The Godless Americans March on Washington welcoming address by Ellen Johnson

The Godless Americans March on Washington welcoming address by Ellen Johnson

President, American Atheists Chairperson, GAMOW Taskforce Director, Godless Americans Political Action Committee

Welcome to the first-ever GODLESS AMERICANS MARCH ON WASHINGTON. I want to welcome our C-SPAN audience.

Actually, this march is for ALL Americans. ALL Americans are “God-less Americans,” because there is NO GOD. (Thank you, Emmett Fields)

It is an honor and a privilege to stand here today with all of you, along with the representatives of so many different organizations that have gathered for this great event.

We are surrounded by the monuments and memorials which are part of the history of this country — and it is a history that we share. But the most important part of this isn’t a building or a statue or a fountain — it’s where we are standing right now, the National Mall. That is because nearly every group of Americans throughout history that was excluded, or marginalized, or denied their rights, came here to be heard.

They came to raise their voices in protest and strength. They marched because they saw a problem to be addressed, an injustice to be corrected, and a new set of attitudes and policies our nation needed to embrace. They marched with the winds of social change at their backs and knew that the time had come for action and for new ideas to take form. And now, we are here.

The motto of the Godless Americans March On Washington declares that we are “free, proud, and on the move.”

We are intellectually free because we doubt, we question, and we have the courage to disagree. We are free of the strictures of blind faith. We realize that it is reason, not uncritical adherence to unquestioned dogmas, that is the basis of human freedom and progress.

We are proud of who we are and we are speaking out. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, so many of our nation’s political leaders tried to whip this nation into a frenzy of religious fervor and righteousness. The President of the United States, just as he and other politicians had done in previous elections, cited the virtues of belief as a credential for leadership and a litmus test of patriotism and wholesomeness. He callously ignored the more than thirty million people in this nation who, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, profess no religion. He dismissed millions of us — make that tens of millions of us — who are Atheists, and Freethinkers and Secular Humanists, or go by some other appellation. Perhaps worst of all, he ignored the godless men and women who have served and serve today in the Armed Forces of this nation! Some of those men and women are represented by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and they could not be here today because they are els ewhere in the world serving their country. Shame on you, George Bush!

We are on the move because we want the same rights as every other group of Americans who have marched down this mall! Every other group in this country has organized for their social and political agenda, and they often took the first, major steps right here — on this Mall. They have spoken out and organized themselves — and now it’s our turn.

We are on the move toward organizing ourselves into a viable and influential movement in America. We will take a page from religious groups who play the game so well. We are on the move to becoming a well-oiled political machine in America that also knows how to play the game.

I am not here today to whine about how badly we are treated and how much we are ignored. Oh, no! This isn’t a pity party, folks. This is a class in Activism 101. This is a lesson in how the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If we are tired of sitting at the back of the proverbial bus, then we have to get up if we want to get to the front.

Politicians respond to groups that can deliver the votes and financial support. If you can’t do that, then you get ignored. It’s that simple. I think we get ignored, not so much because we are godless Americans, but because we are not yet politically savvy.

There are over THIRTY MILLION “Godless Americans” in this country, and that figure is growing. We’re over 14% of the population. We’re not a monolithic movement, we use different labels to describe ourselves, and we’re not all organized, but we are numerous.

When it comes to standing up for our civil fights and demanding a “place at the table” in the political process, it’s time to remind ourselves, and our elected officials, about our numbers. There are more non-believers in America than there are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Methodists, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Amish, Baha’i, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Jams, and Wiccans. No politician should ignore that large a segment of the population, but they do, because we are not yet well-organized. NOT YET.

We need to copy a page from the religious groups in America. We, too, need to become a well-oiled, well-financed, well-organized political machine. (Hello — all you wealthy Atheists out there! We could use some of your financial support.) My predecessor Jon Murray summed it up perfectly when he said, “We need to learn what Christians know all too well: the value of being a pain in the ass.” And that’s so true.

The rewards of activism are without measure. How can you put a price on feelings of empowerment, fulfillment, pride, accomplishment, involvement, and self-assurance? The more you get involved and take action against those situations and issues that upset you, the LESS you feel like a victim. There is an old Yiddish saying that I like, which is: “When someone pisses on you, don’t call it rain.”

Some of you are not used to being activists. Some “godless Americans” don’t want to “criticize” anything about theology because they don’t want to offend religious people. Yet, in politics, these very same folks have no problem criticizing Republican or Democratic ideas. But, some- how religious ideas are a protected class of ideas. Well not to me! I don’t like theism, just as I don’t like racism or sexism, and I think the world would be a better place without all of them — and I am not afraid to say so. When it comes to the abuses of religion in America I do not turn the other cheek. Activism does involve ruffling some feathers. We are going to be hated by some, but I would rather be hated by others than to hate myself for not standing up for what I think is right and not fighting those things that I think are wrong.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy said:

“There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction…”

The American people don’t have anything to fear from us. Godlessness simply means that we accept the supremacy of reason and work towards establishing a lifestyle and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds.

We prize life on earth and strive always to improve it because we know that this is the only life we will ever have.

We hold that people are capable of creating a system based on reason and justice. Our “faith” is in people and their ability to transform the world’s cultures by their own efforts. This is a commitment which is in every sense life-asserting because it considers the struggle for progress to be a moral obligation and impossible without noble ideas that inspire people to bold, creative works.

We think that Humankind’s potential for good and for an outreach to a more fulfilling cultural development is, for all intents and purposes, unlimited.

What is so scary about that?

We godless Americans are everywhere in America! Gays comprise about 10% of the population. Jews comprise less than 3% of the population, yet everyone knows someone who is gay or Jewish. Non-believers in America comprise 14% of the population, so you know that everyone knows a non-believer. It’s just that so many of us are in that awful closet. But whether you know it or not America, we are your neighbors, your friends, your spouses and lovers and children. We are in the professions and the trades. We run businesses, we work for corporations, we serve this country proudly in the military. We are fire and police personnel, and yes, we, too served in the recovery after 9/11!

We are: musicians like Neal Cary, who is a cellist; psychologists like John Scalise; computer programmers like Sandra Van Maren; civil engineers like Shelly Hattan; nurses like Liz Burcin; railroad workers like James Hughes, who is also a proud member of the United Steelworkers of America. We are welfare caseworkers like Michelle Malkin; cartoonists and graphic designers like Keith McCaffety; astrophysicists like Dave Strickland; truck drivers like Jim Newman; airplane pilots like Bart Meltzer; trim carpenters like Laurie Jewett; authors like Lenni Brenner; self-employed couriers like Theresa Durkee; vocational rehabilitation counselors like Wayne Orgar; college students like Brian Berkey; psychology professors like Jo Ann Mooney; high school students like Richard Bond and Jay Richardson; buyers and purchasing agents for food service distributors like Anthony Brock; chemical laboratory technicians like Lance Wilhem; graphic artists like Anne Richardson; high school teachers like Matt Cadorette; dental hygien ists like Teresa Harris; computer operators like Robert Rapp; and attorneys like Charlene Dryer.

Most of you have been working your tails off for years to help with the cause. All across the country you struggle with discrimination in your schools and workplaces. You fight to stop special rights legislation for religious entities. And you speak out tirelessly for the rights of nonbelievers. You are often isolated and alone yet you persevere to be on the right side of reason, progressive thinking, and the United States Constitution. So for all that you do, and for all that you are, this day is for pride and recognition for you!

We still need to keep marching, and keep protesting, and we need to continue to educate America about who we are and what we stand for; but it’s now time to take the next step.

I’m asking you today to take that next step with me. When we go back to our communities after this March on Washington, it can be an ending or a new beginning. I want it to be that new beginning, that next step for Godless Americans. I want each and every one of you to consider working with me through the Godless Americans Political Action Committee.

It’s great that we’re here in DC, I know some of you came hundreds and even thousands of miles to be here, that it took effort — and it shows that you care. You care about the separation of church and state, you care about defending a secular and enlightened culture. But I’m now asking you to go a little farther, to take that next step with me. The purpose of the Godless Americans PAC will be to support our friends and encourage us in the quest for public office.

Earlier I mentioned a report noting that there are over thirty million Americans now who profess no religious beliefs. This is what the report said about us.

“Even so, the ranks of those who reject religious doctrines and movements is thriving in the United States … This is a diverse and politically independent group, of course, that will likely never march under any one banner, label or organization — as it should be. Much of this cohort, though, may have some common issues regarding civil rights for Atheists and others of no religion, the separation of church and state, and civil liberties in general. Larger than many denominations and for the most part un-organized, it is a potential sleeping giant waiting to flex its political and cultural influence.”

Look at the people behind me! Look around you! Think of thirty million other “Godless Americans” and people “without religion,” look at the people standing next to you, look at yourself. Ladles and Gentlemen, I see a sleeping giant that is waking up and ready to assert its political and cultural influence!

I’m not saying that this next step is the “only answer.” I’m not asking you to stop supporting whatever organization you might belong to. I am saying that this is one way in which we can work together on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation.

We have cards being distributed right now for you to sign if you want to help the Godless Americans Political Action Committee.

I also want each and everyone of you to consider becoming active in some kind of “Godless Americans” group. There are plenty of national, regional and local organizations represented here today. We go by different labels, we have different styles and agendas, and being critical thinkers we don’t always agree. But I encourage you — find the one that is right for you, find the one that best articulates your ideas, and then take action.

You are going to hear from a lot of wonderful people today, some of them famous, some of them not so famous. We all like celebrities and yes there are celebrities who are godless. We all have heroes in this movement. But just remember one thing: godless Americans watching you on television and future generations of nonbelievers will look back on today to what you have done here and think of you as their heroes. We encourage all the celebrities nonbelievers who are watching this today to help us and lend their names to the cause. But until they do please remember, you don’t need a celebrity to validate your rationalism. If you want a godless hero my friends, LOOK IN THE MIRROR.

Thank you.

Ms. Johnson may be reached at: ej@atheists.org

Copyright [c] 2002 by American Atheists.

COPYRIGHT 2002 American Atheists Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group