We know there’s a serious lack of open atheists on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) is the only openly non-theistic member of Congress. Maybe the formation of the Congressional Freethought Caucus will encourage others to follow his lead.
At the state level, there’s a somewhat better showing. You’ll find atheists in state legislatures, city councils, and school boards. Not many, but some.
It would make sense to assume you’d find more atheists in more liberal parts of the country. Jeff Coltin of City and State NY figured there would surely be some atheist elected officials in New York City.
Turns out he couldn’t find any.
Based on a dozen conversations with City Council members, staffers and others in the political world, there don’t seem to be any city politicians, whether on the 51-member Council or in the three citywide positions, who are “out” atheists who do not believe in God or any higher power. Some questioned whether an atheist could get elected — even in ultra-liberal New York City.
Some of those elected officials didn’t seem surprised at all. Even in NYC, they said, being an atheist could be a black mark on your political résumé.
“Even in a city as liberal as New York, it’s still seen as somewhat perilous to self-identify as an atheist in politics,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, who said he strongly identifies as Jewish.
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, a self-described “church girl,” agreed that atheism could pose a problem in an election. “I know in some constituencies, that would cause an issue,” she said. “That would be a major issue.”
City Councilman Ritchie Torres said the same. “It would cost you more than it would benefit you,” he said.
That’s disappointing. I also don’t doubt it.
But there is a way to change that. It takes open atheists running for those seats — while focusing on local issues — to change people’s ideas about who can and can’t represent them. It’s not like there’s a shortage of intelligent public servants who don’t believe in God. It’s just a matter of them taking that leap into big-city politics. No small feat. But of all the places for atheists to find receptive voters, a place like New York City ought to be near the top of the list.
There are more voters you need to convince to accept you, but there’s also enough diversity in NYC that doing so isn’t out of the question.
(Original image via Shutterstock)