Now that Rep. Pete Stark has retired, there is not a single open atheist in the U.S. Congress (Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona probably is one, but she refuses to call herself that). But Maggie Ardiente of the American Humanist Association says they know of a couple dozen atheists in Congress who are in the closet.
Earlier this month, Ardiente conceded at the World Humanist Congress meeting in Oxford: “We’re really behind when it comes to humanism in politics.”
After Stark, a Democrat, lost his House seat in 2012, the number of openly atheist politicians in U.S. Congress slipped back to zero.
But just because they’re not out does not mean there are no atheists in the halls of Congress. “We already know of 24 members of Congress who have told us privately that they don’t believe in God, but they won’t come out, of course, and if we tried to out them they would deny it,” Ardiente said.
Stark came out 35 years after first being elected to Congress. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., followed only after leaving office in 2013. Although commonly referred to as an atheist, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona’s 9th Congressional District does not identify as such, preferring to reject all religious labels.
24 would be about right, statistically. About 5% of the American public identifies as atheist. It’s the fact that they are forced to hide their beliefs in order to maintain their political viability that is troublesome.