This is a guest article by Tracey-Kay Caldwell, the Democratic Party editor at Bellaonline.com.
In a political climate so often dominated by the religious right, it can take a lot of courage for a politician to acknowledge he does not believe in a supreme being. Democrat Representative Pete Stark is the first member of Congress and the highest-ranking elected official in the U.S. to acknowledge publicly that he does not believe in God. Pete stark has served in congress representing California’s 13th district, San Francisco's East Bay, since 1973, and chairs the health subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Stark’s acknowledgment of his beliefs came in response to a search by the Secular Coalition for America. They offered a one thousand dollar prize to the person who could identify the "highest-level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of non-theist currently holding elected public office in the United States." Stark said, “When the Secular Coalition asked me to complete a survey on my religious beliefs; I indicated I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being. . . Like our nation's founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services." The Unitarian faith does not promote a belief in One God or universal salvation. One does not affirm a creed or doctrine to join a Unitarian congregation. This makes it very different from many other religions.
Rep Stark has thirty-three years in Congress and a strong progressive record so his revelation will most likely have little effect on his reelection in 2009. He has long worked for health care, the environment and the anti-war movement. He has had a one hundred percent rating from the American Civil Liberties Union, League of Conservation Voters, NARAL, Pro-Choice America, National Education Association and the National Organization for Women. A February 2007 USA Today/Gallup poll found that forty five percent of respondents said they would vote for a "well qualified" presidential candidate who was an atheist. In Stark’s liberal district, support should be even higher. Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, said, "The truth is the vast majority of us follow the Golden Rule and are as likely to be good citizens, just like Rep. Stark with over 30 years of exemplary public service. The only way to counter the prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so."
Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the Democratic Party Editor for BellaOnline.com and the
Soldier Mom columnist for IraqSlogger.com.