America is one of the most religious countries in the world. And if you are non-religious, it can seem that without religion you cannot be elected to public office, cannot be considered a moral or ethical person, or be considered a patriot. It does not appear to matter what religious beliefs you cling to so long as you can tell anyone who asks, “Yes, sir or ma’am, I believe in God.”

The Reason Rally, a gathering of secular activists in Washington, D.C. on March 24, is a repudiation of these presumptions and these assumptions. The Reason Rally is an opportunity for everyday Americans to come together in our nation’s capital to celebrate a fundamental aspect of who they are. While the Reason Rally is a non-partisan event with attendees from all along the political spectrum, it is a statement to Washington, to our elected leaders, and to the rest of the nation that nonbelievers are a legitimate political segment of the American population.

United States (Creative Commons licensed photo by Thomas Guignard)

Some presidential candidates use their religious beliefs like weapons—waving their own values as swords, vowing to make everyone in this country follow the same religious dictates as what they believe. That is not what this country stands for, that is not the ideal for which this country was founded.

America means I get to be free to be an atheist, a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Mormon— without fear of reprisal from my government. I should feel safe knowing that my government will not force a particular brand of religious ideology on me through laws and regulations because it is practiced by the current president or because it is the most popular religious ideology in Congress.

Religion is how many people identify themselves—or at least part of themselves. It is no different for nontheists. But we do not identify ourselves as believing in nothing; rather we celebrate the lives we have now because we believe there will be no others. We celebrate the opportunities to assist our fellow humans, to leave the planet a better place than we found it, and to treat other creatures with dignity and respect. We celebrate life. We share the same hopes, fears, and aspirations as those with religious beliefs. We just don’t look to any gods or supernatural beings for answers; we look to ourselves.

The Reason Rally is not about eradicating religion. There is a difference between wanting a secular government and a nontheistic government. A secular government is one that gives no preference to any religion or to non-religion. This allows the government to remain neutral and to protect all religious belief. America’s great religious diversity is best protected when the federal government to stays neutral about matters of religion and ends special privileges for religion in law.

David Silverman is president of American Atheists.

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