Atheists Scramble to Explain Why Reason Rally Was a Dud After Johnny Depp Cancelation

Crowd at the Reason Rally in Washington D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial on June 4, 2016. | (Photo: Mythicist Milwaukee Youtube video screencap)

The highly anticipated atheist Reason Rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. reportedly drew a much smaller crowd on Saturday than expected, with a variety of different reasons offered for the low attendance.

CNN Wire said "thousands" came out for what organizers said was a political event, bringing together secular people from across America. Several reports have noted that the attendance was well below the over 30,000 mark that organizers had hoped for.

Official figures of how many attended have not been provided yet, with even the "15,000 to 20,000" estimate by rally organizers disputed by sources such as Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist blog on

"I'd put the range at about half of that, but we'll see," he wrote.

Mehta argued that the rally was a "wonderful event" that gave the growing number of secular people in America a chance to surround themselves with like-minded individuals, and argued that the lower than expected attendance was not that big of an issue.

Despite the news that high profile figures like actor Johnny Depp were expetced to draw a crowd of 30,000 to the rally before he backed out at the last minute, Mehta contends that one reason for the low turnout was reduced media coverage about this year's event, which meant fewer atheists knew about the rally compared to the one four years ago.

It is more difficult to get groups out during the summer, he argued, noting that organizers attempted this year to appeal to a broad secular demographic, rather than a core atheist base, which might have backfired.

He further argued that the presidential election this year could have also played a part, given that the three remaining candidates — Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders do not provoke significant campaigning from atheists.

"In 2012, marriage equality was still not a reality, and the Religious Right was still a powerful force in politics. While religious groups still have plenty of power, we're currently in the midst of an election where Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders really don't talk ad nauseum about their faith. They all claim to be religious, but I'm not worried about any of them making decisions based on the voices in their heads," he wrote.

"It's hard to get people worked up about an atheist rally (that's what I'm calling it, anyway) when there's no immediate, obvious, major religious threat trying to get into the White House. Obviously, there are still issues impacted by religion, like abortion access and bathroom bills, but nothing stirs the base like a presidential race where everyone thinks their rights will be in jeopardy if the wrong person gets elected."

Mehta concluded by asserting that attendance was not the most important aspect of the event.

"It's something to think about, sure, but I would measure success by how many people were inspired to be even more active and vocal about their atheism and commitment to church/state separation," he wrote.

"Unfortunately, that's virtually impossible to measure. So expect the arguments about low attendance, and what's to blame for it, to continue for the next several weeks."

The rally had received criticism from different figures from the religious right, from Young Earth Creationists Ken Ham and Ray Comfort, to Catholic League President Bill Donohue.

"They stand for nothing, believe in nothing, and many are good for nothing. Organized atheists are set to invade D.C. this weekend, holding a 'Reason Rally.' The reason they are rallying is their professed belief in nothingness," Donohue wrote about the event last week.

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