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Austin Cline

Atheist Pete Stark Loses Congressional Seat

By November 13, 2012

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The first and only openly atheist person in the U.S. Congress was Pete Stark. I say "was" because he lost his seat in the 2012 election. That's unfortunate for a number of reasons, but the worst thing about this is that one of the causes may have in fact been this atheism and his support for secular government.

Pete Stark, 2007
Pete Stark, 2007
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Actually, there may be an aspect of Pete Stark's loss that's even worse. The person he lost to and who specifically attacked him as not representing American values because he didn't cast a meaningless vote to "re-affirm" the phrase "In God We Trust" as America's national motto was a Democrat.

We should expect conservative Republicans to campaign on anti-secularism and anti-atheist bigotry. That's just about the only sort of response they can come up with when faced with secularism or atheism. We should not, however, tolerate Democrats doing the same because right now the Democratic Party is the only major political party that can be relied upon to defend secular government.

Yesterday, the U.S. Congress voted 398-9 to re-affirm our national motto, "In God We Trust." Since 1864, the phrase, "In God We Trust" has appeared on U.S. currency and in 1956 it was recognized as our national motto. Since the Civil War this inspirational motto has captured the spirit of our country and guided its people through world wars and the attacks of September 11.

"It seems like too often these days Congress can't agree on anything. Yesterday, 398 Members agreed to re-affirm our national motto," said Eric Swalwell, Dublin City Councilmember and candidate for Congress (CA-15). "Congressman Stark was one of nine members of Congress who disagreed. The Fifteenth Congressional District deserves a Member of Congress who is in touch with its people, can work well with others, and can honor our national motto."

Source: Swalwell for Congress

How many atheists are there in government and in public office? More than we're aware of, I'm sure -- admitting to being an atheist or even to being an agnostic is more damaging to one's political career today than admitting to being gay. You can't even trust Democrats not to turn a person's support for secularism against them, never mind their atheism.

Honestly, I can't avoid the conclusion that Eric Swalwell is an evil person for what he did. Even if Pete Stark were a poor elected representative (and I have seen some reports of some very odd things Stark said and did), the only legitimate response is to criticize him for those things, not to criticize him for his support for secular government.

Hopefully, Eric Swalwell will be a one-term congressman. The people in that district deserve to be represented by someone who doesn't campaign on anti-secularism and anti-atheist bigotry. The rest of us deserve to not have someone that low sitting in Congress at all.

November 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm
(1) Bryan says:

Pete Stark — the only self-proclaimed atheist in Congress — was voted out of office after the November 6, 2012 election. After serving District 13 since 1973, and after redistricting, he then campaigned for the 15th district seat in 2012, and lost to fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell.

November 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm
(2) What it is says:

You sound like an African American who loses in something and claims the reason for his losing is because he’s black.

Did you even consider the reason for this politician’s loss may have been due to incompetence, support or non-support for issues that are important for voters, or something political? The fact that you would immediately blame perceived bigotry against atheists instead of considering something practical suggests that you have a persecution complex, much like a feminist who blames “the patriarchy” whenever she fails in life instead of blaming her own shortcomings.

And I bet you criticized some Christians in the past for having the same mentality of perpetual victimhood.

November 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm
(3) Austin Cline says:

Did you even consider the reason for this politician’s loss may have been due to incompetence, support or non-support for issues that are important for voters, or something political?

Is English your first language? If it were, you should have comprehended me when I wrote “may have” in the second sentence.

The fact that you would immediately blame perceived bigotry against atheists

Bigotry against atheists exists – that’s a fact, not my perception. The ad released by the winner is an example of it. Polls demonstrate that more people would refuse to vote for a person because of their atheism than because of any other characteristic.

And I bet you criticized some Christians in the past for having the same mentality of perpetual victimhood.

Most people in power are Christians; hardly anyone would refuse to vote for a person because of their Christianity. Ergo, perceiving persecution in politics is usually just a persecution complex.

Hardly anyone in power is an atheist; most people would refuse to vote for someone because they are an atheist. Ergo, perceiving persecution in politics stands a good chance of perceiving actual bigotry and prejudice.

But I still only said “may have” and specifically noted that Stark may have been a poor representative. All this was missed by you, apparently in a gleeful rush to claim yet another minority is making false claims of persecution. You also went out of your way to cite two other types of examples where you think that happens.

Funny how the only people who worry and complain about that sort of thing tend to be those who actually engage in such bigotry then deny that it exists.

November 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm
(4) deegee says:

Are you aware that we may have a new member of Congress who is an atheis? Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona;s newly created 9th district, is possibly an atheist although some recet news reports say she isn’t really one. Check it out…..

November 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm
(5) Victoria says:

I was sad to hear that Stark lost. I voted for him many times in the 70′s-80′s while I still lived in the Bay Area. I am not sure if his atheism had that much to do with it. Just my guess. The Bay Area is very liberal and I doubt most cared if he was atheist or not. My guess is that the younger generations were looking for new blood and voted the youngster (35 years old) in. Stark has been there 40 years. Maybe now he can do more for atheism advocacy.

Also, CA has an open primary and the two Democrats won. There was no Republican on the ballot .I am not positive, but I believe that is what I read.

November 14, 2012 at 6:54 am
(6) Powers says:

Sinema’s spokesman says she refuses the labels “atheist” or “nontheist” but takes a “secular” approach to legislating.


Still, with Stark’s loss, the atheist community seems eager to embrace her as an “out” atheist, even if she doesn’t like the label.

November 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm
(7) Pt Editor says:

Pete Stark was always a person who if you disagreed with you got a ass kicking. The man was and is a piece of crap IMHO. Go to YouTube and see how he treated his constituency when challenged. Regardless of his atheistic demeanor, he was less than stellar as a representative of the people.

November 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm
(8) Tom Edgar says:

Australia’s Political leader is a cohabiting, unmarried female, ATHEIST
Quite a few of her Parliamentary colleagues are also non believers whilst some others, sadly, belong to the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths.
We aren’t perfect. “GENERALLY” Australians don’t give a stuff about your religious beliefs, except when an aspiring Politician tries to use it as an election qualification, and then it is odds on it will be a reason to lose votes.

November 17, 2012 at 11:05 pm
(9) Cliff Willard says:

As an Australian, I agree with Tom. The vast majority of Australians only give “lip service” to religion. Generally people here do not care what religion you are, or are not, with the possible exception of Muslims who are treated with suspicion. Certainly the more radical Muslims are very much disliked.
An American once told me that the essential difference between Americans and Australians was that Americans “believe”. I’ve come to realize how true it is. Aussies really don’t believe in anything much and certainly not religion. I think it has something to do with our “easy going” lifestyle.

November 20, 2012 at 10:45 am
(10) tsahpina says:

i live in greece which is heavily religious and i am a very open radical atheist. i repatriated here from a former socialistic country and am semi greek. so last night i dreamt that some people were chasing me and throwing stones at me. it seemed they would linch me or whatever the word is,kill me for being atheist. it was moderately dangerous for me cos i could and did escape. my reality in greece is almost like my dream. if i said it aloud that there is no god whenever i think that,i would get beaten. once i was in real danger cos the big man i was having coffee with was extremely neurotic,wore a huge wooden cross on his open chest,and i did not realise it in time. my son who is also an atheist,but now milder,due to the social pressure,says its my fault cos i came here and found what i found. if i didnt like it i shoud leave. but austin is an american in america.
to another commentor who,nuber two,who says austin is like a feminist who blames her failures to patriarhalism. i am a feminist too. and patriarhalism does prevent women from being equal with men. even birds know that. so i am doulbe in loss here.

November 20, 2012 at 11:09 am
(11) tsahpina says:

me again. the worst countries as far as religious fanatism are of course all the moslem countries and then come america greece italy and spain. american atheists know this only too well. and i too. i follow this site and know whats going on in america. i did not follow whats going on in greece. ill have to go incognito! but i feel bad about not saying what i think. i feel as if i am lying when i dont say my true opinion even if i say nothing. i feel repressed. finally,i believe that in greece its even worse than in amrica. only saudi arabia is worse. greece is not modern. its backwards. i am so disapointed. after mileniums of culture greeks are religious fanatics. shame. if only socrates platon and aristotle knew about this they would be ashamed for greeks. as am i,to a half,cos i am only semi greek. i am so prosecuted that i dare not say where my father was. i hate them for that. and they are racistic. very much so. believe me.

November 29, 2012 at 3:10 am
(12) Cynthia says:

I hate to belabor the point but it does seem that you equate at least in some part being liberal with being a theist. I don’t understand the reasoning for this. In my experience it is the conservatives who tend to be more theist – family values and such, one being a belief in god. Where comes this notion that liberals tend to be more theistic? Are there statistics you are going by (which of course can be manipulated so much as to be meaningless anyway but at least would give you some data to support this running theme). I’ve noticed it in several of your articles, this pairing of liberals as theists. Just curious as to where you got this notion. Or perhaps i’m reading it backwards? I don’t think so since i’ve noticed it at least three times — one of which i wanted to make a point about but that particular article didn’t have a comments section and so i tried to look up how to write you personally and failed to figure a way to do so and now unfortunately i have forgotten what the subject or my argument were – oh well. I;d like very much to hear your thoughts on whether liberals tend to be theists more than conservatives or if i’m reading it backwards (or am perhaps ignorant of what you mean when using the terms liberal and conservative – you do mean politically yes?) then visa versa and also why do you use that as part of your argument as in either case it is a gross generalization (logical fallacy).

November 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm
(13) Austin Cline says:

I hate to belabor the point but it does seem that you equate at least in some part being liberal with being a theist.

Where, exactly?

Where comes this notion that liberals tend to be more theistic?

I don’t know. I’m wondering that myself.

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