Representative Pete Stark (D) of California has acknowledged that he is an atheist in response to the Secular Coalition’s inquiry. He’s been in Congress since 1973 and is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Commitee and is the Chair of the Health Commitee.
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 (www.secular.org ). Rep. Stark is a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is Chair of the Health Subcommittee.
Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, the Coalition’s research reveals that Rep. Stark is the first open nontheist in the history of the Congress. Recent polls show that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America. Surveys show that the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office.
Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, attributes these attitudes to the demonization of people who don’t believe in God. “The truth is,” says Silverman, “the vast majority of us follow the Golden Rule and are as likely to be good citizens, just like Rep. Stark with over 30 years of exemplary public service. The only way to counter the prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so.”
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.”
The Secular Coalition is encouraging people to write Representative Stark for taking this step. An example letter can be found here.
Update: Check out this post on Brian Flemming’s blog. Rep. Stark does not identify as an atheist, but as a Unitarian. The other three are the ones who explicitly identify as atheists.
Update II: Rep. Stark sets the record straight via email:
“When the Secular Coalition asked me to complete a survey on my religious beliefs, I indicated I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being,” Stark said. “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.”