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Atheists get organized

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA
Mar. 9, 2004
Julia Malone • Monday March 15, 2004

Group enters political realm

WASHINGTON — Atheists and other nonbelievers launched a political action committee Tuesday to endorse candidates and lobby lawmakers to remove all traces of religion from the government.

But organizers acknowledged that they face a major problem: Most politicians won’t want public support from their new group, which calls itself the Godless Americans Political Action Committee, or GAMPAC.

So American Atheists President Ellen Johnson, who announced the formation of the group, proposes an unusual approach: GAMPAC could use the threat of endorsement to pressure lawmakers into siding with the group on issues.

“If a candidate says, ‘Don’t endorse me,’ we will have to say we have the right to endorse somebody, but perhaps we can talk about what we can get in terms of promises from that candidate to help us out in return for not endorsing him,” Johnson told a sparsely attended news conference at the National Press Club.

The designated political director of the PAC, Jeffrey K. Lewis, told a reporter later that he “personally wouldn’t” use such a pressure tactic.

He said his plan is to endorse candidates and send contributions.

“If they send it back, it’s on them to send it back,” he said.

So far, the group has little money to give away. Johnson said it has received one donation, $1,000 from civil liberties activist Woody Kaplan of Boston.

The political organization sprang out of a Godless Americans march Johnson led in Washington two years ago. Organizers of GAMPAC claim to represent a large voting bloc of nonreligious Americans and said they hope to follow the example of the Christian Coalition, which led evangelicals into a prominent role in U.S. politics.

“Thank you, Ralph Reed,” Johnson said of the former Christian Coalition director and Republican chairman in Georgia. “We’re reading your book. This is the manual on how to do it. ... We’re going to do the same thing.”

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