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Politicians discriminate against those without belief

Reed Schneider, Opinion Editor
January 30, 2013
Filed under Opinion

This month, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema was sworn into Congress without a Bible. According to CNN, she is the first member of Congress to openly describe her religious affiliation as none.

While there are 10 other members that don’t specify a particular religious affiliation, which has increased by four from the previous Congress, Sinema is currently the only one to officially declare none.

She has made every attempt to stay away from the term atheist. According to the Huffington Post, 60 percent of Americans describe themselves as religious, making the word atheist dirty or taboo. It shouldn’t be. Regardless of the belief or the lack thereof, atheism is part of the diversity that makes up America and should be respected as equally as any religion.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. During Sinema’s congressional campaign, she received a fair amount of media attention simply because many identified her as an atheist. According to CNN, when she finally arrived in office, however, sources then began to publicize her as a nontheist, essentially substituting word for atheist. It’s as if they believe the word alone will ruin her reputation. Shortly after her victory, her campaign released a statement about her personal beliefs.

“Rep. Sinema believes the terms nontheist, atheist or nonbeliever are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character,” the statement read.

At this point, it doesn’t matter what Sinema’s actual personal beliefs are. She declared that these terms were not befitting. That’s as good as saying being a nonbeliever or an atheist doesn’t maintain a high enough character or morality for her. That’s prejudice rearing its ugly head.

Along with the other media attention, Politico declared in a headline, “Non-believers on rise in Congress.” While the headline is simply an overreaction, the number of Americans outside of Congress who say they are atheists has risen from one percent to five percent, according to the Huffington Post.

University of Tampa sociologist Ryan Cragun proposed why there has been an incline of people saying they are not religious or declare themselves atheists. It is not necessarily more people becoming atheists, but rather more people willing to identify as such.

“For a very long time, religiosity has been a central characteristic of the American identity,” Cragun said. “But what this suggests is that this is changing and people are feeling less inclined to identify as religious to comply with what it means to be a good person in the U.S.”

In other words, it’s becoming more acceptable in modern times to believe someone can not have a religion and be a good person. This might explain the reason politicians are pressured to appear Christian. The general public assumes if candidates have a religion, they have good moral standards. While it could be true, the lack of a religion does not mean the lack of good moral standards.

Penn Jillette, in an article for the New York Times, wrote on how religion does not substitute for morality.

“Behaving morally because of a hope of reward or a fear of punishment is not morality,” Jillette said. “Morality is not bribery or threats. Religion is bribery and threats. Humans have morality.”

Yet, according to CNN and a Gallup poll released in June, 54 percent of Americans would vote for a generally well-qualified atheist candidate. In contrast, a Mormon candidate would receive 80 percent, a Jewish candidate would receive 91 percent and a Catholic candidate would get 94 percent. This survey makes it clear atheists are viewed much more unfavorably than others groups.

If America prides itself in being so diverse, why is this group so discriminated against in politics? Atheist is not a dirty word and shouldn’t be treated as such.