The Country’s Only Openly Atheist Republican Legislator Just Left the Party

Back in February, we learned that New Hampshire State Rep. Brandon Phinney was an atheist. That might not sound unusual since New Hampshire is literally the least religious state in the country, but it was newsworthy since Phinney was a Republican.

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He had outed himself in a letter to Foster’s Daily Democrat, in which he said, among other things, “In an age of information, scientific progress and exploration and the understanding of the workings of our world, it is difficult and to be frank, rather foolish, to hold onto archaic beliefs that deny reality.”

His announcement made him the highest ranking openly atheist politician in the GOP. (He temporarily shared that title with his colleague State Rep. Robert Fisher, who was outed as both an atheist and creator of Reddit’s controversial “The Red Pill” forum. He resigned weeks after that story broke.)

Why was Phinney a Republican? Because, while he firmly supported church/state separation, his Libertarian values seemed to overlap more with the small-government, fiscally conservative, traditional GOP than with Democrats.

Well, Phinney no longer wants to call himself a Republican.

This morning, he announced that he’d be leaving the GOP and officially joining the Libertarian Party. That makes him the third NH legislator this year to defect to the L.P. (State Rep. Caleb Q. Dyer also left the GOP, while State Rep. Joseph Stallcop left the Democratic Party.)

In an interview with Matthew Geiger of Libertarian website 71Republic, Phinney explained why he switched.

The Republican Party just didn’t fit me. I would go to the statehouse every day and think, “What are they [the GOP] going to tell me to do today?” To be honest, the House GOP Leadership shut people out, prevented representatives from doing their jobs, and were not transparent at all. I was sick of it, and I wanted to be in a party that represented my philosophical beliefs.

I’m not going to change the way I talk to people and how I interact with my colleagues, the only difference is that we [the Libertarians] will have our own caucus to decide where our party stands on issues and bills, which should give me a lot more freedom when voting.

Phinney, who’s in his first term and served in the NH National Guard, plans to run for reelection in 2018. He doesn’t believe his new party affiliation will hurt him.

The Libertarian Party celebrated his change in their own statement:

Phinney will work with Dyer and Stallcop in the N.H. House Libertarian Caucus to minimize state government, lower taxes, and eliminate barriers to conducting business, and will work hard to increase individual freedom and personal liberty while protecting the rights of individuals and businesses within New Hampshire.

“We were elected to the people’s house to serve their will, their interests, and limit government interference in their lives,” said Phinney of his differences with the GOP. “I was not elected to do the bidding of a political party at the expense of my principles. Establishment partisan politics do nothing to protect the rights of people, but instead only serve to prop up and expand government with arcane plans to irresponsibly spend our money and enact burdensome regulations on businesses, small and large alike. The Libertarian Party platform gives us, as legislators, the best possible framework to expand social freedoms, support a free-market economy, and ensure the checks and balances on government power are enforced.

Phinney told me that he “never fit with the Republican party in New Hampshire as they did not really seek to promote freedom.” He added:

… they had different views on the budget just like the Democrats and there were plenty of divisions on how to properly manage fiscal issues.

Also, the GOP still has issues with personal liberties like freedom of choice for women and voting law issues.

In case you’re wondering, New Hampshire does have one open atheist still in the State House: Rep. Tim Smith, a Democrat, is in his third term.

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