One of the brilliant parts of the U.S. Constitution is the prohibition on religious tests for public office. However, it is difficult to imagine voters electing an openly atheist candidate in a country so ravaged by superstition as America. After all, atheists are the most distrusted minority. Given this context, the decision of Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) to come forward as the first member of Congress to officially self-identify as not believing in any sort of god is remarkable.
The Secular Coalition for America, the organization behind Rep. Stark's historic announcement, issued a press release (update: link no longer active) explaining why we should take note of this event. Secular Coalition president Herb Silverman says, "The only way to counter the prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so."
I expect that Rep. Stark is going to take some major heat from the Christian extremist community for this. His office is likely to be flooded with nasty correspondence, death threats, and the like. Thus, I fully endorse the Secular Coalition's call for all atheists to e-mail Rep. Stark and thank him for his willingness to come forward. We need to do our part to make sure that he receives some positive responses too. I sent him a brief note of thanks a few minutes ago.
The atheist blogosphere is really lighting up over this one. For more reactions, check out the following: