For a brief, shining moment, it seemed that the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference would welcome a
gay atheist group to its annual gathering in March. But only for a moment! The obviously iffy truce fell apart on Tuesday when CPAC organizers pulled the plug, which apparently is what Jesus would do.
David Silverman, president of the group American Atheists, which paid $3,000 for a booth at the Maryland conference, appeared on CNN on Monday night. Calling the group's booth at CPAC a "serious outreach effort," Silverman explained what he saw as the need. "Just as there are many closeted atheists in the church pews, I am extremely confident that there are many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives." Meghan Snyder, spokesperson for CPAC, seemed cool with that, since "conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression."
That was yesterday. Today, Snyder had a different take.
[Silverman] pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. He has left us with no choice but to return his money.
It's not entirely clear where this pledge to "attack the very idea" that Christianity is an important part of conservatism occurred. Silverman did challenge the religious right in his comments to CNN — "The Christian right should be angry that we are going in to enlighten conservatives. The Christian right should be threatened by us." But that doesn't seem like a perfect fit with Snyder's new concerns.
Many of the other people paying CPAC money to attend the conference seemed less enthusiastic about the atheists' participation from the get-go. CNN apparently had no trouble collecting complaints from conservatives, including the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. Perkins lamented that the atheists did "not seek to add their voice to the chorus of freedom," which seems like a weird interpretation of freedom. "If this is where the ACU is headed," Perkins said, speaking of the group that hosts on the conference, "they will have to pack up and put away the 'C' in CPAC!" That would be confusing, since PAC is already a well-known acronym.
Obviously it was blowback from conservative groups that prompted ACU to pull the AA's booth, as Silverman pointed out to CNN ("they were looking for a reason to say no"). Talking Points Memo got a different version of Snyder's (Tuesday) statement. It begins: "American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government." The first part of this is almost certainly true: Silverman and his group probably mostly wanted to get into arguments with conservatives.
But the second part is either weird boilerplate or a legitimate disappointment. At one time, it seemed that maybe conservatives and atheists could work together to promote limited government, like ensuring that public institutions eliminate traces of religious preference and ending things like the use of public money for vouchers to religious schools. Alas, that meeting of minds will now never take place.