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Opinion: America needs to believe in its non-believers

Lindsay Augustine
Only four presidents have chosen to swear in on a text other than the Bible; there is a lack of separation between religion and the government.

As you read this article, states are counting votes for the recent midterm elections. Across the United States, citizens are exercising their right to vote, choosing candidates they view as trustworthy, intelligent, and representative of their country.

While we don’t know the complete results of the elections for the 2022 congressional politicians, the 2020 election cycle showed remarkable progress in diversity and representation.

Kamala Harris is the first bi-racial, South Asian, black woman to hold the vice presidential office. Pete Buttigieg was the first gay candidate to debate on the presidential debate stage. Sarah McBride became the first transgender senator.

Great strides have been made, and these labels are critical to politics. But while Americans continue to diversify their political systems, one group seems to be left out of the conversation – those with no religion. 

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22.8% of Americans don’t identify with a religion. Yet, only 3.6% of congressional legislators are similarly irreligious.

This lack of representation for non-believers is deeply ingrained in American society. According to the American Psychological Association, atheists are marginalized in their workspaces and more likely to be seen as criminals. Due to their history as a minority, non-believers have struggled to clear space for themselves, particularly in political climates.

For instance, while watching Barack Obama’s inauguration as a young girl, I remember asking my dad what would happen if a president didn’t believe in God since they’re sworn in on the Bible. He could answer for other religions – using their holy texts – but he couldn’t reply for atheists and agnostics.

Like every little kid with big dreams, I had thought I might become president one day. This revelation made me doubt that; I didn’t know if my country accepted who I was.

Somehow, this hasn’t been raised as an issue. There hasn’t been a president that didn’t self-label as religious since Abraham Lincoln, who held office over four score and 77 years ago. Despite growing up with Baptist parents and surrounding himself with Christian advisors, Lincoln remained adamant that he wasn’t Christian.

On some level, I can relate to Lincoln: I’m agnostic, and although my now non-religious parents raised me, my grandparents are Christian. Through them, I occasionally read Bible verses and went to church, but a large portion of America isn’t introduced to God by their grandparents. 

Their introduction comes from repeating the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school every morning. In a classroom full of kindergarteners, they were saying “one nation under God” before they could even spell America. 

For a country founded on the idea that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” – that’s the first line of the First Amendment – religion, and particularly Christianity, seems quintessential to its philosophy.

According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 96% of people would vote for a black candidate, 95% would vote for a Hispanic candidate, 94% would vote for a woman, and 76% would vote for a gay or lesbian candidate. 

Only 60% of people would vote for an atheist.

Religious bias is so ingrained into American culture and politics that seven states still have statements in their Constitutions that ban non-believers from being elected into government offices. While these bans have been considered unconstitutional since 1961, discrimination is still generated from the clauses, including a case in 1992 and one in 2009.

Yet, religiously unaffiliated people tend to be the most accepting. According to Pew Research, atheists tend to support abortion legality, government aid for the poor, LGBTQ+ rights, and climate change regulations more consistently than religious believers.

Our society is becoming more dangerous for its citizens every day. Women are losing control over their bodies, hate crimes are becoming more commonplace, and our planet is at risk as climate change worsens. Non-believers deserve a voice, especially if that voice will stand up to the injustice in our society.

America prides itself on its diversity and freedoms, yet there is no outrage regarding religious repression. Conversations surrounding other minorities don’t tend to include religious ones. This could be because religion is easily hidden, unlike race and gender, and it makes sense to lie. When members of Congress do decide to reveal their religious apathy, their intentions are harshly judged.

“I’m not hostile to religion, and I’m not judging other people’s religious views,” said Jared Huffman, a proclaimed humanist congressman, when he had to clarify his receptiveness to religion. 

Anti-American criticism is common even when mentioning non-believers in passing, like when CNS News reporter Terrence Jeffery criticized a statement in Barack Obama’s inaugural speech: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.”

“In America, we have no established religion, and the First Amendment guarantees its free exercise, but we are and always have been an expressly God-fearing nation,” Jeffrey said

The 22.8% of non-religious Americans, myself included, would likely disagree.

American voters need to recognize that non-believers make up a significant portion of their country. We deserve the right to representation in the government. 

Instead of emphasizing a nation under God, let’s focus on “liberty and justice for all.”

This story was originally published on Scot Scoop News on November 17, 2022.