By David Niose, author of Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans, is president of the Washington-based American Humanist Association and a native of Massachusetts.
Today’s secular movement, though still flying under the radar of many Americans, is unquestionably producing results, as numerous indicators reflect a growing, empowered nonreligious demographic.
For example, for the first time ever a majority of Americans would now vote for a qualified atheist for president, according to a recent Gallup report. Meanwhile, the Secular Student Alliance, the national umbrella organization for college atheists, has expanded from just a few dozen campus groups in 2007 to over 350 today, and is now venturing into high schools.
Secular activists like to describe their movement in terms of what it stands for — reason, critical thinking, science and ethics — but the movement can perhaps best be understood by what it stands against: the overbearing influence of religious conservatism in America. In fact, the fast-paced growth of the modern secular movement in many ways reflects a new form of opposition to the religious right.
Although the religious right has always had opposition, most of its adversaries have not been very effective. Since Jerry Falwell’s newly formed Moral Majority helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, politically engaged religious fundamentalists have exerted more influence with virtually every election cycle, while few efforts to slow down the juggernaut of the Christian right have been successful.
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