Thousands of atheists turned out Saturday on a muggy Washington day to take part in “Reason Rally,” dedicated to boosting the political power of the growing number of non-religious Americans.
“We are here, we are one, we are joined and we are celebrating our secular movement and we want more of this in our government,” said rally attendee Doc Gregory, from Hagerstown, Maryland.
Signs and slogans bearing atheist slogans — “I think therefore I’m Atheist” — proliferated on the National Mall as musical guests and promotional videos played on stage. A small group of protesters stood nearby, holding signs that said “God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists.”
“Science Guy” Bill Nye, comedian Lewis Black and members of the hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan were part of a high-profile lineup preaching to atheists at the Lincoln Memorial.
The coalition of secular organizations hoped for a turnout of 30,000 people, though the attendance seemed somewhat more sparse.
Still, the speakers seemed inspired by the setting: the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, among other historic moments.
“I have dream that some day children are encouraged to reach their full potential by providing them with the tools they need to learn and encouraging them to question everything,” said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and atheist activist.
Other participants called for a non-religious approach to politics amid a hotly contested presidential campaign. They also hoped to flex the political muscles of the religious unaffiliated, turning one of the fastest-growing groups in the country into a powerful voting bloc.
In an informal survey of the crowd, Bernie Sanders, who has called himself a “non-religious” Jew, was the standout favorite.
“He seems to be the only candidate that really cares about everybody,” said Brenda Germain, from Aberdeen, North Carolina. Germain, a member of the group Military Atheists and Secular Humanists of Fort Bragg, was at the rally with her husband, an Air Force veteran.
“We’re tired of watching our politicians pandering to the religious and ignoring us as if we don’t even exist,” Germain said.
While the rally featured musical entertainment, flashy speakers and late-night cocktail hours at neighboring hotels, the thousands of “nones” — people who don’t identify with any religion — coming to the nation’s capital also have a more serious agenda.
The Reason Rally is “absolutely” a political event, said executive director Lyz Liddell. “That’s the reason we’re holding this in an election year. We want to see reason taking precedence over religious-driven ideology.”
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