Our Humanity, Naturally

A club for humanists

Should politicians be blessing secular voters?

Candidate may not realize that one in five voters are secular

Setti Warren, the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts, recently became the first elected Democrat to announce that he will be trying to unseat U.S. Senator Scott Brown in next year's election. Warren produced a video to introduce himself to Massachusetts voters and, regardless of your political views, you'd have to agree that it comes across as polished and professional, presenting Warren in a positive light. See the video here

From a secular, humanist perspective, one particularly interesting thing about this video is Warren's statement just after the five-minute mark, as he's finishing up his comments. He looks into the camera and says to voters, "God bless you."  

Not even the usual "God bless America," but a more personal "God bless you."

This caught me by surprise a bit, since Massachusetts is a liberal state and would never be mistaken for the Bible belt. Whereas nationally about 16 percent of voters identify as nonreligious, that figure is about 23 percent in Massachusetts.

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I understand that most would consider Warren's religious gesture harmless and almost meaningless, but personally I wonder whether it's appropriate for candidates to be blessing voters. Of course Warren has the right to bless anyone he wants, but does he realize that many secular citizens don't appreciate it?

The gesture would indeed be harmless if the political environment were different. But in the religiously charged atmosphere of contemporary America, with the Religious Right shaping public policy and influencing elections, with the wall of separation between church and state very much under attack, I take a "God bless you" from a politician as a sign that he might not think very much of the Secular American demographic.

A local AHA chapter, Greater Worcester Humanists, has sent a letter to Warren that sets forth their concerns about his apparently dismissive attitude toward secular voters. With over one in five Massachusetts voters identifying as secular, it will be interesting to see if Warren conducts himself differently, if he shows any interst in respecting that segment of his potential constituency. We'll be watching.

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Text copyright 2011 Dave Niose

Dave Niose is an attorney, activist, and writer. He is president of the Washington-based American Humanist Association.

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