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Blind Arizona Candidate Launches Campaign To Become First Open Atheist Elected To Congress

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In a long-shot bid to unseat incumbent Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), openly atheist and blind candidate James Woods (D) launched his official campaign website on Sunday, describing his platform as free from "ideology, revelation or religion."

In the absence of a single admitted atheist serving in Congress, Woods hopes to battle anti-atheist prejudices by ensuring that “people who are traditionally cut out of the political process feel heard,” according to an interview with Religion News Service published Sunday.

If elected, Woods would be the first lawmaker to successfully campaign as an atheist, as well as the first completely blind member of Congress in nearly 100 years, according to RNS.

“In the U.S., we tend to equate faith with goodness. We make faith a really visible part of public life,” Woods, an active member of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, told RNS. “People who grew up in religious communities often haven’t been exposed to nontheists, and there can be a lack of understanding of atheist ethics … I believe in human ingenuity -- we can solve problems to improve our lives and the lives of people around us. You don’t need religion for that.”

Woods, who lost his eyesight at the age of 26 after surviving a life-threatening staph infection, attributed his decision to run for office to the various actors that supported his recovery efforts, including organ donors and government assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“I almost died. About a month before my 27th birthday, I was in the hospital fighting for my life and my vision started going. I noticed it getting dim on a Monday and I woke up completely blind on Friday,” Woods told RNS. “I’ve never seen since.”

“I wouldn’t be here today without so many people investing in me," Woods explained. "After all of that generosity and support, it’s time for me to start giving back."

Woods is running in Arizona's heavily Republican 5th District, where Salmon won the seat in 2012 with more than 67 percent of the vote.

To date, the only avowed atheist in Congress has been former Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), who lost his reelection bid in 2012 after 40 years of public service. Stark didn't publicly state he was an atheist until more than 30 years after he was first elected.

According to a February Gallup poll, atheists remain the most unelectable group in America, with only 54 percent of voters willing to support an atheist presidential candidate.

A widely cited study by the University of Minnesota also found atheists to be the most disliked and distrusted minority group in the nation.

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