Apr 29, 2014

Arizona congressional candidate campaigns as open atheist

James Woods, a Democratic candidate for Arizona's 5th congressional district, is running as an atheist. If elected, he would be the only self-identified atheist in congress.

In an interview with atheist philosopher Dan Fincke, Woods says he's running as an atheist in part to push back against those who are claiming Christians should be privileged in America. At the same time, Woods clarifies he believes religion has a place in the public discourse:
I have no problem with people who believe, I have no problem with lawmakers who believe, as long as they write laws in keeping with secular positions, as long as you have a rational position that can be justified through secular beliefs, I have no problem with that. Like, a religious person might say, 'Well, my religion teaches that we should feed and clothe the poor, so we need to have social safety net programs.' Well, I'm all for that, I agree with that. Well, you can also make a rationalist, secular argument. 'Well, helping the poor helps all of us, because… and it's the right thing to do.' I don't see a distinction as to where your ideals come from.
There has only been one self-identified representative in the history of the U.S. House so far. Former Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from Northern California first elected in 1972, announced he was a non-theist in 2007. After 20 terms in congress, Stark lost his seat in 2012. His loss wasn't related to his atheism, but a change in the California primary system.

Former Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts who served for 16 terms, publicly identified as an atheist only after leaving congress in 2013.

Among current representatives, Congresswoman Krysten Sinema, from Arizona's 9th district, has been identified as an atheist, but she disavows the label. Her campaign issued statements saying she was not a member of any faith community, but would also not rightly be called a non-theist.

Woods faces no primary opponents in his race for congress, but is looking at a near-impossible challenge in the general election. Incumbent Matt Salmon, a Mormon who once chaired the state's Republican party, last won re-election with 65 percent of the vote. He has a 97 percent conservative rating with the Heritage Action Committee.

Woods has said he's hoping for atheist and secularist support from outside his district to help him with his campaign.

Asked how he plans to reach out to the religious voters in the 5th district, Woods said
I just keep emphasizing that people aren't that different from each other. We all care about the health and safety of our families. We want to live in safe communities. We want meaningful work and a stable economy. We do have philosophical differences, but the differences are small compared to our similarities.