A new day for U.S. atheists?

Mon Mar 30, 2009 12:15pm EDT
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By Michael Conlon, Religion Writer

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - For some atheists in the United States it's a bright new day with the election of President Barack Obama and a move away from religion-shaped government policies of past years.

Others aren't so sure, and it remains to be seen whether a friendlier climate translates into more people publicly embracing an atheist or non-theist philosophy in an overwhelmingly Christian country.

"It's becoming OK to be an atheist," says Jane Everhart, communications director at New York City Atheists. It began, she says, with Obama's inaugural address in which he called the United States "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus ... and nonbelievers."

Since then Obama reversed restrictions on stem cell embryonic research and the White House has signaled more liberal attitudes toward gays. Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ but has said he was raised in a family where values counted for more than religious identity.

"It was history," Everhart said of the inaugural speech. "It translates into more people coming out. That one word legitimized us! It said we belong. It said we need to be included, and respected."

Kenneth Bronstein, president of the New York group, said there has been a dramatic shift in attitudes about atheism which he attributes to former President George Bush whose policies he said fed an appetite for change.

Ron Millar, acting director of the Secular Coalition for America, which lobbies the U.S. Congress on atheist and secular issues, said polls indicate a growing secular constituency.

A recent report from Connecticut's Trinity College found 12 percent of Americans were atheists, agnostics or doubters. It put the number of self-professed atheists at 2.3 percent, another 4.3 percent said there is no way to know if God exists. About 6 percent said they were not sure about a deity.   Continued...

<p>British author Richard Dawkins, who wrote The God Delusion, at the launch of an atheist advertising campaign, in London January 6, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning</p>