Opinion: Atheist activists were once punching bags. Now, readers revere them

Ron Reagan appears in a 30-second TV ad for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
(Freedom From Religion Foundation)

Years ago, the exchange might have played out differently: A letter critical of a prominent atheist activist is published in the paper, and readers send perhaps a few approving and disapproving responses. After all, ours is a country where a sitting vice president in our lifetime once said, “I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.”

This week, however, in an era when “nones” make up the second-largest religious group (for lack of a better classification) in the country, the dynamic was far different: In response to a letter that excoriated “unabashed atheist” Ron Reagan for being too on the nose about his lack of faith, more than a dozen readers wrote in defense of the late president’s son’s advocacy for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Here is what some of them said.

Cathy Goldberg of Seal Beach clarifies a few facts about nonbelievers:


One letter writer criticizes Reagan for speaking up about his belief in “nothing.” Atheists, agnostics and others believe in many things, including most of the basic moral precepts shared by religious people; they just don’t believe a supernatural power is behind it all.

He also makes the claim that keeping your beliefs to yourself is “how it works in America.” I personally have seen no surfeit of people reluctant to express their religious beliefs, right up to our highest offices. The writer’s statement is antithetical to everything that makes us truly American as codified in the 1st Amendment.

There is so much pressure to express a belief in God that it takes some courage to take a public stance of nonbelief.

David Sheehan of Redlands compares the activism of the faithless and the faithful:

In fairness to Reagan and other atheists like me, we do not blame all of the world’s problems on religion, just the many problems attached to religion. True, some of the most murderous men in history were confirmed atheists. On the other hand, some of the most murderous men in history were devoutly religious. That’s a dubious scorecard.

If my religious neighbors kept their beliefs to themselves, as the letter writer wants Reagan to do with his atheism, then we wouldn’t have much of a problem. But as we well know, that is not the way it is. In many states, women’s reproductive rights are abridged solely for religious reasons. Our gay and lesbian community is seldom treated with the utmost kindness and respect by the various religions of the world.


Reagan and the Freedom From Religion Foundation do want you to keep your beliefs to yourself -- because that’s how it’s supposed to work in America.

Elliott Rothman of Santa Monica mentions the current pandemic:

Keep your beliefs to yourself? Does the word “missionary” have any meaning?

Save your resentment for those who are currently suing for the right to put themselves and others at risk by continuing to assemble for worship.