Until last Tuesday, atheists had precisely one out-of-the-closet representative in Congress: Representative Pete Stark of California’s 13th district.
In the run-up to the election, there was excitement from atheist blogs and from groups like the Secular Coalition for America about Kyrsten Sinema, who (it was believed) was an openly-bisexual, openly non-theistic candidate. The news hit big blogs like the Huffington Post, and was mentioned in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section.
There’s just one hitch: She’s not an atheist.
She’s spoken before the Secular Coalition for Arizona, and she won an aware from the Center for Inquiry for “Advancement of Science and Reason in Public Policy,” but she avows that she is not an atheist. According to her communications director Justin Unga:
Kyrsten believes the terms non-theist, atheist or nonbeliever are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character. … She does not identify as any of the above.
In an e-mail to Hemant Mehta, Mr. Unga added:
She does not identify as any of the above, nor does she choose a label to describe what she believes is deeply personal for every individual.
“Not befitting her life’s work or personal character?” Honestly? Clearly, either she or Mr. Unga (or both) think there’s something wrong with being a non-theist, an atheist, or a nonbeliever. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that she’s not comfortable using a label that would portray her as anything other than a god-believer.
She does exhibit an attitude toward governance that I find (mostly) commendable:
Though Sinema was raised in a religious household, she draws her policymaking decisions from her experience as a social worker who worked with diverse communities and as a lawmaker who represented hundreds of thousands. Sinema is a student of all cultures in her community and has learned that responsible stewards must consider all faiths with respect and dignity. She believes that a secular approach is the best way to achieve this in good government.
That last sentence? That’s what separation of church and state is all about.
Regardless, this leaves atheists without an openly nonbelieving representative. That’s troubling, especially when we see people like Paul Broun – a man who said that evolution, embryology, and the big bang theory were “lies straight from the pit of hell,” meant to tell people they don’t need a savior – winding up on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Combined with President Obama’s re-election, the Religious Right is sure to be whipped into a furor over the next four years. It could make for interesting and distressing times.