Atheists Decry DNC Plot to 'Out' Sanders For Alleged Non-Belief

This divisive strategem has outraged the nice secular folks over at the Center for Inquiry


Marlon Rush/Dreamstime

Thanks to Wikileaks (and perhaps Russian government hackers in support of Donald Trump's candidacy), the world now knows that the Democratic National Committee worked to undermine the presidential candidacy of socialist-progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders. One tack was to accuse Sanders of atheism. As ABC News reports:

"It may make no difference but for KY and WA can we get someone to ask his belief," Brad Marshall, CFO of the DNC, wrote in an email on May 5, 2016. "He had skated on having a Jewish heritage. I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist."

Sanders insists that he is not an atheist. Clearly, DNC officials were considering this strategy with malice aforethought since they know that Americans are least likely to vote for an atheist politician. This divisive strategem has outraged the nice secular folks over at the Center for Inquiry. And well it should since a recent Pew poll shows that 70 percent of atheists vote Democratic. From the Center's press release:

We found it appalling that anyone within the Democratic National Committee would casually suggest attacking a candidate for their alleged atheism. Entertaining such a cynical and bigoted line of attack violates any number of basic American principles: It presumes a religious test for holding office, something expressly prohibited in the Constitution. It pits the majority against a marginalized minority group, intensifying the country's already escalating divisions. It exacerbates the gross stereotype of atheists as second-class citizens or somehow less moral than believers, a stereotype atheists have been tirelessly battling for generations. Perhaps most importantly, it sends the unmistakable signal to atheist Americans that despite all of our hard-won progress for equal treatment, atheists are still not welcome, not "one of us," not American. …


Need we even point out that had the suggestion been made to attack a candidate for being Jewish, Mormon, or of any other minority faith, the resulting scandal would have been an all-consuming conflagration?

Mr. Marshall has reportedly apologized for embarrassing the DNC, but there has been no apology, no admission of wrongdoing, to the people he sought to defame. We believe he should resign his position with the DNC. The Democratic National Committee must make immediately clear that it finds Marshall's line of thinking unacceptable, and that it will not countenance party operatives proffering attack strategies based on this kind of anti-atheist bigotry. It would do well for the Clinton campaign to do the same.

Atheists, humanists, "nones," and all others who have rejected traditional religious belief will no longer be silent when institutions of power attempt to reinforce pernicious stereotypes about the nonreligious. We matter, we have a powerful voice — and a vote — and we will use it. 

If they want to avoid religious bigotry political triangulation, I would like to suggest to my fellow atheists that they consider voting for Libertarian presidential candidates Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. An admittedly unscientific poll in 2015 reported that 39 percent of libertarians identified as religious "nones" which includes atheists and agnostics.

Disclosure: The Center for Inquiry paid my travel expenses to attend and participate in a panel discussion at their 2012 "Moving Secularism Forward" conference. For details, see my article, "Among the Nonbelievers."