Thousands of atheists gathering in DC for Reason Rally Saturday
June 3, 2016
CNN — Bill Nye, Lewis Black and members of the Wu-Tang Clan will be part of a high-profile lineup preaching to a mass of atheists Saturday at the Reason Rally at this city’s Lincoln Memorial.
The coalition of secular organizations is expecting 30,000 people to descend on Washington, where they will call for a non-religious approach to politics amid a hotly contested presidential campaign. They also hope to flex the political muscles of the religious unaffiliated, turning one of the fastest-growing groups in the country into a powerful voting bloc.
While the rally has scheduled musical entertainment, flashy speakers and late-night cocktail hours at neighboring hotels, the thousands of “nones” — people who don’t identify with any religion — coming to the nation’s capital.
The Reason Rally is “absolutely” a political event, said executive director Lyz Liddell. “That’s the reason we’re holding this in an election year. “We want to see reason taking precedence over religious-driven ideology.” The rally’s major issues of focus are climate change, reproductive rights and LGBT equality, all hotly contested political topics whose opposing voices often come from the religious right.
Larry Decker, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, said his group has scheduled meetings with more than two thirds of the members of Congress, whom they hope to lobby on behalf of secular values. They also hope to soften some of the social stigma still attached to the “atheist” label. According to a Gallup poll, 40% of Americans would not vote for an atheist president, though that number has declined in recent years.
There is a “small vocal group of people in this country who have really demonized what atheist means,” Decker said..
But while organizers hope to distance religion from the conversation, the rally’s attendees and speakers include people of faith, notably such legislators as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).
“It would be great if we get proportionate representation in Congress, but we are being represented by religious members of Congress and we want to work with them. We want to be heard by them.” said Liddell.
The last Reason Rally, held in 2012, may have had a much more excluding vibe, Liddell said. “Some of our speakers were anti-theists and anti-religion.”
This year, she said, the focus has shifted to secularism. “We need to ally with people who share our goals. It’s not an ‘atheist vs religious people’ conversation.” Decker himself identifies as an unaffiliated Christian. But even so, “I really feel more comfortable in this community,” he said. Decker said it was good thing when Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out of the presidential race because they were among the candidates who had invoked God in their reason to run for president. The rally is slated to run Saturday from 10am to 7pm.