Secular Americans: Most Underrepresented Minority in the U.S.

Despite being 15% of the U.S. population, non-religious citizens have next to zero representation in Congress.

When you hear the words “discrimination” and “underrepresentation” in American society, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Black? Female? Muslim? Hispanic? Asian? Gay?

Turns out, none of those groups even come close to being as underrepresented in Congress as American Secularists.

According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, a full 15% of Americans now identify themselves as Atheist, Agnostic, Humanistic, or having no religion. That’s a greater number than any single branch of Christianity, save for Catholics (25%) and Baptists (16%), and more than 15 times larger than any non-Christian religion. To further clarify, that 15% number does not include respondents who outright refused to answer the question. In addition, Secularists are by far the fastest growing belief (non-belief?) group in the country. Considering the survey was completed four years ago, that number could be anywhere from 16-20% today.

Looking at the picture above, you can clearly see the numbers as they relate to representation in the 112th U.S. Congress (535 House & Senate, plus 3 of 6 non-voting members). Catholics are overrepresented by a margin of 2.5, Baptists under by about 3, and Mainline Christians (group includes Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Quakers, Orthodox) are over by a whopping 18 points. Even Mormons, who are 1% of the total population, come in at about 2 points over! Every other group is within 3 points of equal representation.

Now look at non-Christian religious people. Jews are sitting nicely at 6 points (1% of the pop., 7% of Congress – LET THE CONSPIRACY THEORIES BEGIN!). Even freaking BUDDHISTS are equally represented! There’s like half a Buddhist living in America, and that’s only a rumor. Muslims are also equal at -0.3 pts, well within the population study’s margin of error (which is 0.5%). In total, non-Christians are +4 points overrepresented (Jews with the touchdown!).

Secularists, i.e. 15% of the country, i.e. 34 million people have ONE MEMBER representing them in Congress. For the mathematically challenged, that’s fucking ZERO PERCENT. Negative 15 points.

By now, women reading this blog probably want to rip my head off, so let me explain. It’s true that in terms of percentage differential, women are underrepresented by the widest margin by far. 51% of the country is female, compared to an utterly dismal 17% of Congress. That’s terrible. Technically speaking, however, that only makes men the most overrepresented majority. Congratulations, ladies! You made it!

Rather than skate by on a technicality, though, I’ll point out that while having the largest negative differential, women still hold tangible percentage of voting-member seats. Additionally, Hillary Clinton, one of the most powerful figures in the world, is Secretary of State, and all polling data showed she would have smashed John McCain in the 2008 Presidential Election almost as bad as the black guy did. If all else failed, a woman would have been Vice President. Women also run for elected office all over the country (many have been governors) – being female isn’t a disqualifier from getting votes. And if for some it is, nobody’s going to acknowledge that.

That’s an important distinction. There is a real stigma attached to be sexist, racist, homophobic, and anti-semitic. People know it’s wrong, even if they are privately prejudiced.

And this is clearly reflected in the demographical makeup of Congress. 8% are black, only 4 points off the national figure. Asians and Native Americans are underrepresented by 3 and 1 points respectively. Hispanics are the most underrepresented ethnic minority at 11 points differential.

Four members of Congress are openly gay.

All those groups and women have the right to be displeased with their disproportionate piece of the American pie.

Still not a single one is more shutout from power than Seculars. Forget pie – we don’t have a crumb. It’s not about attacking religion, or wanting less religious people in the world (though for some radicals, it is). It’s about representation – the very principle this nation was founded on. Worst of all, there’s not even a stigma attached to anti-secular prejudice. And if you have any doubts about that, play around with this hypothetical:

A white male candidate for public office attends a town hall debate in Long Island, New York, a fairly bi-partisan area of the country. This man is a Seventh Day Adventist, a denomination of Christianity which only registers at about 0.4% of the population, or less than a million people. His opponent, an Anglican, has been accused of questioning some of the more non-traditional aspects of Seventh Day Adventism. During the debate, the question of religious bias is brought up. As part of his response, the candidate says: “I think we can all agree that it’s not the denomination that matters, but a strong belief in the creator that endowed us all with inalienable rights.” The crowd claps, maybe even cheers or gives a standing ovation. Nobody thinks twice about what was said. The debate ends with no fireworks.

Suppose the question wasn’t about religion, but nationality. Now replace the quote with, “I think we can all agree that it’s not nationality that matters, but the fact that we’re both proud white men.”

Make the question about gender. “I think we can agree that this is still a man’s world, so it’s a really a win/win for the voters.”

Make the question about religion. “At least we’re not Muslim or Jewish.”

“It could be worse…I could be in a wheelchair.”

“As long as we’re both heterosexual, that’s the main thing.”

Imagine if you were in the crowd for any of those quotes. You would be disgusted; appalled. Even if you sympathized with any type of prejudice, you could still expect a media firestorm. At the very least, in even the most racist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, anti-Jew town in the country, if there was video of a candidate saying anything bad about those groups it would make the primetime rounds, or go viral on YouTube, and be rightly condemned.

In 2006, Virginia Senator George Allen called an Indian-American student “macaca”, a racial slur, and it cost him the election. There are more than 15 times the amount of seculars living in Virginia (15%) than there are Indians. What if he slurred a reputed Atheist or Agnostic? Think Senator Allen wouldn’t be running for re-election this year instead of trying to win back his old seat?

Answer that for yourself. Some truth in this world is still self-evident.

Will Ferraro is a social media and policy analyst, and the Editor of The Influence. You can follow him on Twitter @FerraroW

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Fred March 27, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I certainly wouldn't want an atheist in any position of power. While I fully respect everyone's own religious beliefs, even if its that there is none, some one without any moral compass is dangerous. We have enough problems with people who claim to be religious, and rob the public blind while in office.
Will Ferraro March 28, 2012 at 12:19 AM
I'm glad you made this comment, because it speaks exactly to the point I was trying to get across. There is an unfortunate bias in this country towards atheists, agnostics, and other seculars because people assume we have no "moral compass" as you put it. But why do you make that assumption? What morals does religion bestow upon a person that they could not otherwise develop? I don't need a holy book to tell me that killing, stealing, and cheating is wrong. Some of the most moral, honest people I know are atheists and agnostics, and there are plenty of examples of religious folk who are hypocritical liars. You don't really respect another's beliefs when you claim that it disqualifies them for a position of power, or suggest they have no moral compass. But thanks for your honest view. I think it's unfortunate, I don't respect it, but I appreciate the honesty.
Michael Savini March 28, 2012 at 01:13 PM
I think Fred's comment says it all. Atheists are perhaps the most hated, mistrusted "group" (they're not really a group) in the country, for no reason other than not believing in gods for which there is not a shred of evidence. It's like we're living in the dark ages. Luckily, attitudes like Fred's are on the wrong side of history. Fred, instead of making assumptions, why don't you make a good faith effort to understand the position of atheists. If you open you're heart and mind, there's no way that you could conclude the they don't have a moral compass. Start with learning about humanism and ethics. There is no better cure for ignorance than education.


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