Going to CPAC, the Conference for Fringe Conservatives? Be Sure to Say Hello to the Atheists

If you’re planning to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in a couple of weeks — and I’m sure you are — you’ll see Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin… and American Atheists?!

Yep, the atheist group just announced (via email) that they will be manning an informational booth at the infamous gathering for those on the rightmost edge of the political spectrum:

“‘Conservative’ isn’t a synonym for ‘religious’,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “In fact, a fifth of conservatives seldom or never pray, and the same number state religion is not important in their lives.”

“If conservatism doesn’t embrace religious neutrality, its influence will wither and die,” Silverman said. “Atheists are a growing constituency — an increasingly united constituency — and conservative legislators ignore our vote and our voice at their own peril. We demand equality and fairness — nothing more — which is the very foundation of American values. Imposing religious dogma on its citizens should not be the role of the small government advocated by conservatives.”

American Atheists adds that they’ll offer free one-year memberships to CPAC attendees who register at their booth.

A couple of quick thoughts about this:

I like that AA is reaching out to the conservative movement here. There’s no reason they should stay confined to their traditional base. Republicans have plenty of closeted atheists among their ranks and I suspect AA’s presence will be a welcome site for them. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement for CPAC and AA.

But.

Let’s not ignore the fact that AA is reaching out to the fringiest of fringe right-wingers here. CPAC is the conference that banned GOProud, a conservative gay rights group, for years; this year, GOProud’s leadership will only be allowed to attend as guests but will not have a booth. CPAC is the conference that welcomes white nationalists. CPAC is the conference that lends sound bites to MSNBC and the Daily Show for weeks on end because its speakers tend to make outrageous, nutty statements. CPAC is the conference sponsored by these groups.

Are these really the sort of people AA wants to reach out to? Yes, they’ll cause a stir and create headlines — which, let’s face it, is ultimately what they want — but why this conference?

If you say you want to reach out to conservatives (at least ones that may be likely to embrace atheists), it does far more damage to your cause by going to a conference for fringe Republicans as if they represent the whole party (and not just the most vocal segment of it).

AA may have been better off just waiting until the 2016 Republican National Convention.

I’ve asked AA to respond to that point and I’ll provide an update if I hear back. (***Update***: AA President Dave Silverman tells me, “We will try other conferences but we are a belly-of-the-beast kind of organization; for example, [our upcoming national conference in] Salt Lake City.”)

But for now, this is a done deal. I’m sure AA won’t cause any problems for CPAC, but I wonder how some of the attendees will respond to the presence of atheists. We’ll find out soon enough. CPAC takes place March 6-8.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.


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