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‘Nones’ get their first congressional caucus

Aerial view of National Mall, with the U.S. Capitol in the foreground and Washington Monument in the distance in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress

(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.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

30 Comments

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  • I don’t mean to be gloating, but THIS IS TOO BAD & DISCOURAGING: There are 3 problems already from the get-go with one of the “goals” of “the Congressional Freethought Caucus”, which is: “Promoting public policy based on reason, science and moral values”.

    (1) People are concerned that “a politically charged event [or lobby formation] might send a message to the public that scientists are driven by ideology more than by evidence”.

    (2) People may get suspicious “that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research and findings for their own ends”.

    (3) People may decide that science and politics are incompatible after all, in that “the ethic in the [scientists’] profession is that you stick to your science, and if you’re interested in how science affects public policy or public questions, just let the facts speak for themselves. Of course, there’s a fallacy there, too. Facts are, by themselves, voiceless.”

    Source: (1) Faye Flam, “Why Some Scientists Won’t March for Science”. Bloomberg, March 7, 2017. (2) Robert S. Young, “A Scientists’ March on Washington Is a Bad Idea”, New York Times, January 31, 2017. (3) Jacob Roberts, “Political Scientist”, Distillations, 3 (1) 2017: 30-33.

  • Excellent! Now more than ever…Outspoken support of secular America is needed from elected leaders.

    Glad to see some religious representatives in this caucus too. An atheist or agnostic would not likely be welcome in one of the religious groups of elected officials.

  • Are you claiming that “public policy based on reason, science and moral values” is less acceptable to you than public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality?

  • The headline is misleading as this really isn’t about the “nones” (the majority of which are believers, just not affiliated with a particular sect).

  • It is too bad that we even need this Caucus. Reason, science, evidence, facts, etc. should be the method always used by all of our politicians. I am glad it has been formed, but I await the day when its positions are held by the majority of politicians, and voters.

  • You wrote – “There are 3 problems already from the get-go with one of the “goals” of “the Congressional Freethought Caucus”, which is: “Promoting public policy based on reason, science and moral values”.”

    I asked – “Are you claiming that “public policy based on reason, science and moral values” is less acceptable to you than public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality?”

    All I was asking for was a simple yes or no.

  • The March for Science isn’t relevant to this article. Like, at all. Until recently, science always had a seat at the political table. The U.S. gov’t has traditionally depended on science to help guide its policy-making. It has its own freakin’ science agencies, for crying out loud. This caucus has a goal of returning science to its proper, advisory role in government.

    But to your point, the problem in recent years has been politicians getting involved in deciding what constitutes valid science, and trying to shut down research in areas that conflict with their own political goals or allegiances. Hence, scientists are put in the awkward position of having to engage on a political level. So we get things like the March for Science.

    So, try again, cupcake.

  • All the more so when you have someone like Raskin, who has stated that while humanism is his “philosophy,” Judaism is his “religion.” It’s somewhat akin to what Bernie Sanders has said. The problem is that Nones are people who, when polled on “What is your religious affiliation?,” answer “none.” Would Raskin answer None, or Jewish? It seems like it’s the latter.

  • Those 3 criticisms (from nonbelievers, I think) are put forward NOT to promote “public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality” – but to invite “atheists, agnostics, and humanists … consider[ing] runs for political office” on the Freethought Caucus platform, to question their own (1) ideologies, (2) manipulation of data and evidences and (3) delusions that facts speak for themselves.

    I hope you don’t run. Seeing as you can’t handle self-awareness & criticism. (I know you can, but not presently, for some stupid reason.)

  • March for Science and Congressional Freethought Caucus share a goal: Evidence-Based Policies.

    A. FREETHOUGHT CAUCUS FOR EVIDENCE-BASED POLICIES

    (1) “According to the Secular Coalition for America’s press release, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) described the mission of the FREETHOUGHT CAUCUS as having four objectives [one of which is] ‘to promote public policy on the basis of reason, science, and moral values’ … In an era when Congress rarely seems to get anything right, it is nice to see a few members take a step like this. … Perhaps others will join them … Then we might receive some much-needed help in … promoting EVIDENCE-BASED POLICIES”.

    (2) “What will the CAUCUS do? We already know [one of] their goals [is] … to promote public policy formed on the basis of reason, science, and moral values … To be clear, you don’t even have to be non-religious to join this CAUCUS. As long as you support … EVIDENCE-BASED POLICYMAKING, you’re pretty much good to go!”

    B. MARCH FOR SCIENCE FOR EVIDENCE-BASED POLICIES

    (3) “What exactly are people marching for when they’re MARCHING FOR SCIENCE? … Looking at two sources – the MARCH FOR SCIENCE’s website and its Facebook group – … I found 21 [goals, one of which is to] … Encourage political leaders and policy-makers to enact EVIDENCE-BASED POLICIES, and ‘make use of peer-reviewed evidence and scientific consensus, not personal whims and decrees.'”

    Source: (1) Jack Vance, “A Congressional Freethought Caucus”, Atheist Revolution, April 27, 2018. (2) Hemant Mehta, “Steve Deace: Congressional Freethought Caucus Members Want to ‘Kill God'”, Friendly Atheist, May 3, 2018. (3) Ed Yong, “What Exactly Are People Marching for When They March for Science? The event has around 21 stated goals”, The Atlantic, March 7, 2017.

  • alright Alright ALRIGHT!!!

    Name me 3 of such “public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality”, so I can review them before I answer yes or no. You have 24 hours. GO. (Ask Arbustin to help you.)

  • Now look what you did.

    Givethedogabone needs your help now. You have 24 hours too. GO.

  • Irrelevant – I’m not asking you to review specific cases – just answer the simple question – “Are you claiming that “public policy based on reason, science and moral values” is less acceptable to you than public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality?”

    I was not anticipating that you would have any problem responding with “of course not” – I am intrigued by the fact that you are unwilling to do so.

  • Oi. This is not that hard. The Freethought Caucus has a central purpose of advocating on behalf of “atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, and nonreligious persons,” and advancing secular values. Science happens to be one of those values, but is far from the only one, or even the most important one.

    By contrast, the March for Science is not concerned with secular values, or with being the voice of a particular constituency. It is purely concerned with science advocacy, and that’s (mostly) it.

    The fact that these two movements have something in common – an appreciation for the value of science – is (again) entirely irrelevant to this article.

  • I don’t speak Atheismese nor Christianese. That explains my unfamiliarity with “public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality”. I can’t speak for or against something I know nothing. Help me. Start with what is “public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality”? A for-instance would be nice.

  • You’re missing the point of the 3 criticisms. Which is to critique evidence-based policymaking and policies on account of science, evidences, data, etc. never being value-free, ideologically neutral, interest-disinterested.

    Are you familiar with the School of Critical Theory via Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse & Jurgen Habermas (atheists, all)? They’ll have a field day and a thing or 2 to say to those guys over at March for Science & Congressional Freethought Caucus.

    You’re not familiar, I can tell. Otherwise you’ll already be discussing those 3 criticisms. Instead of, Hey, MFS & CFC don’t have the same letters in their acronym.

  • “I don’t speak Atheismese nor Christianese”
    a juvenile attempt to disparage your lack of ability with English or a simple avoidance of the question?

    Are you claiming that “public policy based on reason, science and moral values” is less acceptable to you than public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality?

    What prevents you from providing an answer? – the options are limited to “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, and “I don’t understand the question”.

    If you don’t understand say so and I’ll try to simplify it for you.

  • Think of all the closetted non-believer politicians out there who claim religious affiliation simply because they know they could not be elected in our country otherwise. Let’s hope this trend continues.

  • You’re missing the point of the 3 criticisms. Which is to critique evidence-based policymaking and policies on account of science, evidences, data, etc. never being value-free, ideologically neutral, interest-disinterested.

    Are you familiar with the School of Critical Theory via Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse & Jurgen Habermas (atheists, all)? They’ll have a field day and a thing or 2 to say to those guys over at March for Science & Congressional Freethought Caucus.

    You’re not familiar, I can tell. Otherwise you’ll already be discussing those 3 criticisms. Instead of diverting with a “Are you claiming that ‘public policy based on reason, science and moral values’ is less acceptable to you than public policy which is based on illogicality, superstition and immorality?”

    ENOUGH.

  • Step by step – are you going to answer a simple question – No?

    Why won’t you answer a simple question – Fear?

    Why prate about something else when a simple answer could allow progress – Obfuscation?

    And whilst ideology (define) is, quite possibly, a major obstacle to human liberation (define) I am unsure that it’s the principal one.

  • Shoo shoo I’ve got no more bone for you, Givethedogabone.

    Because, according Patrick Sawer, “Give the dog a bone? Vets warn pet owners not to do it”, The Telegraph, September 17, 2016:

    “Vets are now warning people not to give their dog a bone, because it could kill them.”

  • I have no idea who Patrick Sawer is – but not all bones are equal (as is the case with dogs).

  • HOw are non-religious people being barred from government? If someone doesn’t want to vote for an atheist, that’s their right to do so. That’s not discrimination. Should there be a quota system so that every religious and non-religious group has a certain share of Congressional seats? Because the founding fathers definitely intended for that to happen.

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