Stark makes strides in religious freedom

Perhaps his declaration will dissolve prejudices about freethinkers.

On March 12, U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., acknowledged his nontheism, calling himself “a Unitarian who does not believe in a Supreme Being.” He’s the first member of Congress and the highest-ranking official ever to go on record as a nonbeliever, and it’s about time.

It’s commonly accepted that identifying as an atheist is political suicide in the United States. According to the American Mosaic Project, a study conducted by the University’s sociology department, atheists are the least-trusted minority in the United States. Surveys show that the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office.

Of course, people used to have similar misconceptions about Catholics, Muslims, blacks and women. Perhaps Stark’s declaration will dissolve some prejudices about freethinkers. Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, hopes that it will encourage other closet nontheists to come forward and demonstrate that nonbelievers aren’t horned misanthropes, but valuable members of society.

Admittedly, Stark didn’t have a whole lot to lose by “coming out.” At 76, he’s probably nearing the end of his political career, and the San Francisco Bay Area that he represents is one of the most liberal and secular in the country. With over 30 years of public service in Congress, he’s well-established enough to take the risk.

In any case, it’s a start. We can only hope that Stark’s declaration will help Americans understand that nonbelievers are capable of great things.

If you’re interested in learning more about secularism and politics, Lori Lipman Brown will be speaking at the University at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday. March 22 in 130 Murphy Hall. She is the first advocate to Congress explicitly representing nontheistic Americans. She will report on key issues she has lobbied for, upcoming issues in the 110th Congress, the reception she has received both on Capitol Hill and in the media and the changes she has noticed with the introduction of a new majority in both houses of Congress.

For more information on this event, check out http://cashumn.org.

Lauren Hayden is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]