Overlooked Electorate: Atheist Voters in Iowa
When walking through the Des Moines Farmers Market on a Saturday morning it is not uncommon to encounter some political advocacy groups or even candidates themselves. This Saturday, one booth was dedicated to a political message, the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers (IAF). While waiting behind a group of people to approach the table, the Atheists Voters of Iowa banner waved innocently is the breeze.
The group of people representing the IAF were friendly and approachable. They described their mission as educating Iowans. Their primary goal is to “promote Atheist visibility.” President Ross Fulton said that many Iowans “go about their lives completely unaware that there are a significant number of atheists in their community, in their workplaces, and even in their churches.” They want to eliminate the stigma that surrounds atheism.
A secondary goal is promoting the separation of church and state. They want religion out of politics. Fulton asserted that the separation of church and state was not only a founding principle of American society, but remains critical for the functioning of society. He further asserted that the religious culture that politics has taken on only serves to alienate voters. Fulton believes that the message of their organization is something that should be on every caucus-goer’s mind, and would most certainly be on his on Feb. 1.
The Vice President of IAF, Rory Moe, pointed out that candidates campaigning from church pulpits and during Sunday services is not in line with his and many people’s interpretation of the First Amendment’s protection from a state sponsored religion. Moe and another member were sporting the organization’s characteristic #AtheistVoter T-shirt. Moe said he wears the shirt to candidate events to raise awareness and try to get the candidate’s attention. He wants candidates to pledge to keep religion out of politics.
In addition to their booth at the Farmers Market, the Iowa Atheists are trying to reach voters through community discussions, picnics, and social media. They have organized events in attempt to influence the election. This year they marched in the Capital City Pride Parade, and organized a protest at the Family Leadership Summit where republican candidates Senator Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Dr. Ben Carson all spoke.
The group was engaging and interested in talking about its mission. Fulton described attending the Farmers Market as “a long tradition.” The organization has been attending since 2009, setting up their booth a couple of times a year.
Fulton described the IAF as a grassroots organization. He said, “Politicians shape the political dialog in this country by trying to appeal to caucus-goers. That is why keeping religion out of politics is critical to the caucus process.”
Their number one question for candidates according to Fulton is, “How will you preserve our right to believe as we do?” Their message to candidates is, “We’re here, we vote, and we’re willing to support anyone who will place good ideas over dogma.” The group is trying to encourage those who agree with them to join and attempt to influence their community and the caucus process in Iowa.
Barbour is a junior political science and international relations double major at Drake. She spent last semester abroad in Amman, Jordan, studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics.