Should an Atheist Run for Congress?


The ideal Congressman has several attributes that Americans take into consideration when voting during election time. They are usually business savvy people who have exceptional leadership and public speaking skills. They are able to easily influence a crowd of people just by the use of their professional vernacular.

But this is not what wins the voters over at the polls.

What American citizens really want to see is a Congressman who is family oriented, morally conscious, and willing to help those in need. These values are all expected to be found in someone with a good, Christian upbringing, which is why we assume that all politicians are generally Christian.

What if there was someone from a small town in Arizona who had all of the characteristics of a typical politician? He is well educated,  well informed, and well spoken. He should have a pretty good chance of winning. There’s just one minuscule detail that hasn’t been mentioned.

He’s an atheist.

Now his chances are significantly lower. But would someone actually be so bold and daring to run for Congress campaigning as an atheist? Actually, there is.

James Woods (D-Arizona) is running for Congress this year in hopes of winning Arizona’s 5th Congressional District. If he is successful, he will become the first Congressman to ever be elected after campaigning as an open athiest. However, he would not be the first atheist to hold a Congressional position. Pete Stark (D-California) announced he was an atheist in 2007 while responding to a questionnaire for public officials. He even tried to push legislation through the House of Representatives to make a national holiday in honor of Charles Darwin. Nevertheless, there is only one reason why he won election in the first place.

Stark took office in ’93, but did not announce his atheism until 14 years later. His religious beliefs did not change over that course of time. Instead, he knew that if he came out of the proverbial closet before the election, then he would have a zero percent chance of winning. Some may call it dishonesty, but in my opinion, it’s political pragmatism.

On the other hand, James Woods is committing  political suicide. According to a recent Gallup Poll, almost half of the country’s population considers themselves to be “very religious.” The state of Arizona falls a little bit below the national average at around 39%.  Still, Arizona is known for upholding strong conservative values, especially with the recent incident of business owners denying service to homosexuals. Clearly, the chances of Woods winning election in 2014 is smaller than the chances of me winning the Louisiana Lottery without a ticket.

But his decision to run anyways brings up an interesting point. If we want all classes, races, and other groups of people to have equal representation in our American society, then it only makes sense that they should also have equal representation in Congress. And as of right now, Congress is far from being a diverse group of people.

For example, the census bureau estimates that women make up about 50.8% of the population. However, out of the 541 people in Congress today, women constitute only 19%. African Americans are 13% of the U.S. population, but only represent 7% in Congress. While this is the most diverse Congress session ever, it is still far from the point it should be.

The predominant group that controls both the House and the Senate are older white males who are Protestant and have degrees in either law or political science. This has been the makeup of Congress since the government’s inception. Luckily, things may be starting to change as more people are beginning to take action.

While I may not agree with his religious beliefs, I respect James Woods for going against the societal norms. Even atheists deserve a chance to influence the policy making in this country. The same rule applies to everybody without exception.