- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

COX NEWS SERVICE

Atheists and other nonbelievers set up a political action committee yesterday to endorse candidates and lobby lawmakers to remove all traces of religion from the government.

But organizers acknowledged that they face a major problem.

Most politicians won’t want public support from their new group, which they are calling the Godless Americans Political Action Committee (GAMPAC).

So Ellen Johnson, the president of American Atheists, who announced the formation of the new group, proposed an unusual approach: GAMPAC could use the threat of endorsement to pressure lawmakers into siding with the group on issues.

“If a candidate says, ‘Don’t endorse me,’ we will have to say we have the right to endorse somebody, but perhaps we can talk about what we can get in terms of promises from that candidate to help us out in return for not endorsing him,” Miss Johnson told a sparsely attended news conference at the National Press Club.

The designated political director of the new PAC, Jeffrey K. Lewis, told a reporter later that “I personally wouldn’t” use such a pressure tactic. He said that his plan was to endorse candidates and send contributions. “If they send it back, it’s on them to send it back,” he said.

So far, the group has little money to give away. Miss Johnson said they have received one initial donation, $1,000 from civil liberties activist Woody Kaplan of Boston.

The political organization sprang out of a Godless Americans march led by Miss Johnson in Washington two years ago. That gathering attracted a couple of thousand marchers plus a few hundred hecklers.

Organizers of the Godless American PAC claim to represent a large voting bloc of nonreligious Americans, and said they hoped to follow the example of the Christian Coalition, which led evangelicals into a prominent role in U.S. politics.

“Thank you, Ralph Reed,” Miss Johnson said of the former Christian Coalition director, who is now state Republican chairman in Georgia. “We’re reading your book. This is the manual on how to do it. … We’re going to do the same thing.”

The potential voting bloc of unbelievers appears to be much smaller than the religious right.

Although religious convictions are difficult to assess, polling expert Scott Keeter at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said that 30 percent to 35 percent of Americans identify themselves as evangelical Christians of various denominations.

Only 5 percent of Americans polled tell surveys that they don’t believe in either God or a universal spirit, Mr. Keeter said. Pew studies have found that nonbelievers and people who state that religion has no significant role in their lives make up about 10.5 percent of adult Americans.

The Godless American PAC will make a presidential endorsement, Miss Johnson said, adding that the group would consider making a third-party choice.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide