Conservative Radio Host: ‘In the Good Old Days… Atheists Were Not Allowed to Run for Office’

Atheist philanthropist Todd Stiefel recently appeared on the Jesse Peterson Radio Show. Peterson is a black, religious, Tea Party advocate who doesn’t think very highly of atheists.

Jesse Lee Peterson

So this interview was bound to be interesting…

The whole episode was crazy, but two parts stood out in particular. The first occured at the 3:23 mark, after Todd talked about how Gallup polls have shown that people would not vote for atheists even if they were qualified members of their own political party:

Peterson: In the good old days, when boys were boys and men were men, atheists were not allowed to run for public office because they could not swear to God to uphold and enforce the law… or protect the Constitution. So that’s not new that… people wouldn’t support atheists in office and they shouldn’t because you can’t make a promise to God to do the right thing. You don’t believe in God.

Stiefel: So you’re saying we shouldn’t be able to hold office…

Peterson: Yes. Absolutely. Because you can’t make a promise to God to do the right thing.

Stiefel: … So you think other groups should be prohibited from holding office? You think, for example, African-Americans should be forbidden from holding office? Or Muslims…?

Peterson: Well, I don’t know why you bring up black people. And one thing that is disturbing about you people is that whenever you want to present your perverted ideas, you always bring blacks into it as though you care about black people…

I’m pretty sure that’s when Todd went like this:

One more highlight, at the 18:08 mark:

Peterson: Why don’t you love Christians? You are trying to create suffering for them.

Stiefel: I do love Christians. My wife is a Christian.

Peterson: Oh… poor wife.

And back to what I imagine was going through Todd’s head:

By the way, that last bit happened as Tina Turner‘s “What’s Love Got To Do with It” played in the background.

I’m resisting the urge to unleash a barrage of profanities against Peterson… partially because I don’t believe he has as much influence as his website might suggest. At least I hope he doesn’t.

But bravo to Todd for calmly talking to someone that agitating and out of touch with reality. Peterson tried as hard as he could to get Todd to respond to him with anger and malice… and Todd never took the bait. That is not easy to do, especially when you hear that much nonsense being thrown your way.


If you’d like to listen to the entire, unedited episode, you can subscribe on iTunes (Episode: “Americans Are Snapping by the Millions”) or just click here (MP3). The timestamps for the bits above are 4:45 and 20:34, respectively.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • DougI

    In those “good ol’ days” when we weren’t allowed to hold office people with his skin color were in chains picking cotton.

  • observer

    “Yes. Absolutely. Because you can’t make a promise to God to do
    the right thing.”

    Yeah, only a Christian (a Republican one at that) can promise God to feed the hunger, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, etc.

    No seriously, what about making a promise to your fellow man to do the right thing?

  • Hat Stealer

    How dare you?! Just look at at the peace-loving, selfless, sheltering, poor-feeding, rich people-bashing Jesus-y Conservative Christians that are in office right now! How can you say that anyone BUT a Christian could live up to their moral standards??

  • Gus Snarp

    Except that he’s demonstrably wrong. Atheists have always been able to hold office in the United States, legally speaking. The Constitution has always said that no religious test for office may be required, and there has never been any official oath requiring office holders to swear to any god. Now he may be right on the state or local level, but no, federally there has never been a legal ban on atheists holding office.

  • closetatheist

    He thinks that a god who ordered genocide, commanded family members to kill one another, and condoned child sacrifice is the appropriate entity to hold one to a promise of morality? And since when has promises to god kept theists from, say, breaking their marriage vows and committing adultery? Or political corruption?

  • Sven2547

    He’s de jure wrong and de facto right.

  • Gus Snarp

    Yeah, except I think that when he says:

    atheists were not allowed to run for public office because they could not swear to God to uphold and enforce the law… or protect the Constitution.

    that he’s talking about the law, and he has no understanding whatever of what it says. So I don’t even think he’s de facto right. Yes, the real world fact is that for most of our history there were no admitted atheist federal elected office holders, but there was never any “not allowed” about it, nor did it have anything to do with swearing an oath to God, because there is no such oath for federal office holders. For me it’s not about whether atheists could win and hold office in practical terms, it’s about the fact that he’s making shit up.

  • Alessia Lane

    he’s aware that in these very same “good old days” he would be swinging from the nearest tree for being “uppity”, right?

  • Tom

    The subtitle of his radioshow is the most ironic punchline I’ve ever seen.

  • Gus Snarp

    Wow. Reading the quotes doesn’t do this guy justice. He’s completely disconnected from reality. And the caller I heard…. It’s like going on the radio with blog comment trolls.

  • Gus Snarp

    Hey, watch it. Peterson won’t stand for you talking about black people. He knows all about black people. But you can talk about Mexicans all you want.

  • Todd Stiefel

    and Muslims, and women, and gay people, and all of the other groups he doesn’t like.

  • LesterBallard
  • gg

    In the beginning, he mumbles “but not for Christians”, when he mentions ‘freedom of religion’.

  • Gus Snarp

    Yeah, and I completely agree with you that all those groups are comparable, whereas he thinks they’re completely different for some reason. But I though when he brought up Mexicans it was especially priceless. “Mexicans are discriminated against because they’re Mexican, black people only because of their skin color”. How does he think people identify Mexicans to discriminate against them? Does he really think that discrimination only happens against undocumented immigrants because they’re undocumented, and not against Latin Americans in general because of the color of their skin?

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    You say that as if Jesse Peterson would be against slavery.

    Cue video where Jesse Peterson says “Thank God for slavery” (cause hey, at least it got blacks to USA, home of GOD AND JESUUUUUUUSS!!!)

  • nude0007

    I would have pressed that the founding fathers weren’t christian and our country isn’t either. I would have challenged him on his continual use of the word perverted too. NO ONE can make a promise to god to do anything because he doesn’t exist. marriage is not an institution established by god, it was adopted as a holy rite by all religions. We use the problems blacks had as a histortic example of discrimination just like we use women’s rights and gay rights. we are not taking christians rights away, they do not HAVE the right to proselytize or dominate and control the social landscape. THAT is what we are against. There are many examples of the military authority being used to force people to acknowledge the christian god.

    boy this guy makes me mad.

  • chicago dyke

    yet another xtian with a persecution complex. “waaah! you exist! you’re talking in public! you’re oppressing meeee!”

    that he’s a big old Uncle Token for the haters is just doubly funny. ignorant of the law to boot. it’s the trifecta, folks.

    we need a jeff foxworthy of atheism to do a “you might…” routine. “if your god is so wimpy, he’s threatened by a road sign, you might be a xtian idiot.” etc

  • nude0007

    many states have that law and how are you supposed to get elected to federal position when running in a state that says you can’t hold office? Even in states that have no actual law against it, the discrimination is so thick it might as well be a law or a wall

  • Spuddie

    The Samuel L Jackson character in Django Unchained was far less of a parody than imagined.

  • T. J. Luschen

    It’s still the law of the land here in Tennessee
    An athiest couldn’t even get elected dogcatcher here though, so it’s probably a moot point.

  • T. J. Luschen

    And interesting that you not only need to believe in God, but in heaven and hell as well. I wonder if Rob Bell could hold office – does hell exist if no one is there?

  • Crystal Bandy Thomas

    I am amazed that Peterson never allowed Todd to finish a statement without interrupting with a comment that was completely off topic… Or just so off the wall, it was ludicrous. ie: would you as an atheist swear on a bible…he just missed the point on every point Todd was trying to make…either deliberately or he’s just stupid. and he’s got his own radio show…why don’t we all have our own radio show??? At least, all the atheists I have met (on-line) can string logical thoughts and conclusions together….

  • Joshua Pierce

    I knew this guy was a nutjob, but this is outright insanity. Do people actual listen to this guy and agree with him?

  • Art_Vandelay

    I honestly have no idea how you got through that without losing it. Kudos.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Apropos of nothing, Alison Brie is my celebrity shag concession.

  • Jayn

    “Because you can’t make a promise to God to do the right thing.”

    Considering how many atrocities have been committed in the past by people
    who claim to share my faith, screw that. I care much less about where
    you get your idea of the ‘right thing’ from than I do about what your
    idea of the ‘right thing’ is.

  • Matt in Memphis

    It is still technically on the books here in Tennessee and in a few other states, but the US Supreme Court rendered any such laws unconstitutional long ago. If anyone ever actually tried to enforce it against an atheist candidate, it would immediately be struck down. Hell, we even still have a city ordinance on the books making it illegal for a woman to drive without male supervision, but it isn’t actually the law of the land. Still, your point stands – nobody would ever elect an openly atheist candidate here anyway.

  • randall.morrison90

    Has their ever been an Officially Atheistic Government, where men and women who were atheists held all the political power, that did not persecute Believers?

    Just askin.

  • Oranje

    Secular does not equal atheist, and atheism was not the primary ideology of any of the governments you are hinting around. The unnecessary capitalization is a nice touch, though.

  • Joshua Pierce
  • RobMcCune

    Having an atheist in office does not mean that the government officially becomes atheist. Ask better questions.

  • Brian Westley

    Has there ever been a non-trolling question from randall.morrison90?

  • Space Cadet

    Even allowing, for the moment, that your overly capitalized assumption is true, do you think it logically follows that any future, non-religious based form of government will do the same?

  • Tom

    Can someone explain to me why simply making a promise to the people who elected you, expect you to represent them, and are standing right in front of you while you make it, wouldn’t be just as good?

  • Rich Wilson

    Has there ever been any government that only persecuted Believers?

    Just askin.

    (But I do appreciate you’re adding to your qualifications to narrow things down to your pet examples)

  • The Other Weirdo

    Because everyone knows that without the since-childhood-instilled terror of being tortured forever in hell for the pleasure of an omniscient, omnipotent god, you would just lie, cheat, steal, rape, murder, and pillage(can’t forget pillage). Duh!

  • Mario Strada

    What a despicable excuse for a human being. I can only hope I’ll never meet this pompous jerk or I”ll surely end up in jail.
    I hope all sort of tragedies will befall him the rest of his miserable existence, especially those related to government assistance and food stamps.

    By the way, are there any advertisers on his show? Other than the KKK and some south african slave trading company?

  • DavidMHart

    The Josef Stalin fallacy again?
    (Josef Stalacy? Come on, folks, this absurd meme crops up so often we ought to have a snappy name for it)

    Name me one ‘officially atheistic’ government that was not officially atheistic because it was officially governed by a rival utopian ideology that considered religions to be incompatible with it. Name me one country that persecuted believers simply because the people in charge were not religious.

    Of course you can’t. No such government has ever existed. And you know as well as I do that the ‘officially atheistic’ countries (by which you mean ‘officially communist’, and should be honest enough to say ‘officially communist’) persecuted religious believers for exactly the same reasons that officially religious countries persecute religious believers who are not members of the approved state religion – namely, rival utopian ideologies do not tend to sit comfortably together to the extent that their diagnoses of the roots of society’s problems (and their proposed solutions) are incompatible with each other.

    Every atheist activist that I have ever heard of, and I’ll bet every one you’ve heard of too, is at most advocating a secular government – that is, not an officially atheist government, but a government that is officially neutral with regard to religion, neither encouraging nor discouraging religious belief. That’s all we need. We are confident that, given a truly level playing field, where everyone receives enough education in critical thinking to develop their baloney detectors</a, and where no ideas are held off the table of critical scrutiny and discussion, religions will eventually lose the argument and become as irrelevant to public policy as astrology and belief in fairies have become.

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    He tried to pull an Archie Bunker, but didn’t quite get it right. The proper line is “girls were girls and men were men.”

  • Charles Honeycutt

    Still trolling? And still to stupid to know the difference between atheism and an actual ideology?

    Are you a moron and a liar despite Jesus or because of him?

  • Todd Stiefel

    Thanks! I was boiling on the inside and was hoping the calm facade was working. I had to go back and listen to see if my voice betrayed the adrenaline.

  • Rich Wilson
  • Ransford Hyman

    Definitely nice job for keeping your cool. This guys always says a bunch of nonsense and keeps asking the same question like he has a hearing problem. I remember when Ayanna Watson from the black Athiests of america was interviewed by him and asked the same questions.. He couldn’t use the black card because she was black as well. Don’t pay him no mind though. You handled it well.

  • Ransford Hyman

    Definitely nice job for keeping your cool. This guys always says a bunch of nonsense and keeps asking the same question like he has a hearing problem. I remember when Ayanna Watson from the black Athiests of america was interviewed by him and asked the same questions.. He couldn’t use the black card because she was black as well. Don’t pay him no mind though. You handled it well.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Do Christians even try anymore?

    Back when I was still attempting to adhere to the indoctrination, every other sermon was about being kind, and putting up a good front to “make people want the Jesus you have.”

    Nowadays, most Christers are openly complete reality denying, stupid asshats. It’s like they’ve given up on willing converts and are just going for taking over and converting by force.

    It confounds me that a Pastor of a God whose supposed greatest commandment was “Love everyone” could openly gloat about insulting and trash-talking other people. No decent person is going to want anything to do with a God who turns a blind eye to his followers treating others like this.

  • Leta Bezdecheck

    In the good old days, blacks were slaves to white people. Not going that far back? Oops.

  • DougI

    I suppose there were officially Atheist countries like Albania and Mexico that organized to end the persecution of the people by the hands of the church. As is now, if Christians don’t get their way to persecute others they complain about persecution. Christians whined about being persecuted in America for not being allowed to practice their religion by enslaving others. Heck, in modern times the Catholic Church said it’s their religious freedom to molest children so I suppose they are being persecuted when they aren’t allowed to rape children.

    In any case where more freedom is granted to the people the Church is being “persecuted”. Your comment is like saying is there any case where a Republic or a Democracy came into power didn’t did not persecute a monarch.

  • SeekerLancer

    I don’t think I would’ve been able to sit through that interview, to let an asshole like that try to bully me instead of ask serious questions. It wasn’t an interview at all, it was an attempt at public mockery.

    He’d have gotten one warning to keep things civil then I would’ve told him to invite me back when he wants to talk like an adult. That is to say, never.

  • cipher

    Have you ever made an intelligent statement online? Just askin’.

    You know, Randall, there’s a reason no once since your mom has told you how bright you are.

  • Mackinz

    Those laws, the few that exist, are all violations of the 14th ammendment and, if an atheist were to run for public office in those states and was blocked because he does not believe in any magical sky-daddies, the law would be immediately thrown out of Court and ruled unconstitutional.

    Of course, that would require an atheist being elected by heavily conservative Christian nutjobs.

  • Gus Snarp

    Has anybody asked for an officially atheistic government?

  • Gus Snarp

    Well at least they’ve got those duelists under control.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    they could not swear to God to uphold and enforce the law… or protect the Constitution.

    do not swear an oath at all – Jesus.

    I’m sure God would appreciate his insistence on oaths, and of calling victims of hurricanes ‘immoral’ (but only, for some reason, most of the black ones).

    As mentioned by other commenters, I wonder what ‘good old days’ are being spoken of. I can’t imagine a black person having a radio show where they freely express their ‘negro’ opinions would do particularly well in those. Unless he means ‘Texas’ by ‘good old days’…

  • benanov

    Logical fallacy is his part and parcel. That and the racism.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    It might be availability bias. An atheist blog is more likely to post examples of influential reality denying asshats, than disenfranchised but kind religious people.

    I’m sure there are many places where kind talking Christianity is prevalent, but it’s not represented well in these kinds of places!

  • allein

    I don’t remember…did anyone call us here in NJ immoral after Sandy? (Just curious, as I’ve been having a conversation over email this morning with my friend about the still-ongoing progress on putting her house back together).

  • Rich Wilson

    I googled “pat robertson hurricane sandy”

    And got this really interesting one. It seems Sandy was a warning, but it was’t the gay or the atheist or the fornicators.

    It was the Mormons…

    I also found this one “If any religious leaders say tomorrow that the hurricane is God’s punishment against some group they’re idiots”

    And back to the gays

  • r.holmgren

    “and Todd never took the bait.”

    Ya, that’s amazing control. Certainly better than I could have done.

  • Sapient

    He’s clearly never heard of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution that forbids a religious test in order to hold office:

    “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

  • r.holmgren

    Yep, it’s pretty sad. Have you ever wondered why it is that all Christians are bad people and all atheists are good people? Sure you have.

  • r.holmgren

    Wow! You’re pretty brave. Balanced honesty is not generally found on this “friendly” blog.

  • Rich Wilson

    It’s not often that Trolls come right out and proclaim that they’re trolling. So, kudos for honesty, “TROLLING FOR ATHEISTS”

  • Wayne D

    What is sad is that he kept trying to make atheist belief into being perverted. Todd should have gotten him with the fact that the Bible was man made and not god inspired plus in Mark 9:1, Jesus stated that some of the people he was preaching to would not taste death before his Father arrived in glory in his Kingdom. Obviously, it didn’t happen which clearly made Jesus just another failed prophet. That requiring someone to swear on a man-made book was absurd. Todd brought up a great point that it wasn’t a requirement. Todd should have jumped on him when he stated that we were founded as a Christian nation when the founding fathers were primarily deists and some expressed their disdain for religion, namely Christian.

  • Wayne D

    It was sad that he was trying to make Todd into a racist when all Todd was doing was equating the discrimination of blacks to the discrimination of Atheists. For some reason Jesse couldn’t understand that.

  • Wayne D

    When that caller commented that it had to be a god who created the sun, Todd should have mentioned that the ancient Egyptians believed that the sun was due to a god dragging a flaming chariot across the sky, but that science has since proven otherwise, and no one believes that any more.

  • allein

    Interesting…thanks :)
    The only real religious blathering I remember hearing about was the “miraculous” survival of a Mary statue in a New York neighborhood that was otherwise utterly destroyed. God’s so great to save some concrete yard statue while letting dozens of houses burn to the ground!