This is a guest post by Ronald A. Lindsay, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Inquiry.
…You know the numbers and trends as well as I do. A very conservative estimate of nontheists in the United States is ten percent of the population. Moreover, every survey shows these numbers are growing.You’re also aware of the stigma that is still attached to being an atheist. All too many Americans think nonbelievers are immoral, mean-spirited, joyless individuals. For years, poll after poll has confirmed that nearly half of Americans would not vote for a person for president merely because that person is an atheist. Close to half of Americans would object to their child marrying an atheist.Stereotypes and prejudice exist for more than one reason. Some people are bigots and will remain bigots no matter what. But one reason many Americans harbor prejudice toward atheists is that they know about them only through what they have heard from their minister or priest, some right-wing politician, or perhaps some fatuous media personality such as Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly. Rarely have they heard from atheists themselves. Many of them remain in blissful ignorance of the fact that nonbelievers are among their friends and colleagues—or even close relatives.Why? Because too many of us are silent.Many atheists are still afraid or reluctant to have their skepticism become known. They’re concerned that people will think badly of them, will shun them.This silence is its own enforcement mechanism. Atheists don’t speak out because of the prejudice against them and one reason for the persistence of this prejudice is that atheists don’t speak out.Fortunately, many nonreligious are no longer willing to “pass.” Finding their voice, they are letting others know that they don’t believe in a god—and that they are leading happy, fulfilling lives. And, yes, they are trustworthy people who know right from wrong and act accordingly.But more of us need to shake off our complacency and come out. The political season is upon us and politician after politician is bending over backwards—or engaging in less seemly bodily contortions—to placate the Religious Right. Moreover, it’s not just GOP candidates who are giving in to pressure from the religious. President Obama has not delivered on his campaign pledge to reform some key provisions of the government’s faith-based funding program. (Reform? Hell, it should be abolished—but don’t get me started.) Again, there’s no mystery why he hasn’t done so. If not enough of us give a damn, why should he?The Religious Right is not bashful about exerting its influence, which is out of all proportion to its numbers. Meanwhile, too often we are off in the corner, mute and sitting on our hands.We’re a minority, but not a miniscule minority, and we should stop acting like one. Our situation is not going to change unless we make it change.The Reason Rally — on the Mall in DC on March 24 — is an unprecedented opportunity to show America that we’re here, to let our voices be heard loud and clear. Virtually every major secular organization in the United States is participating in this event. We occasionally have our differences (we wouldn’t be freethinkers if we did not), but we’re all united in this effort because we understand its importance. We can effect change, but only if we stand together.Join us in DC. End the silence.