(RNS) Election night was not a good night for Democrats. Ditto for atheists.
Daniel Moran, a Democrat and an atheist running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, lost his race, as did James Woods, an Arizona Democrat and atheist who was looking for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Woods was the only openly atheist candidate seeking a seat in Congress.
Both men had the support of several nontheist groups, including the Secular Coalition for America. In his concession speech, Woods described his loss as something of a win.
“We ran a campaign I think my atheist community can be proud of, and I hope we made it a little easier for other candidates to be open about their nontheism in the future as well,” he said. “We’re playing to win the long game. And we’re winning it.”
Election night was not a total loss for atheists. Democrat Juan Mendez, an atheist who led a secular invocation from the floor of the Arizona Statehouse, won a second term as a representative there.
And voters rejected two Rhode Island politicians who criticized Jessica Ahlquist, the teenage atheist who successfully fought to remove a religious banner from her high school in 2012. Peter Palumbo, who called the 17-year-old Ahlquist an “evil little thing,” lost his bid for that state’s Legislature, and Allan Fung, mayor of Ahlquist’s town, won’t be the state’s new governor. Fung, a Republican, wanted the prayer banner to stay.
“Good riddance,” wrote atheist activist Hemant Mehta on his Friendly Atheist blog, referring to Palumbo. “Finally, a Democrat whose loss doesn’t upset me.”
Another result atheists are trumpeting is the defeat of Illinois Republican congressional candidate Susanne Atanus. Atanus announced to a local newspaper’s editorial board that “I believe in God first” and characterized bad weather, autism and other diseases as a divine punishment for gay marriage.
The mixed results for atheists come despite last month’s launch of AtheistVoter.org, a website encouraging atheists to vote as atheists — and let their representatives know it. Secular Coalition for America has been publishing state-by-state “secular voter guides” for three years. Still, polls show atheists are the least popular of all political candidates; a 2012 Gallup poll found that only 43 percent of Americans said they would consider an atheist for president.
“AtheistVoter.org is the first step in making the huge number of atheists that are out there heard,” said Nick Fish, development director of American Atheists, which created the site. “This is not a one-election, two-election thing. This is something we are working on for the long haul.”
Atheist voters used the hashtag #AtheistVoter on social media to show their strength and support in last night’s elections.
“The results of yesterday’s vote is disappointing but not surprising,” one man tweeted under the hashtag. “Entrenched dogma takes time to overcome. Don’t give up.”
YS/MG END WINSTON