For decades, Gallup has asked people if they would vote for a generally well-qualified person for president who happens to be Catholic, black, Jew, atheist, woman, Mormon, Muslim, or gay. While our country is becoming more tolerant toward all these groups, atheists remain consistently at the bottom of the approval list. The good news is that “only” 43 percent of those polled in 2012 said they would vote against an atheist, the first time the percentage has fallen below 50 percent.
We are fortunate that our secular Constitution makes no mention of any gods and guarantees freedom of religion.. Nevertheless, many politicians fail to understand that religious freedom includes the freedom not to believe. Why else would Joe Lieberman, who in 2,000 became the first Jewish vice presidential candidate on a major ticket, have the chutzpah to say during his campaign, “The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”
But enough complaining. The political climate for atheists has improved, and will continue to improve. There will come a day when an open atheist can be elected president. Some might say that atheists are “blessed” to be living in the United States rather than in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. What these countries have in common is that atheists can face the death penalty for their critical thinking. Other Islamic countries, including Bangladesh, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, Tunisia and Turkey, have also stepped up prosecution for “blasphemy” and for any criticism of religion. Some countries even ban atheism, and force their people to officially adopt a faith.