Neither wind nor rain could dissuade roughly 10,000 American atheists, secularists, humanists, free-thinkers and non-believers from 'coming out' on Saturday to express their reason-based belief systems on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The turnout at the 'Reason Rally' was on par with expectations, and a vast improvement over a similar 'God-free' rally that took place a decade ago.
Organizers of the event wanted to show the rich and varied population of secular citizens which, according to recent studies, is rapidly growing in the United States.
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The Religious News Service: Atheists rally on National Mall in show of political force
Atheists and nonbelievers gathered on the National Mall Saturday in a bid to show politicians, voters and even themselves that they have grown into a force to be recognized and reckoned with.
"We are here to deliver a message to America," David Silverman, president of American Atheists, one of the rally's sponsors, told the crowd. "We are here and we will never be silent again."
Indeed, thousands came out for what organizers dubbed The Reason Rally and billed as the largest-ever gathering of nonbelievers in one place. They stood in a steady and sometimes heavy rain as speakers, singers, writers, comedians and activists charged them with channeling their common rejection of God into a force for political change.
"We are here to celebrate our belief in reason, science and the power of the human mind," comedian Paul Provenza said from the podium as raindrops fell. "We are here to say to elected politicians ... that there is a base for them to stand on to stand up to the religious right."
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Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, keynoted the event, and spoke glowingly of the US Constitution and the principle of 'separation of church and state,' but was derisive of the dominance of religion in US politics and expressed hope that atheists would continue to shed their cloaks of silence and let their voices be heard. His speech, in part:
"I don't come from these parts. I see myself as an emissary from a beknighted country that does not have a Constitutional separation between Church and State. Indeed, we don't have a written Constitution at all. We have a head of State who is also the head of the Church of England. The Church is deeply entwined in British public life. The American Constitution is a precious treasure, the envy of the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution which enshrines the separation between Church and State is the model for secular constitutions the world over, and deserves to be imitated the world over." [...]
"There are too many people in this country who have been cowed into fear of coming out as atheists, or secularists or agnostics. We are far more numerous than anybody realizes. We are approaching a tipping point. We are approaching that critical mass where the number of people who have come out has become so great, that suddenly everybody will realize, 'I can come out, too.' That moment is not far away now, and I think that, with hindsight, this Rally in Washington will be seen as a very significant tipping point on the road."
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Agence France-Presse reports:
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 the most recent American Religious Identification Survey, published in 2009, found that Americans with no religious affiliations – "the nones" in sociological jargon – make up 15 percent of the total adult 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.
David Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut said the number of Americans with no religious affiliation has "about doubled" in the last 20 years.
"It's probably the fastest-growing category of religion in the United States," the sociologist told AFP in a telephone interview earlier this week.
Silverman, who defines atheism simply as "the lack of belief in a god," said a deep-seated fear of prejudice and discrimination leads many Americans with no religious affiliation not to acknowledge themselves as atheists.
Such discrimination, atheists say, includes a virtual inability to serve in public office, the risk of being fired by a religiously devout employer, denial of reproductive health care and religiously biased school texts.
"These are battles that homosexuals have won, people of color have won, women have won," said journalist Jamila Bey, who recalled losing a job after her Christian boss learned she was an atheist. "We can't stay silent anymore."
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"The overall mood on the mall was festive and family-oriented," concluded the Religious News Service:
Bonnie Haines, 71, watched the rally from a collapsible chair near one of two large video screens. A former Presbyterian, she became an atheist three years ago, and the rally was her first outing as an atheist.
"It makes me proud to be here with her," Haines said of her daughter, Dina Appleby, 50 and an atheist, sitting beside her. "We want our friends to know that atheists can still have high morals and values and still be atheists."
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Zac Stiffler and Mwenya Mwimanzi, both 23 and from religious backgrounds, attended as out-of-the-closet atheists for the first time.
"It is really encouraging and it makes me think there is hope for a different kind of future," Mwimanzi said, standing with Stiffler's arm around her shoulders near the back of the crowd. "Religion has dominated human history, but maybe it's time for a new direction."
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