On Tuesday, news broke that the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) decided to disinvite an atheist group that had purchased a sponsorship booth. The predictable outrage ensued, with Twitter lighting up in a storm of snark and criticism. Media outlets rushed to misrepresent the situation (e.g., The Wire’s headline, “CPAC Conservatives Revoke Brief Truce with Atheism”) while even some conservatives attacked CPAC’s allegedly narrow-minded decision. It was one of those sought-after moments in which some get to peddle the “Look! I’m one of the reasonable ones!” shtick, either with reminders of their own atheism or with declarations that they are absolutely accepting of atheists and that CPAC was absolutely wrong.
That’s all well and good . . . until one reads about the group that was disinvited.
While CPAC often deserves criticism, any criticism should, at least, be well informed. Of course it would be fine for CPAC to host a group called “Atheists for Conservatism” or “Libertarian Atheists and Proud of It, Suckas!” But American Atheists is not a conservative group; it does not even purport to be a conservative group. More important, it is a group that seems openly hostile towards Christians or other people of faith.
Speaking of its CPAC sponsorship, the group’s president, David Silverman, said on CNN: “I am not worried about making the Christian Right angry. The Christian Right should be angry that we are going in to enlighten conservatives. The Christian Right should be threatened by us.”
These remarks triggered the revocation of the group’s sponsorship.
According to CPAC’s spokeswoman, Meghan Snyder, Silverman, in a conversation with her about his comments, pledged to attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. Snyder adds: “People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. He has left us with no choice but to return his money.”
So what exactly is the controversy here? Why should the country’s chief conservative conference welcome a group that is not conservative and is antagonistic towards many conservatives’ belief systems? And as for the idea of an embracing “big tent,” should CPAC open up shop to gun-control groups, too, under that big tent?
America is grappling to define conservatism. In a movement that once combated “amnesty, abortion, and acid,” nowadays (a) one cannot throw a rock without hitting a GOP politico pushing for amnesty for illegal immigrants, (b) a not-insignificant chunk of conservatives in private shrug over abortion, and (c) drug legalization makes immense headway. So while a big-tent philosophy welcoming of respectful atheists and agnostics is certainly the right course, make no mistake: If no tenet of conservatism will survive the night, let the movement at least — while welcoming non-believers — treasure and respect the faithful.
American Atheists did not fit the bill — and rightly got the boot.
— A. J. Delgado is a conservative writer and lawyer.