In the United States, religion takes such a place in society that atheism has become a real political movement with its lobbies, its demands and, more recently, its representatives in Congress. The last of three texts on this increasingly marginal phenomenon among our neighbors to the South.
At a time when debate rages on the faith of Supreme Court justices, could atheists weaken support for the Senate appointment of Amy Coney Barrett? Nothing is less sure.
“Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation by the Senate threatens everything: separation of church and state, women’s rights, environmental laws, LGBTQ rights,” the atheist lobby Freedom From Religion Foundation said on Twitter Monday. ” There is no more time to lose. Call your senators! “
Even if Mme Coney Barrett was officially appointed by President Donald Trump, this choice must be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans hold 53 out of 100 seats.
“We urge the Senate to reject his appointment,” asked the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Sunday.
However inspired they are, these groups do not yet mobilize enough people, according to the political scientist John C. Green, an expert on the relations between religion and politics in the United States.
Non-believing voters are growing in number and could become a major political force, says the researcher from Akron University in Ohio. But for that to happen, they would first have to go and vote and get interested in politics.
“The number of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion is steadily increasing,” he observes. In 10 years, they have gone from 17% to 26% of the American population. In the United States, they are nicknamed the ” nones (“None”), because that’s what they say when asked what religion they identify with.
But while they account for more than a quarter of the population, they made up just 17% of voters in the 2018 midterm elections.
As we can imagine, these are mostly young people. According to the Pew Research Center, 4 in 10 millennials in the United States do not cling to any religion.
But a good part of the ” nones Are “apolitical”, argues Mr. Green. “Their lack of interest in politics mirrors their lack of interest in religion. “
In his opinion, the growth of this group is linked to the decline of social activities. “Americans are less involved in groups than before, in sports leagues. They meet less to play cards, to play bowling. “
He cites in this regard the essay Bowling Alone,political scientist Robert D. Putman. In it, Putman seeks to explain why bowling leagues – once so popular – are on the way out in the United States. “He found that the number of people who go bowling hasn’t necessarily gone down. People just go bowling on their own or just with their families, ”says John C. Green.
It is a silent force. It is a power that has not been harnessed. In political conventions, we hear about God in each of the parties. No one took care to target this group. It will change, and the politicians who do will seek a major political base.
In interviews, several atheist activists underline that “ nones “Are not easy to mobilize for reasons as absurd as they are obvious: Usually, people campaign together because they all agree with something. It is less easy to mobilize individuals around what they do not believe in.
Despite everything, lobbies like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) or the Secular Coalition of America (SCA) are working hard to rally them. “It’s a silent force,” said Andrew L. Seidel of the FFRF enthusiastically. In his eyes, the atheist cause will eventually win thanks to demographics. “This is a power that has not been harnessed. In political conventions, we hear about God in each of the parties. No one took care to target this group. It will change, and the politicians who will do so will seek a major political base. “
African American taboo
It’s not that simple, notes Green. The vast majority of atheist Prolaïcité activists are Democrats, but the party also has a large pool of more religious voters.
Right off the bat, many Americans find faith in their motivation to become politically engaged, he notes. “Believing people believe in protecting the environment because God created it; others want more access to social security because God loves the poor, etc. “
This is particularly the case among African Americans, for whom atheism is an even stronger taboo than among whites, says Mandisa Thomas. In 2011, the Atlanta resident created the Black Nonbelievers organization in response to this phenomenon. “Religion is imbued with our racial identity. It’s very emotional, ”she said. After having been imposed on blacks during the days of slavery, the Church has become, paradoxically, for them, a place of community roots, she continues.
“Therefore, to reject the Church and speak out is seen by some as rejecting the black community itself. I experienced it myself. Now “the Church,” she said, “has played a leading role in representing our community, but it has not always done so in our interest.”
It remains to be seen how people prioritize. “58% of black voters say they are ready to support an unbeliever candidate if he shares their opinion on other major issues,” said Ron Millar, coordinator of the atheist lobby group Center for Freethought Equality, in an analysis.
In the same analysis, Mr. Millar observes that young Republicans are relatively indifferent to the faith of election candidates. According to a poll commissioned by his organization, 68% of those 35 and under say it does not affect their vote.
From Ohio to Kentucky
It all depends on where you are. In several decades spent in New York, Mandisa Thomas had never been ostracized for her lack of faith. It was when she moved to Georgia that she first felt different.
A phenomenon well illustrated by the story of Ben Hart, a retiree from Ohio who had a license plate with the inscription “I am God” [IMGOD]. When living in Ohio, this octogenarian could roam the roads of the region without worry.
But when he moved to Kentucky, the state denied him the same plaque, calling it “vulgar or obscene.” After a long battle in court, Hart finally won his case a few months ago.
American Atheists spoke of “two Americas” in a recent study of 34,000 atheists. “The experience of atheist people varies greatly from place to place in the United States,” the document read. “While in California and Vermont there is little reaction to atheism, unbelievers in Utah or Mississippi experience a whole different reality. “