Q & A with Herb Silverman, President of the Secular Coalition for America

One more interview!

This one, from The Eloquent Atheist, is with Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America and former candidate for governor of South Carolina.

The interview includes a detailed backstory/history of the SCA, if you’re interested.

Some other highlights:

Q: You once ran for office in South Carolina, where you live and teach, to test the law stating that no atheist could hold public office. You then spent 8 years in court to overturn this religious test requirement. What was that experience like? Did you receive a great deal of support? What did the general public have to say, about your challenge to the law?

A: The experience changed my life in many wonderful ways. Before 1990, I was an apathetic atheist. It didn’t seem any more important for me to say I was an atheist than to say I was a round-earther. It just seemed like the sensible default position. When I learned that atheists in South Carolina could not hold public office, I became committed to this civil rights issue.

As an educator, my campaign to change the law by running for Governor was an opportunity to educate the public about discrimination against atheists. I think most South Carolinians now believe atheists should be allowed to hold public office, but I hope to see in my lifetime the day they will actually be willing to vote for a well-qualified candidate who happens to be an atheist. The best thing that happened to me during my gubernatorial run was that I met my wife Sharon—in Church. She heard me speak at the Unitarian Church and offered to help in my campaign. She then became my one and only groupie.

Q: Returning to your roll as a spokesperson for non-believers, I’d like to ask you about your debate on the topic “Does American Religion Undermine American Values?” The debate was held in Oxford, England. How did the debate come about? Who was your opponent? What was the outcome? What did you gather about the way the English regard America’s latest “religious awakening?”

A: I was invited because I was president of the Secular Coalition for America. My opening line received a nice laugh: “You just heard Richard Lowry (Editor of National Review) mention what it’s like to be a conservative in New York City. Now I’ll talk about what it’s like to be an atheist in South Carolina.” Here is where I received the most applause: “In the melting pot called America, we are one nation under the Constitution (or maybe under Canada), but not one nation under God. In fact, given how the religious right opposes the teaching of evolution, or any scientific or social view that conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible, we are really becoming one nation under-educated”…

[On the future of atheism:]

Finally, I am hopeful that [non-religious people] can become more like the Christian Coalition. (Got your attention, didn’t I!) Though we disagree with everything they stand for, they had a terrific model. They brought people together who had common interests and made the nation take notice. We must build and sustain coalitions among freethinkers, as well as between freethinkers and liberal religionists. We must show our strength in numbers and work for opportunities to get a place at the media and political tables.

The full interview is here.


[tags]atheist, atheism, interview[/tags]


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