Atheist group asks president to recognize religious 'nones' as good citizens

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Well-known atheist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins signs a poster reading, "In the beginning, MAN created GOD" for Andrea Garber (C), 15, during the "Rock Beyond Belief" festival at Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina March 31, 2012. The atheist-themed festival drew hundreds of people to Fort Bragg for what was believed to be the first-ever event held on a U.S. military base for service members who do not have religious beliefs. Organizers said they hoped the "Rock Beyond Belief" event at Fort Bragg would spur equal treatment toward nonbelievers in the armed forces and help lift the stigma for approximately 295,000 active duty personnel who consider themselves atheist, agnostic or without a religious preference. Now, the Freedom from Religion Foundation is asking President Obama to attend a similar gathering to legitimize atheism. | REUTERS/Chris Keane

MADISON, Wisc. (Christian Examiner) – On the heels of his speeches about faith, fear and religious freedom at a Baltimore mosque and the National Prayer Breakfast last week, President Obama has been offered an invitation to speak to a group decidedly less religious – in fact, the irreligious.

The leaders of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a litigious Wisconsin-based atheist group, claims the president should speak up for religious "nones" because they've suffered in silence for far too long.

"We respectfully invite you, in your final year in office, to do something no American president has ever done: reach out to secular America," FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote in the letter.

"Such attention from the Office of the President would demonstrate that freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and rationalists are accepted citizens. As you pointed out in your first inaugural address: 'We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers.'"

FFRF's band of "America's 'Nones'" – which Barker and Gaylor claims is nearly 24,000 strong – will reportedly assemble at the Lincoln Memorial for the "Reason Rally" on June 4, 2016. Both asked Obama to speak to the group as it gathers with other secular Americans to help lend an air of legitimacy to those who do not identify with a religion.


The letter claims more than one third of Millennials – or 35 percent – do not claim a religious affiliation, an indication, the letter claims, of the large number of non-believers in America. That claim, however, is patently and demonstrably false when the Pew Research Center study the group cites, without attribution, is considered.

The study defines the terminology of the large group of millennials as "religiously unaffiliated." They remain religious, but are increasingly less institutionally religious – departing traditional denominations for loose attachments or no attachment to a named church. The survey claims, however, that those who abandon a denomination are more likely to return to a church later in life. It also notes that most "nones" still believe in God, heaven and hell.

The same survey claims "unbelief" has increased by 3 percent in recent years. However, 89 percent of Americans still claim to believe in God.

According to the FFRF letter, freethinkers, atheists and agnostics are subject to "reprehensible prejudice and ubiquitous social stigmatization," enduring "unwarranted stereotypes, putdowns and assumptions that we cannot be good people or good citizens."

"The University of Minnesota found that atheists are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to social acceptance, in comparison to a variety of minorities often typified as 'other,' including gays, Muslims, recent immigrants, Jews and racial minorities," the letter said. "Acceptance of religious diversity does not extend to the nonreligious."

The letter included a list of scientists, literary figures, social reformers and philanthropists who were "freethinkers" and who made contributions to American society.

If the president were to come to the event June 4, the letter claims he will be sending a message that non-religious should not be marginalized.