The Politics of Secular Colorado

In light of the fact that five out of seven of the members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation is willing to break long standing taboos against undermining the courts just to jab at people unhappy with the “under God” language in the Pledge of Allegiance, you might think that the non-religious population is some fringe group in Colorado.  This isn’t the case. 

But, politically, it still makes all sort of sense for Republicans to do everything that they can to throw the non-religious people of Colorado under a bus.  In Colorado, the notion that we are “under God” is not a consensus statement, as many believed that it was in the 1950s, when the pledge was modified.  But, the non-religious are unlikely to be Republicans.  On the other hand, John Salazar’s willingness to do so is mysterious.  More people in Colorado never go to church, than attend regularly.  About 22% of people in Colorado identify as non-religious, atheist or agnostic when surveyed.  Only Vermont and Washington State have a larger non-religious population than Colorado on a percentage basis.

Ignoring this large share of the electorate can still make sense for Republicans, because non-religious people both in Colorado, and generally, turn out to be one of the most reliable Democratic party demographics.  The only groups in Colorado less likely to approve of the President’s performance in office are blacks and self-identified Democrats.  People who identify as African-American Protestants are the only religious identification less likely to be Republican than non-religious Americans.  Even American Jews are more likely to consider themselves Republicans. 

While there is no non-religious ideology which should make this the case — non-belief in God does not, for example, naturally lead one to favor or disfavor tax cuts or war in Iraq, the close association of the Republican party with the religious right (white Evangelicals are more likely than people with any other religious affiliation to consider themselves Republican), and strong anti-atheist condemnations of some prominent Republican political figures, makes this hardly unsurprising.  For example, the elder President Bush stated in response to a reporter’s questions in Chicago O’Hara Airport on August 27, 1987:

Q: What will you do to win the votes of Americans who are atheists?
GB:  I guess I’m pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God is important to me.
Q:  Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?
GB: No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.
Q: Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?
GB:  Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I’m just not very high on atheists.

But, why John Salazar, a Democrat, would feel free to ignore both rule of law and a signficant share of the Democratic party base over an issue like a bad pledge of allegiance bill, is baffling.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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