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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