Congressperson Pete Stark accepted the 2008 Humanist of the Year award this past summer. An edited transcript of his speech is printed in the latest issue of The Humanist.
Before you get to that article, though, there is a brief introduction explaining how Stark became the only openly non-theistic Member of Congress:
In the fall of 2006 the Secular Coalition of America announced that they would award $1,000 to the person who identified the highest-level atheist, humanist, freethinker, or other nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States. SCA Advisory Board Chairman Woody Kaplan, a civil liberties activist and former member of the ACLU’s National Board of Directors, took some of the suggested names and interviewed close to sixty members of the U.S. House and Senate. “At the time, twenty-two of them told me they didn’t believe in a god,” Kaplan recalls. “Twenty-one of them said, ‘You can’t tell anybody.’ One of them said you could: Congressman Pete Stark.”
It’s been nearly two years since the SCA’s contest and still, Stark is the only non-theist. Hopefully, some of the (21!!!) others will come forth after the elections.
Oh. And Pete Stark beat you on the Math portion of the SATs. He scored an 800.
He just barely beat me. I missed one question. (I have since hated hexagonal prisms. And the entirety of the Verbal section…)
Anyway, here’s what Stark says about his non-theism:
My most recent accident was becoming a well-known humanist. Somewhere along the line a nice group of people, the Secular Coalition for America, sent a form requesting information from those of us who support separation of church and state. In response to a question about belief you could check one of three boxes. I checked the one that said I didn’t believe in a supreme being. Then there was a blank to answer the question, “What religion do you associate with?” I wrote, “Unitarian” and sent it back to them. (What I didn’t know is that there was a reward offered to find high-ranking nontheist politicians and that some guy out in Hayward, California, was hustling to make $1,000 by turning me in. I met him later at one of my town hall meetings, and he wouldn’t share the money with me. I told him, “That’s not fair!”)
Within a week of the SCA’s announcement of my response, I received over 5,000 emails from around the world, 4,900 of them congratulating me and all mistakenly saying it was an act of courage. It wasn’t — it did not take any courage at all. I just filled out the form. I did hear from a few people who disagreed. Now, having been in this business as long as I have, I’ve got a collection of lipstick-written letters calling me names that I can’t even mention in liberal mixed company. But the 100 or 150 negative responses that I got were the sweetest, kindest remarks. They would say, “We hope you are happy. Is there anything we could do to help you?” I have never been criticized in a more generous way and I said, “I like this business.” I mean, if that’s as tough as the critics get then what a great decision I made.
(via The Humanist)