"US Capitol" by Andrew Bossi / CC BY-SA 3.0

Why is it so hard for atheists to get voted in to Congress?

Oct 8, 2020

By Phil Zuckerman

Every election cycle has its “firsts.”

This year, the selection of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate presented the U.S. with its first politician of Indian heritage – and the first Black woman – to be on a major party ticket. It followed Hillary Clinton’s becoming the first woman to win the popular vote for president in a 2016 election to replace America’s first Black president, Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg became the first openly gay candidate to win a presidential primary and Ted Cruz became the first Latino to do so. In recent years Americans saw the first Jewish American win a primary, Bernie Sanders, and Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

But in this era of increasing diversity and the breaking of long-rigid political-demographic barriers, there is no self-identifying atheist in national politics. Indeed, throughout history, only one self-identified atheist in the U.S. Congress comes to mind, the late California Democrat Peter Stark.

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