RELIGION NEWS SERVICE - Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, D-Calif., is the first openly "nontheistic" member of Congress, the Secular Coalition for America announced Monday, March 12.
The coalition said Stark, who has represented San Francisco's East Bay since 1973, acknowledged his atheism in response to a questionnaire sent to public officials in January.
In a statement, Stark said he is a "Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being."
"I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social service," he said.
Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, said "the only way to counter prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so."
Only 45 percent of Americans said they would vote for a "generally well-qualified" atheist, according to a February Gallup Poll, ranking them lowest on a list that included Mormons (72 percent), candidates on their third marriage (67 percent) and homosexuals (55 percent).
The Washington-based coalition, which lobbies on behalf of atheists, humanists and other nontheists, said that "few if any elected officials, even at the lowest level, would self-identify as a nontheist" in response to its survey. The coalition eventually offered $1,000 to the person who could identify the highest-level atheist, agnostic, humanist "or any other kind of nontheist" in public office.
Only three other elected officials agreed to be identified: a school board president in Berkeley, Calif.; a member of a school committee in Maine; and a town meeting member from Massachusetts.
Lori Lipman Brown, a spokesperson for the secular coalition, said her group tallies 30 million nontheists in the U.S. "We seem to be extremely under-represented in elected office," she said.
"Atheists are the last group that a majority of Americans still think is OK to discriminate against," said Fred Edwords, director of communications for the American Humanist Association.
I'm shocked by the statistic that only 45% of Americans would vote for a nontheist. That's an alarmingly high amount of religious discrimination. Oh well... all the more reason to get out and make a more positive image for us atheists!