Thousands of atheists, agnostics and other non-believers turned out in the US capital on Saturday to celebrate their rejection of the idea of God and to claim a bigger place in public life.
The Reason Rally, sponsored by 20 atheist, secular and humanist groups, was billed as a “coming-out” party in the heart of Washington for a segment of the American population that is growing faster than any religious group.
“There are too many people in this country who have been cowed into fear of coming out as atheists, secularists or agnostics,” said the event’s star turn, Richard Dawkins, the British scientist and best-selling atheist author.
“We are far more numerous than anybody realizes,” said Dawkins, prompting cheers from the youthful crowd that defied sporadic drizzle for an afternoon of speeches, music and satire on the National Mall.
Jesse Galef of the Secular Student Alliance, a spokesman for the rally, told AFP he conservatively estimated the turnout at 10,000.
In the center of the good-humored crowd rose a crucifix with an affixed sign that declared: “Banish the Ten Commandments to the dustbin of history.” Other posters read: “Good without a god” and “Hi Mom! I’m an atheist.”
“This country was not built on religion and God,” said another speaker, Michael Shermer, a self-defined “skeptic,” blogger and Scientific American columnist. “It was built on reason.”
On the sidelines, atheists engaged in vigorous debates with a handful of Christians who turned up with their own placards that read: “Study and obey the Bible” and “Jesus forgives sin.”
In no other Western country does religion figure so highly in society as in the United States, where “In God We Trust” appears on bank notes and “one nation under God” is part of the national Pledge of Allegiance.
Yet research over the past decade has indicated that Americans with no religious affiliations — “the nones” in sociological jargon — now make up around 15 or 16 percent of the population.
“That is more than Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists combined — and doubled,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists, which campaigns for the civil rights of non-believers.
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