5 Atheist Politicians: Is America Ready for Faithless Leaders?

With 20% of Americans now claiming to have no religious affiliation, you might expect to see more atheists elected to public office. On the contrary, open atheists are almost nonexistent in the political sphere. In fact, most politician atheists seem to conceal their views until after leaving office to avoid the backlash. Here are five examples of nonbeliever politicians who show the complexities of being irreligious in the United States:

1. Barney Frank

Case in point: former Massachusetts Congressman Frank. Despite the country’s homophobic attitudes, Frank was daring enough to come out as gay while holding office all the way back in the ‘80s. The fact that he kept mum on his atheism – as if that would be the career killer — just goes to show the extent to which Americans are unwilling to accept faithless lifestyles.

Now that Frank has left public service, however, he is more willing to open up and even joke about his atheism. He copped to being a “pot-smoking atheist” on Real Time with Bill Maher and said that if he were to take office again, he would “not swear” on the Bible, but would use the Constitution.

2. Kyrsten Sinema

Representing Arizona in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Sinema is the only apparent nonbeliever serving at a national level. She told a reporter she is “not a member of any faith community,” states her religious affiliation as “none”, and declined to use a Bible when being sworn into office.

Since joining Congress, however, Sinema’s staff has tried to backtrack on the public perception, insisting that she doesn’t self-identify as atheist, either. In a remarkable parallel to Frank, Sinema – who is openly bisexual – may feel safer disclosing her sexuality than her lack of faith. Regardless of what Sinema wants to label her beliefs, her admitted “secular approach” is still a welcome deviation from the many in Congress who take a faith-based approach to governing.

3. Jesse Ventura

The former wrestler turned one-term Independent Governor of Minnesota found himself in hot water when he declined to advocate for a “National Prayer Day” like most other governors throughout the country. Although he didn’t explain himself at the time, Ventura has since, as he puts it “come out of the closet,” adding that he’s “proud” to call himself an atheist.

While Ventura has considered running for public office again, in a 2011 appearance on The Howard Stern Show, he acknowledged that it would be a long shot. “I don’t believe you can be an atheist and admit it and get elected in our country.”


4. Pete Stark

Stark was the first openly atheist member of Congress, but he sure took his time before sharing this fact with his constituents. Although Stark had represented California in the U.S. House since 1973, it wasn’t until 2007 that he acknowledged his atheism publicly.

Waiting until the end of his career was probably a good move strategically. While the power of incumbency saved Stark his seat for a couple more terms after his atheism admission, when redistricting put him in a less liberal district, Stark lost to a Democratic challenger, Eric Swalwell. In his campaign, Swalwell used Stark’s atheism against him to portray his opponent as “un-American”.


5. Ernie Chambers

Forget the federal level – atheists are absent at the state level, as well. Nebraska State Senator Chambers is the lone known exception. The passionate liberal and civil rights activist doesn’t shy away from addressing any topic – his lack of faith included. This year, Chambers took up the controversial issue of having “so help me God” removed from governmental oaths.

Despite being atheist, Chambers’s continued popularity in a devout community just goes to show that in the case of someone who has built an illustrious career of advocating for the people, voters can overlook the lack of a religious affiliation.

Photo Credits: Barney Frank by USDAgov, Kyrsten Sinema by Gage Skidmore, Jesse Ventura by Freedom to Marry, Pete Stark by Fighting for Our Health, Ernie Chambers from Facebook.


Naomi B
Naomi Babout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

donald Baumgartner

In one way, I'd like to see Jesse Ventura run in 2016 or later, but I would be afraid it would take away from the Dems, like yr 2000.

John W.
.3 years ago


Kathy Johnson
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

20%?!? progress is a beautiful thing

Matt S.
Matt S.4 years ago

Why would an atheist want to be associated with faith—the antithesis of reason? Faith asks us to accept the words of men without question—not the words of God. God gave us a mind capable of questioning everything—capable of probing the far corners of the universe while strapped to a tiny planet in an ordinary galaxy. Why would He want such a powerful thing to atrophy? Only those who want to control how we think and what we think demand that we have faith. Those people offer absolutely no proof that the word of God exists in the Bible or anywhere else. (The Bible is "The Word of God?" Then how did the myths of Adam, Eve, Jonah, and Noah all first appear as pagan myths on clay tablets created in Sumer 1500 years before the first evidence of monotheism existed—long, long before the first words in today's Bible were penned?) The very fact that so many different religions exist is the proof that proof of God's word doesn't exist, and further demands we must find God in our own way with the help of the wise and those who came before—not their "demands," nor their conjured visions of hell, nor their arrogant demand that they know God's word and must translate it before you could hope to understand it. When a preacher says, "God loves you," he is speaking with a great deal of arrogance, for he cannot know it is true without "faith," making his point circular and thereby moot. And if he cannot know even that simple thing, he can know nothing of the mind of God

Carole L.
Carole L4 years ago

aren H.
“Allan Y, Carole L is right that the motto of the U.S. is E Pluribus Unum, not In God We Trust.”

yes I know, that was my point. It Latin for: "Out of many, one"

Pam Bacon
Pam Bacon4 years ago

Faithless probably wasn't the best adjective. There is far too much religious involvement in government these days. And too much latitude given to religion/churches. It's big business raking in a lot of money. Wouldn't be so bad if they were using it to help the world but most are just building castles to worship in. Which would seem to me to fall under the no other gods rule...... Pretty much every religion and every person who thinks themself religious just picks and chooses what they will follow and ignores the rest.

Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

I don't care if someone is religious, as long as they are not a hypocrite. Just tell us the trueth and say why you vote as you do on issues. And be willing to explain how your ancient religion over lays on todays world. Things that made sense in a tiny desert country 2000 years ago, just don't translate now.Like for instance, women will no longer go back to being subserviant. And we must limit our population growth.

Dale O.

I could care less whether or not a politician is atheist or not. Something called separation of church and state. I am more interested in what politicians are doing politically.

Jacob R states: "Godlessness breeds lawlessness." Oh really? All those priests and other religious officials committing various crimes including sexually abusing children. Being men or women of God guarantees nothing, it depends on the actions of an individual.