Raskin came to my attention years ago for a memorable retort he made (before he was in elected office) at a hearing concerning same-sex marriage:
“People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don’t put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible,” he said.
He’s not the first person to have said a variation of that line, but he was clearly someone who supported church/state separation.
In 2008, Raskin accepted an award from the American Humanist Association and joked in his acceptance speech about how he had the choice of declining the honor:
I’d never even heard of a politician turning down an award before, much less asking the offering party to keep the whole thing hush-hush. Has it gotten so edgy out there that those of us in public life are afraid to be associated with the great tradition of philosophical and ethical humanism? Do we actually have to whisper about the fact that many Americans still identify with the Enlightenment values of our Founders and refuse to organize their political thoughts according to sectarian religious dogma? I vowed to show up in person so people could see at least one other elected official besides the great U.S. Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) who isn’t afraid to utter the “h” word in public.
Raskin was also quoted in a New York Times piece in 2014 about constitutional provisions in several states that cannot be enforced but still ban atheists from holding public office:
Paging through a copy of the State Constitution, [Raskin] said the atheist ban was only part of the “flotsam and jetsam” that needed to be wiped from the document. “It’s an obsolete but lingering insult to people,” he said.
“In the breathtaking pluralism of American religious and social life, politicians have to pay attention to secularists just the same as everybody else,” Mr. Raskin said. “If a Mormon can run for president and Muslims can demand official school holidays, surely the secularists can ask the states for some basic constitutional manners.”
And last August, he received the support of the Freethought Equality Fund PAC:
“We are dedicated to ensuring Jamie Raskin’s election to Congress as the first candidate who openly identifies as a humanist with a commitment to champion the First Amendment principles of our Constitution,” said PAC Manager Bishop McNeill.
While some candidates would shy away from that endorsement, Raskin welcomed it:
“I am fighting for a politics that has all of humanity in mind and does not divide people based on race, gender, sexual orientation or religion,” said Senator Raskin. “I’m delighted to accept the endorsement of the Freethought Equality Fund and everyone else who wants to make sure that we base public policy on science, reason and humanist values that take into account the interests of all people.”
Raskin has been in the Maryland State Senate since 2006 and was selected as majority whip in 2012, giving him the sort of experience that recent non-religious candidates for public office have lacked.
While Raskin had been heralded as the next non-theistic member of Congress, he has very deliberately avoided discussing the issue in public, going so far as to tell the Washington Post, “I’ve never called myself an atheist.” That doesn’t mean he isn’t one, but rather that he avoids the label and he’ll likely be counted as Jewish when they write the history of this next Congress.
To put it another way, when the Pew Research Center compiles its list of the religious affiliations of Congress members, I suspect Raskin will say he’s Jewish, even if he doesn’t believe in the religious aspects of it — that’s pretty much what former Rep. Barney Frank did — meaning we will not have an “openly non-theistic” member of Congress this time around.
That would make us 0 for 535. Again.
Raskin, like Rep. Kyrsten Sinema before him, will be a Congress member who is a fine progressive and welcomes the support of atheists… while distancing himself from using our labels. That’s not to say I don’t support him, only that I wish he’d embrace us a little more closely. That means being open and honest about his non-theistic identity.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)