Some favorable election results for nontheists
There were plenty of religious issues and candidates on the Nov. 6 general election ballot across the U.S.
The Catholic Church and other denominations that vigorously opposed same-sex marriage with millions of dollars in four states lost all four referendums.
In Washington state, voters approved by 6 percentage points a same-sex marriage law passed by the Legislature. Maine voters approved a similar law by the same margin. Maryland voters approved gay marriage by 52% to 48%.
Minnesota was the first state ever to defeat a constitutional ban on the issue. A measure to amend the Constitution to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman lost 52% to 48%.
Bishop Richard Malone of the Diocese of Portland said he was â€śdeeply disappointedâ€ť how Mainers voted. Heâ€™d issued a statement earlier saying same-sex marriage supporters are â€śunfaithful to Catholic doctrine.â€ť
Nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia have now legalized gay unions.
Relatedly, Iowa voters retained Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins despite efforts by conservative evangelicals to get him off the bench because of his 2009 vote affirming the legality of same-sex marriage.
Wiggins was the fourth justice to stand for retention since the unanimous ruling. Three justices were all ousted in 2010.
Jesus shrine defender loses in Montana
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., lost the race for a U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic incumbent Jon Tester, 49% to 45%. Rehberg, a social conservative had some very ugly things to say about FFRF after it sued Feb. 7 in U.S. District Court, challenging the U.S. Forest Serviceâ€™s decision to renew a special permit to maintain a Jesus shrine in the Flathead National Forest near Kalispell.
Rehberg publicly denounced FFRF and started a website, vetsforjesus.com/, which takes visitors to his congressional website and a pitch to retain the shrine. He also joined a legal brief to keep the statue on Big Mountain.
Religion takes electoral hit in Florida
Florida voters on Nov. 6 defeated Amendment 8, the â€śReligious Freedom Amendmentâ€ť that would have repealed the stateâ€™s Blaine Amendment, a constitutional ban on tax money going to religious institutions. It was rejected by 56% to 44%.
Voters also defeated Amendment 6, which for the most part would have barred use of public funds to pay for abortions or for insurance coverage for abortions. The vote was 55% to 45%.
Darwin gets Georgia votes as write-in
Jim Leebens-Mack, a University of Georgia plant biologist who started a â€śDarwin for Congressâ€ť write-in campaign after incumbent Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., made some wacky remarks about evolution, said his candidate got a few more votes than he expected.
About 4,000 voters wrote in Charles Darwin for 10th District Congress. Broun, who had no Democratic opponent, called evolution â€ślies straight from the pit of hellâ€ť while speaking at a sportsmenâ€™s banquet at a Hartwell church.
Roy Moore regains Alabama court seat
Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who was removed in 2003 by a judicial panel for disobeying a federal court order, won a seat Nov. 6 on the state Supreme Court, garnering 52% of the vote against a Democratic opponent.
Moore refused to enforce a federal order requiring a Ten Commandments monument to be removed from the state judicial building.
He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006 and 2010 and most recently served as president of the Foundation of Moral Law, a conservative group. On his campaign website for the Supreme Court, Moore said he wonâ€™t try to bring the Ten Commandments back to the judicial building.
Pete Stark loses Calif. House seat
Rep. Fortney â€śPeteâ€ť Stark, D-Calif., Congressâ€™ only â€śoutâ€ť atheist, lost his seat by 6% to challenger Eric Salwell, a fellow Democrat. Californian has a new â€śtop-twoâ€ť primary system. Swalwell had 53 percent of the vote to Starkâ€™s 47, with about 99 percent of the precincts reporting.
Stark, 81, had accused Swalwell of accepting â€śhundreds of thousands of dollars in bribesâ€ť from developers, a charge he later retracted and apologized for.
The House will instead have a new person with a secular philosophy â€” Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, 36, a former state senator and former Mormon who is bisexual. She won narrowly by about 2,000 votes.
â€śThis is a step forward in that she was able to run openly as a nontheist, and it didnâ€™t seem to be an issue,â€ť Lauren Anderson Youngblood, communications manager for the Secular Coalition for America, told Religion News Service.
While some were trumpeting Sinema as a nontheist, campaign spokesman Justin Unga told RNS after the election that Sinema prefers a â€śsecular approach. Kyrsten believes the terms nontheist, atheist or nonbeliever are not befitting of her lifeâ€™s work or personal character.â€ť
Local school control takes Georgia hit
Georgia voters by 58% to 42% approved a new state board to issue charters for private operators to run public charter schools. Control over charter currently rests mostly with local school boards, though operators who are denied can appeal to the state Board of Education, reported The Associated Press.
State Superintendent John Barge said the new commission will lessen local control and siphon public money away from existing schools. A state charter commission was created in 2008, but the Georgia Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutionally took control away from local boards. The amendment effectively overrides that decision.
Exit polls offer snapshot of voters
A new Pew survey showed that 5% of respondents identifying themselves as regular churchgoers were â€śurged to vote in a particular wayâ€ť on Nov. 6. For white Catholic churchgoers, the number jumped to 13%, and â€śnone say they were urged to vote for Democratic candidates.â€ť
Pew Forum analysis also showed President Barack Obama got 70% and 69%, respectively, of religiously unaffiliated voters and Jewish voters. About 79% of white evangelical Protestants and 78% of Mormons voted for Mitt Romney (George W. Bush got 8% in 2004).
Among white mainline Protestants in the exit poll, 54% voted for Romney and 44% supported Obama. White Catholics backed Romney by 59%, up 7% from votes for John McCain in 2008.
Three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics voted for Obama. Half of Catholics as a whole voted for Obama, 48% for Romney.
About 59% of voters who said they attend church at least once a week voted for Romney, 39% for Obama. Among those who never attend church, 62% backed Obama.
Jews accounted for 2% of the 2012 electorate. Muslims and members of other non-Christian faiths together accounted for 7% of the electorate. The religiously unaffiliated made up 12%.
First Hindu elected to new Congress
Tulsi Gabbard, a Hindu from Honolulu, will serve in the 113th Congress representing Hawaiiâ€™s 2nd District in the U.S. House. Gabbard, a Democrat and the first Hindu elected to Congress, will take the oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita.
Gabbard, 31, was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother. Sheâ€™s a member of the Vaishnava sect that believes in the Supreme Lord Vishnu and his 10 primary incarnations.
Gabbard follows the Vaishnava branch that believes in the Supreme Lord Vishnu, and his 10 primary incarnations.
U.S. Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono, 65, defeated former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle for a U.S. Senate seat and will become the first Buddhist and Asian-American woman in the Senate. She was born in Fukushima, Japan.
According to CQ Roll Call, 11 members of the new Congress (about 2%) didnâ€™t specify a religious affiliation, up from six members in the 112th Congress.
In 2006, Hirono and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., were the first Buddhists to be elected to the House. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, became the Buddhist in 2010. Johnson and Hanabusa both won reelection.
The first Muslim to serve in the House or the Senate, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., was elected in 2006. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., became the second Muslim in 2008. Ellison and Carson were reelected.
According to the Pew Forum, Catholics saw the biggest gains in the new Congress. Catholics gained five seats for a total of 161, about 30% of the 530 seats. Jews saw the biggest decline, from 39 to 32 seats (6%). Mormons continue to hold 15 seats.
Members with Protestant affiliation make up about 56% of Congress, down 1% from 2010.