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America needs to believe in its non-believers 2022-08-10 오후 7:14:00

In the last presidential election cycle, remarkable progress was made in terms of diversity. Kamala Harris is the first bi-racial person, South-Asian person, black person and woman to hold the Vice-Presidential office. Pete Buttegieg was the first gay candidate to debate on the presidential debate stage. Sarah McBride became the first transgender senator.

Labels have become critical to politics. But while Americans continue to diversify their political systems, one group seems to be left out of the conversation - those with no religion.

22.8% of Americans don’t identify with a religion. Yet, only 3.6% of Congressional legislators are similarly irreligious.

This lack of representation for non-believers is deeply ingrained in American society. According to the American Psychological Association, atheists are marginalized in their workspaces and are more likely to be seen as criminals. Due to their history as a minority, non-believers have struggled to clear space for themselves, particularly in political climates.

For instance, while watching Barack Obama’s inauguration as a young girl, I remember asking my dad what would happen if a president didn’t believe in God, since they’re sworn in on the Bible. He could answer for other religions - using their own holy texts - but he couldn’t reply for atheists and agnostics (non-believers).

Like every little kid, I had thought I might become president one day. This revelation made me doubt that; would my country accept who I was?

Somehow, this hasn’t been an issue. There hasn’t been a president that didn’t self-label as religious since Abraham Lincoln, who held office over four score and 77 years ago. Despite growing up with Baptist parents and surrounding himself with Christian advisors, Lincoln remained adamant that he wasn’t a Christian.

On some level, I can relate to Lincoln: I’m agnostic and, although I was raised by my now non-religious parents, my grandparents on both sides are Christian and sent my parents to Catholic schools. Through my grandparents, I occasionally read Bible verses and went to church, but a large portion of America isn’t introduced to God by their grandparents.

No, their introduction comes from repeating the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school every morning. In a classroom full of snot-nosed kindergarteners, they were saying “one nation under God” before they could even spell America.

For a country founded on the idea that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” - that’s the first line of the First Amendment - religion (particularly Christianity) seems quintessential to its philosophy.

According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 96% of people would vote for a black candidate, 95% would vote for a Hispanic candidate, 94% would vote for a woman and 76% would vote for a gay or lesbian candidate.

Only 60% of people would vote for an atheist.

Religious bias is so ingrained into American culture and politics that seven states still have express statements in their Constitutions that ban non-believers from being elected into government offices. While these bans have been considered unconstitutional since 1961, discrimination is still generated from the clauses, including a case in 1992 and one in 2009.

Yet, religiously unaffiliated people tend to be the most accepting group of people. According to Pew Research, atheists tend to support abortion legality, government aid for the poor, LGBTQ+ rights and climate change regulations more consistently than religious believers.

As an American citizen and a woman, I see how dangerous our society is becoming for minorities. Women are losing control over their bodies, hate crimes are becoming more commonplace and it’s getting hard to breathe as air quality worsens. It’s time to recognize the importance of the separation of church and state. Non-believers deserve to have a voice, especially if that voice is going to stand up against the injustice in our society.

America prides itself on its diversity and freedoms, yet there is no outrage regarding religious repression. Conversations surrounding other minorities don’t tend to include religious ones.

This could be because religion is easily hidden, unlike race and gender. If I were running for office, I wouldn’t readily reveal my lack of religion. Sometimes, I still feel like a little girl, unsure if I could ever be truly represented, hesitating because of my non-religious background.

And it makes sense to lie. When Congressmen do decide to reveal their religious apathy, their intentions are harshly judged.

“I’m not hostile to religion, and I’m not judging other people’s religious views,” Jared Huffman, a proclaimed humanist Congressman, had to clarify.

Anti-American criticism is common even when mentioning non-believers in passing, like Barack Obama’s inaugural speech: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.”

“In America, we have no established religion, and the First Amendment guarantees its free exercise, but we are and always have been an expressly God-fearing nation,” Terence Jeffrey wrote of this statement on CNS news.

The 22.8% of non-religious Americans, myself included, would likely disagree.

American voters need to recognize that non-believers make up a significant portion of their country. I deserve my right to representation in the government.

Instead of emphasizing a nation under God, let’s focus on “liberty and justice for all.”

Writer
한국외국인학교 (Korea International School)
Kaylee Kim
 
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