Kay Hagan’s Staff Explains Her Position on “Godless Americans” (and Her Position on Us)

By Richard Wade:

I thought this was important enough to post separately rather than just as a response to my recent comment on Hemant’s post about the latest Senator Dole smear.

I have been getting email appeals for contributions from Kay Hagan’s campaign ever since I donated to her campaign. So you can understand the context, re-posted here is what I emailed to them earlier today, followed by a surprisingly prompt and personal reply I received just a few hours ago:

I was pleased and impressed when I learned that Kay, despite her strong devotion to her faith, was willing to attend the fundraiser that included the Godless Americans PAC, and so I contributed $200 even though I don’t live in North Carolina. Just finding any candidate or official who is even willing to listen to the concerns of secular Americans is extremely rare, and that needs to be encouraged.

Senator Dole’s vile response is not surprising to me, trying to smear Kay with “godlessness” by association, and Kay’s response is strong, clear and well considered. She should not tolerate such slander.

HOWEVER, I am disappointed by Kay’s failure to make even a single statement about how using “godless” as an unquestioned dirty word is also inappropriate, that she has not made an assertive statement that all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs deserve fair representation and should not be scapegoated. When Kay attended the fundraiser in Boston, I thought and hoped that she was taking a stand to represent all her constituency, including those upstanding Americans who do not believe in any gods.

I understand that in her response to Dole she wants to focus on defending herself against the attack, but by not denouncing the very tactic of using religious bigotry itself, Kay has tacitly agreed that “godless” people are the evil and dangerous degenerates that Dole implies they are. If Kay had also taken that single, simple and fair stance against bigotry, I would be donating more money to her campaign. She did not, so I am not.

I know that she is busy, but please pass these thoughts on to Kay. I wish Kay good luck in the election and I hope she wins.

Sincerely, Richard Wade

Here is the response I got back just a while ago:

Mr. Wade:

Thank you for writing to us and thank you for your contribution. Kay’s response sought to do two things:

1) Correct Sen. Dole’s false claim about Kay and

2) Return the discussion about this race to what we consider to be far more important issues: the economy, foreclosures, jobs, and any other number of things impacting the citizens of North Carolina and the rest of the country. People who lose their jobs lose their jobs irrespective of their religious beliefs. When someone loses their home, it doesn’t matter what they do or don’t believe in-they have still lost their home.

Please understand that Kay’s remarks in the ad should not be taken, in any way, as an implicit approval of Sen. Dole’s suggestion that atheists or people of any other religion are bad people. Additionally, Kay stating that she is a Christian is intended to be factual, not judgmental or suggestive that any other religious system is inferior. Kay is strongly opposed to discrimination of any kind and also feels that someone’s religious perspectives should have no bearing on whether they are fit to run for or hold public office.

To be clear, this event was not, as Sen. Dole’s ad states, hosted by the Godless Americans PAC. Mr. Kaplan, the host in question, is affiliated with this group, but the event itself was not about a discussion of their agenda points. That said, had we been aware of Mr. Kaplan’s association prior to the event, this would not have mattered. It is not the policy of this campaign to vet our supporters and donors on the basis of their religious beliefs, and Kay is fully aware that if she is elected Senator, she will be responsible for representing people with any number of different views. It seems evident in her ad that Sen. Dole only finds her Christian constituents as worthy of assistance. Rest assured that Kay would NEVER assert this kind of litmus test on her constituency when it comes to helping them out. It is positively unfair and frankly, just not Democratic.

Thank you again for your past support and for taking the time to write in.  Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any further questions.

Hagan Senate Campaign

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  • The reply from Kay Hagan seems balanced and indicates that she understands what issues are at stake in the election.

  • Weak. That’s basically the same response I got when I called with basically the same complaint, though.

  • BZ

    All it would’ve taken was a few sentences. I understand the economy and what not is important, but surely a few sentences can be spared for this type of bile when it rears it’s ugly head.

  • gruntled atheist

    Your letter was excellent. Kay’s response fell short of the commitment to separation of church and state and to the elimination of religion in politics that I would have preferred. But I did contribute to her campaign because Dole is pathetic and Kay’s election will be one more vote for qualified, progressive judicial appointments.

  • Well, it’s nice that they said something. Even just bothering to write back to you means that somebody in her campaign had to make themselves aware of your concerns. Frankly, I’m encouraged by this.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    The response is unconvincing. Hagan did “implicit[ly approve] of Sen. Dole’s suggestion that atheists. . .are bad people,” when she responded solely by denying that she was an atheist, without also responding to the idea that atheists are bad people.

    Suppose Dole had said that Kay Hagan had taken money from Jewish groups, said that there was something troubling about associating with Jews, and implied that Hagan was a Jew. And then Hagan had simply responded by saying “that’s an outrageous lie, I am not a Jew.” Wouldn’t everyone see that as implicit anti-Semitism on both sides?

  • Epistaxis

    And then Hagan had simply responded by saying “that’s an outrageous lie, I am not a Jew.”

    And the Jewish Hemant would have called it “slander.”

  • andyinsdca

    Typical mealy-mouthed response from a politician. She is still in the south where atheists are seen akin to the Devil himself, so if she even thought about a defense/denunciation of the word atheist as slander, she’d lose the race.

  • Zadius

    Personally, I’d like to see her publicly repudiate the tactic of using ‘godless’ as a smear. Quietly reassuring atheists in private isn’t good enough. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this is a calculated political move and may in fact be the most successful strategy for them.

  • Pseudonym

    If it helps, pretend that this is some other PAC: one that you’re generally in favour of, but don’t support in time and money and whose “single issue” isn’t one that you believe is particularly important in this election.

    If I put myself in that frame of mind, I don’t see this response as wrong at all.

    This reminds me of the “Obama is a Muslim” slurs. Colin Powell is the only one who answered that correctly: “Would it make a difference if he was?”

    McCain should have said that too, but I acknowledge that it would have been a distraction from the talking points that he needed to make to get in on that discussion.

    Looking at it another way: the fact that this isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a campaign issue is precisely why Kay Hagan’s campaign chose to limit their response. There are some dirty campaign points which are just not worth spending a huge amount of precious airtime over.

  • Zadius


    Campbell Brown also made that point, unfortunately she failed to make the point on this issue. See my video.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Pseudonym, I don’t see how you can not see this response as wrong. I agree that this is similar to the “Obama is a Muslim” slurs, but in that the response to both have been wrong. To simply say that Obama is not a Muslim, without pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with being Muslim, implies that the only problem with the “Obama is a Muslim” attack is that it’s factually incorrect. If a candidate was attacked as being Jewish, or having black ancestry, or being an illegitimate child, and they responded simply by saying that the attack was factually incorrect, wouldn’t their failure to state that the attack was also morally incorrect strike you as an amazing glaring omission? Wouldn’t you take take that response as an implicit agreement that the attack would have been valid, if only it had been true? Particularly if they called the charge of being Jewish “slander,” and said “we (Americans) all value the role of [Jesus] in American life.” I’m not saying that you would expect the candidate to respond by spending “huge amounts of precious airtime” explaining that it’s OK to be Jewish. But you would expect, at absolute bare minimum, a sentence or two in their response making such a statement. The dividing line between these various cases is not resources or “distractions,” but that it’s acceptable to large portions of the public to criticize people for being atheists or Muslims, but not for being Jewish, black, or illegitimate.

    P.S. A second “thank you” for the Shelby Spong recommendation—he is also quite good, although, like Holloway, I’m finding him rather disorienting.

  • royspeckhardt

    This is a strong response that explains Hagan’s need to be pragmatic in her campaign reactions, but also her underlying commitment to do what’s right by all her future constituents. When it comes to our trying to predict how she’ll act in office, I’d put my money on on this letter, not her campaign ads. Let’s treat her right and do what we can to gain a neded ally in the Senate.

  • Sharon Fratepietro

    I, too, contributed to the Hagan campaign although I don’t live in North Carolina. I, too, wrote a polite email to the campaign a couple of days ago about my sadness at the weak Hagan response. No reponse was forthcoming.

  • Santiago

    True that the race should be about the economy, foreclosures, jobs, etc. but the problem is that if you were to substitute “godless” for “black”, “gay” or “hispanic” in the ad, the condemnation and outspoken criticism that Hagan would pile on Dole would be tremendous.
    But if it happens to be “atheist” and “godless” that is used in the ad, this timid rebuttal sent only to anyone who asks is apparently enough.

  • Darsh

    While the comment itself is very promising, saying it in private does not solve the problem. She should release this as a press release, rather a behind doors wink-wink towards us.

  • Lame response. Given that he feels he must make sure to separate the Godless PAC from Kay Hagan even to you shows they just don’t understand. It shouldn’t matter. I don’t have a problem with Hagan asserting she’s a Christian but she should have defended atheists and the implication that we are horrible people. The fact that a smear campaign about atheism leads to a lawsuit shows how atheism is treated and it’s insulting.

  • PrimeNumbers

    Imagine the group in the ads had been “Jew” not “godless”. Imagine the outcry, the condemnation. That is the double standard.

  • This is all very well and good, but it is simply not true. There are videos of Kay Hagan online saying “I would have never taken money from anyone called the Godless American PAC”. To me, that makes Hagan just as bad as Dole. Instead of doing the right thing and saying “Why can’t I talk to people of different views?”, she denies everything.

  • timplausible

    This response is better than a response saying, “Hagan denounces atheism,” but otherwise I find it unconvincing. It is obvious that Hagan’s response add was intended to reassure people who don’t like atheists that she wasn’t one of those awful people, and that she was a good Christian who denounces the atheist agenda just like they are.

    I’m disappointed with Hagan, and also with all the media coverage of this event. No one denounced the anti-atheist message in any meaningful way. Bleh.

  • Erik

    I live in NC, and this story has been huge here (at least in Charlotte). Articles in the paper every day, primarily decrying Dole over this crappy campaign tactic and lots of people interviewed saying they have stopped support Dole because of it. Nothing I’ve seen, however, mentions the underlying discrimination of Dole’s ads, that being an atheist is not a bad thing.

    Related, Dole’s campaign has begun a round of robocalls now continuing the godless accusation against Hagan. I already voted for Hagan and certainly hope she wins, but I’m disappointed in her lame rebuttals.

  • Aj

    a) Many atheists don’t have religious beliefs, perceptions, or systems.

    b) I don’t always feel like defending atheism from all attacks, that doesn’t mean I agree with the attacks. Hagan’s silence does not mean she agrees.

  • sc0tt

    Kay Hagan is suing for punitive damages for libel and defamation. That’s not silence, that means she doesn’t quite get it.

  • Aj

    It’s a reality that associating with atheists or being an atheist would be harmful to a political candidate in America, therefore any accusations like that are considered libel. That people shouldn’t consider it bad is not the point at all.

  • I appreciate Kay’s response, even if she doesn’t fully understand the whole non-belief issue.

  • I tried calling the Dole campaign office for lulz:

    Me: I’ve seen Senator Dole’s two recent ads, I had some questions about the Godless Americans’ agenda.

    Rep: Sure.

    Me: The issues in the TV ad seemed kind of superficial, like, you know, a phrase on the money and stuff. Do you know, would they want to do things like write a new Constitution or governing document that doesn’t reference God at all?

    Rep: Basically they’d like to remove In God We Trust off the money and they’d like to remove God out of the Pledge of Allegiance, they take a pretty hard line stance on the separation of church and state.

    Me: Would they want Congress to say the government is not founded on the Christian religion?

    Rep: That would be my understanding of their tenets, yes, sir.

    Me: And, uh, some friends of mine they’re throwing a birthday party for me but they’re Godless Americans, and they got the question there, you know, should I go? What should I expect?

    Rep: Well, we’re just trying to put out that information and let you make that determination on your own.

    Me: Would there be anything bad about going to that party?

    Rep: If you have a problem promising certain votes in return…because if they’re giving you money the reality is that hey, does that reflect the values of your constituency.

    Me: OK, well, thanks.

    It wasn’t nearly as funny as I hoped.

  • Marzipan

    Adrian, could you please post links to those videos? Thanks!

  • Adrian, could you please post links to those videos? Thanks!

    Here’s the non-Prophets with some of Hagan’s response:


  • There are plenty of reasons to hope Hagan defeats Dole. It’s a good close race, we need the seat, she still gets my money. Would it have been heartening if she’d said “By the way, so what if I were?” Yes. But I’m from just across the mountains, and I know: if she’d defended atheists, she wouldn’t now have a chance of winning. Sometimes it really is that simple. That’s why it was Colin Powell, not Barack Obama, who made the Muslim speech.

  • truth machine

    The response is unconvincing. Hagan did “implicit[ly approve] of Sen. Dole’s suggestion that atheists. . .are bad people,” when she responded solely by denying that she was an atheist, without also responding to the idea that atheists are bad people.

    That’s just flat out false; there is no such implicit approval, and she just explicitly denied it and explicitly stated disapproval of that suggestion.

    Suppose Dole had said that Kay Hagan had taken money from Jewish groups

    You can’t change what is false to something true by changing what did happen to something very different. What Dole did was claim that Hagan, who teaches Sunday school and is a church deacon, doesn’t believe in God. Dole’s ad lied and claimed that Hagan lacks a belief that she actually has. It doesn’t matter that we atheists don’t have or think much of that belief, or that Dole attacked us, Hagan did not. To claim that she attacked us is just another lie.

  • truth machine

    Kay Hagan is suing for punitive damages for libel and defamation. That’s not silence, that means she doesn’t quite get it.

    No, it’s you who don’t get it. It is libel and defamation because it hurts her chances of winning the election — that’s the whole point of Dole’s ad. The law is based on whether there is harm, and there is; that the harm is a result of people having negative views of atheists is beside the point. As an atheist, I find it disappointing that there are so many irrational atheists who can’t understand this simple point.

  • truth machine

    There are videos of Kay Hagan online saying “I would have never taken money from anyone called the Godless American PAC”. To me, that makes Hagan just as bad as Dole.

    To me, that makes you a fool who can’t make distinctions. First, Hagan has many differences from Dole that make Dole worse. Second, it’s just a bad move politically to take money from a group with that name — that doesn’t show that Hagan is bad, it shows that “Godless American” is viewed negatively by voters.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    That’s just flat out false; there is no such implicit approval, and she just explicitly denied it and explicitly stated disapproval of that suggestion.

    And this is flat-out nonsense. You do understand that “implicit” means “not explicit”? You don’t determine if someone is implicitly saying something by asking them if they’re explicitly saying that.

  • Jonesy

    Youre not being reasonable. Kay Hagan is a politician in a close senate race. “Godlessness” is not exactly a way to get votes, especially in North Carolina. You cant expect her to defend atheism in any way even if its just a call for tolerance.

    Itd be different if she wasnt “connected” in this small way to godless activists, but now she has to be extra careful or people will start to wonder if Dole does have a point.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Jonesy, I don’t see how I’m being unreasonable. I’m just saying that Hagan response implicitly agrees with anti-atheist bigotry. I’m not denying that it’s politically prudent, or even politically necessary. It’s often politically prudent to take unethical positions.

  • Pseudonym

    I’m just saying that Hagan response implicitly agrees with anti-atheist bigotry.

    I really do not see that. I agree that the response from Hagan’s campaign wasn’t necessarily the most virtuous response, but it was, as far as I can see, the most pragmatic.
    The last thing that Kay Hagan wants to do is fight an election on the subject of religion or lack thereof. Senator Dole introduced it as a distraction from real issues. It might be wrong not to correct the wrongness in the attack, but in this case, it would be even more wrong to get off the topic of the real issues that people care about when voting, which are the reasons why Hagan, I have no doubt, is running for office in the first place.
    Shorter version: Do not feed the trolls.

  • Aj

    There’s a difference between keeping quiet in prudence, and agreement of a position. To know that it is tacit approval requires some reason to believe that the person agrees. Silence in itself cannot determine someone’s position. Given that it’s prudent, we should expect politician to be biased towards keeping silent regardless of their feelings. Atheists should not start hunting witches.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    benjdm, to be fair, the YouTube video to which you pointed shows Hagan saying that she did not take money from GAMPAC, not that she would not, though you may infer what you will.

  • Aj,

    I agree with everything you said on this thread. (Imagine that!) 😉


    North Carolina is very much a part of the Bible Belt. For a candidate to voice what you have pointed out (even if that is what she believed) could make a difference between winning and losing the election. Shouldn’t we remember the important fact that a candidate has to first be elected in order to start making changes, however slight?