(RNS) — Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and organizations promoting atheism, agnosticism and humanism announced the creation this week of the first Congressional Freethought Caucus.
The new caucus comes as the religious "nones" — those who claim no religious affiliation — jumped from about 16 percent of the U.S. population in 2007 to nearly 23 percent in 2014, according to the latest Pew data.
“Our democracy is impoverished, and the quality of our political candidates is diminished, if a quarter of the population is effectively banned from the electoral arena," Ron Millar, political and PAC coordinator at the Center for Freethought Equality, said in a statement.
"This caucus will help end discrimination against nontheist candidates and elected officials, allow candidates and elected officials to be authentic about their religious beliefs," and encourage atheists, agnostics, and humanists to consider runs for political office, he said.
The Congressional Freethought Caucus was founded by four representatives, all Democrats: Jared Huffman of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Jerry McNerney of California and Dan Kildee of Michigan. It will be chaired by Huffman and Raskin, who identify as humanists. Humanists believe people can find morality and meaning without belief in God or other supernatural beliefs. McNerney and Kildee are Roman Catholics, according to the Pew Research Center.
Its goals include:
- Promoting public policy based on reason, science and moral values
- Protecting the secular character of U.S. government and the separation of church and state
- Opposing discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, religious and nonreligious persons
- And providing a forum for members of Congress to discuss their "moral frameworks, ethical values, and personal religious journeys."
Raskin said in a statement the caucus comes as "we face a constant undertow in Congress of dangerous efforts to stifle science and promote official religious dogma and orthodoxy."
And Millar called its creation a “historic step in normalizing the participation of atheists and humanists within American politics.”
The Center for Freethought Equality and the American Humanist Association were part of the meetings to outline the goals for the caucus.