(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Days after being disinvited from next week's Conservative Political Action Conference, American Atheists called on the conservative movement to sever its "close ties to dogmatic religious beliefs."
"We want to raise the question about the close ties between conservatism and religion," says the organization that was founded in 1963 by non-theist Madalyn Murray O'Hair on its website, explaining why it wants to participate in CPAC 2014, scheduled to take place March 6-8 near Washington, D.C.
"We want to bring the message to CPAC that there are millions of conservatives out there who are turned off and alienated by the conservative movement's close ties to dogmatic religious beliefs," the atheist group says.
Organized by the American Conservative Union, the annual conference will feature several political, economic, and social conservative groups and individuals. Featured speakers include U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Dr. Ben Carson, conservative pundit and author Ann Coulter, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
American Atheists was originally allowed to host an information booth at the event but the group was disinvited this week.
"American Atheists President David Silverman received a phone call from American Conservative Union Executive Director Dan Schneider informing him that the ACU board is breaking its agreement to permit American Atheists to host an information booth," the group stated in a press release earlier this week. "This reversal came just hours after a press release from American Atheists announcing the booth, one week before the conference."
The atheist group added that their registration was canceled by conference organizers who said that the group was not willing "to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government."
The group believes the reversal came following Silverman's comments to CNN's Dan Merica. "I am not worried about making the Christian right angry. The Christian right should be angry that we are going in to enlighten conservatives. The Christian right should be threatened by us."
American Atheists insisted that it wants "nothing but positive dialogue." At the same time, the group maintained that "conservative" does not mean "Christian" and that Christianity is not an important element of conservatism or even a required one.
Conservatism cannot be equated with Christianity, it contended. The group pointed to the growing percentage of non-theists, citing a Pew Forum study that shows 19 percent of self-identifying conservatives are unaffiliated with any religion, and that 14 percent of atheists self-identify as conservative.
Religion is counterproductive for conservatism, the group went on to claim. "The percentage of conservatives who are atheists is not only shockingly large, but growing. Approximately 50 percent of non-religious Americans prefer a smaller government, but only 20 percent will call themselves 'conservative.' Conservatism is losing out on millions of potential voters because of its close ties to religious fundamentalism on social issues like LGBT rights, science education, abortion, etc."
By constantly focusing on issues like the basic rights of LGBT Americans, small government conservatives are allowing "religious extremists" to "hijack" the debate and alienate the American electorate, including millions of atheists and non-religious Americans, the group argued.
The atheist group blasted religious opposition to LGBT rights.
"Denying LGBT Americans their basic rights is an imposition of a particular religious dogma on a diverse citizenry. Using the force of government to enforce religious beliefs is not 'small government,' it is theocracy," American Atheists asserted.
So what do conservative atheists want?
"Conservative atheists deserve freedom from discrimination-against-atheists just as much as liberal atheists. Conservative atheists want evolution taught in science classes; they do not want Ten Commandments monuments on government property, and they want 'because the Bible says so' discarded as a justification for any law," the organization stated.
"We firmly stand by our position that a secular government – one which gives no special treatment to any particular religion over another, or religion in general over non-religion – is the best way to ensure that all Americans' rights are protected."
While the group will no longer have a booth at CPAC, Silverman will be at the event as an attendee.