An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the DNC

Religious bigotry is an ugly thing, particularly when it is used in politics. Playing into the distrust that people have for a minority community for potential political gain has no place in American political discourse.

When the Chief Financial Officer of the Democratic National Committee, Brad Marshall, implied in a leaked email that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ religious views should be made an electoral issue—specifically the possibility that he was an atheist—Mr. Marshall insulted the more than 30 million American atheists and the many more who are nonreligious.

The implication that atheism is something for a candidate to be ashamed of or is something that should damage a candidate is a shocking statement from the party that’s platform says, “It is unacceptable to target, defame, or exclude anyone because of their … religion.”

If Democrats are serious about their commitment to inclusivity, they must apologize not just to Senator Sanders and his supporters, but also to the millions of atheists whose beliefs they have implied are a liability. 

bernie_hillary.jpgHowever, a mere apology from the DNC and Mr. Marshall is not enough. The casual bigotry and anti-atheist sentiment expressed in his email has no place in our political discourse in general nor in the Democratic National Committee specifically. We call on Interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile to demand his resignation.

The reactions to this scandal by Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders also leave us wanting. You have both missed a profound opportunity to show that you know there is nothing wrong with being an atheist.

Senator Sanders says he is not an atheist, but so what if he was? Millions of Americans are atheists and we are just as patriotic, just as involved in our communities, and just as dedicated to improving our nation as any religious believer.

I call on you to make it clear that you actually want the votes of the millions of atheists in our nation. Ask for the support of our community by name. “Atheist” must no longer be a bad word in American politics. Your leadership will help to destigmatize atheism in the public discussion and demonstrate that casual bigotry has no place in American politics and in the Democratic Party.

Atheists and the non-religious are the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States. We are a growing political force. To fail to appeal to us is to fail to win elections.

I call on you to banish casual bigotry and anti-atheist sentiment from the Democratic Party and to take a real leadership role in banishing it from our political discourse. The promise of our Constitution—that there be no religious test for public office and that we have the freedom to believe, or not believe, in whatever religion we choose—deserves the full-throated endorsement of our political leaders.

Embrace atheists as you have embraced the other diverse communities that make up our nation’s political discourse. Show us that we can rely on you to stand up against anti-atheist sentiment when it rears its head. And do so loudly, proudly, and without equivocation.

Most sincerely,

David Silverman
American Atheists

Showing 7 reactions

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  • David Allen
    commented 2016-07-26 14:54:19 -0400
    Atheist political activism on behalf of the most secular and progressive candidates will help them a little, but I think the religious will continue to win as long as they are in the majority. It’s nice for atheists that atheism and secularists are both large and growing voting blocs outnumbering most religious denominations individually. Atheists may find that encouraging, but it really doesn’t help them much as long as they are still in the minority. I think it’s more effective for atheists to focus on promoting atheism over religion and try to make atheists, or at least secularists, a majority, than to spin their wheels pretending they have political clout when they don’t. The bottom line is, it’s still more practical for political candidates to pander to the religious if they want to win. That’s just a fact, and I think practical atheist activists need to face it.
  • Tim Ridge
    commented 2016-07-26 13:50:30 -0400
    You call on the entire party to banish anti-atheist sentiment? Really?

    You may as well piss into the wind. You know as well as anyone that anti-atheist sentiment is widespread in this country. You also know that you can’t just ban things and expect they’ll go away.

    And seriously, you wanted Hillary Clinton to make a statement in support of atheists on Day 1 of the Democratic Convention? Because Russian hackers released 20 thousand emails from the DNC, of which one (1) contained anti-atheist rhetoric?

    I’m an atheist activist and have been for years. But you can’t expect the kind of response you’re asking for from the entire party – and in public – during the Democratic Convention.
  • Jerry Newsom
    commented 2016-07-26 12:50:16 -0400
    It’s the underhanded attack that upsets me even more than the anti-Atheist comments. It’s the DIRTY POLITICS that we dislike and will not tolerate. FIRE Brad Marshall…..NOW!!!
  • John Mortimer
    commented 2016-07-26 02:10:16 -0400
    Oh pulease! Get off it already! Give us all a break! What hysteria! “We call on Interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile to demand [Marshall’s] resignation. Who is this demagogic royal “we” and who are they to dictate to Donna Brazile?

    Sometimes my atheist brothers and sisters sound every bit as smug, self-righteous and shrill as the hysterical tub-thumping born-agains. I am an atheist and a humanist and you do not speak for me. You speak for your self. My goodness. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! What Alice in Wonderland Queen of Heart’s hyperbole. Give us a break with the self-righteous tantrum already.

    What’s with this trumped up phoney outrage? Senator Sanders already said no one owes him any apologies so who are you to demand it?

    Hillary Clinton did exactly what she should have done: make it absolutely clear there is NO religious test for public office in America. She also adamantly refused to allow anyone to march religion (and goes for non religion too!) into the public square and make a political statement out of it.

    Hilary Clinton is not here push your, our, or anyone’s religious or atheistic agenda. THIS is what “has no place in American political discourse.” She is not here to apologize for us, to evangelize for non-believers, or fight your atheistic culture war any more then she is here to make an issue of Keane’s Catholicism. She especially not here to pour napalm over an inflammatory issue but to stamp out this dumber than stupid brush fire. Get off it. Get over it. Get on with it.
  • Barbara Westcott-Schultz
    commented 2016-07-25 22:12:37 -0400
    Thank you! I hope this letter is acknowledged so we feel more included. Out of so many groups that get marginalized….we get ignored. Although Clinton support Separation of Church & State….it isn’t enough.
  • Bob Bergeron
    commented 2016-07-25 21:07:07 -0400
    I agree with Lori, “Well said”. We as atheist and non believers need to take advantage of the dysfunction of our political system.
    I’m feeling pissed off and powerless, I don’t think that’s helpful nor will it advance the cause of humanity. How do we move forward? And do you think the letter to HILLARY CLINTON, BERNIE SANDERS, AND THE DNC, will make a difference? Are there other ways we can be more proactive? I wonder what I should do with my vote.
  • Lori Dyann
    commented 2016-07-25 20:39:43 -0400
    Well said. Thanks!