Richard Dawkins was invited on September 30 to Miami by the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences. Dawkins, one of the most renowned evolutionary biologists in the world, and one of the most active science preachers of modern times, came to present The Magic of Reality, his most recent book (which also comes in a beautiful iPad version). His conference was programed for five in the afternoon at the Storer Auditorium of the University, which has seating for 200 people. By four o'clock, the auditorium was totally full and the university was forced to set up three additional auditoriums so that the people could watch the conference by means of a videoconference system.
Apart from his well-earned scientific credentials, Dawkins is renowned for his activism for the secularization of societies. To promote this, he created the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, aiming "to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering." The foundation has offices in England (where Richard Dawkins was born) and in the United States, where it is managed by Dr. Elisabeth Cornwell. Its american director of Strategy & Policy is Sean Faircloth, who over the past decade has served five terms in the Maine legislature.
Faircloth is also the excecutive director of The Secular Coalition for America, an organization composed of 10 civil rights groups that fight for the separation of church and state, as well as for the acceptance and inclusion of secular Americans in civil life. On the same day as the Dawkins conference in Miami, he presented his book Attack of the Theocrats, which includes a prologue by Dawkins. The book -- based upon the fact that the separation of church and state is a clear principal established by the founding fathers, especially Jefferson and Madison --, is a manifesto favoring secularization and calls for active participation in the country's politics for all who do not believe, are not attracted by any religion, or believe that religion should not interfere with political decisions that affect the body of citizens of the country.
My reading of Faircloth's book - which will become available in bookstores early next year -- coincided with my reading of an article titled "The Mormon in the Room," by Fernando Espuelas and published in this same section of the Huffington Post. According to the article, Mitt Romney's main handicap in his plight for the Republican nomination for next year's presidential elections does not lie in his liberal positions on issues like the health system, but in his faith. "Romney," says Espuelas, "is a devout Mormon. His family is steeped in the Mormon tradition. And no one has remotely questioned Romney's sincerity in this regard. And that is the problem... Beyond the theological issues, the political implications of this line of thought are devastating for Romney. No Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan paid homage to the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in the 1980 election, has made it to the White House without carrying the Evangelical vote by dominant margins."
In an era where movements like the Tea Party, whose religious fundamentalism is well known, have become the standard to measure the commitment level of the Republican candidates with "conservative" ideals, religious inclinations such as Romney's are not the most convenient to reach the presidency of the nation, and this is worrisome. "The idea that in 21st century America a person can be disqualified for the presidency based on his religion is outrageous. Religious prejudice against Romney is as repulsive as the Tea Party's frequent flirtations with anti-Obama racism," says Espuelas. He cites the 6th article of the Constitution of the United States, which states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." The first ammendment establishes, furthermore, the freedom of believing or not believing as a part of the free exercise of religion.
This brings me back to Dawkins and Faircloth, and the titanic task ahead of them in their fight for the secularization of the country and the defence of the separation between church and state. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, of the Pew Research Center, the political composition of the US Congress is a clear reflection of the country's religious composition in all but one case: those that do not believe or are not afiliated to any religion. In the current congress (number 112), the protestant faith has 56.8% of the seating, while their national standing in the country is 51.3%. The same is true with Catholics: their participation in congress is 29.2%, while their national standing is 23.9%. Even Romney's mormons are overrepresented in Congress: 2.8% while they account for the 1.7% of religious followers in the country.
Those not afiliated to any religion -- a group that includes atheists and agnostics, as well as profoundly religious people that have no creed afiliation -- represent, according to the surveys, 16.1% of the population of the United States. Their participation in the US Congress, where laws for 300 million americans are drafted, reaches the equivalent of 0%. Only one of the 541 members of Congress -- including the special territories and the Washington D.C. representatives -- has openly declared his atheism: Pete Stark, a Democratic representative for California. "Might it not be reasonable that there coud be at least proportional representation for people who openly think like Warren Buffett [or Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt]?" Faircloth asks himself. Undoubtly, it sounds reasonable. There are few moments as good as this one, loaded with fundamentalisms, to launch this crusade. And for those that state that the bloggers of Latino Voices should only write about the latinos, and not about the US (?), I remind them that according to the same surveys, the percentage of latinos that do not believe in or are not afiliated to any religion is 14%, a statistic not very different from the rest of the country.