After watching the movie The Unbelievers I got the impression that atheists are not accepted in the American Congress.

Are atheists allowed in the US Congress or not?

  • Can you clarify your question a bit more? Are you asking whether there are legal restrictions that bar atheists from holding office? Or perhaps are you asking if there are safeguards in the US constitution to protect atheists from majoritarian policies that discriminate against them? – lazarusL Nov 18 '14 at 19:34
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    Since there has been at least one openly atheist Congressman, I'd say that yes, they are allowed. – Geobits Nov 18 '14 at 20:42
  • So Christians makes really good politicians in terms of being elected alot or what am I missing? Because statistically there should be lots more atheists. Maybe some of them are lying. So much for that democracy. – user22852 Nov 18 '14 at 21:07
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    Can you clarify why statistically there should be more? If people voted solely on the basis of religious affiliation it's at least conceivable that a majority of people are theists in almost all US states and congressional districts. Consider the map on this page selecting believe in God or some universal spirit. religions.pewforum.org/maps – lazarusL Nov 18 '14 at 21:14
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    Statistically it's about right. Seats aren't generally appointed by what share of the vote you receive. If atheists don't have a large percentage of the population, it's very hard to get them elected, especially if a much larger share is deeply offended by their (lack of) belief. – Geobits Nov 18 '14 at 21:15

There is no ban on atheists in Congress; such a ban would violate the appropriately nicknamed No Religious Tests clause in Article Six of the US Constitution:

[...stuff about oaths of office...] but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

It would also violate the First Amendment, which bars the federal government from either promoting or requiring religion, and from messing with free exercise; requiring participation in any religious act is instantly illegal according to that as well (source: that's how "no religious tests" is enforced on states, via Fourteenth Amendment incorporation of the First Amendment).

In addition, as Geobits mentioned, Pete Stark is a US Congressman and a publicly declared atheist. Evidently, that didn't pose a legal barrier to his election.

That said: Atheists are highly likely to find it hard to get elected. Quite a lot of Americans wouldn't vote for an atheist on general principles; in 2012, a poll estimated it was around 43% for a presidential election, assuming the candidate was of their party and well-qualified. People are free to decide that atheists aren't suited, in their opinion, for elected office. You cannot stop people from deciding "I just don't trust someone who doesn't have the fear of God, so I won't vote for him" - the government is absolutely not allowed, under any circumstances, to prohibit you from voting however you please for whatever reason you want.

So, we would expect atheists to have trouble getting elected. In practice, an atheist is unlikely to be successful in an election in many areas of the US; this is largely a cultural thing, not due to the law. That's just how democracy rolls.

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    Yes, I agree it's mostly cultural. I believe due to Bolshevik rejection of the Christian establishment, atheism also became associated with un-American conduct. Religion provides a sense of community and common values that a cohort of the voting populace may not believe are held by atheists. – LateralFractal Nov 18 '14 at 22:50
  • 43%, wow that is incredibly high. – Jontia Jan 13 '19 at 19:34

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