He and Representative Pete Stark (D-California) represent the only politicians courageous enough to “speak” at the large gathering of atheists:
Said a Harkin spokesperson, “Just like the rest of his colleagues in Congress, Senator Harkin, a lifelong Catholic, strongly endorses the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. It was out of this conviction that he agreed to the invitation to send a video welcome to those exercising their Constitutional right on the national mall.”
Senator Harkin has served in the United States Senate for 27 years, serving an additional 10 years in the House of Representatives before that. The Secular Coalition for America, a sponsor of the Reason Rally, gave Harkin an “A” on their 2009 Senate Scorecard, a mark of how well his legislative votes defended secular values.
Based on the quotation from the spokesperson, Harkin isn’t really interested in our message. He supports our right to hold a rally and speak out, but that’s about the extent of his support.
Harkin doesn’t appear without some controversy, though. The Buffalo Beast‘s Josh Bunting explains:
[Harkin] tried to get alternative medicine covered under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka OBAMMERCARE. Harkin’s amendment ultimately failed, so fortunately none of us are going to be compelled to subsidize the quackery industry. But if Harkin had his way, we would.
Remember, this is the Reason Rally. I thought the point was to advocate for reason-based policy in our government. That’s why it’s taking place in Washington, DC.
The Center For Inquiry even issued a press release against Harkin’s bill in 2009:
[Sen. Harkin and others] are sponsoring an amendment to the health care reform bill which would support funding for alternative medicine, and also require all insurance companies to cover state-licensed alternative medicine providers, under the guise of prohibiting “discrimination” against such providers.
“Our report seeks to sound some alarm bells: we are coming dangerously close to having lawmakers legitimize quackery by putting the government stamp of approval on these unproven treatments,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We call upon the legislative branch to follow President Obama’s lead and insist that public policy be informed by sound scientific evidence.”
In other words, Harkin isn’t exactly a strong proponent of critical thinking and relying on scientific evidence.
That brings us to the salient question: Would you rather have more politicians pander to us like Harkin is doing or would you rather they ignore us altogether?
Considering that most people are unaware of Harkin’s views on alternative medicine, I think most atheists would be thrilled to even get lip service from a sitting senator.
Before you start organizing protests against Harkin’s video appearance, though, keep in mind that a *lot* of atheists wanted Bill Maher to speak at the rally, despite his speaking out against western medicine and questioning the efficacy of vaccinations. It seems like Maher’s outspoken atheism outweighed his sillier/more harmful views. But Maher’s a performer and Harkin’s a politician. We have a number of atheist celebrities. We don’t a lot of atheist politicians.
So do you give Harkin the benefit of the doubt and say, “Cool, we appreciate your willingness to send us a message at the Rally; that takes a lot of political courage” or “Thanks, but no thanks; your views are antithetical to ours and we don’t want your support”?
One more thing to keep in mind: President Obama has said things about the importance of religion in our country that many atheists have problems with. He has attended prayer breakfasts. He expanded the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Many atheists oppose all of those things.
Still, I think everyone would *love* it if Obama agreed to send along a message saying essentially the same things Harkin plans to say.