COMMENTARY: Could An Atheist Be Elected President?

By Joseph J. Honick

For quite some time  the media across the nation were filled with the angst of those for and opposed to a major Islamic facility not far from Ground Zero. Unfortunately, much of the colloquy centered on religious matters rather than the facility itself. While the public promotion of the facility has quieted down, its supporters have hardly reduced their efforts.

Those energetically supporting the mosque or community center were, and probably still are, quite clear about the imperative of religious freedom in America as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment not only forbids any restraint of religion or the free exercise thereof, it also assures citizens the unfettered right of free speech.


Many have claimed that right of free speech also guarantees the expression or invention of any new belief systems is likewise protected whether or not it adheres to any so called “established” religions. A specific example is the Church of Scientology which has won numerous court suits proclaiming its rights as a religious institution.

And who is to say they are not so qualified except for those who use a variety of prejudices to disqualify the Scientology group? This, by logical deduction, raises the question: can an atheist become president of the United States? And who is to say an athiest’s right of free speech and expression should prohibit such election or claim restraint by those who claim there is something un-American by such practices?

The issue arises as those remindful of the 1930’s Father Charles Coughlin of Royal Oak (Detroit) Michigan and in the personage of sudden religionist Glenn Beck proclaim the nation as “Christian” and now preach, without ordination, the need for the nation to “return to God.” Whose God and whose practice not only are not defined, but, worse, by implication and straightforward allegation, the principle is advanced that it is a Christian faith that qualifies. Beck spoke eloquently about the ship captain who prayed to God when sailing in a storm, was saved and wrote the famous hymn Amazing Grace. Beck conveniently omitted any mention of the millions of Jews and others who prayed in places like Auschwitz in other tongues and were tortured and murdered.

Could a member of the Jewish faith be elected under the axioms advanced by the likes of Beck who has no identifiable background in religious philosophy and history and who claims deep knowledge of constitutional law?

Not likely.

Today, the heated, nay boiling debate is over the matter of a religious establishment for the Islamic faith. Though some base their opposition because of the proximity of the facility, a major potential addition to the New York skyline, to Ground Zero, by now few will deny the real target is the religious faith involved.

Despite all the debate, those who rule have determined the facility meets the regulations for installation on the site selected.

But, if this is true as a matter of not restraining any form of belief, could an atheist organization that has no belief in God put forth a legitimate candidate for the presidency and, if the votes went his or her way, occupy the White House?

If not, why not?