Pete Stark

On this date in 1931, Fortney Hillman "Pete" Stark was born in Milwaukee, Wis. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in engineering (1953), and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 to 1957. In 1960, Stark earned a Masters in Business Administration from the University of California-Berkeley. In 1963, Stark founded Security National Bank (Walnut Creek, Calif.), which has grown into a $1 billion financial institution. Stark served in Congress from 1973 to 2012 representing the 13th Congressional District, a diverse area covering the east side of the San Francisco Bay, stretching from Alameda to Fremont. Stark has received less than 60% of the vote only twice since his first election. He served on the House Banking and Currency Committee in his first term in Congress and is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Stark is the only open nonbeliever in Congress. In 2007, members of Congress received a survey about their religious belief and Rep. Stark answered, "that I didn't believe in a supreme being. Within a week, I had 5,000 responses from around the world, almost all of them favorable" (Stark, accepting the 2010 Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation via a videotaped message). He told FFRF convention-goers: "Thankfully, we're moving in a direction where some feel it's not an act of courage simply to state that you don't believe in god. The work of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is helping to make this possible." Stark issued a statement about his nonbelief on March 12, 2007: "Like our nation's founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. 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 services." Stark told a constituent who praised him: "It's not courageous to make a simple statement about personal beliefs. What is courageous is to stand up in Congress and say, 'Let's tax the rich and give the money to poor kids'" (Freethought Today, "Rep. Stark Makes History," April 2007). Stark received the 2007 Harvard Humanist of the Year award. In 2008, he was honored as the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association for his "strong record of championing humanist values . . . shown by his advocacy for universal health care, peace, and religious freedom" (American Humanist Association website, June 6, 2008). In 2011, Stark introduced a bill into the U.S. House "Expressing support for designation of Feb. 12, 2011, as Darwin Day and recognizing the importance of science in the betterment of humanity." 

"Thankfully, we're moving in a direction where some feel it's not an act of courage simply to state that you don't believe in god. . . . We must continue to speak out, be honest about our beliefs."

—Rep. Pete Stark, in a videotaped acceptance speech for the 2010 Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, at the annual FFRF convention in Madison, Wis., Oct. 2010

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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