A coalition of atheists and secular organizations are holding a rally on Saturday that they say is the largest gathering of atheists in history. Thousands of people are expected at the "Reason Rally," already dubbed "Woodstock for Atheists."
According to David Silverman, chairman of the event committee and president of the American Atheists, the rally to be held at the National Mall and the National Park Service is with the vision of uniting atheist organizations and bringing presence of atheists to national attention.
Global Post reports Silverman said the rally marks a coming-of-age for atheists. He said: "We'll look back at the Reason Rally as one of the game-changing events when people started to look at atheism and look at atheists in a different light."
CNN reports that Silverman said: “We need to stress to the theists that we are here. Atheism is growing in all 50 states. What people don’t seem to understand is all we demand at American Atheists is equality.”
Silverman, according to Global Post, said one of the aims of the rally is to embolden atheists to come out and declare their position: "The message is that if you can come out, you can out come out. And if you can't come out, at least you'll know you're not alone, and maybe sometime soon you'll be able to come out of the closet to your family." He added that the rally is motivated by positivity: “We’re not going there to complain, we’re not going there to fight. [We want to] celebrate the fact that we are growing, we are stronger, and we are taking our place in American society.”
Logo for the Reason Rally, used to promote the event.
CBS reports Silverman said: “There are 40 to 50 million atheists [in the United States]. About 40 to 50 thousand are involved in the movement. That’s one-tenth of 1 percent.”
The rally is expected to draw between 10,000 to 20,000 participants, though organizers have planned for 30,000 people. Forecasts of thunderstorms for Saturday may, however, lead to much lower attendance.
Silverman told CNN that the event cost about $300,000 and that Todd Stiefel of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, is footing half the bill.
The rally may witness a Westboro Baptist Church protest. According to CNN, Carol Johnson, communications officer of the National Park Service says Wesboro Baptist has been granted permit to use the “grassy area between 14th and 15th streets." Johnson said only Westboro Baptist has applied for and obtained a permit although rally organizers say there are indications that about 17 groups are planning to protest.
CNN reports that the Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins will be attending the event along with other atheist intellectuals and celebrities. Global Post reports comedian Eddie Izzard and Adam Savage, of Discovery Channel’s "Mythbusters," will also be attending.
Dawkins said he is supporting the rally because the freedom of atheists is “constantly under threat from people who would like to turn this country into some sort of a theocracy.” Dawkins said: “The Reason Rally is part of an effort to combat the attack of the theocrats. There is in this country at the moment a great revival of atheism, and the number of atheists in the country is much larger than people realize.”
Silverman said the organizers intend to make the rally an annual tradition. He said: “The next step after the rally is all eyes on the election. We want to post hard questions to the candidates.”
Dawkins also indicated that the goals of the rally are political. He said: “The nonbelieving constituency has not been vocal enough, and it therefore has been politic for them to be ignored by their congressmen, by their senators." Dawkins addressing Congress, said: “You have been neglecting them, overlooking them and riding roughshod over them as though they didn’t exist. Well, they do exist and they outnumber some of the other lobbies that you have been so assiduously sucking up to all these years.”
CNN reports the American Atheists are also holding an annual convention in Bethesda, Maryland. The Secular Coalition for America scheduled what it called "Lobby Day for Reason" for Friday. CBS reports atheist and secularists are hoping to make an impact in the 2012 elections by promoting disccussion of the principle of seperation of church and state. Silverman said: “We need people to ask the tough questions, and they’re not. What’s more important: the Bible or the Constitution? Do they want theocracy? Do they want Christianity as the official religion, and if so, which version?”
Silverman stressed that the political activism of American Atheists is motivated ultimately by a desire for true equality in American society. He said: "There are more atheists in the country right now than Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists combined and doubled – that’s a lot of people, and we are the most hated...for no reason other than pure and simple religious bigotry, spurned by ignorance. Ignorance is killed by awareness...we want to put many faces to [atheism], so people will understand us better and tolerate us more.”