By Max Boot
Among the 21 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, virtually every ethnic, religious and sexual identity is represented. There’s a gay man, six women, three African Americans, a Chinese American, multiple Catholics and Protestants, even a Hindu. (Hindus are 0.7 percent of the population.) But there is one conspicuous absence: Not a single candidate publicly identifies as an atheist. That’s not to say they are all religious believers. But if they aren’t, they are keeping it to themselves.
Yes, even, Bernie Sanders. Although raised Jewish, Sanders has acknowledged that he is “not actively involved in organized religion.” But asked about his faith during the 2016 campaign, he equivocated: “It’s a guiding principle in my life, absolutely. You know, everyone practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings.” So a candidate who doesn’t mind calling himself a “socialist” refuses to say that he is a secular humanist — if, in fact, that’s what he is.
The reticence is understandable given that animus against atheists is one of the last prejudices still acceptable in polite society. A 2015 Gallup poll found that more respondents would refuse to vote for an atheist for president (40 percent) than for a Muslim (38 percent), gay (24 percent) or Jewish (7 percent) candidate. Other surveys have shown that Americans don’t want atheists marrying their children or teaching them. Eight state constitutions even prohibit nonbelievers from holding public office.
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