We always share stories on this site about religious politicians acting badly, so here’s a palate cleanser for you. Over the weekend, the American Humanist Association gave its annual “Humanist of the Year” award to Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), the only openly non-theistic member of Congress.
During a 20-minute conversation between AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt and Huffman, the congressman was asked about that decision to “come out” — and he explained that many of his most trusted advisers urged him not to do it.
Being openly non-religious seemed like it had only political downsides. But Huffman announced his atheism anyway — and here’s the kicker — it didn’t hurt him at all.
… when I began to think about publicly doing this, everyone that I talked to — all the advisers I trust, my close family members and friends — to a person, thought it was a terrible idea… Nobody could really see any upside to it! And a lot of my friends and advisers, for really good reasons — benevolent reasons — they had my interests at heart — warned me not to do it. They thought it would hurt my political future, and I went against all of that advice, because it just felt like the right thing to do, and sometimes you need to do that.
I’m so glad I did, because I personally feel like a weight has lifted. I’m just being honest about who I am.
But you know what? The surprise is there’s a little bit of a political upside to it! Especially in a district like mine, there are just an awful lot of people who see the world the same way, and they appreciate the honesty. And even people of faith, who are kind of tired of this drag to theocracy and the other challenges we’re grappling with, appreciated what I did and how I did it. So it’s been a net positive.
When he came out as non-theistic, the late Rep. Pete Stark said something similar. He braced for the worst, but the response to his announcement was overwhelmingly supportive. He eventually lost to a primary challenger, but his non-theism wasn’t the issue in that race.
I hope Huffman’s courage can spread. It would do wonders for the image of atheists if other sensible representatives — especially ones in safe districts or those who know they’re retiring — follow his lead and let people know they’re not religious, whatever label they use to describe that.
Considering our Congress is full of people who use Christianity as a weapon, having politicians who say they don’t believe in God, use reason and evidence to guide their decision-making, and who support religious freedom for everyone (instead of preferential treatment for white evangelicals) would be a breath of fresh air.