U.S. Rep. Pocan declares himself a freethinker

Before an audience of nearly 700 freethinkers — atheists, agnostics, humanists and nonreligious Americans — U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan recently declared himself one “of us” who do not follow a specific religion.

Pocan was named a “Champion of the First Amendment” at the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s annual national convention in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 20 for his advocacy as part of the Congressional Freethought Caucus. He stated:

I certainly wasn't elected to decide which form or sect of religion is right and which is wrong, but I do know that everyone has a right to their religious faith and — by our laws — everyone has a right to their lack of religious faith. [Applause.] And if you work for the government you have an obligation to follow our laws (period) which say there is a separation between church and state. It's really that easy. But it's also very important for the 24 percent* of us in this country who don't follow a specific religion to also have their values recognized. We are strongest when we adhere to the values put forth by our Constitution and it doesn't make us a religious nation. Just the opposite. They said, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Click here to watch Pocan's full speech.

“It was a striking moment,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’ve had 42 conventions, and it was heartwarming and historic to hear a member of Congress declare that he is ‘one of us’ at our 2019 convention.”

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, who co-founded the Congressional Freethought Caucus, has been the only open nonbeliever in Congress, identifying as a humanist and agnostic. Huffman spoke and received an award at FFRF’s national conference last year.

Pocan received the award in part for helping FFRF challenge the exclusionary prayers that open every day’s business at the U.S. House of Representatives. After Pocan nominated his constituent Dan Barker (FFRF co-president and a former minister) to be guest chaplain, U.S. Chaplain Pat Conroy, a Roman Catholic priest, barred Barker from delivering an invocation. Pocan then authored a friend of the court brief on Barker’s behalf, which noted that 54 percent of residents in Dane County, Wis., which he represents, identify as nonreligious. Even though FFRF lost that court fight to allow an atheist to give a secular invocation before the House, Pocan is determined to keep fighting: “Rest assured that that isn't the last you've heard of us about trying to change that practice,” he told the fired-up convention crowd.

The day before Pocan’s speech, Pew released new numbers showing another increase in the number of nonreligious Americans, up from the 24 percent Pocan referenced, to 26 percent. The Pew headline read: “In U.S., decline of Christianity continues at rapid pace.”

Members of Congress are finally beginning to reflect this demographic shift, a trend that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is confident will continue.

Photo by Chris Line

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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