Godless congressman

And I mean that as a compliment. From the Secular Coalition for America:

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. [JG: Even I find this surprising.] 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.

If you count Republican Ron Paul as a Libertarian, atheists are doing about as well in politics as the LP, which isn’t saying much:

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.

So good for Stark. Alas, he doesn’t seem to be the nicest guy to represent us godless types:

Stark, 71, added to his legend of buffoonery last week when he called Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., “a little wimp” and a “little fruitcake” — and suggested the two should step outside. Capitol police were called to the hearing.

It was reminiscent of the 2001 debate when Stark made a reference to the children of Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., all being “born out of wedlock.” It was not only insulting, it was — as Watts pointedly told Stark in a face-to-face confrontation — not true.

And there was the time he accused Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., of being a “whore for the insurance industry.” Stark once brought up President Bush’s personal battles with alcohol during a debate on federal funding of faith- based programs.

Yes, this is the same Pete Stark who in 1990 suggested former Health and Human Services Director Louis Sullivan, an African American, was a “disgrace to his race.”

Best response to the story comes from commenter David on Radley’s Reason post about the subject:

Hmmmm, maybe atheism for congressmen is a reversed Pascal’s wager.

Exactly! If being a politician already ups one’s chances of damnation, it’s best to come out as an atheist and score whatever points for honesty one can.

Update 3/13/07: I should have also linked to Radley’s recent piece on America’s misguided distrust of atheist candidates.

Trust me, I’m an atheist


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