The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the letter, below, today to President Barack Obama (on the same day he addressed the National Prayer Breakfast). Or read as PDF here.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Re: Please also welcome nonreligious to the "American family"
Dear Mr. President:
To help counter anti-Muslim bigotry, you spoke at a mosque yesterday. Last week, you spoke at the Israeli embassy and, in a show of solidarity with the Jewish minority, said, "I, too, am a Jew." It is laudable for the President to embrace citizens of all colors and religious viewpoints as being part of "one American family" and to caution citizens not to be "bystanders to bigotry." But there is one U.S. minority that has been consistently excluded from such notice: nonreligious Americans.
We respectfully invite you, in your final year in office, to do something no American president has ever done: reach out to secular America. 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."
On June 4, 2016, as you are aware, America's "Nones" will gather at the Lincoln Memorial for the Reason Rally, sponsored by major secular organizations, including Freedom From Religion Foundation. On behalf of our 23,500 members around the nation, we add our voice to those encouraging you to make a historic appearance at what will be the largest event for secular Americans. This would provide an ideal opportunity for the Office of the President to welcome and address tens of thousands of good citizens who reflect the 23 percent of the adult population who identify as nonreligious. "Nones" are the fastest growing segment in the U.S. population by religious identification. More than a third of Millennials — 35 percent — identify as nonreligious. In fact, "Nones" have recently surpassed Roman Catholics as the largest "denomination" in the United States.
Yet reprehensible prejudice and ubiquitous social stigmatization dog U.S. freethinkers, atheists and agnostics. Those of us who are nonreligious daily encounter unwarranted stereotypes, putdowns and assumptions that we cannot be good people or good citizens. A December 2011 study in the Journal of Personality and Psychology found, appallingly, that atheists rank, with rapists, as least trustworthy!
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. "Acceptance of religious
diversity does not extend to the nonreligious." The study, published in the American Sociological Review, April 2006, even reported that atheists are the people they would least like their children to marry.
Only in the past few years has a slim majority polled by Gallup even agreed it would consider voting for an atheist. It is sad that in a nation with a secular Constitution barring religious tests for public office, a de facto religious test is being imposed. Boy Scouts of America, of which the President is the nominal "commander in chief," recently lifted its hurtful membership ban against gays, but continues to brag about excluding nonreligious boys and to maintain "that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."
Thomas Jefferson, a Deist, famously pointed out: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Yet too many Americans appear to have imbibed the lessons found in the untrue condemnations in Psalm 14: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good." We're sure you agree that it isn't what you profess that makes you a good person — it is what you do.
Freethinkers and nontheists have made and continue to make unheralded contributions to U.S. society, beginning with patriot Thomas Paine, an archcritic of biblical claims who sparked support for the revolution and gave our nation its very name. The first to speak out for abolition of slavery and capital punishment, for women's right to vote, for the right to reproductive freedom, have been freethinkers. The ranks of U.S. nonbelievers include legendary social reformers (W.E.B. DuBois, Clarence Darrow, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton), scientists (Luther Burbank, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Steven Pinker, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson), philanthropists (Jane Addams, Warren Buffett, Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates), literary luminaries (Isaac Asimov, Pearl Buck, Nora Ephron, Myla Goldberg, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Ursula K. LeGuin, Sinclair Lewis, James A. Michener, Ayn Rand, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut), songwriters, musicians and composers (Irving Berlin, Aaron Copland, Stephen Foster, the Gershwins, Billy Joel, Scott Joplin, Thelonious Monk, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Charles Strouse) and so many others who have brought beauty, art, progress, knowledge, compassion and reason to our society. As John Stuart Mill observed, "The world would be astonished if it knew how great a proportion of its brightest ornaments — of those most distinguished even in popular estimation for wisdom and virtue — are complete skeptics in religion."
By showing up on June 4, as you did at the mosque, and addressing nonbelieving Americans, you can send a signal that the marginalization of a quarter of the U.S. population is unacceptable. Please use your "bully pulpit" to help erase harmful attitudes toward the nonreligious minority in the United States, as you have done for religious minorities. Please address the Reason Rally on June 4 or speak at our auditorium in Freethought Hall (our offices) any time. We look forward to your reply.
Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation