Last week, a contact of mine at CNN asked me to write an op-ed for the website on the recent Gallup poll showing an uptick in the number of Americans who would be okay with voting for an atheist for president (now at 58%). I was delighted to be asked, and not a little bit surprised. It had to be somewhat hastily written, but the response to the piece has been great, so here’s a chunk of it:
The conventional wisdom has long held that despite the constitutional guarantee of “no religious test” for public office, there could be no greater albatross for a would-be officeholder than to be identified as an atheist. …
[But] nonbelievers have finally moved up a rung. Now claiming the space at the bottom of this particular barrel are socialists, with half of all voters ruling them out entirely. Sen. Bernie Sanders will have his work cut out for him. …
When asked why Americans were so reluctant to back an atheist presidential candidate, the late Christopher Hitchens would say that there was a time before Ronald Reagan when no one thought a divorced, B-movie actor could be elected president, but such a candidate had to run to test the question.
So, before we can allow these poll numbers to fill the nonreligious with either hope or dread for our political prospects, we have to run the experiment.
We’ve seen a tiny smattering of atheist candidates and elected officials in the past handful of years, but we need to see more, and at a much higher and more visible level. The more atheist candidates run for office, whether they win or not, the more their atheism stops seeming to voters like an oddity or a novelty.
You can of course read the whole thing here. My favorite bit? The byline, of course, where it says I’m “special to CNN.” Aw, CNN, you’re special to me, too. Regardless of Don Lemon.
And a small bit of Paul-trivia: When I was an intern at ABC News’ Political Unit, David Chalian, Teddy Davis, and Ed O’Keefe were my supervisors and colleagues (each of whom I like and respect very much). Today, they’re all at CNN. Maybe I should intern for them again!