From the President – American Atheists; Ellen Johnson address

From the President – American Atheists; Ellen Johnson address – Transcript

Ellen Johnson

Godless Americans March on Washington Press Conference Friday, November 1, 2002

Introductory Remarks by Ellen Johnson Chair, GAMOW Task Force

Good morning.

I want to thank everyone for being here today.

My name is Ellen Johnson, and I am the President of American Atheists and Chairwoman of the Godless Americans March on Washington Task Force.

It is an honor to be standing here today with representatives of some of the nation’s leading “Godless Americans” groups. Among us we represent thousands of citizens throughout the country who describe themselves as Atheists, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists, Rationalists or with a similar name. We are part of a thriving and growing segment of our society which according to the American Religion Identification Survey, is best described as people who have “no religion.”

The ARIS study of 2001 estimates that over 14% of the American population falls into this category; that’s some 30 million people. It is a figure larger than all individual Protestant denominations, it is greater than the number of Mormons and Jews and Muslims taken as individual groups or even combined. And that figure of 14.3% is up from a 1990 measurement of 8%.

In the introduction to the ARIS report, researchers noted t that

The present survey has detected a wide and possibly growing swath of secularism among Americans. The magnitude and role of this large secular segment of the American population is frequently ignored by scholars and politicians alike…

Tomorrow for the first time, an ad hoc coalition of “godless” organizations will march down the mall to a rally on the west side of our nation’s Capitol. We are calling this “The Godless Americans March on Washington.” I’m proud to be standing next to some of the representatives of the groups which will be joining us in tomorrow’s protest and celebration. It is a protest against the current cultural and political climate in the United States, where increasingly government promotes, funds and defends religion at the expense of our First Amendment rights. It is also a celebration of our growing sense of unity and empowerment.

I am joined here today by Katherine Bourdenay representing the Council for Secular Humanism; Eddie Tabash an attorney from Southern California who will be speaking tomorrow about the need to elect Atheists and other godless Americans to public office. Bobbie Kirkhart, President of the Atheist Alliance International. Christopher Arntzen from the Gay and Lesbian Atheists and Humanists, and Ron Barrier who is the National Communications Director for American Atheists. We represent a diverse community. We use different labels in describing ourselves and we are far from a monolithic movement. But we do share common interests and agreement on key issues. The political state of the nation–the rush to use government money to fund faith-based social outreaches; the use by politicians of religion as a litmus test for wholesomeness, patriotism, and courting voters; the bigotry displayed against those of us who profess no religion in wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks–these issues, and more, demand of us that we come together in common purpose.

We have concerns and demands.

* We want “equal rights” including fair treatment and protection from religious harassment in the workplace; when seeking public office and the right to serve on juries and give testimony; and in having our voices heard and respectfully considered in the halls of Congress, our state legislatures and other government offices.

* We call for an end to harassment and other violations of our rights in the public schools. Too often we hear in the media exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims that, somehow, religious speech is being throttled. The problem which is often ignored, though, involves “prayer bullying” and other forms of coercive religious proselytizing–sometimes by students, sometimes by teachers and administrators. Our public schools must not be allowed to become churches and recruiting grounds for religious groups. They are and must remain centers for secular and enlightened education.

* We also call for an immediate end to the use of government money to aid religious groups, whether it is under the guise of operating faith-based social programs, or repairing dilapidated houses of worship, tax dollars for vouchers for religious schools or some other ruse.

One of the founding principles of the American Revolution was the disestablishment of churches. This ended decades of public subsidies for religious organizations. We have never fully realized the complete disestablishment of organized religion in America, and thanks to President Bush, Sen. Joseph Lieberman and other politicians, we are moving toward greater public funding of religion. We think that it is wrong to tax tens of millions of Americans who profess no religion in order to subsidize religious proselytizing and rituals.

It’s impossible to give government money to religious groups and ask them to “promise” not to proselytize. It can’t be done. Just try to enforce rules demanding fiscal accountability and monitoring where religious groups are concerned. When you do they protest that we are violating their First Amendment rights.

* We also are taking a stand against government aid to religion in the form of vouchers and other financial assistance to religion-based schools. The voucher issue isn’t about the benefits of competition, it is about the destruction of the “secular” public school system. Since religious parents aren’t taking enough children into the churches for indoctrination, the churches must get to them where they are, which is in the schools, and it needs the help of the government to do that. Neither is this issue about school “choice” because it is the private schools that have the choice. They can reject any student, while the public schools must take all students. Vouchers are very bad for America but very good for religion.

* The Godless Americans March on Washington is also about protesting discrimination against Atheists, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and other persons of “no religion” in the public and private spheres. To have the full protection of our civil rights in America we need to be included in the protected categories in the Federal Civil Rights Act. There is no category now for non-religious persons. If you are an Atheist and want to file a claim that your civil rights have been violated you have to claim that it was your religious rights that have been violated, and that is wrong.

Godless Americans should be able to run for public office or serve on a jury. Currently, the states of Arkansas and Pennsylvania prohibit godless Americans from holding public office. Any legal obstacles to these sorts of activities must be demolished – not the wall of separation between church and state. We are also critical of the policy of the Boy Scouts of America to exclude Atheists and gays. Everyone knows that they exclude gays, but we are here to remind you that they also exclude Atheists. They used to exclude Jews and blacks.

Restricting membership in an organization to something that is relevant to the mission of that organization is justifiable, but there is no logic to excluding Atheists or gays, except the illogic of bigotry.

We are protesting discrimination against nonbelievers by organizations that enjoy a special relationship with government, such as the Boy Scouts of America. The Scouts have already been criticized for barring gays from membership. They also use a religious litmus test, though, by insisting that recruits swear an oath to a deity–something which millions of Americans will not do. Governments at the federal, state or local level should not be giving aid and assistance to any organizations that discriminates.

Discrimination on the basis of religion is wrong, even for “private” groups.

* Another purpose of the Godless Americans March on Washington is to raise our visibility as a community; and the need for this becomes especially obvious in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

We admit that there are tens of millions of religious Americans. We do not question the right of these citizens to pray as they see fit in the privacy of their homes churches, or other houses of worship. It is not the business of government, however, to tell Americans that they must or should pray, when and how they should pray, and to organize those prayer services. Our government should never recognize its citizens by their religion.

Politicians exploited the tragic events of September 11 in an effort to mobilize the country to prayer and cite religious belief as a kind of magical shield against terrorism. They conveniently avoided the fact that it was religious fanaticism and intolerance that was the ideological underpinning of the September 11 attacks in the first place! President Bush, in his litany of virtues describing American civilization, seemed loath to mention the fact that one of the key principles which distinguishes the United States from many authoritarian and despotic regimes is that we are explicitly committed to the separation of church and state!

Perhaps this is because Mr. Bush and his administration are working feverishly to demolish that “wall of separation” referred to by Thomas Jefferson.

All of us up here at the podium today were outraged and saddened by the events of September 11. We were also disheartened–and outraged–at the aftermath, where our political leaders shamelessly tried to exploit the tragedy as a rallying point for some kind of religious revival. Prayer did not and will not stop Al Qaeda. This is not a “war” between Jesus and Mohammed. And trying to become more like the terrorists by using the power of government to saturate our society with religious rituals and superstitions does not solve our problems.

All kinds of legislation has been introduced since then to promote the Christian religion specifically, like the legislation to make “God Bless America” our national hymn. When organized religious groups want something–like keeping the clergy housing tax perk, or passing “special rights” legislation like the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,” or some other entitlement perk from Washington or the nearest state capitol–politicians seem to trip over themselves in the rush to comply. When “religion friendly” legislation is up for consideration, it seems that the only people invited to give comment are from the religious community. And that has to end.

There are 30 million “godless Americans” of one kind or another in this country. We are a potential voting block more numerous than most denominations. While we do not always agree on all of the issues, or describe ourselves with the same words, I think there is an emergent consensus that we–like the gays, the blacks, women’s rights advocates and every other interest group in American society–deserve to be heard. We want what Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, said that he wanted for the religious right: a “place at the table in the great I discussion we call Democracy.” We intend to get our act together and obtain a place at that “table.”

The Godless Americans March on Washington is a step in that direction. It’s a big step in an even bigger journey.

I also want to add that this isn’t just about the problems that we face. Another reason why we organized this march on Washington is because most godless Americans have been working their tails off for years to help with our cause in many different ways. All across the country, Atheists and other nonbelievers struggle with discrimination in our schools and workplaces. They fight to stop special rights legislation for religious entities. And they speak out tirelessly for the rights of nonbelievers. They are often isolated and far from any kind of support network, but they persevere. They stick your necks out over and over again, oftentimes alone, to be on the side of reason, progressive thinking and the defense of the United States Constitution. Sometimes they win, oftentimes they lose, and I know all about their struggles. So for all that they do and for all that they are, I think that they deserve a day of great pride and recognition. It’s their day to shine tomorrow.

Thank you. We welcome your questions.

Remarks by Ellen Johnson, Godless Americans March on Washington Welcome Dinner November 1, 2002 Washington, D.C.

Thank you. Before I begin, I thought that you would like to know that The Florida Prayer Network has asked people to pray that the GODLESS AMERICANS MARCH ON WASHINGTON will not happen, stating that “I guess we’ll show them that nothing succeeds like prayer.” Well, we know that nothing “fails” like prayer as we will show them tomorrow. As we prepare for tomorrow’s historic event I’d like to talk to you about a few things.

Back in 1971, there was a story in the New York Times that quoted a man named Jim Owles. And he said: “It’s a lot more difficult to march out of the closet than to march for peace. It can cost you job or your career.” 0wles was talking about gays, and he knew what he was talking about, being the President of the Gay Action Alliance. That was June 27, 1971 -more than three decades ago, but since then gays in America have come a long way. Tomorrow, we are going to take a major step forward in achieving our civil rights. We know that if things are going to change for us in America that we have to make it happen. All of you here tonight know this and you are probably some of the most hardworking activists in our movement. Remember when it was days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and columnist Kathleen Parker took a swipe at us in the pages of USA TODAY, and stated that “there are no atheists in foxholes, we’ve always known. There were none in the World Trade Center on September 11…”

Well, of course there ARE and have always been Atheists in foxholes, and we can safely state that there WERE Atheists in the World Trade Center when religious fanatics commandeered airplanes, and turned them into weapons of mass destruction. Well, you all gave Kathleen Parker an earful! Atheists and other nonbelievers flooded USA TODAY with letters of protest.

And Star Jones, the co-host of the ABC program The View, got a similar response when she said that she would not vote for an Atheist because we presumably lack a moral foundation; although maybe, just maybe, she would consider allowing an Atheist–to babysit for her children. All that from a black woman, a woman who should know better because she is someone who should know about bigotry.

Most of you have been working your tails off for years to help with our cause in many different ways. All across the country Atheists and other nonbelievers struggle with discrimination in our 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 far from any kind of support network, but you persevere. You stick your necks out over and over again, oftentimes alone, to be on the side of reason, progressive thinking and the defense of the United States Constitution. Sometimes you win, oftentimes you lose, and I know all about your struggles. And for all that you do and for all that you are, I think that you deserve a day of great pride and recognition.

Tomorrow, thousands of Atheists and other nonbelievers are going to have just that. We are going to do something we’ve never done before, we are going to march down the mall in our nation’s Capital openly and proudly as “godless” Americans in the GODLESS AMERICANS MARCH ON WASHINGTON. I guess I should take a moment to explain why the name “godless Americans” was chosen. Some people wrote me to say that they weren’t coming to the march because of that name. Some didn’t like being called “less.” Some didn’t like having ANY name! Well, we do need a name, and I chose godless Americans because we couldn’t use a name that represented any group in order to avoid being charged with favoritism. So we couldn’t use a name with the term Freethinker or Rationalist and most every term you could come up with that sounded good was associated with some organization. So the name is “Godless Americans” and that’s the reason for it. Incidentally, the acronym GAMOW happens to also be the name of a scientist involved in the study of the Big Bang.

Well, on the eve of what hopefully may be a pivotal time in our movement’s history, I’ve have some brief thoughts and recommendations.

The first point is that if we’re going to get anywhere, it’s by working together on the basis of mutual respect.

We go by different labels and we have philosophical differences. But there is more that we share than that divides us. I think that we all agree that our government must not be used to promote or subsidize religious beliefs and movements in any way. I think we all agree that there must to be total freedom regarding the expression of diverse views, including those which question religious creeds and teachings.

I think we all agree that a person must be permitted to doubt, to express those doubts and to able to publicly, as well as privately challenge all religious ideologies and dogmas.

And I think that we all agree that free, secular societies which maximize civil liberties, human freedom, and the benefits of science and technology, are desirable and even necessary if we are to survive as a species.

Second, we can, and should, have what former Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed said he wanted for the religious right–a “place at the table in the great discussion we call Democracy.” We want input, influence, clout. We want to be heard and recognized. We want a level playing field in the dialogue over public policy If we’re going to get that, we have to work together. And this brings me to my second point. We can work together, we should work together, but doing so requires cooperating on the basis of mutual respect. It means acknowledging that we do have differences. We need to acknowledge that and work together–where and when we can–on an ad hoc basis, on specific issues, and most importantly, on the basis of mutual respect. Disagree, yes. Launch personal attacks, no.

Let’s bury the hatchet.

Let’s make sure that our magazines and newsletters and Websites focus on issues, not personalities or insulting some other group.

I have to tell you, it’s a bit difficult standing here and saying this. Some of the groups and people joining us this weekend have not always acted with charity in the past, at least toward me and American Atheists and it is still going on. But I am happy to say that this weekend we are all putting our differences aside.

I’d like you to consider a couple of other things as well. It’s time that we start talking about civil rights and what we want, rather than trying to make every conceivable religious group “like us.”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be polite and diplomatic. I don’t think we make any progress by “insulting” religious people or groups. But we need to speak the truth; we need to put our role as critics of religious ideology first. If religious people agree with us on specific issues, fine. But just as they have the right to speak out openly and without reservation about who they are, so do we!

We nonbelievers love to debate; we love to quote the Bible or the Koran; we love to argue over the nuances of creationism and evolution, but I think it is time to begin shifting the focus a bit.

Don’t get me wrong; these sorts of debates and intellectual face-offs are important. We do need to be “philosophically active.” But we aren’t going to get our civil rights by trying to “convert” the religious to our point of view. We aren’t going to get our civil rights by trying to make Christians or the Pope or some other religious figure “like us.” Unless and until you turn you life and mind over to Jesus Christ, they aren’t going to like you. They want complete submission, and we cannot give them that. One of the things Atheists or other groups often do when they get organized is go down that road of trying to win a popularity contest. They organize blood drives, or volunteer to be on a telethon, or pick up trash along a highway in hopes of winning community recognition.

Now, I’m not criticizing anyone or any organization that has done that, nor am I saying that we should not do this sort of thing. But I want you to think about Ralph Reed; remember him? Ralph Reed got handed the job of running the Christian Coalition in about 1988, and he started with a small mailing list, and he built one of the most influential political machines this country has ever seen. He didn’t donate one pint of blood, he didn’t pick up one ounce of trash from a highway, and the only phone banks Christian Coalition members staffed were their own when they were busy getting their candidates elected to public office. There is a lesson there.

I look at the American Religious Identification Survey which tells us that over 14% of the American population has “no religion.” That’s 30 million people. It includes Atheists and Freethinkers and Humanists and a lot of other individuals who simply have no need for religion in their lives. They are “irreligious.” Do you know what I see there? I see a voting block. I see millions of potential allies who already don’t need to be “converted.” I see a group of people who are numerically larger than all of the individual Protestant denominations, more numerous than Jews and Muslims and Methodists and Baptists. Am I right? Which leads me to this; it’s time for us to stop asking religious people for permission–permission to obtain our civil rights, permission to defend the First Amendment, permission to speak out! I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by an attorney or advocacy group that when it comes to getting involved in the legal system and challenging some egregious abuse of state-church separatio n, they don’t want an Atheist involved. They tell me, “let’s find a minister” or “let’s find a rabbi” to be the plaintiff because we don’t want the appearance of being anti-religious. Now, I’ll admit that maybe that works some of the time, but think about it; what if people said this about blacks, or gays, or some other group. You know, nearly three-quarters-of-a-century ago, the so-called “progressive” movement took on a lot of the abuses and wrongs in American society and clamored for reform; and they did a lot of good work, but one glaring omission is that for the most part the progressives turned a blind eye toward the cancer of racism and discrimination. Blacks realized that they had to take the first steps for themselves, and then look for allies. The could not and did not wait for “permission” to ask “whitey,” “May we please have our civil rights?”

The gays couldn’t wait for the straights to suddenly “like” them and have a change of heart and become tolerant. Women have made progress because they struck out on their own, they took the initiative, and–as all of you know–the men followed. And today, these and other groups are courted for their votes, their money, their influence and resources.

What part of this don’t we understand? I could not care less whether religious people “like us” or “agree” with us. What I do care about is whether we have the clout, and organizational savvy and political sophistication to make them respect our position as equal players in the governmental process.

So, that’s part of my message for tonight and tomorrow. It’s a message of mutual respect, of acknowledging both our commonality and differences, of standing on our own and becoming empowered. We are never going to succeed just by sitting around in endless discussion groups, or by debating, or revisiting the timeworn ideological fine points like “Does god exist and how do we know?” or the Second Law of Thermodynamics (which never seems to get answered on all of those Internet boards) or the fine differences between being, say, an Atheist or a Humanist or a Freethinker … on and on. Those questions are important, but perhaps it’s time to move beyond them…. We can take a page or two from Ralph Reed’s notebook–not the whole thing, he talked about stealth candidates and putting people in body bags–but we can learn about becoming more politically sophisticated and savvy We need to talk about “lobbying,” and running our candidates for political office. Go over to Alexandria, Virginia or walk through downtown Wa shington, and you’ll see offices for every conceivable special interest group, including religious denominations. Go to just about any state Capitol and you’ll see them walking the halls, buttonholing legislatures and their staffs. You’ll see them at political conventions. That’s where we have to be.

Ralph Reed was right about quite a few things. Prior to the formation of the Christian Coalition and similar groups, you didn’t see the kind of aggressive politicking, voter outreach and influence-organizing that exists today. No group calling itself “Christian” or “religious” regularly testified in front of congressional committees, or endorsed candidates, at least to any significant degree. That changed. Several years ago, I sat in on a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and witness after witness was up there representing some type of religious organization.

When we took on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we found out that that legislation was written and pushed through by a religious organization called the Coalition for Religious Freedom. They wrote it! They wrote the federal bill; they wrote another version when the first one was declared unconstitutional, and they have written all of the versions which have been introduced in nearly two-dozen states! They organized the letter-writing campaigns, they lined up senators and representatives and assembly members, they held press conferences, and they mobilized congregations and .denominations. And when Oliver “Buzz” Thomas of the National Council of Churches–the guy behind the Coalition for Religious Freedom called some elected official or graced some committee with his magnanimous presence to argue for the bill, you’d have thought it was the “Second Coming of Christ!”

American Atheists has been working to change that balance of power. In California, in Texas, in Maryland, in New Jersey and other states we’ve had gotten Atheists and our allies–including some of you here tonight–to walk into these committee hearings and legislative offices and speak out. If religious groups can do it, so can we; and if I have anything to say about it-we will.

I hope that after this weekend more of you will begin to think about the principles and the agenda which unites us, not the personalities or differences that divide us. Let’s admit the differences, and respect them. Let’s concentrate on issues and ideas, on getting our civil rights, on rebuilding and protecting Jefferson’s wall of separation, and achieving a real and significant “place at the table in this great discussion we call Democracy.”

Thank you.

The Godless Americans March on Washington Address by Ellen Johnson, President American Atheists

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 “Godless 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 in. 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 who 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 it 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 30 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. And perhaps worst of all, he ignored the Godless men and women who have served and serve today in the Armed Forces of this nation! And some of those men and women are represented by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and they could not be hear 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.

But 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 and 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 30 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 rights 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 nonbelievers in America than there are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Methodists, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Amish, Ba’hai, 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, somehow 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 nonbeliever. 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, lovers, and children. We are in the profession 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[Coming on Stage]:

Musicians like Neal Gary 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 hygienists like T eresa 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 you–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.

And 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 D.C., 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 30 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 unorganized, 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 30 million other “Godless Americans” and people “without religion,” look at the people standing next to you, look at yourself. Ladies 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 American’s 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 non-believers 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.

COPYRIGHT 2002 American Atheists Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group