For the second straight year, American Atheists has a presence at CPAC, the influential conference for right-wingers.
Why bother? Because, as President Dave Silverman said last year, conservatism (with a small “c”) doesn’t have to be synonymous with Christianity, and there’s value in getting your unpopular views in front of a crowd that, by their own logic, ought to support the constitutional separation between church and state.
AA is there promoting their Atheist Voter campaign and at least one Christian group is very much against their presence. The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property put out a statement condemning CPAC organizers for allowing American Atheists (and the Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT group) to sponsor a table:
Nothing however has proven so divisive and corrosive to the movement as the deliberate efforts of LGBT and atheist activists to be accepted as bona fide conservatives and the naiveté of those who view them as such. We repeatedly protested — together with other upstanding conservative organizations — calling on conservative leaders to stand firm.
We call upon the [American Conservative Union] to rescind its welcoming of organizations like Log Cabin Republicans and Atheist Voters as sponsors and exhibitors. Doing so would show consistency with the word conservative in its name.
For the record, no one’s suggesting AA is a conservative group, nor do you have to be in order to sponsor a table.
I asked Nick Fish, AA’s National Program Director, what the reception has been like so far, and his response was very positive:
We have been warmly received by the vast majority of people here. The overwhelming majority of people we’ve spoken to are young people who are uncomfortable with the rhetoric that they see from some of the major contenders when it comes to religion. The younger people who are here seem to be much less religious than the older demographic.
We still have had people coming to our table throwing Atheism vs. Christianity Debate 101 questions at us, but the overwhelming reaction has been positive.
There has been a healthy split between non-religious folks who appreciate that we’re there and giving them a bigger megaphone and religious folks who, while themselves believers, dislike the close ties the evangelical community has to conservatism.
And what about the Christian group that doesn’t want atheists there?
… we frankly don’t care. American Atheists is non-partisan. It’s quite telling that these people believe that the mere existence of atheists is somehow an attack on American values and speaks volumes about their priorities. They have no interest in equality from the government, they want special treatment for one particular religion — [their] own. Equality is the winning argument. Always.
This is at the core of the message we’re delivering here. Religious bigotry, pandering, and attacks against the character of atheists shut down the discussion. If they think they have the winning argument, they should be making it and letting voters decide rather than hiding behind their religion.
And if they care about limited government like the claim to, perhaps they should start by limiting the use of government to force religious doctrine on the rest of us.
You may recall that last year, an atheist spoke at the conference, urging attendees to give her a conservative candidate she could vote for, given her secular values. The response in the room was hardly enthusiastic while the backlash from atheists online was fierce.
No one from AA will be speaking on the CPAC stage this year.