The Clinton administration, which has made a point of reaching out to a wide spectrum of religious leaders, on Monday hosted what is believed to be the first formal White House meeting between an organized atheist group and representatives of the president.
Ron Barrier, national spokesman for American Atheists, the Austin, Texas-based group, called the meeting "a very positive" first step toward informing the White House about what his organization says are civil rights violations against nonbelievers.
"Essentially, we wanted this as a beginning step," he said. "Hopefully, this will open up lines of communication between the atheist community and this administration and any subsequent administration."
Barrier said it was the first time members of his organization had met with White House officials.
Maureen Shea, associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, said she and William Marshall of the White House counsel's office met with the nine people.
She said the group discussed "having a place at the table" and concerns about "their exclusion from their point of view from government-run programs."