At least two dozen closeted atheists are sitting in Congress, according to a new group aimed at getting nonbelievers elected to Washington.
They can't admit their religious skepticism because it would harm their prospects for re-election, said Maggie Ardiente of the American Humanist Association.
Ardiente is one of the prime movers behind the Freethought Equality Fund,
launched in Washington Wednesday.
"We already know of more than two dozen closeted atheists serving in Congress today," Ardiente claimed at the group's launch. "The fact that they're in the closet about their nonbelief says a lot about why this PAC is greatly needed. The time to come out is now, and the Freethought Equality Fund will help make it happen."
The group wants to support candidates who are committed to upholding the doctrine of separation of church of state as defined in the First Amendment, National Public Radio reported.
"The Freethought Equality Fund will work to elect the [nonbelievers] . . . in addition to those who will work for our rights so we can finally have the representation in Congress we deserve," Ardiente told the news conference.
"Our patriotism is suspect, our value system is dismissed, and the more we come out of the closet in certain communities as people who don't happen to believe in a god, the more we observe new limitations in our business opportunities and in public life," Ardiente said about the prejudices many have about secular Americans. "Most of all, these voters want respect and equality for nontheists in the United States."
The group hopes that the PAC will give courage to religiously skeptical lawmakers, who might be afraid to speak up, as well as increase the ranks of secular political figures in government office.
The fund will also work to "dispel many myths about nonbelievers," said Bishop McNeil, Freethought's coordinator, The Washington Post reported
According to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center,
one in five poeple now says he or she is atheist, agnostic, or does not believe in anything in particular.
The group hopes to support secular candidates on both sides of the aisle. However, the five congressional candidates it has so far chosen to support in the next election are Democrats. They include two House incumbents: Rush Holt of New Jersey and Bobby Scott of Virginia, the Post reported.
"We're actively looking for all candidates regardless of their affiliation who will protect the separation of church and state and defend civil liberties," McNeil said. "Based on our 2013 scorecard that we just completed, there are currently no Republicans in the House that would fit that."
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