Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks during a rally at the Addison Centre in Kempston this week in Bedford, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Contributing columnist

Kate Cohen is a writer who lives in Albany, N.Y.

My daughter announced from the backseat that she hoped Hillary Clinton wouldn’t win.


“Because I want to be the first woman president.”

“So you’d make us all wait 30 more years?”

“Sure. You’ve waited this long.” She is 9, and composed of equal parts tween fashion and comic timing.

“How ’bout you be the first atheist president.”

She replied, “What’s an atheist?”

This surprised me, and pleased me, too. Not believing in God is such a given in our house she doesn’t know it has a name. She might have said, “What’s an omnivore?” for the same reason.

“An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God.”

“There hasn’t been a president like that?”

“Nope,” I said. “Or at least none who has admitted it. You can’t say you’re an atheist and get elected.”

“Why not?”

I explained to her that Americans don’t like atheists, but I didn’t tell her how much. Surveys rank atheism as the trait most likely to turn off potential voters, and atheists are the least trusted group in the United States, less than, say, gay Muslims who never call their mothers.

Elsewhere, Greece has just elected an atheist prime minister (Alexis Tsipras) and the three British party leaders who stand to be elected prime minister Thursday include an atheist (Ed Miliband) and an agnostic (Nick Clegg). The one believer (David Cameron) has declared Britain a Christian country, but that didn’t go over as well as you might think. Britain takes its religious neutrality seriously. “We don’t do God,” Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s media chief, famously told a reporter a decade ago. Blair’s advisers practically duct-taped his mouth shut after he suggested ending a speech with “God bless you.”

Here you are free to choose: Either end your speech with “God bless America” or end your political career. In fact, religious rhetoric is so compulsory in the United States that it’s anyone’s guess what candidates actually believe. Which gives atheists a puppyish kind of hope: We sniff around any candidate we suspect might be a closet nonbeliever. Surely Sen. Bernie Sanders, the non-practicing Jew from Vermont, surely he must be an atheist! Throw us a bone, Bernie!

All due respect to fellow atheists, but Sanders may be the one politician who would be forthright about this. He calls himself a socialist, after all. How much worse is atheist?

Don’t answer that.

As long as our politicians have to “do God,” their true metaphysical beliefs remain a mystery. Better to vote based on their policies, anyway; to the extent that metaphysical beliefs affect policy (think reproductive rights), well, we can still vote on policy. Same with gender: I’d vote for a man who shares my values over a woman who doesn’t.

All things being equal, though, I want a woman. I want my daughter to live in a country that would elect a woman. And while we’re at it, I want her to live in a country capable of considering electing an atheist.

And I don’t mean England.