As Matthew Greenberg alerted us yesterday, a planned exhibit - "Atheist America" - has been cancelled by the Smithsonian. To put it at its mildest, I am NOT down with that and less so that this decision was caused by threats of violence from people who would have us believe they are christian. Below please find my response to Smithsonian Director Mark C. Fredericks. Please note that with this draft, I am writing for myself. I do not wish to pretend to represent my writing as representing views other than my own. That said, if you have edits or addenda to contribute to this letter, PLEASE OFFER THEM! Also, if I have made mistakes in fact, say so!
In addition, while I do pretty well at Google searches, I have as yet been able to find nothing by way of email or brick-and-mortar addresses for Mr. Fredericks. If someone can dig up a target to aim this at, I would be very appreciative.
Your feedback is very welcome.
I note with disappointment your cancellation of the “Atheist America” exhibit planned for opening in July at the Smithsonian, an action made more egregious by the fact that said cancellation was in apparent response to threats from groups who seem to feel that they have a right to dictate what kinds of special displays your organization may support and what it may not.
While this nation is largely Christian, it is by no means a Christian nation, sir. It is a nation of multiple beliefs, including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, and many others. It is also emphatically a nation of those who hold no religious belief. As you doubtless know from the preparation of the now-cancelled exhibit, a great many of the founding fathers of this nation were at best deists, if indeed they were not full-blown atheists, men like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison. Their official writings and personal correspondence reflect this repeatedly, a fact that many of an intransigent religious persuasion would perhaps not care to see become better known. This tradition continued though the developmental years of the United States, from Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln (who was at minimum highly skeptical of religion) through Robert Green Ingersoll, and more recently men like Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens.
On March 24, 2012, despite less than ideal weather conditions, over 30,000 people gathered on the Mall in Washington, DC to participate in the Reason Rally, a celebration of rationality, logic, and yes, atheism which was the largest such gathering of its kind ever. Add to that, there is a new group of people rising in numbers in the US: the “nones,” people who have no official religious affiliation. Meanwhile the number of Protestant Christians in this country has notably dropped below the 50% mark for the first time, a statistic I find not at all coincidental, but indicative of a significant and powerful trend in the people of this country.
We are not the aberrant, hateful people our detractors would have you believe we are. We are happy, productive, patriotic Americans who fully deserve the kind of notice your proposed exhibit would have given us. Yes, I said us. I am an atheist, Mr. Fredericks, and I am proud and unabashed to say so. Even as Christians and Jews have participated in and contributed to this country, so have we, and it is time that the atheists of America enjoyed that recognition. That said, I ask you to reinstate the “Atheist America” exhibit at the earliest possible date.
Loren C. Miller, Jr.