The unbelieving Congressman

Pete StarkThe Secular Coalition for America generated a bit of news on the left West Coast by announcing that Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif. , does not believe in God. The Los Angeles Times picked up the story and played it in a way that confirms for conservatives everything they thought about liberals. Take, for instance the headline, the subhead and the lede:

Congressman says he doesn't believe in God

Democrat Pete Stark of California is the highest-ranking elected official in the U.S. to make such a public acknowledgement.

WASHINGTON -- Cue the jokes about godless politicians and Bay Area liberals.

The back story, which is really the story in this case, is that the coalition offered $1,000 to the person identified as the "highest-level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of non-theist currently holding elected public office in the United States." Two people nominated Stark, who then acknowledged his atheism. The coalition is trying to fight against what it believes is discrimination for its humanistic views.

What's next? Will People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offer $1,000 to the person who identifies the highest-ranking vegan? It's not a perfect analogy, but I'm still a bit mystified by this publicity stunt.

A question about the language of this story: it claims that Stark is the highest-ranking American to publicly proclaim his lack of faith in God. Now does that include all public officials throughout the country's history? Just those alive today? Or just those that currently hold office? That is one of those facts that I know my copy editors would be bugging me to nail down.

What makes Stark's story more compelling is the official statement he released as a result of the coalition's announcement:

"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," Stark said. "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."

Unitarian Universalism describes itself as creedless, meaning that it has no underlying authoritative statement of religious belief. Some members believe in God; others do not.

I'll make a small prediction since this is the time for March Madness: another high-level public official will "come out" of the godless closet. Will he get any media attention? I doubt it, unless there is a monetary reward.

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