For 2012 Election, Stand Up and Tell Them You Are an Atheist

Or an agnostic, humanist, freethinker, or whatever secular label you define yourself with. On Friday, July 22, at a town hall meeting on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland, I had the rare opportunity to tell the president of the United States that I was an atheist—with a smile—on live television in a stadium filled with hundreds of people.

I have received lots of positive feedback from members of the secular community. Because I asked a question about employment discrimination in faith-based organizations that accept tax-payer funds, my Q&A with the president received mainstream media coverage as well.

As local, state, and national political elections begin to take shape across the country, members of the secular community have a wonderful opportunity—and maybe even a duty—to start asking all candidates where they stand when it comes to the rights of nontheists.

The most common criticism I have received after asking my question at the town hall was that it was not appropriate at a gathering meant to focus on the debt crisis and the economy. Well, my question did focus on the economy—just not an area most people probably were expecting.

But no matter the forum, it is never wrong to ask our elected officials—or those who want to become our governmental representatives—about our civil liberties. Too often civil liberties are pushed to the back of politicians’ priority lists when there is an economic crisis or a terrorist threat.

We need members of the secular community to show up at local, state, and national events, identify themselves as nontheists, and ask candidates and incumbents how they will represent the secular community. Doing so may be newsworthy and scary for some, so this must be a personal decision. But doing this will show our fellow citizens and our nation just how many of us there are—and give us the voice in government that we deserve and need in order to affect change at every level of government.

Standing up and telling the president and hundreds of people while on live television that I was an atheist was one of the proudest moments of my life. I hope other nontheists take the opportunity to do the same.

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This is the worst reply to unjust acts by religious organizations I have ever heard president Obama make. Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth simultaneously. The first amendment does not guarantee religious freedom, it guarantees freedom from religion ... "congress shall not make no law respecting an establishment of religion...". The next part of this statement talks about not prohibiting religious expression. This was never meant to promote discrimination based on religion. The compromise he referred to is no compromise at all, but says in sum that it's ok for religious organizations to discriminate based on religious preferences. Further, he used Jewish organizations as examples of possible religious discrimination, being very careful not to mention christian organizations which are the main source of discrimination based on religion. I still prefer Obama as the next president compared to the Republican lunatics he will run against. But, I prefer him much less having heard his weasel worded reply.
I think you did a great job and asked a hard question, thanks for being so brave. However, I am not so disappointed with the president's answer, it was a hard question, certainly an unexpected question, and frankly, one to which there will never be a real answer. As an employer, I can tell you that you can pass all the laws in the world, and I'm still going to hire who I want to hire. A religious organization will do the same. But, there's a part of me that wonders if this is a worthwhile effort due to what I just said, or is it just a way to make waves, another fruitless battle? I mean, what atheist is going to go to work for a church, or faith-based organization? Haven't you already given over your own beliefs and morals by taking money that originated in the church collection plate? You, at that point, are supported by the CHURCH. I can't imagine applying for such a job, no matter the economy. I'd rather dig ditches 4 feet deep on a hundred degree day. I just see this as a useless struggle when there are much bigger fish to fry.
Thank you, Amanda, for having the courage to stand up and put this issue to the President!
Thank you Amanda for all your hard work! I'm a 'fan' as well, but was disappointed at our Presidents response to you. Keep up the good work!
I love the way this was handled. Amanda was polite and respectful but identified her affiliation clearly and made her point succinctly. What was embarrassing was watching the president meander his way though an answer that didn't really address the issue she brought up. I expected better from him.
Thank you, Amanda, for the profound manner in which you represented atheists and our political issues to the President as well as a national audience. You set the example for the rest of us to speak out as we enter the 2012 election year. I look forward to the 2012 Reason Rally in Washington, announced at this year's American Atheist convention, to demonstrate the magnitude of the atheist voice in America!
I'm a completely anti-theistic Athiest. No, I don't believe war would stop or ignorance would be cured by removing religion from the equation. I do believe however that people would think more than twice about risking their or other people's life if the recognized the importance of living in the larger scheme. In a world where existance is limited to those who exist, every second of life counts, and we can focus on real problems here in the now. I am 31, American and I am an Athiest.
Yes, you did a great job but Obama was a huge disappointment. He couldn't bring himself to give you a straight, constitutional answer to save his life, and it was clear from your expression that you were feeling the same. I would have been tempted to walk out on him after an insincere performance like that. After all his other compromises I'm about done with him and will only vote for him because he's not a rethuglican pig, not because I can trust a word he says any more. I have a glimmer of a hope that his second term will allow him to be more effective, but as Carl Sagan said, the flame gutters and the demons begin to stir... Keep doing what you can, though.
I'm impressed and thanks!
I agree. There are many of us. And hopefully one day we can ALL come out of the closet.
Great job Amanda. I agree with Josh that your actions serve as an excellent reminder that we need to remind our elected officials that "what religion" is in the conversation isn't the only thing -- "no religion" also needs representation. @Josh: "one doesn't need a higher power to live a good life, nor the hope of a reward to do good" -- that says it all man. Well put.
Great job pinning Obama down on his failure to keep a campaign promise. That said, religion is nothing more than an idea (like racism) and thus it should never be included as a protected "class" in anti-discrimination laws. If the law is going to protect religious ideas, then why not all ideas? Of course this would not be practical, so my suggestion is to allow discrimination against all ideas equally, including religion.
Great job! Thanks for standing up.
I've been an atheist for a few years (agnostic atheist for the pickier of you), and I've never been happier. I've realized that one doesn't need a higher power to live a good life, nor the hope of a reward to do good. It stands to us to show that there are more nonreligious people than politicians think. I hope to one day vote for an out-of-the-closet atheist presidential candidate.

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