Atheist Group Makes CPAC Debut

There may be no nonbelievers in a foxhole-but there were some this year at CPAC.


American Atheists buttons at CPAC
Stephanie Slade

Attendees of the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) got a surprise during yesterday's early afternoon session: For perhaps the first time ever, an out-and-out atheist was addressing them from the flagship event's main stage.

Jamila Bey is a mom, a business owner, a Pittsburgh native—and a board member of the group American Atheists. She also, apparently, identifies as conservative. After introducing herself to the crowd, Bey used her three-minute spot to invite audience members to drop by the American Atheist table in the exhibition hall and learn more.

American Atheists is at CPAC on a mission, according to the organization's president, David Silverman. "By our calculations there are approximately 17 to 20 million atheists in this country who would vote Republican but don't," he says. "And we theorize, very reasonably, I think, that they don't vote Republican because the Republicans are pushing them away. I don't vote Republican because Republicans push me away."

The group wants conservative leaders to consider doing the unthinkable and not leading with their faith. "If they come out with 'We're a Christian nation,' that's akin to saying I'm somehow less of an American. So why should I vote for that?" Silverman asks. "If somebody comes out and says, 'I can't trust people who don't pray,' well, I don't pray. So when the conservatives come out, instead of saying we're for small government, and responsible gun rights, and a strong military, they're saying all of that after they say I'm a second-class citizen."

Silverman thinks this would be a win-win, benefitting both atheists and the GOP. Republicans would gain access to tens of millions of secular voters who agree with them on the issues already—and right-leaning nonbelievers would get a real choice. Right now, "atheists by and large only have one party for which to vote," he says. "We're voting Democrat in huge numbers, but it's a defensive move. It's not because we agree with the policies, it's because atheists are afraid of Republicans, because Republicans are overtly hostile to us. And that's wrong."

Bey, speaking to attendees at the organization's booth, is warm and welcoming. She describes American Atheists as a "First Amendment group," says "I love this country and I love this Constitution," and insists, "We're not here to hurt anyone or tell anyone that they're not free to worship or believe. We are just here to say, you can't say in order to believe in small government, you have to believe in Jesus. In order to believe that an American child should be well-educated, you've got to give the glory to God. That's all we're saying."

The group believes their message is resonating. "People have been wonderful to me," Bey says. Minutes later, a woman who appears to be in her 60s or 70s walks by and, pointing at Bey, says, "Great job. Great job." Smiling widely, Bey says, "Thank you!" then turns back to me and another reporter. "That's what people have been doing all day to me. I'm not exaggerating, that's probably the hundredth person who's walked past me and said, 'Hi, good job!'" As for haters? "I haven't gotten one."

American Atheists had to fight for its place at the conference this year. Silverman says the group paid for a table at 2014's CPAC only to have their booth pulled and their money returned to them after "certain members of the religious right" complained. He came anyway, handing out flyers in the hallway and encouraging attendees to urge CPAC to let them have a table in 2015. Apparently it worked.

Whether Bey and Silverman will have success convincing conservatives to stop talking about religion is another story. Their main point seems to be that faith is a private thing, and politicians should keep theirs to themselves. To many on the right, that's simply not the way it ought to be. 

Despite Silverman's claims, the group's policy positions may also hurt it. American Atheists, in addition to opposing mandatory school prayer and tax breaks for religious but not secular nonprofits, wants to completely overturn the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That's the law that gave us last summer's Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling, allowing certain religious business owners to opt out of providing contraception coverage to their workers. Silverman is adamant that employers are "public accommodations" and that faith-based objections are irrelevant—nobody should be excused from following the law. 

That stance is unlikely to win him many friends at a place like CPAC. But at least this year he has a seat at the table to make his case.

UPDATE 3/2/15: Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, points out that many atheists serve their country in the armed forces. He wants Reason readers to know there are nonbelievers in foxholes as well as at CPAC, contra my subheadline.

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  1. Are you an atheist or are you just someone who hates religion? If you are the latter, then you should vote Democrat. I honestly don’t care what they believe as long as they don’t want to use the government to force me to believe something else or act contrary to my beliefs.

    1. I am sure we can make room for those who hate religion and do not plan on using force (or voting for others to use force) to act on that hate.

    2. There’s room for areligionists — I-don’t-give-a-shittists, for want of a better word.

      My brother once accused me of being agnostic. I told him agnostics care enough to worry about whether there’s a god. I don’t. If there is, and it’s an asshole, fuck it anyway. If there is and it’s a nice guy, then it won’t care. Whatever!

      My brother’s also an asshole, but that’s another story.

    3. Oh i HATE Conservative Christians…..and for the most part I find religion has done more harm then good in the world, like it is still doing today…and in the USA, many of those who are part of the problem are sitting at CPAC this weekend!!

  2. Unrelated question – are the things in the pictures buttons, RFID tags, or both? Because RFID tchotzkes would be pretty awesome.

    1. Look like beer bottle caps from here.

    2. I believe they are those “jumping” metal disc things you used to could order from Edmund Scientific where you heat them up and then a few minutes later when they cool down they jump up about a foot from the table, floor, whatever.

    3. It could be like those Pandora charm bracelets, except you use a phone app to scan a person and learn about their hobbies and passions.

    4. Just buttons. Sorry to disappoint.

  3. “Oh yeah, well, belief in free-markets is like a religion, so they are still idiots!!”

    /prog reaction

  4. “By our calculations there are approximately 17 to 20 million atheists in this country who would vote Republican but don’t”

    There were 125 million votes cast in the last presidential election. Does this group seriously think that 1/6th of the entire voting base are not only atheists, but are atheists who would vote Republican?

    1. I think what they are saying is that very few atheists vote republican because of the perceived animus of the party towards them. Of course they’re painting the most optimistic picture of their numbers. Much as libertarians do.

  5. Silverman is adamant that employers are “public accommodations” and that faith-based objections are irrelevant?nobody should be excused from following the law.

    So, private employers are “public accommodations”…fuck off, slaver.

  6. Is anyone who primarily wants to be identified as an athiest by definition the most self-hateful person on earth?

    1. Not while Bo lives

    2. How do you know she primarily identifies as an atheist? Project much?

    3. I could care less what you identify me as, sweet cheeks. Just don’t call me faithful. (;

  7. For something like this to work, I don’t think it can be couched in terms directly threatening to the religious/social cons. It would have to be more at the level of — “Being inclusive of the non-religious doesn’t have to mean being anti-religious. Using government to advance religious values enables others to use it against them. Small government benefits individual freedom, both religious and non-religious.”

    1. Sure, but these guys want to force Christian companies to cover contraception. Tolerance is as tolerance does.

      1. To the extent that they favor forcing any companies to cover contraception, I think they’re misguided. The question is whether they’re just kneejerk opposed to government accommodation of religious freedom, or whether they’re really that “pink” on government subsidy issues.

      2. Not just Christians, Eddie. Christian Persecution Syndrome acting up again?

        1. *smooches*

      3. Religion doesnt allow someone to trump someones equal rights, at least thats how the Founding Fathers wanted it. When i can refuse service to a Christan, I will feel more equal, until then, they need to keep their life-style to themselves and not tread on my freedoms

  8. Right now, “atheists by and large only have one party for which to vote,” he says. “We’re voting Democrat in huge numbers, but it’s a defensive move. It’s not because we agree with the policies, it’s because atheists are afraid of Republicans, because Republicans are overtly hostile to us.


    I don’t get it. Neither TEAM is good, but it seems to me that TEAM RED is hardly uniquely shitty to atheists? Yeah, I get they may not like the Huckster or Santorum or something, but…

    Whatever. Hey – IT’S A FREE COUNTRY! Think whatever you want!

    1. I think he’s saying that there are atheists out there who believe in using lots of military interventionism and giving lip service to small government, just like Republicans. But they can’t get on board with Republicans because many are overtly hostile to atheists, or perceived to be so.

      In other words, he ain’t a libertarian. He’s a conservative and he really wants to join the main conservative TEAM.

      1. Thank you for translating!

  9. American Atheists freaks out at the Hobby Lobby decision:

    “”The Court has granted religious liberties to some corporations, claiming they have the same rights as citizens. What about the rights of the women, the workers? We fear the consequences of this decision on publicly traded corporations in the future,” said Managing Director Amanda Knief, a lawyer and public policy expert.”…..bby-lobby/

  10. Bey used her three-minute spot to invite audience members to drop by the American Atheist table in the exhibition hall and learn more.

    Atheists are like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Always wanting to tell me about their belief system.

    1. What’s to tell? I mean, say what you will about the tenets of Christian primitivism, at least it’s an ethos!

    2. Atheism is no different from any other belief system in that it has a vocal minority who try to push their beliefs on others. I think that most people, atheist and theist alike, are content to keep that shit to themselves.

      1. I think that most people, atheist and theist alike, are content to keep that shit to themselves.

        The huge library of laws required to run this place indicates otherwise.

        1. I was referring specifically to Fist’s comment concerning proselytization, but you are correct that many theistic beliefs have been incorporated into our legal system, which is certainly disconcerting.

        2. Like that pesky First Amendment thing. This is why no one believes you when you sound like Dawkins projecting George III.

    3. Government schools teach my atheistic belief system every single day. It’s called Science class.

      1. Are you saying that this picture is not real?…..storic.jpg

    4. I’m a hardcore ‘devoid of the divine’ and I play scrabble every Thursday with my dress-wearing Pentecostal mom. I have zero interest in causing her faith to waver.

      No reason why gays, atheists, gun-toters, gun-fearers, single-moms, Jesus lovers, morning-after pill poppers, lesbians, muslims, and transvestities can’t all figure out how to sensibly live in peace without requiring the long arm of the law, prisons, and violence to keep everybody else behind some favored line in the sand.

  11. “Their main point seems to be that faith is a private thing, and politicians should keep theirs to themselves.”

    “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take sides with us in such a contest.” – Jefferson on Slavery, from Notes on the State of Virginia…../ch18.html

    1. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” – George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796…..ashing.asp

      1. “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

        This was and is utter nonsense. Plenty of people without religion live there lives just as morally and just as any theist. Furthermore, a majority of religious individuals have shown time and again that, by picking and choosing what aspects of their respective holy books to adhere to, they are applying their own morality to their religion and not the other way around.

    2. Poor Eddie. It really burns you that Jefferson was most likely a closet atheist, doesn’t it? He was certainly more of a deist than a proper trinitarian.

      1. I have repeatedly acknowledged he was a unitarian, not a trinitarian. I likewise acknowledged his hostility to orthodox Christianity.

        In making these acknowledgements, I relied on *Jefferson’s own words.*

        But Jefferson’s own words (see above) indicated that he was, not an atheist, but *a theist.* If you think he was lying, by all means produce your evidence.

  12. This will go over like a lead balloon.

    1. If you make the lead thin enough and get enough helium…

      1. Hydrogen my friend. That why if it doesn’t fly at least you have a bomb.

  13. The aborto-freaks will freak like they’ve never freaked before.

    1. Yes, that will be delicious.

      Ironically, one of my earliest atheist role models was staunchly anti-abortion.

  14. It figures those organized, pious Atheists would have a “religious test” when it comes to voting.

  15. It’s possible to be an atheist and a conservative. It seems trivially true that this is possible.

    The problem is that “atheism” gets bundled with so very many different things (like iconoclasm) that make some groups more attractive and others less attractive to the people who have particular bundles.

    And Republicans, to date, have done a very good job of assuming that the bundles are representative of atheism… to the point where atheists don’t feel welcome being “out” among them.

  16. Until a few years ago, as a Libertarian, I would vote GOP when there was not a LP candidate running. Then I attended a GOP Convention here in my home state of Georgia. At that Convention, my Rep got up on the dais and declared in front of all in attendance that when considering a Bill for Law, the “Word of God” takes precedence over the Constitution. I have not voted for a Republican since and never will.

    1. Testify, brother!

      They aren’t called the stupid party for nothing.

      1. You misspelled stoopid.

    2. I see no problem with people in politics voicing their faith. It is a very natural inclination when one is leading the sort of life that adheres to religious principles…

      However, there is a huge difference between living as a Christian politician and dictating as a Christian politician.

      The socialist politician is guilty of the same endeavor.

      Open society does not require your fucking dictatorial mindsets. Live your religion, faith, belief, or non-belief- just leave it at the fucking door when you pen legislation.

      1. You, in part, commit the very act you protest. Anyone that leaves their religion at the door when penning their legislation is a liar. Atheists just like to use the word ‘morals’, which is fine. I personally cannot understand a true atheist [pun intended] that would not be pro-life at the core of their morality. If you care enough to project the ethos then the root of your morality would logically seem formed in a sanctity for human life.

        1. Either you’re a moron, or you know nothing about the abortion debate.

          One side says it’s a baby from minute zero. The other side disagrees and says it’s a clump of cells and is not alive until some number of weeks after minute zero. If you believe the second one, then it is perfectly logical to be anti-death penalty, very much for preserving human life by promoting peace, anti-war, and still want abortion to be legal to a point.

  17. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,,,,,,

  18. ” Their main point seems to be that faith is a private thing, and politicians should keep theirs to themselves.”

    Why? What goes on inside someone’s head has no effect on my life. The only question that matters to me is what policies do they support. I’ve never understood why some atheists get so pissed off because someone else is talking about their religion.

    1. I think you’ve answered your own question. Talking about one’s beliefs is fine, but politicians often try to shape public policy based on their personal belief systems, which is understandably threatening to those who don’t share said beliefs. Of course, this doesn’t apply solely to religion. Does it not upset you when a “progressive” espouses the virtues of socialism?

    2. Atheists that get pissed off at others when they live and discuss their religion are narrow-minded hacks.

      Religious people should feel free enough to just be themselves and pray over their food, have a biblical opinion on all sorts of matters, and dress and behave, perhaps, in a way that is far less worldly than me (for example).

      However, in my experience the religious are far less likely to accept a person who just doesn’t give a shit about god.

      This area in Ohio is a bible belt and atheism does not go over very well here. I’ve sat in business meetings where half the meeting revolved around praising the lord and nagging on those ‘fools’ (you know the Psalm) who don’t believe in god and I’ve sat quiet knowing I’d lose out on thousands of dollars in work if my neutrality was perceived as emanating from an atheistic position. I’m a pragmatist, I acknowledged and hugged and made good money as an atheist working with mostly devout Christians.

      I’m not one to carry a chip or get bent out of shape over silly personal shit I can’t control and if a Christian cannot accept me on a strictly personal basis that is their issue not mine- however, around here, you have to be much tougher to be an atheist than a Christian.

      1. I’ve yet to find the scripture that teaches me to dislike you because of your atheism.

        1. You are why I have ‘faith’ in some members of the Christian community.

          I’m not interested in belittling or fucking with your spirituality. Unfortunately, most of my type seems to think it is OK to belligerently smash the religious into a pulp en masse’ without realizing that within a lot of organized and professionalized bullshit that makes up religion (sorry) there are genuinely great people in the various fields of spirituality who are sincerely invested in deep personal journeys into the all-knowing while I read Russell, Nietzsche, and Sartre on my deep personal journey.

          We are all travelers and some of us are not interested in voting in people that forces the greater society into distinct submissions…

          The greater society should move into a greater freedom.

          The greater society should embrace liberty and a constant that resists all beliefs becoming primary as a central power.

          No atheist, socialist, Christian, Muslim, Jew, or secularist has a PRIMARY role in shaping the role of advanced civilization even as the advanced civilization should encapsulate peacefully a myriad of cognitive states. The advanced civilization should not herd- it will incorporate and give life to the many.

          The crucial aspect of this thing is a reverence for individual life and the pursuit of each person pursuing his or her singular and engaged capacity without intervention from violent state power.

          Within this framework people can aspire to live a space of time enlightened and inspired.

  19. “The group believes their message is resonating. “People have been wonderful to me,” Bey says. Minutes later, a woman who appears to be in her 60s or 70s walks by and, pointing at Bey, says, “Great job. Great job.” Smiling widely, Bey says, “Thank you!” then turns back to me and another reporter. “That’s what people have been doing all day to me. I’m not exaggerating, that’s probably the hundredth person who’s walked past me and said, ‘Hi, good job!'” As for haters? “I haven’t gotten one.””

    I’m sorry but people who probably weren’t there know better than her.

    Raw Story: Atheist Jamila Bey tells CPAC it needs to embrace secular voters ? and gets the golf clap

    “Bey’s message betrayed that she probably wasn’t welcome”

    Mediaite: Here’s How Well a Call to Embrace Atheists Went Over at CPAC

  20. But Atheists cant be American…oh wait, i have heard that so many times it was the first thing that popped in my head

  21. Honestly find the comments here mostly idiotic. This is goodness here what Jamila Bey has done and it took an immense amount of courage to stick her head up into the firing line only to get assaulted by inane potshots from friends and foes alike. Not all atheists “hate” religion. This atheist has friends and relatives of virtually all cultures, ilks and beliefs and frankly I want to get along. I think as science advanced the irrational will fall away naturally. We’re all basically looking for the same thing, where did we come from and where are we going and how can we all just get along till we get there. My atheism has absolutely zero bearing on my desire for responsible government and support for the constitution, however responsible government and support for the constitution has a direct bearing on my rights to unbelief.

  22. Here’s the problem though with using the Hobby Lobby decision to frame anything.
    Hobby Lobby and every other US business should never have been put into the position of having to make decisions about something as personal as birth control. It’s the Obama Administration that did that.

    Place health insurance into the hands of the consumer and everyone could pick the plan they really want and their employer would not ever need to have a say in it. Without paying for health insurance, employers could instead offer more money as a “benefit.”

    There is so much in our lives that the government need not have a say in at all.

    As far as conservatives leading with religion–yeah, its a big problem and not just for atheists or agnostics. Not all Christians believe the same things and not all Christians even believe that some other Christians are Christian!

    Republicans could win and win big if they would leave the social issues out of it.

    1. Republicans could win and win big if they would leave the social issues out of it.

      Yes and this is impossible. The GOP is the social issue party. When the GOP even remotely flirts with Libertarian ideas the neocon base shits piles of piglets.

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  24. We are a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian principles as a matter of fact. Read through the founding documents and it is rife with direct references to God – indeed, what makes this nation a unique success in the history of mankind is the acknowledgement that no human nor government can take away certain rights that we are born with. This is in no way incompatible with secular government. In fact, it draws a clear line of demarcation past which nobody other than the individual shall pass. To acknowledge that our culture is largely Christian shouldn’t offend Ms. Silverman so. As an atheist she can still be thankful that most people have a healthy respect for something bigger than themselves, that something being what gave us our individual liberty. It matters very little what that something is. She is protected in this nation from those who would abduct and baptize her in the middle of the night. Nobody I am aware of is asking for votes in order to impose their unique interpretation of religion on her or anyone else. But I would ask her this – and I ask as what I would consider to be a cautious agnostic – if we found proof tomorrow that there is no greater force in the universe than humankind, from whence would our inalienable rights spring forth? I imagine it would have to be, frighteningly, from other humans.

    1. Please tell me how many times “God”, “Jesus” or any other deity is mentioned in the Constitution. I contend that many founders would have openly been atheists had their society been more open and had they the scientific and historical knowledge we have today.

      1. The Constitution is purely secular but the Declaration makes 5 references to God.

  25. As an atheist Libertarian, I completely agree with Bey and her other supporters. Good job. However, I NEVER vote Democrat unless it is a blue dog (i.e. fiscal conservative) and that breed is extremely rare. However, I state with absolute confidence that the social conservative platform of the GOP is the primary reason it loses so many elections.

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