|CONGRESS|After a narrow defeat for re-election to Congress, Pete Stark will be spending some his first moments in retirement as a speaker at the American Atheists National Convention in Austin, Texas next year at the end of March with nearly 1,500 people in attendance.
The outspoken and vocally audacious Stark was the first Congressman to come out as an atheist in 2007 although admitting that he had been one for some time. Earlier this year he also attended the Reason Rally at Washington D.C. as a guest speaker to thousands of atheists and agnostics in attendance.
David Silverman, President of American Atheists stated in a press release that “Congressman Stark proved that the assertion that one needs to be religious to be elected is false – atheists CAN and DO get elected to Congress – we just need to do it more often.” Stark was elected first in 1972 although back then Stark was not an open Atheist and has only been re-elected once as an atheist since his coming out in 2007.
Stark’s atheism made the liberal congressman a black sheep in a crowd of mostly self-proclaimed Christians in Congress. Even Stark’s former opponent, Eric Swalwell, who defeated him this November is a Christian. During Stark’s run for re-election his atheism took a back seat to Stark’s gaffe’s that sparked enough controversy to dethrone the long standing Congressman.
In fall of 2011, the early days that Stark sought re-election, Swalwell took opportunity to attack Stark on religious premises calling out Stark’s no-vote on reaffirming America’s motto, “In God We Trust,” that was enacted in 1864, just after the Civil War. The vote also encourages the display of the motto on government buildings. Swalwell then said Stark was out of touch with the people by not recognizing a “national motto.”
Some atheists took this personally and a number of atheist websites advocated for Stark in the final weeks of the election season. One site called the motto “a meaningless resolution that was just there to promote God in government.”
Stark also sought to pass a resolution in Congress for a national Darwin Day but it was ultimately defeated. Stark said at the time that it was time to “redouble our efforts to teach scientific facts, not religious dogma, and to fight back against those who seek to undermine the science of climate change for political ends.” Swalwell told me back in January during an interview that Stark’s proposal was a “waste of time.”
Stark will formerly depart Congress in January to be replaced by 31-year old Swalwell thus leaving Krysten Sinema, Democratic Congresswoman, as the only open atheist in Congress. Although according to Herb Silverman of the Secular Coalition of America, there are 27 closet Atheists in Congress.