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Politics: One Nation, Without God

Will we ever elect an openly atheist president?

Barack Obama raised a small stir when he stated during his inauguration that "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers." Yet recognition is a far cry from election. Nonbelievers head a few other countries, and we've had a couple of secular statesmen of our own, but the future doesn't look bright for atheistic ascension to the highest office.

A Look at Past Evidence

"I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." —George H.W. Bush, 1987

"I would be unelectable. I'm an atheist." —Ron Reagan Jr., 2004


The year the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Claims to Fame

A breakdown of the religious affiliations of U.S. presidents:

  • Protestant 34
  • Catholic: 1
  • Quaker: 2
  • No Formal Affiliation: 3
  • Unitarian: 4

In God We Trust

Why do people fear an atheistic president? Could be the trust factor. People consider atheists no less pleasant or intelligent than theists, and being religious induces employment discrimination against atheists only for jobs that require a high degree of trust, according to new research by Will Gervais, Azim Shariff, and Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia. Bad news for godless candidates: Running the country is a high-stakes gig and people want to have faith in the guy with the red telephone.

Is Atheism Gaining Ground?

National polls say no. Here are percentages of self-identified atheists over the years.

  • 1944: 4%
  • 1964: 3%
  • 1994: 3%
  • 2007: 4%

The American Precedent

Richard Dawkins told Wired that intelligent people are often atheists—but since there are no openly atheistic members of Congress, "either they're stupid, or they're lying." Since then, Rep. Pete Stark of California has come out. California also had the only openly atheistic governor on record, Culbert Olson (1939-1943). Olson refused to say "so help me God" during the oath of office.

Just Say No

According to a 2007 Gallup poll, 53% of people refuse to vote for atheists. The percentages of people who won't vote for other groups:

  • Atheists: 53%
  • Gays: 43%
  • People over 72: 42%
  • Mormons: 24%
  • Hispanics: 12%
  • Women: 11%
  • Jews: 7%
  • Blacks: 5%
  • Catholics: 4%

Atheist and Agnostic Heads of State

  • Michelle Bachelet—Chile
  • Hu Jintao—China
  • Alexander Lukashenko—Belarus
  • Nursultan Nazarbayev—Kazakhstan
  • Fredrik Reinfeldt—Sweden