By: Matthew Higgins
WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The role of religion in government is once again front-and-center in the United States following the controversial religious freedoms law in Indiana.
Gov. Mike Pence and Republican state lawmakers are facing fierce backlash from gay rights groups, businesses and organizations over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying the bill discriminates against the LGBT community.
Pence asked lawmakers earlier this week to clarify the legislation.
But the law has its supporters, chief among them potential Republican presidential contenders. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have defended Pence and the law.
Cruz has already reached out to his religious conservative base, launching his presidential campaign at Liberty University next month.
In previous presidential contests, candidates were accused of being a different religion and others had to defend theirs. When President Barack Obama was running for office, he had to remind people he is a Christian after some believed we was secretly a Muslim born in Kenya. In Mitt Romney’s case, he had to defend his Mormon faith against critics while he was running for president. A column in The Washington Post from January was titled “Mitt Romney Still Has A Mormon Problem.”
Despite the role religion plays in politics, there are reportedly members of Congress who are atheist. Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition of America told The Guardian in 2011 that 27 members of Congress had no belief in God.
But could an atheist ever become president? American Atheists President David Silverman says yes.
“This is inevitable. We will have an atheist president, probably in the next 50 years, and the country will learn how beneficial it is to have a leader who leads with logic,” Silverman told CBSDC.
He continued, “Atheism is the fastest growing religious demographic in the country, and all that has to happen is this continued growth, combined with organization on a national level, and the growing awareness that ‘God wants me to do’ something is just another way of saying ‘I want to do something and I don’t want to be questioned.’”
Silverman believes the religious right will make it easier for a major party to back an atheist candidate.
“Between the horribly bigoted RFRA, the anti-gay agenda, and the never-ending assault on women’s bodily autonomy, religion is looking worse and worse to the voting public,” he told CBSDC. “All we have to do is make the parties realize that breadth of voting base is key, and the fastest growing segment of the voting base is atheistic. Votes talk.”
Silverman stated the world would “rejoice” if America elected an atheist as president.
“They would celebrate the fact that America is now being run by reason and science, not dogma and delusion,” Silverman told CBSDC.
Political strategist Chris Akins, founder of Akins Campaign Strategy, though, can’t picture the United States electing an atheist president.
“It simply won’t happen,” Akins told CBSDC. “A poll last year had white evangelicals holding a view of atheists as less favorable than Muslims, and we know what chance a Muslim stands of getting elected in America.”
Akins continued, “Americans feel connected to each other through their faith and it’s a shortcut to decision-making for many of them by having that common bond of certain religions or at least beliefs in certain deities. Being an atheist severs that possibility. The lack of religious views tells evangelicals and others that the atheist lacks a moral compass and ability to determine right from wrong, which is dead wrong, of course.”
Akins explained that religious organizations would fight a potential atheist candidate tooth and nail.
“I would imagine all the stops would be pulled out to derail the candidacy: God would be struck from money, struck from the pledge, our entire culture and way of life would be threatened, and that Israel would be abandoned, and that God would turn His back on the United States because we turned our back on Him,” Akins said.
A Pew Research poll found that 2.4 percent of Americans identified as atheists, 3.3 percent as agnostic and 13.9 percent as nothing in particular.