his or her choice. But children's medical decisions are not their own and they should not lose their lives due to another's religious beliefs-even their parents'.

Today 31 states have child-abuse religious exemptions. When a child is being abused or neglected, the justifications for it shouldn't matter-abuse is abuse. Neglect is neglect. Especially when it comes to life and death, the state must put the welfare of children above the religious beliefs of the parents.

November 7, 2012 - 6:12 pm

***UPDATED*****

Election Day wasn't without its share of disappointments but for the nontheistic community it was overwhelmingly a very good night!

The Good

  • In Florida, Amendment 8, which would have allowed for taxpayer funding of religion was voted down.
  • Voters in Washington state, Maryland and Maine approved same-sex marriage. "We've lost at the ballot box 32 times," Paul Guequierre of Human Rights Campaign told CNN. "History was made tonight."
    Election Image from Shutterstock.
  • In Minnesota voters rejected a measure that would have banned same-sex marriage.
  • President Barack Obama was reelected. Obama received a "C" grade on the Secular Coalition's Presidential Candidate Scorecard, coming in behind Libertarian Gary Johnson, who received a "B." However, of the two major party candidates, Obama came in well above his challenger, Republican, Mitt Romney, who received an "F" on the Scorecard.
  • Missouri's U.S. Representative, Todd Akin, lost his seat. Akin, who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has repeatedly denied scientific evidence in many areas, including regarding climate change, and making explosive claims that the female reproductive system is able to block conception from an unwanted pregnancy. He also objected to removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Kyrsten Sinema, won her Arizona Congressional race, she is the first bisexual member of Congress and is supportive of a strong separation of church and state.

The Bad

  • Sadly, longtime California U.S. Representative, Pete Stark, lost his reelection bid. Stark was the only open nontheist in Congress.
  • Minnesota U.S. Rep, Michelle Bachman, who received an "F" in every category on the Secular Coalition's Presidential Primary Candidate Scorecard and an "F" on our Congressional Report Card, was reelected.
  • Massachusetts voted down a “Death With Dignity” initiative that would have permitted terminally-ill patients to request physician-assisted suicide medications. The initiative was narrowly defeated by a 51-49 margin.
  • Roy Moore, the so-called ‘10 Commandments judge’ won his old job back--he was  re-elected chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court.

 The Opportunity?

  • Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin will be the first openly gay Senator. Baldwin lists no religion and could be a strong ally for the nontheistic community.

The Humor

  • Charles Darwin got almost 4,000 write-in votes against Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, who said earlier that evolution is a "lie straight from the pit of hell."

 Looking Forward

Prior to the election same sex marriage was permitted in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont and the District of Columbia. We can now add three more states to that list. Additionally, we saw a successful effort to block marriage equality. According to CNN  a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage, with the number of Americans saying they have a close friend or family member who is gay at 60 percent-up from 49 percent in just 2010. Public opinion is definitely shifting on this issue.

The religiously unaffiliated are quickly becoming a voting bloc politicians-especially Democrats-will need to court. According to Pew, unaffiliated voters are now equal to white evangelicals. According to exit polls, the nones voted for Obama by a margin of 70-26. Obama won more than half of those who seldom or never attend religious services, and a full 70 percent of the religiously unaffiliated, according to CNN's exit polls. And in various states, that number was even higher. For example, in Pennsylvania, where unaffiliated voters make up 12 percent of the electorate, Obama won 74 percent of the "none" vote.

According to Sarah Posner, with Religion Dispatches, "Given what we've learned recently about religious realignments -- declining numbers of Catholics, declining numbers of mainline Protestants, declining numbers of evangelicals in the 18-29 year-old age group, and increasing numbers of unaffiliated voters, and in particular, atheists and agnostics in the 18-29 year-old age group -- it seems like a significant shift is underway."

A shift indeed. One we are looking forward to.

November 5, 2012 - 4:18 pm

There’s no doubt about it: atheists get a bad rap.

According to a 2006 national survey, nearly 79 percent of Americans believe that atheists don’t share their vision of American society. Nonbelievers are branded as immoral, hedonistic and rebellious.

With the rise of the Religious Right, we’ve seen ever increasing attempts to equate religion and morality as mutually exclusive. We hear our politicians talk about their faith and how they believe it positively impacts society. We are marginalized by rampant assertions that belief in a god is a prerequisite for American patriotism.

So, it’s no surprise that with all of the negative stereotypes nontheists have to combat, we have a long way to go in proving that we can indeed be “good without God.”As the nontheist movement grows –both in size and public awareness—nontheists are taking the opportunity to show fellow Americans that we don’t need religion to be good people.

Following the monster storm Sandy that ravaged the East Coast, Americans of all religious backgrounds, and none, began pitching in to help with disaster relief. The nontheistic community was willing and eager to help with relief efforts.

For example, the offices of American Atheists were damaged during the storm, as were some of the homes of the staff—many of whom are living without access to basic resources like electricity, heat, water, and gasoline. Despite its personal hardship, American Atheists was one of many groups to quickly step up to help others.

 

Read remainder of article at the Washington Post.

October 26, 2012 - 2:48 pm

After the Pew Forum study earlier this month that indicated 19.6 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, we didn't expect another study on the "nones" quite so soon. However, on Tuesday a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute was released, called The 2012 American Values Survey: How Catholics and the Religiously Unaffiliated Will Shape the 2012 Election and Beyond.

Considering that the nones are now the fastest growing "religious group" in the country, public interest is growing--especially in this election year, as it relates to the nones political leanings.

In many ways the Pew study seemed to marginalize the atheist/agnostic and secular segment of the nones, stressing that the group overall is not "uniformly secular." At a press conference for the release of the Pew study, Greg Smith a senior researcher at Pew's Forum on Religion and Public Life seemed to be offering reassurance to the crowd in both tone and rhetoric when he said, "atheists and agnostics are still a very small minority," noting that many nones still believe in a god (read: religious people, don't panic!).

Interestingly the American Values Survey paints a different picture. The new study found that atheists and agnostics make up a larger percentage of the unaffiliated population and thus a larger percentage of the general population overall. Based on the American Values Survey statistics, approximately 6.8 percent of the general population is atheist or agnostic, compared to the 5.7 percent of the population that the Pew study found. The American Values Survey also indicates that a full 75 percent of nones are in fact secular or atheist/agnostic.

Although more conservative in their accounting of unaffiliated Americans than the Pew study (for example, the American Values Survey found that 19 percent of Americans are nones, compared to Pew's 19.6 percent findings), the American Values Survey found that a larger percentage--36 percent--of nones are atheist or agnostic, while the Pew study put that percentage much lower at 29 percent. In the Pew study, the remaining 71 percent who did not identify as atheist or agnostic were labeled "nothing in particular".

The American Values Survey also broke down the unaffiliated "bloc" further than Pew, dividing us into three groups, "atheist/agnostic" (36 percent), "secular/non-religious" which accounts for 39 percent, and "unattached believers" which make up 23 percent.  This allowed the demographers to take a closer look at the beliefs and political leanings of the nones.

The American Values Survey found that the religiously unaffiliated overall tend to be less politically engaged than religiously-affiliated Americans. But when they looked at each demographic closer they found that this was not the case for atheists and agnostics. In fact, 73 percent of atheists and agnostics said they were absolutely certain they would vote in the 2012 election, compared to 53% of both secular Americans and unattached believers. 

The American Values Survey also delved a bit deeper into the nones by age. We knew that 35 percent of Millennials were religiously unaffiliated from the Pew study. The American Values Survey also found that 35 percent of 18-29 year olds were nones, but went further, identifying 40 percent of them as atheist or agnostic and another 39 percent as secular.

Click chart to enlarge:

Finally, whereas the Pew study noted that there were no major differences in education levels between the religious and the nones, the American Values Survey found that wasn't quite the case when they examined atheists and agnostics specifically.

The American Values Survey found that atheists and agnostics are "significantly better educated than Americans overall." Nearly 45 percent of atheists and agnostics have at least a four-year college degree. More than 1-in-5 (22 percent) have a post-graduate degree.

The release of both of these studies shows that the religiously unaffiliated are a fast-growing segment of society and one people are starting to pay attention to--and for good reason because politicians should absolutely be looking to engage these voters.

Whether we comprise 5.7 or 6.8 percent of the population, atheists and agnostics constitute a serious voting bloc--one that does tend to vote together on the issues and is passionate about political involvement. That becomes clearer when we compare those numbers to those of other religious groups that are smaller, yet have more political clout. Atheists and agnostics outnumber the combined membership of Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Orthodox, which combined account for only 5.4 percent of the population, according to information on Pew's site. Atheists and agnostics even outnumber groups like Lutherans (4.6 percent), Black Baptists (4.4 percent) and Methodists (less than 5.4 percent).

As a bloc we have the ability to be a powerful force in the political and legislative process, but only if we take advantage of our numbers, forcing politicians to recognize us as a constituency and take action on our concerns. To do that we must continue to make ourselves seen and heard both in everyday life as well as at the ballot box.