Hank Fox sent me an email that made me feel a little better today as it revealed that while it is difficult for an openly atheist person to get elected to office it’s not entirely impossible:
There is only one member of Congress who is on record as not holding a god-belief.
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a member of Congress since 1973, acknowledged his nontheism in response to an inquiry by the Secular Coalition for America (http://www.secular.org ). Rep. Stark is a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is Chair of the Health Subcommittee.
In October, 2006 the Secular Coalition for America, a national lobby representing the interests of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists, announced a contest. At the time, few if any elected officials, even at the lowest level, would self-identify as a nontheist. So the Coalition offered $1,000 to the person who could identify the highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.
In addition to Rep. Stark only three other elected officials agreed to do so: Terry S. Doran, president of the School Board in Berkeley, Calif.; Nancy Glista on the School Committee in Franklin, Maine; and Michael Cerone, a Town Meeting Member from Arlington, Mass.
Surveys vary in the percentage of atheists, humanists, freethinkers and other nontheists in the U.S, with about 10% (30 million people) a fair middle point. “If the number of nontheists in Congress reflected the percentage of nontheists in the population,” Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition, observes, “there would be 53-54 nontheistic Congress members instead of one.”
Until today I’d never heard of him despite his being very anti-war and a progressive liberal so I checked out his Wikipedia entry and I have to admit I like what I see.
Today, Stark has been in office 33 years and reelected until 2009. Within the House, he has been a ranking member of the Banking and Currency Committee and powerful Ways and Means Committee. His voting record is generally liberal/progressive (having been voted the most liberal member of Congress for two consecutive years) as indicated in the ratings section below. As such he is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
He is known to have a longstanding interest in health care issues and has been critical of the fate of the uninsured under the current administration. In addition, Stark was one of the most vocal Congresspersons who spoke out against the war in Iraq. In fact, he said (in a tongue-in-cheek manner) that if the United States goes to war, then it should not be without a draft. This was to prove the point that many young lives will be lost in a new war. In October 2004, Stark was one of only two members of Congress to vote in favor of HR 163, a bill proposing to reinstate the draft. Lastly he is known to “shoot from the hip,” as remarked by his less than cordial comments.
Of course he was elected 30 years ago, but at least there’s one acknowledge atheist in amongst all the rest.