Godless Who's Who
A look at some of the major players among American nonbelievers.
Finley, 28, grew up a devout Christian in Atlanta, where he sang in a Gospel group and did a spell in the army. ("There are atheists in foxholes," he notes), where, he says, religion wasn't talked about much. It was in college, at the Catholic Saint Leo College in Florida, that he realized he was an atheist.
Finley says he never hides his atheism. "I make it a point to be rather overt about my nonbeliefs." His openness isn't limited to his radio show. Having moved recently to California from Georgia, he has plans for an atheist show on local television. He has recently started posting atheist singles ads on his website, and founded a resource site for black atheists "to show that it's OK to be black and a nonbeliever."
Still, Finley, like Newdow, doesn't necessarily want to convert the world to atheism. " Despite his lack of belief, he isn't raising his children as atheists. "My 10-year-old calls himself an atheist but he doesn't really know," he says. "I'm going to allow my children to believe what they want to believe. If they become believers, I won't care." His radio show and other projects, he says, aren't "atheist activism, per se. It's intellectual activism."
Ellen Johnson, a self-described New Jersey "soccer mom," little resembles Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her predecessor as president of American Atheists. But under Johnson, the 2,200-member national group has carried on O'Hair's spirit. It is often characterized as the most militant nonbeliever organization, condemning and poking fun at American believers. American Atheists, says Johnson, is not afraid to "challenge religion in the public arena."
In November, Johnson helmed the Godless Americans March on Washington, which drew 2,000 nonbelievers to protest the increase of religion rhetoric in government and public policy. Though disappointed by the lack of media coverage, Johnson says the march was an "internal lesson" about which issues were important to nonbelievers.
She also cites the pledge ruling as a big moment, but says "unless it's upheld, it was symbolic and short-lived." And as long as "In God We Trust" remains on American currency, she says, the pledge case is "a drop in the bucket"--though "a significant drop," she admits. "We were delighted to win after losing time and again."