Running for Office

“…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” U.S. Constitution – Article VI, Section 3

***See our guide for atheist, humanist, and allied candidates***

The Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office; however, being an atheist in the electoral arena has been a powerful political taboo in our nation. Fortunately, this negative stigma is diminishing and the reason is simple demographics – the number of religiously unaffiliated American is growing rapidly. The Pew Research Center uses the shorthand of “nones” for the religiously unaffiliated, which includes people who identify as either atheist or agnostic and those who respond “nothing in particular” when asked their religious affiliation. According to Pew research, “nones” have grown from 16 percent of the U.S. population in 2007 to 29 percent in 2021. The percentage of “nones” is even higher in Millennial and Generation Z populations so the religiously unaffiliated community will continue to grow. Pew projects that if recent trends continue, “nones” will approach or exceed the number of Christians in the United States by 2070. If you just consider Americans who identify as atheists and agnostics today, this community is as large as the Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witness, and Hindu communities combined!

Americans are also more and more open to voting for atheist candidates. Since 1958 Gallop has asked Americans if they would vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate who was an atheist. In the first poll only 18 percent of Americans said they would vote for an atheist. In 1999, for the first time, a slim majority said they would vote for an atheist candidate. In Gallop’s 2019 poll, 60 percent of Americans said they would vote for an atheist presidential candidate. The willingness to vote for an atheist presidential candidate varies greatly by generation: 72% of those 18 to 34 years of age, 57% of those 35 to 54, and 54% of those 55 and over; and by political party: 71% of Democrats, 66% of independents, and 42% of Republicans.

The Center for Freethought Equality has commissioned polls that found the atheist taboo has diminished greatly and voters are more interested in policy positions than religious beliefs, or lack thereof – read the full report here.

Because of the changes in demographics and the increasing acceptance of atheists by voters, the time has come for atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other nontheistic elected officials to serve openly as secular Americans and for more openly secular candidates to run for office. Our democracy is impoverished, and the quality of our political candidates is diminished, if a quarter of the population is effectively removed from the electoral arena, and the negative stigma that still exists will only be eliminated when Americans have respected and ethical secular leaders in public office.

Having atheists and humanists run professional and effective campaigns for public office is an important method to remove the unjustified bias against our community and promote the public policies that are important to secular — and all — Americans. Do not let your secular identify prevent you from running for office.A few helpful guidelines for running for office can be found below. For a more informative guide read 10 Things to Know When Running for Office as a Humanist by Seráh Blain and Evan Clark of Spectrum Experience, a leader in identifying and promoting secular candidates.

Survey your time and talents to determine what elected and/or appointed public office would be the best fit for you. Talk to your family, friends, and political contacts to determine the best position to seek and time to run. Running for office is a serious commitment and must be done with appropriate planning and personal resolve.

Generally, there are two types of campaigns: running to win (the incumbent is weak or it is an open seat) or running to educate (facing an entrenched incumbent – but there is an opportunity to promote policy issues and remove the bias against atheists and humanists). Both types of campaigns are important, but you should analyze the race to determine the type of campaign you are facing.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) provides information on running a federal campaign. For state campaigns, resources can be found through your state’s Secretary of State, who can provide information on election calendars, election laws, filing fees and procedures, and campaign finance. Contact your city or county government for information on local election procedures and requirements.

Additional resources can be obtained from your national, state, and local political parties.

Organizations such as Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), 314 Action (scientists), Run for Something (under 35 years old), Victory Fund (LGBTQ), Emerge America (women), Emily List (women), Higher Heights for America (African-American women), and Latino Victory Project (Latino/a) provide targeted leadership and electoral training programs.

re:power (formerly Wellstone Action) provides training programs including the Progressive Governance Academy (PGA). Democracy for America also provides candidate training sessions. The Daily Kos hosts Nuts and Bolts: A Guide to Democratic Campaigns discuss issues to help campaigns be successful.

You can do it – run for office!