The only people who care about this are the atheists, agnostics, humanists, and pagans who were personally, directly, and deliberately attacked either by or in the presence of two high-ranking, paid members of Barack Obama's campaign: Don Miller and D. Paul Monteiro. In either case, these two men clearly don't like atheists, don't want to have anything to do with atheists, and as far as I can tell they are speaking for Barack Obama on such matters.
Dave Silverman has published a letter from Carl Silverman who attended the aforementioned forum.
I submitted a question, specifically for the McCain-Palin people. Here's the question, as asked by the moderator, who only slightly rephrased it from the original:
"With at least 8% of Pennsylvanians being atheists, agnostics, and humanists, what are the McCain-Palin campaign going to say tonight to attract any undecided voters from that group of Pennsylvanians?"
McCain's National Evangelical Director, Marlys Pompa, said that McCain was going to be a president of all the people, people "of all faiths and no faiths." She mentioned the "wonderful melting pot" of America, and generally emphasized the inclusiveness and unity of a McCain presidency. She, of course, did not mention Palin.
The moderator then proceeded to ask another question, this time directed to the Obama campaign, but the Obama representatives insisted on responding to my question first.
There are three things that I think are very important and which should be kept firmly in mind at this point. First, the question was about more than just atheists — it includes agnostics and humanists as well. Second, the question was directed at the McCain campaign and their answer was surprisingly positive: they have no intention of denigrating or discriminating against atheists. John McCain apparently regards atheists as equal to religious theists.
Finally, and very ominously, the representative of the Obama campaign insisted on answering the question as well. This means that they weren't blind-sided by a surprise topic and it means that we aren't looking at casual prejudice. Don Miller and D. Paul Monteiro are quoted as going out of their way to talk about atheists.
Don Miller, an author and social conservative who delivered a prayer at the Democratic convention, said, "Senator Obama has a policy director and an advisor for many different faiths. He has nothing on atheists or agnostics. There's not this grand effort for the Democrats to reach out to a group of pagans to try to get them to vote for Senator Obama."
D. Paul Monteiro, Obama's National Deputy Director for Religious Affairs, then said, "Senator Obama has a twenty-year history, a twenty-year testimony" and described Obama's support for Bush's "faith-based partnership program" and how Obama said "no" to those who distributed flyers at the Democratic National Convention urging him, on the basis of church-state separation, to oppose public funding of faith-based initiatives.
Then, referring to Sen. Obama, Monteiro proclaimed, "This is not some crazy wacko atheist trying to make sure that your children grow up to marry trees."
At this point, witness reports vary as to what really happened. Silverman reports the above while a comment made by someone else who was there says that Don Miller made the comment about atheists wanting others' children to grow up and "marry trees." In a response to all this, Monteiro insisted that the attendees were all wrong because no one from the Obama campaign made any such statements — it must have been someone else there.
I've made repeated attempts to contact the Obama campaign about this, both on the national level and in Pennsylvania. I can't get any response or comment about the situation — it frankly looks like no one wants to talk about it and it's possible that they are hoping that it all goes away before election day. I can't know that for sure, obviously, but the absence of anyone interested in commenting on the matter is suspicious.
What Monteiro doesn't deny, though, is that neither he nor anyone else from the Obama campaign cared enough about the treatment of atheists to say anything at the time. Nor, upon later reflection, did Monteiro care enough about the treatment of atheists to condemn the remarks in hindsight, to apologize for not speaking out at the time, or to insist that those remarks don't reflect the beliefs of Barack Obama, himself, or any of Obama's other advisors.
“We talk about people of good will and good intent, and we strive to highlight the values that we share across lines – values like accountability, responsibility, honesty and transparency. We’ve done over 200 Values Forums across the country, and at these forums we were talking to atheists and secular humanists as well as people of faith. Those conversations revealed that we can all agree, across faith lines, on these and other basic American values. These values are accessible to all people of good will. That’s what these forums are all about”
Well, Mr. D. Paul Monteiro, how about being accountable for your refusal to condemn the bigoted remarks? How about being responsible for standing up against bigotry when you see it? How about being honest about what you really think about atheists? There are a lot of values missing from Monteiro's list — values like basic decency, opposition to hatred, and support for equality. I wonder what Monteiro would think about a white person who refused to speak out against racist remarks made in such a forum and then refused to condemn them later when given an opportunity to do so.
It's interesting that Monteiro touts how many of the "Values Forums" have been done, but how many have not occurred in a church or have not been hosted by religious organizations? When "values" are so unambiguously conflated with "religion," the entire "Values Forums" agenda becomes more a matter of sending voters the dog-whistle message that Democrats are just as bigoted against atheists and the non-religious as are Republicans. When you host "values" conversations in the exclusive or even near-exclusive context of religion, you are not talking with atheists or secular humanists, you are talking down to them.
It's true that "basic American values" are "accessible to all people of good will," but for such statements to mean anything you're going to have take the values-rhetoric out of the churches and hold the conversations in a neutral, secular context.
I asked: “Does your office include atheists?”
“Being a grass roots movement, there are tons of volunteers across the country and many are people of faith or atheists or secular humanists. I think Senator Obama said it best when he said that ‘religious people do not have a monopoly on morality’. Senator Obama is trying to navigate this contentious landscape to bring people of all faiths, including no faith, together to help address the common challenges all Americans are facing right now.”
“We have a clear desire to be as inclusive as possible, and to bring every American to the table. Senator Obama is serious about bringing people of all traditions into this effort, and we want to make sure that this message is made clear.”
This is no better than the "some of my best friends of atheists" excuse. In fact, it's worse: how does it demonstrate that your campaign doesn't ultimately stand on the side of bigotry and hate if you've managed to get some atheists into donating their time to help you get elected when you don't actually employ any alongside Christians, Jews, and Muslims? The simple fact is that you aren't really trying to reach out to people of "no faith" unless you actively and strongly stand opposed to the bigotry, hate, and discrimination they face simply on account of their not having any religion or any belief in any gods.
That, however, does not describe D. Paul Monteiro specifically or the Barack Obama presidential campaign generally. It's not enough to say that you want to be inclusive, you have to act on it — and, so long as you say things not reflected by your actions, what you're saying are lies.
I asked: “Is there anything else you’d like to say to the nonreligious population?”
“We are asking for all people of good will to support Senator Obama. He is serious about bringing people of all traditions together to address the issues facing America.”
People of all traditions... but not dirty atheists who want your children to grow up to marry trees. Right Mr. Monteiro? Hey, he didn't reject or condemn any of those remarks, so he can't complain about being saddled with them after the fact.
You know that if such statements were made about Jews or Latinos, he and others would be falling all over themselves to ensure that everyone knows that they reject such bigotry and that no one should mistakenly attribute such views to them. Given that, I can't act as though the remarks in question don't reflect his position and thus the position of the campaign: despite all the seductive rhetoric about "change" and "inclusion," the Obama campaign can't even be bothered to issue the slightest criticism of ridiculously over-the-top anti-atheist bigotry.
If that's too much to ask of the campaign, when they are actively seeking support from voters, there is no way they can be expected to take action against anti-atheist bigotry or discrimination during an Obama administration. This really shouldn't be a surprise because Barack Obama did reject those opposed to the continuation of George Bush's faith-based funding schemes and he didn't offer even a peep of protest when Leah Daughtry organized a prayer breakfast at the Convention where atheists were specifically excluded and where Daughtry made it clear that the Democratic Party was for "people of faith," meaning that atheists weren't welcome.
That's not "change" I can believe in and it's certainly not change I can vote for.
Speaking for myself, I no longer think I'll be voting for Barack Obama. I have to conclude that comments like this, coming as they do from such important members of the campaign, likely represent official policy for Barack Obama. At the very least they are a clear indication of the sort of people he has already and will in the future put in charge of faith-based programs and any religion-related office: pure, unadulterated, and unapologetic bigots. After so many years of politically and religiously conservative bigots in the administration, I feel no rush to replace them with politically and religiously liberal bigots.