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Freethought Today · Vol. 23 No. 1 January/February 2006

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

City Council Race

"Tom Clark, the Atheist" Garnered 43% of Vote: Tom Clark

By Tom Clark

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Foundation co-president Dan Barker with Tom Clark (right), photographed at the 2005 FFRF convention in Orlando.

I have never kept the fact that I am an atheist a secret.

In February 2004, I requested that the City Council of Cape Coral, Fla., represent the section of the population like myself, and allow me to give a secular invocation. After much ado I was reluctantly allowed. I have now given three. That effort was published in the November 2004 issue of Freethought Today (Nov 04).

After outing myself as an atheist to the citizens of the entire city, I filed to run for city council. I was told by many of my supporters that I should never have let the people know of my religious disbeliefs. To which I would always reply: "It's who I am." I never apologized for my lack of belief or attacked their views.

I ran against two opponents in the primary, one the incumbent, the other a businessman. I was told by the businessman, Mr. Antos, that he would be surprised if I received three percent of the vote because I was an atheist and had no morals. Both opponents attacked me personally.

Every time the newspapers wrote of me it was "Tom Clark, the Atheist." I protested to the media that they never referred to my opponents as "Antos and Day, the Catholics." This fell on deaf ears. The media did not endorse any candidates in the primary, but it was quite clear that it was not I they favored.

It was a difficult primary campaign for me. All the attacks were directed at me, by both opponents, and were personal in nature. My opponent, Councilman Day, brought up the fact that I did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I merely said that I thought of it as a prayer and that my patriotism could not be in question, as I had served my country and my opponent had not. The fact that I was on the board of the ACLU in Lee County was also used against me. I ran my campaign on the issues of the city and never deviated.

I have always been active in my community in one aspect or another. I was the chairman of a group in my quadrant of the city that worked with the police department to meet the needs of the community. I worked with a group that raised private money to beautify the medians along the shopping district. I was the president of the Neighborhood Watch for the entire city of 150,000. I am an Apheresis (platelet) donor, a three-hour process once a month at the blood bank. This I do to help cancer victims.

I received 30% of the primary vote, Antos 20% and the incumbent 50%. I knew it would be an uphill battle to win in the general election. It is tough to run while being vilified. I stuck to the issues.

In the general election campaign I worked very hard, talking to as many people as I could. Many that I talked to said they would not vote for someone who didn't believe in god (purposely left in lower case). I stood on the side of the major arteries in and out of the city, waving to the people in rush-hour traffic.

The media and whoever else made endorsements selected my opponent to support. The coverage was always slanted. The only place I received any support was in the opinion page, where a few people wrote in, in my defense.

The city elections are supposed to be nonpartisan. In an area that is mostly Republican, my opponent kept bringing up the fact that I am a Libertarian.

A couple of weeks before the election, all of the churches received a letter from my opponent stating he needed their help in defeating "the atheist." I don't know how many clergy got up at the pulpit at his behest. One or two were publicly upset at the letter

On Election Day, I received 43% of the vote. Although the incumbent was reelected I did not lose, for you see, I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I was outspent on the campaign. He spent twice as much as I did.

Since his reelection his mission in life seems to be getting me ousted from doing any more invocations. The new ploy is, invocations will no longer be officiated by clergy or the public (me). Members of the council will now pick from three invocations or have a moment of silence. This is spreading to the City Charter School Board. So I guess I've won a partial victory in this arena.

Not everyone is a bigot. One of the council members asked if I would give an invocation at her husband's birthday celebration.

Tom Clark is a Foundation member living in Florida.