Heroic American Atheist politician

Apparently in California religion is optional.
Non-believing congressman becomes a hero for atheists
Friday, March 16, 2007


SAN FRANCISCO -- Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., might have crossed what some are calling "one of the last frontiers" in politics when he delighted atheists this week by acknowledging that he does not believe in a supreme being.

Just a generation ago, says Democratic political strategist Dan Newman, "you couldn't go anywhere near" such a statement, which "would have been political suicide."

Stark's frank declaration that he is "a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being" indicates, Newman says, that a significant page has been turned -- and maybe it's not such a political liability anymore.

But he adds that "time will tell whether this is a case of the Bay Area being far out front -- or merely far out."

Stark's spiritual inclinations were sought by the Secular Coalition for America, an association of eight atheist and humanist groups, which offered a $1,000 prize to the person who could identify the "highest-level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of non-theist currently holding elected public office in the United States."

The 18-term Democratic congressman, who chairs the health subcommittee of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, agreed to fill out the coalition's survey on his religious beliefs. The 75-year-old Stark added that, "like our nation's founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services."

A spokesman for Stark said that he would have nothing further to say on the matter.

The declaration made Stark a hero to atheist groups around the nation, which have had little visibility in debates on issues surrounding religion and values in Washington.

Stark isn't the first California politician to say he is a non-believer: Gov. Culbert Olson, a Democrat who served from 1939 to 1943 -- and though born of Mormon parents -- said he was an atheist.

But such a declaration carries plenty of political risk. Last month, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that fewer than half of Americans said they would vote for an atheist candidate for president even if he were "well-qualified."

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