Last year, to the frustration of many, American Atheists decided to purchase booth space at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Why bother reaching out to the most conservative Republicans out there? This is what AA said at the time:
“‘Conservative’ isn’t a synonym for ‘religious’,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “In fact, a fifth of conservatives seldom or never pray, and the same number state religion is not important in their lives.”
“If conservatism doesn’t embrace religious neutrality, its influence will wither and die,” Silverman said. “Atheists are a growing constituency — an increasingly united constituency — and conservative legislators ignore our vote and our voice at their own peril. We demand equality and fairness — nothing more — which is the very foundation of American values. Imposing religious dogma on its citizens should not be the role of the small government advocated by conservatives.”
Put another way, there are conservative atheists out there, and you’re more like to create change from the inside if you reach out to them directly instead of just criticizing them from afar.
But the other side of the argument was that CPAC conservatives weren’t the kind of people you wanted on your team. They’re the type of people who support Rick Santorum and Sen. Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin (all of whom are speaking at this year’s event). They’re the fringe of the right-wing, albeit the ones who seem to have all the power.
Ultimately, the whole issue became moot after CPAC organizers, under pressure from certain religious conservatives, told AA they were banned from setting up their booth. They returned the $3,000 AA had paid them and said good riddance.
That ban only lasted a year, I guess, because AA will be at CPAC again this weekend. Not only that, but Jamila Bey, an AA board member, will be speaking on the main stage.
According to an email from the organization:
Bey, who is a journalist from the D.C. area, will speak on Thursday, February 26. Her speech will be the first by a known atheist speaking about atheist issues in CPAC history. Similarly, American Atheists’ booth presence will be the first organized presence of an atheist group promoting atheist awareness at the conference.
“Our message is simple: Conservative atheists matter,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “We’re returning to CPAC to make it clear that conservative does not equal Christian. The core principles many conservatives value — fiscal responsibility, individual freedoms, small government, low taxes, a free market — have nothing to do with the issues crusaded for by the religious right. Conservative lawmakers push away millions of atheist voters who want a responsible, small government and a free market, but can’t and won’t support religiously motivated laws that make our government bigger and more personally invasive.”
For what it’s worth, Bey is not listed on the CPAC schedule. Let’s hope her speech is recorded, though, because I can’t wait to hear it.
It’ll be interesting to see how attendees react to the presence of atheists at the event. For all we know, once those religious conservatives take notice, they’ll raise a fuss and AA will be booted from the conference yet again.