Freedom From Religion Foundation Statement
President Trump is wide off the mark in calling the United States "a nation of believers."
In his most recent weekly address, the president once again found his religion, talking of Passover (a holiday to celebrate a god killing some people and not others) and Easter (a holiday to celebrate a god allowing himself to be killed, but not really). In his pious rambling, Trump made this stunning statement: "America is a nation of believers." Never has this been less true. This rhetoric is both wrong and harmful.
We are not a nation of believers.
Almost a quarter of Americans identify as nonreligious, according to Pew Research. That eight-point increase since 2007 and 15-point jump since 1990 makes the "Nones" the fastest-growing identification in America. And the proportion of unaffiliated is much higher among the young. More than one-third of Millennials — those born after 1981 — think of themselves as nonreligious.
The numbers are as striking when we look at those who identify strictly as atheist or agnostic. Those who explicitly identify as atheists and agnostics now comprise 7 percent of the U.S. population, which is more than Mormons, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Buddhists combined. About 12 percent of Millennials explicitly call themselves atheist or agnostic.
New studies are revealing that these numbers are likely low estimates. In a forthcoming paper, University of Kentucky researchers have estimated that around 26 percent of Americans don't believe in a god.
Trump's rhetoric is harmful.
The president's language paints believers as American and everyone else as "other." This alienates and excludes "Nones" from our own government and makes us second-class citizens. The stigma on nonbelief has existed for too long, and Trump perpetuates it.
Reprehensible prejudice and ubiquitous social stigmatization continue to 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 in the public's perception! And University of Minnesota research discovered that atheists are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to social acceptance, sharing that ranking with Muslims.
Only in the past few years has a slim majority polled by Gallup even agreed it would consider voting for an atheist. It is unacceptable that in a nation with a secular Constitution barring religious tests for public office, society has instead imposed a de facto religious test for good citizenship.
In the future, Trump would do well to use less divisive and counterfactual language. The president spoke to an American public that includes many atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. His refusal to acknowledge our presence or contributions to building this nation is shameful.