A resolution to declare March 23 National Atheist Day failed in the Delaware House, 11 to 26, with two absent and two not voting.
The resolution was sponsored in the House by Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow.
“Today, atheists in America are often looked down upon and expected to remain silent regarding our beliefs,” Morrison told the House. “Many atheists are afraid to come out, so to speak, for fear that we will be ostracized and disrespected openly or surreptitiously and face serious real world consequences broadly. I have experienced that very valid fear many times.”
Republicans led the opposition to the bill, indicating it was against the interests of their constituents and erred too closely to supporting atheism.
Rep. Richard Collins, R-Millsboro, said he takes issue with atheism because it would mean there isn’t a place people go after death, and that more young people are nonreligious and feeling more suicidal.
“One of the things that concerns me about the concept of atheism is that those of us who believe in something greater than ourselves believe there’s somewhere better to go to in the future,” Collins said. “But without that, all we have to look forward to is disease, disability and death…the suicide rate among men is four times higher than females, and rapidly increasing.”
Morrison countered that a belief in an afterlife can lead to someone not working to fix the current world, and that correlation doesn’t equal causation.
“It’s also a very easy way to say, we don’t need to make this world as good of a place as we need to, because there’s an afterlife and we’re gonna have eternal joy anyway,” Morrison said.
“I would encourage you to learn the difference between causation and correlation.
“What you’re saying is there is an increasing number of mental health issues with our youth…That doesn’t show causation, that doesn’t show a link. It does not say that young people are increasing irreligious, that is why they are having mental health issues or that is why they are suicidal.”
Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Clayton, asked Morrison if he would support a national Christians day.
Morrison said he would if the day was about recognizing the good people who are Christians and that people are allowed to be Christians, but that this Atheist resolution is about more than that.
“This is not just about the achievements of atheists. What this is about is the spirit of saying we should respect the right of everyone to choose and practice their religion, or to not choose and practice their religion.” Morrison said. “That’s all that is, and I think some of my friends on this side of the aisle are either purposely or unpurposely making this out to be something that it is not meant to be.”
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Spiegelman announced he had changed his mind about supporting the resolution.
“You have given me clarity because I was actually looking forward to voting for this based on lines 10 and 11,” Spiegelman said.
Lines 10 and 11 of the resolution state “Whereas, atheists believe that the rights of anyone to practice their religion of choice should not be infringed upon or hampered in any way, and that no one should be forced to adhere to or be governed by religious beliefs.”
“But your complete non-answers to this, on behalf of the good people of the 11th district, I cannot in good conscience vote for a National Atheist Day, embroiling the state with a specific set of beliefs, whereas the intent of the bill’s sponsors appears to be something other than the resolution.”
An attempt to table the resolution failed 17 to 23.
Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, said that if people are able to support his resolution honoring Saint Patrick’s Day, then they should have no issue voting for one proclaiming National Atheist Day.
After a break, Morrison said he would bring another resolution forward to declare National Atheist Awareness Day, as some members indicated that they would be in favor of voting for a resolution with that title, rather than National Atheist Day.
The two people who didn’t vote were Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, and Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle, who are the House Majority Leader and the House Majority Whip respectively, while 11 Democrats joined Republicans to block the resolution.
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