The president of a secular group says that there are 28 members of Congress who do not believe in God, but only one of them feels comfortable revealing his lack of faith.
Secular Coalition of America (SCA) president Herb Silverman told The Guardian that his group was aware of many members of Congress who weren't ready to make their non-beliefs known.
"Privately, we know that there are 27 other members of Congress that have no belief in God," Silverman claimed. "But we don't 'out' people."
That number is up from 2006, when SCA determined that there were there were 22 atheists in Congress.
"At the time, twenty-two of them told me they didn't believe in a god," SCA Advisory Board Chairman Woody Kaplan told the Humanist in 2008. "Twenty-one of them said, 'You can't tell anybody.' One of them said you could: Congressman Pete Stark."
Upon receiving the American Humanist Association's 2008 Humanist of the Year Award, the California Democrat explained that his notoriety as a non-believer wasn't planned.
"My most recent accident was becoming a well-known humanist," Stark told the association. "Somewhere along the line a nice group of people, the Secular Coalition for America, sent a form requesting information from those of us who support separation of church and state. In response to a question about belief you could check one of three boxes. I checked the one that said I didn't believe in a supreme being."
"I think that most of my colleagues, and politicians in general, just pay lip service to one god or another... The answer is that it has never been about God for politicians. It has been about power. It has never been about peace on Earth. It has been about profit in your pocket."
He added: "I would confine God to currency, constitutional control, and colloquialisms like 'Godspeed' and 'gadzooks.' Then we can begin to deal with the real problems in the world, such as those related to education, health care, poverty, and human rights. But we can't move ahead if we're going to tolerate abstinence-only training, creationism, denial of environmental destruction, and oppression of reason. The power of simple solutions can fill a vacuum caused by the abandonment of reason, and that has got to end."
American Humanist Association's Fred Edwords believes that in the U.S., there is still a high risk for atheists in politics.
"Nontheistic Americans, including humanists, are the group most likely to be discriminated against for their convictions," Edwords said in a press release congratulating Stark. "Recent polls show that fewer than 50 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist presidential candidate, even if that candidate is well qualified... Americans still feel it's acceptable to discriminate against atheists in ways considered beyond the pale for other groups."
The Guardian noted that experts agree that the number of secular Americans has doubled in the last 30 years, making them the fastest growing major "religious" group in the country, a classification that many non-believers would object to.
Photo: Flickr/Andrew Hecht