An Atheist is Running for Congress in Virginia! August 21, 2010

An Atheist is Running for Congress in Virginia!

You may have heard of Randy Forbes. He’s the Republican representative from Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. And he’s a notorious opponent of church/state separation.

He founded the Congressional Prayer Caucus. He introduced legislation to reaffirming “In God We Trust” as our National Motto. He also wanted “In God We Trust” put on the Capitol Visitor Center:

I have introduced H.Con.Res.274, to reaffirm our national motto. If we can succeed in getting ‘In God We Trust’ engraved in the United States Capitol Visitor Center, I believe we can succeed in engraving that motto on the hearts of Americans once again.

These are just a few of the reasons he needs to lose his upcoming re-election bid.

His opponent is Wynne LeGrow, MD. He’s not a well-known politician, but you might agree with many of his stances on the issues (including his support of the public option for health care).

More interesting to me, though, is an announcement he made a few days ago:

… My name is Wynne LeGrow. I am the Democratic nominee for US House of Representatives in Virginia’s fourth congressional district. And I am a non-believer.

My father was a Protestant minister and my mother was a schoolteacher. I grew up in the church. I was taught that what was important was how we treat one another. I learned from my parents a strong sense of honesty and integrity. The Golden Rule is something I still try to live by. What I did not accept were the church’s teachings concerning the supernatural.

That. Is. Awesome.

For some politicians, saying you’re not religious is a deathwish. For LeGrow, it’s a point of pride.

I don’t think anyone should vote for him only because he’s an atheist, but it’s nice to see a candidate who isn’t shying away from telling people he doesn’t believe in a god.

That, mixed with his stances on the issues, may give you good reason to support him.

If you live in his district, please consider voting for him. If you know anyone who lives in his district, tell them about him. If enough people can get excited about him, maybe we can get Forbes out of office.

(Thanks to Fred for the link!)

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  • Steve

    My utmost respect to this gentleman, of course we have openly atheist politicians in the UK, in fact, Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister is a self declared atheist. Let’s hope there are voters wise enough to elect Dr LeGrow but I fear the worst, especially in Virginia, are the Republicans well entrenched? Frankly, Mr Forbes is a disgrace to democracy, not that his views are entirely unique in either party.

    Best of luck, sir!!

  • Godless girl

    Bravo! I don’t expect Virginians to take kindly to an atheist, but I’m thrilled there is someone standing proud as a non believer while they run for office.

  • I wrote an article on this last night. So far, most of the feed back I got was from fellow atheists who seem to think it was a bad idea for LeGrow to be honest about his lack of belief.

    Personally, I think it is a really good thing for his campaign for many reason. First, it will give him national notice. Even Fox News will soon be covering his race. In a race against a 5 time incumbent, national notice is a really good thing. It will also get him national donations.

    Second, he will be able to expose Forbes’ connection to the Family and use that against him.

  • Hitch

    I think it is great to be honest. We really have to get people used to the idea that non-believers run for office. Sure for a while they may get demagogued, but if people get a chance to actually listen to the ideas rather than the smears, I’m sure with time one can overcome the stigma.

    Same with being openly gay.

    Yes, you lose the bigot vote, but you gain ground in displaying that a gay person or an atheist can stand for important political positions in society that one may want to vote for.

  • This guy is paving the way for people like me who want to run for office! My hat’s off to Wayne LeGrow!

  • Tim

    I wish I could vote for him. Too bad he won’t win.

  • matilda

    Unfortunately, that’s a pretty solidly Republican district, and I don’t see a Democrat taking the seat this year even with the most ideal credentials. And “atheist” is not an ideal credential in Virginia. But it is refreshing to see an “out” atheist running as a major party candidate for congress.

  • Roxane

    I think it’s going to be a long, hard slog, and a lot of us will have to run and lose before one of us runs and wins.

  • I think every atheist should consider donating a few dollars to LeGrow’s campaign. Even $5 would help. There are a lot of active atheists in this country and if we all came together to support each other that could make a serious difference. I’ll e blogging more on that on DangerousTalk on Monday.

  • VXbinaca

    I wouldn’t vote for him because he’s an atheist. Him and I disagree on a lot of issues.

    I’ll pass. But it’s nice to see an atheist run for office.

  • Steve

    So, even without declaring his atheism, Dr LeGrow will still have an uphill struggle? To those who say he should have kept it quiet, isn’t that conceding defeat already to this bigoted individual? Yes, easy for me to say, living in the UK where our Queen is head of the Church of England!! Not forgetting unelected bishops in the House of Lords!! We have truly a long way to go to complete democracy!!

  • Craig Hansen

    An atheist? In Virginia? Osama Bin Laden would have a better chance. On the positive side, he knows he can’t win, and that lets him speak his mind. Obviously, there are many more closeted atheists in office – probably both Democrats and Republicans. They just can’t talk about the matter, or tell the truth, because they’d be voted out or lynched on the basis of their beliefs.

  • I’d welcome an atheist in government, but that’s not my only stipulation for offering political support. IN fact, merely supporting the public health option is sufficient for him not receiving my support.

  • @ Craig Hansen:

    I’m very curious how many atheists are actually in government. I believe Obama is actually a waffling agnostic, so I guess that’s one. For anyone curious – from his autobiography:

    “I was unable to answer my daughter about heaven; I wondered if I should have told her the truth – that I was not sure what happens when we die; anymore than I was sure of where the soul resides or what existed before the big bang.”

  • drew

    I think in this case, national media exposure would be a bad thing. For every atheist dollar LeGrow gets, Forbes will get twenty from evangelicals trying to keep LeGrow out. The country will rally against the heretic, with Fox leading the way.

    I wish him well, but save your money. 🙁

  • I’d (probably) vote for him if I lived there.


  • We had an atheist running for Congress here in Nashville. His name was Eric Schecter. He came out as atheist on his running website. I voted for him. 🙂

  • JJR

    Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It’s gotta somewhere–so why not here? Pete Stark had the luxury of incumbency before he came out. More nonbelievers should run in other races and be open about being so but keep the campaign focused squarely on the bread & butter issues. If the opposition tries to wage culture war, ask them why they’re avoiding the bread & butter issues and remind them they’re running for secular office, not Church deacon.

  • sc0tt

    Of course the first openly atheist politicians have to run in races they can’t win. Get out there and make the news and knock down some barriers for the next candidate. Bravo.

    Maybe being atheist isn’t enough of a reason to vote for LeGrow, but Forbes’s nonsense is enough of a reason to vote against him.

  • Yay for my longtime state of residence! Unfortunately District 4 is nowhere near me, but I’m glad he’s running nonetheless.

  • Steve

    It seems that coming out as a atheist is akin to coming out as gay, I keep reading how the United States of America prides itself on being the leading democracy in the world…..but only if you have religion!

    I am not mocking your political process but it seems you can’t be a patriot without believing in some form of deity. I love my country but have no love or respect for the Royal Family, descended from robber barons. OK, the Queen does a great job but as for the rest…., Fergie, I rest my case! Frankly, I don’t care if my Member of Parliament is a Satanist as long as she does her job!!

  • muggle

    My first reaction was he doesn’t stand a chance in hell and that’s probably correct but I must say checking out his website I’m impressed.

    It looks as if he is going to run a sane campaign based on the issues and he’s tempering the shock of his disbelief with his background of being raised in a church (yeah, I know he shouldn’t need to qualify it like that) so his campaign will at least be a start and I think everyone who said the more of us who run for office and run a respectable campaign — and he looks like he is; I’d vote for him — the more they pave away for more to run is right.

    The more exposed to Atheists running the populace is, the more they get used to it and accept it as normal. I hope.

  • VXbinaca


    Gays have it easier. They have Barney Frank and many Obama appointees.

    AFAIK, we don’t have a single politician. Gays in that area at least, have it easier than we do. Even on the left theres a pocket of anti-science, new-age sentiment that would work against him. Many Catholics vote democrat as well and they’ll keep Hitches in mind when they go to pull for someone else.


    I’d welcome an atheist in government, but that’s not my only stipulation for offering political support. IN fact, merely supporting the public health option is sufficient for him not receiving my support.

    Here here. I’ll toast to that one.

  • muggle

    Had to add, hopefully the day will come when no one knows or cares what a candidate’s religious views are. Oh, that would be sweet — and as it should be.

  • abadidea

    To the non-Virginians: VA is really all over the map. Northern VA is practically a different country from the rural areas. You may be surprised to know that Lynchburg (of the Falwell clan) very very nearly went Obama: because our large black population was mobilized. (There is a weird pseudo-segregation thing going on in southern VA, it’s sad and disturbing. Many visitors to Lynchburg leave with the impression that there are very few black people here. In reality, they’re just literally on the other side of the tracks.) We would have swung Democrat except that Liberty U encouraged its 10k+ students to register in Lynchburg instead of their home districts. (In VA a dormitory at college counts as a legal residence for voting purposes.)

    Now I don’t think a professed atheist could take Lynchburg (unless the opponent was a Satanist!), but there are plenty of places in VA where a non-believer would have a fighting chance.

  • Having lived in Virginia for 10+ years, I can tell you that this will not be an easy race for Mr. LeGrow. He’s in a rough part of the state to run as a Democrat, let alone one who openly non-theistic.

    But I agree with many of the above commenters: it’s people like him that will, one day, make believer or non-believer a non-issue in American politics.

    I really hope.

  • Rollingforest

    District 4 in Virginia (south of Richmond) is a very conservative district, so he would have lost even if he was a Southern Baptist just because he has a D next to his name on the ballot.

    HOWEVER, we need to get the country used to seeing Atheists run for office. Once the shock wears off, then we will start winning.

  • Donna Lafferty

    I just donated $100 to his campaign, and I live in Indiana. Keep letting me know about excellent guys like him, and I’ll keep supporting them. Thanks!

  • Bo Gardiner

    Hermant, thanks for alerting us to this. I like what this man has to say on the issues, and I’m deeply moved to read his words on his secularism. He has my full support and I’m thrilled.

    Americans must get used to atheists running for office, even if it means loss after loss after loss after loss. There is no other way.

  • I’d move across the James River to vote for the guy if he had a chance to win, but in a mostly rural district in VA a believing Democrat isn’t likely to win more than 35% of the vote.

  • lauram

    “If you live in his district?” Who cares where you live? You can be a FINANCIAL CONSTITUENT to any politician whose views you support. Get over to his web site and DONATE DONATE DONATE. Corporations do it, and we’re people, just like them.

  • Dan W

    LeGrow sounds like a candidate I’d vote for, if I lived in that part of the country. Not just because he’s an atheist, but also because I like how he stands on the issues.

  • I think in this case, national media exposure would be a bad thing. For every atheist dollar LeGrow gets, Forbes will get twenty from evangelicals trying to keep LeGrow out. The country will rally against the heretic, with Fox leading the way.

    this is just patently untrue. frankly, i’m really tired of this flawed logic, as it shows up again and again on progressive thinking/strategy sessions. perhaps you’ve heard the old saying: “there’s no such thing as ‘bad’ PR/exposure?” it’s true, and every high paid professional working at Madison Ave understands this. what matters is successful spin. esp in today’s media climate.

    will this person win? probably not. but that’s not really the point. the point is to show that atheists aren’t afraid to “come out” as folks here like to say (heh, as an Out and Proud queer person that amuses me greatly; welcome to the Club, kids). but anyway, an Out and Proud atheist running for office only helps our rational atheist cause, just like Out and Proud queers helped back in the 70s and 80s, before that was as accepted as it is today.

    Stop being afraid. stop saying, and believing, “this will never work, even though compassion, reason, logic and history are on our side.” stop watching so much TV “news” or reading the biased crap in publications written by DC insiders and “Village” hacks. talk to your neighbors. counter the propaganda and superstition. we’re the fastest growing segment of the population in terms of religion/not having religion. sure, the fundies are out-breeding us, but in every Quiverfull family, for every new fundie they make, they also make one queer kid, and at least one atheist. that’s the beauty about systems that rely on consuming themselves to survive. in the end, that’s what will happen to modern american fundie belief.

  • muggle

    chicago dyke has a point. While there was no quiverful movement in the 1950’s and ’60’s when she had us, my fundie nutjob of a mother had 8 kids in 10 years time. Of that 8, only one is religious that I know of (one other has been lost in the wind). At least, six of us openly scorn her fundamentality. That’s six children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren who are not members of the flock as of last count I had before going my own way. They may very well be breeding their own opponents as children mistreated and/or repressed in fundy homes may just have a tendency to reject all that nonsense.

  • I’m in VA’s 7th district (just NorthWest of the 4th).

    The VA 4th district did just barely go for Abama but that was probably due to its large black population heavily turning out. Most of the rural whites there vote solid Republican. Although it is very unlikely that an “out” non-believer would win there, it is good to get people used to seeing people being “out” and running for office.

  • Have to find out what is the 4th district, since I only recently moved to VA. Other than that, I can help canvas for him.
    Lorena, let’s do it!

  • Rats! I’m in the wrong district. I’d like to have something to vote for, rather than just voting against the House Republican Whip dessert topping. “But come on!”

  • ryan

    sweet. it’s about time. Why would anyone in the developed world actually want to vote for someone who believes in the supernatural. that’s a slippery slope.

  • Glad to see someone put his foot forward like that, it’s a rarity in American politics for an atheist to run. It seems quite obvious though that he has no chance. I wouldn’t be able to vote for him myself though even if I lived in the district….

  • gstar

    I really don’t like the line about being a “non-believer.” That is how the religious see us already, as people who don’t believe in anything. But that is not true. We believe in science, logic, reason, and most importantly, we believe that there is no god. We all need to get non-believer out of our vocabulary.

    It was the great author Douglas Adams who pointed this out to me in his posthumously released book, The Salmon of Doubt.

  • Thomas Mann

    Virginia in 1783 had a law that said any non-believer shall be put to death. Thomas Jefferson tried to get it repealed but he was voted down in the VA legislature. Is that law still on the books and was any violator ever put to death?

  • Annie Marino

    You can hear an interview with him on the Freedom From Religion podcast (FFRF.ORG) from a few weeks ago – free on iTunes.

  • Chuck Berry

    I want to make a donation to Wayne LeGrow’s campaign (as “Dangerous Talk” suggested) but can’t figure out how. Suggestions? Thanks!

  • Annie Marino

    Chuck, go to his website and click “Contribute”:

  • Annie Marino

    By the way, this is the incumbent who LeGrow is running against:

    (enough said!)

  • Tom

    I live in the 4th District in Virginia and will definitely be supporting Dr. LeGrow’s campaign. I haven’t agreed with Randy Forbes on ANY issue yet in my time living here, and the fact that LeGrow said that he differs with Forbes in the same manner is good enough for me.

    Total bonus, however, that he is an atheist like my wife and me. We will definitely be supporting his campaign – I’m looking at my neighbor’s Forbes sign as I type this…it will be like pushing water uphill, but we’ll be with him all the way!

  • Susan L.

    I wish I could vote for Dr. LeGrow, as I admire him *tremendously*! I don’t live in VA, but I’m contributing to his campaign because he deserves lots of support and encouragement.

  • Annie Marino
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