Freethought Today · August 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

‘Nones’ gain as more drop religious habits

America’s “Nones” — the nonreligious — are at an all-time high, now comprising nearly one in five Americans (19%), according to a new study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. The 19% count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011 and reported by USA Today. 

“This means great news for progress, for reasoned debate, for the status of nonbelievers in our nation,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The freethought movement and FFRF are growing rapidly. There is an explosion of local and campus freethought groups, activities and conferences.”

“Nones” were already the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, according to the definitive American Religious Identification Survey, whose 2008 study showed adult Nones up to 15% from 6% in 1990. ARIS, released in 2009, actually estimated “Nones” at 20% if responses to broader questions about religious practices were included.

Freethinkers have been highly marginalized, in part for being perceived as making up a small segment of the U.S. population. Actually, there have always been many more nonreligious than Jews, Muslims, Mormons or Eastern religions’ adherents, currently respectively at 1.2%, 0.6%, 1.4% and 0.9% of the U.S. population, according to ARIS.

“Most minority religions, however tiny in numbers, are treated with respect, inclusion and sometimes deference. It’s time public officials and the American public wake up to the changing demographics and stop treating atheists and agnostics as outsiders,” added Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-directs FFRF with Barker.

“With nonbelievers at about 20% of the population, there is no longer any excuse for leaving us out of the equation. Public officials cannot continue to assume ‘all Americans’ believe in a deity, or continue to offend 20% of the population by imposing prayer at governmental meetings or government-hosted events. These surveys now show that ‘In God We Trust’ is a provenly inaccurate motto. Nonbelievers should not be treated as political pariahs,” Gaylor said.

“ ‘Nones’ in fact were at the time of the last ARIS survey, the second-largest ‘denomination’ in the nation,” Barker said, “following Catholics at 25% and tied with Baptists at 15%. According to the new Pew study, nonbelievers now outrank Baptists.”

An atheist for president?

While 90% of Americans would vote for a black, a woman, Catholic, Hispanic, or Jewish presidential candidate, only 54% would vote for an atheist and only 58%  would vote for a Muslim, according to a recent Gallup poll. It’s an improvement from 1958, when Gallup first asked the question and just 18% said they’d vote for an atheist. This is the first year a majority said it would vote for an atheist candidate.

Gallup began asking a Mormon question in 1967, when former Michigan Gov. George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, was a top candidate for the GOP nomination. That year, 19% said they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon for president. Now, 18% wouldn’t vote for a qualified Mormon, down from 22% in 2011.

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