At the American Atheists' 50 year anniversary convention in Austin, Texas, last week, the national atheist organization awarded former California Congressman Pete Stark for his political efforts as an active atheist.
Former Congressman Stark, a Democrat who served in the state's Congress from 1973 to 2013, was awarded the atheist organization's 2012 First Amendment Award for openly expressing his atheistic beliefs while in Congress, and introducing such congressional resolutions as Darwin Day, which would officially commemorate the anniversary and birth of naturalist Charles Darwin.
The 2012 First Amendment Award's plaque commemorated Stark "For being an 'out' atheist in the U.S. Congress and bringing attention to the atheist community," according to a press release emailed to The Christian Post.
"Your willingness to be identified as an atheist made being godless more acceptable, more mainstream, and more ordinary. American Atheists honors your service to this country and its ideals of secular government," the plaque added.
Stark also reportedly spoke at the American Atheist convention, which took place from March 28 to 31.
David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, said in a previous statement regarding Stark: "Congressman Stark proved that the assertion that one needs to be religious to be elected is false – atheists CAN and DO get elected to Congress – we just need to do it more often."
The former congressman officially announced his atheism in 2007, and has since been recognized by several atheist advocacy groups as a leader in the nonbelievers community.
In 2008, the American Humanist Association named Stark their Humanist of the Year at the 67th annual American Humanist Association conference.
"By coming out as a nontheist he has directly raised the profile of humanists and has challenged blatantly false notions that only those who believe in god have a claim to morality and compassion," the humanist organization said in a previous statement.
The American Atheists convention also honored other nonbelievers, including agnostic blogger Teresa MacBain and Rick Wingrove of Virginia, who received the American Atheists Regional Director of the Year award.
Critics of American Atheists dismissed their convention, describing it as posturing because their intellectual arguments against theism are not adequate.
"Their motto '50 years of reason' is nothing but posturing. It's an attempt to present themselves as intellectual and that their atheism is based in reason, when in fact that is far from the truth," Dr. William Lane Craig, research professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., previously told The Christian Post.
The motto of this year's American Atheists convention was "50 years of reason," and the talking point centering around the convention was "rise of the nones" in America, referencing Americans with no religious affiliation.