And the reaction?
Very positive, so far.
Of the 500 or so responses Stark has received, all but about 25 have been supportive. Even critics didn't write the type of harsh screeds that might be expected on a hot-button topic like religion.At town hall meetings in his local district on Saturday, the audience applauded Stark when the matter of his non-belief was brought up.
"The negative responses were the most reasoned and reasonable I've ever received,'' he said. "In this instance, the people who have disagreed with me have been polite and reasonable. All in all, this has been a pleasurable experience.'' --sfgate.com
Stark represents possibly the most liberal district in the country. SFGATE also did a street poll asking "Would a candidate's atheism be a deal-breaker at the polls for you?" A number of the respondents actually saw it as a positive ("Religion leads some politicians to do some pretty dreadful things" observed Tom Turner of Berkeley). But I liked Rudy Rivers comment best:
I was brought up in the church and still stand by those beliefs. Congressman Stark's atheism has nothing to do with his character. I have called on him to help me with several of life's problems, and he responded well. I voted for him before I knew about his comments, and I would vote for him again now that I know. He doesn't have to be my clone to do a good job.--sfgate.com street pollI like that. Not only liberal but pragmatic. It's a good combination.
Hemant Mehta ofFriendlyAtheist.com provides some background to the "outing" after talking with Lori Lipman Brown of Secular Coalition for America.
The contest began last October. People were invited to submit the name of “the highest level atheist, humanist, freethinker or other nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States of America.” The person who could identify this official (if the official was willing to “out” his or her self publicly) would win $1,000. The contest ended on December 31, 2006.Only 3 other atheists were publicly identified, and they held strictly local positions: "Terry S. Doran, president of the School Board in Berkeley, California; Nancy Glista on the School Committee in Franklin, Maine; and Michael Cerone, a Town Meeting Member from Arlington, Massachusetts."
. . .
Once the nominations were received, the staff of the SCA sent the named public officials a letter explaining the contest and requested a response as to whether the person (1) was a nontheist who would allow the SCA to announce this fact, (2) was a theist, or (3) felt that this was not a question they wished to discuss in the context of an elected position. In many instances, follow-up phone calls were made when warranted, and in the case of Congressman Stark, there were face-to-face meetings with his staff.--friendlyatheist.com