The people at the Center for Humanist Activism have been justifiably frustrated with the political system here in the United States. While we have a Constitution that bans the government establishment of religion, and states that public offices shall not be allocated according to tests of religious identity, the reality is that Christian groups have used their extensive financial and organizational resources to gain special governmental perks for their religion.
What’s not so easy to understand is the decision by the Center for Humanist Activism to try to beat Christianity at its own game.
The Center for Humanist Activism has announced that it is copying the tactics of Christian political organizations, creating a political action committee to give poorly regulated money to candidates for federal public office “who identify as humanist, atheist, agnostic”. The new Freethought Equality Fund PAC, by declaring its goal of electing politicians who identify as not religious, is creating its own religious test for public office.
Of course, there’s only one elected official in the entire federal government who admits to being non-religious – U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema. Other openly non-religious candidates for federal positions are extremely rare. So, it’s difficult to see how the Freethought Equality Fund PAC can have a substantial impact on the representation of non-religious Americans in Congress and the White House.
Sensing this difficulty, Bishop McNeill, the only employee at the Freethought Equality Fund PAC, has stated that the PAC will give money to elected members of Congress who are atheists, but prefer to keep their atheism a secret.
Secular Americans pride themselves on being more clear-thinking than their religious neighbors, but the Freethought Equality Fund PAC seems to have thought itself into a corner with the idea of funding politicians who are secretly atheists. Politicians’ rejection of religion wouldn’t remain secret for long if it became a matter of public record that they accepted money from a group that aims to fund non-religious candidates.
To deal with this new problem, the Freethought Equality Fund PAC has performed another little maneuver. It has declared that the politicians it gives money to might not be secretly atheist after all. They might be religious politicians who happen to support the separation of church and state. Who, after all, could tell the difference between an atheist politician who falsely claims to be religious and a genuinely religious politician who just happens to be great friends with atheists and atheist organizations (wink wink)?
The Freethought Equality Fund PAC could have avoided all of this awkward tacking back and forth by avoiding altogether the realm of identity politics. The PAC could have simply explained that it would support any candidate for federal public office who supports the separation of church and state, regardless of religious identity. The President and members of Congress don’t actually achieve anything through their mere identities, after all. It’s the laws they pass and enforce that matter.
Still, the people who organized the Freethought Equality Fund PAC couldn’t restrain their desire to see more non-religious Americans in positions of power. Reacting to their feelings of resentment at being shut out of power on the basis of religious identity, they wanted to demonstrate secular pride, and so forgot that in a truly secular government, it isn’t appropriate for any elected official to use their public office to promote pride in any belief about religion – including rejection of religion.
So, the Freethought Equality PAC has pursued a path of political incoherence, and has been suckered into taking on theocratic Christians at a game where the Christians have almost all the experience, money, and organizational resources.
For these reasons, we can expect to see the Freethought Equality PAC to go the way of the National Atheist Party, a political party which couldn’t find any actual candidates to run for office after it awkwardly declared that although it was a political party for atheists, it welcomed Christians too. After spending a couple of years insisting that it was enjoying great success, and that the “National Atheist Party” label wasn’t holding it back at all, the National Atheist Party recently folded up shop and reformed itself as the Secular Party of America (though it’s still muddying the waters by continuing to sell National Atheist Party merchandise).
If atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secular humanists and otherwise non-religious Americans want to be accepted into the political culture of the United States of America, they’re going to have learn to give up their habit of arrogant self-promotion. Secular Americans will only become widely accepted as political candidates when they are able to convince voters that they support equality for all, and aren’t merely trying to replace Christian dominance with atheist dominance.