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Rep. Robert Garcia, a California Democrat, has joined the Congressional Freethought Caucus
He is the 19th member of the CFC, which champions reason-based policies and opposes discrimination against atheists
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The Congressional Freethought Caucus has quietly added one more member into its fold: Rep. Robert Garcia, a first-term Democrat from California who previously served as mayor of Long Beach.
Interestingly enough, Garcia made headlines earlier this year when he took his oath of office on a handful of meaningful objects, including a copy of Superman #1, which he was able to use on loan from the Library of Congress. (He told a reporter that he “learned to read and write English [by] reading comics as a kid.”)
None of the items included a Bible.
The caucus now includes 19 members, all of whom are Democrats.
Steven Emmert, Executive Director for the Secular Coalition for America, told me via email that he welcomes Garcia and looks forward to “working with him on issues that are important to secular Americans.”
Like most of his colleagues in the CFC, Garcia is also religious. The Pew Research Center, in their 2023 roundup, listed him as Catholic. That doesn’t prevent him, of course, from supporting church/state separation and protecting freedom of religion for everyone (including the non-religious).
Garcia has not made any public announcement about his affiliation just yet. That may be because the Republican majority in the House is busy trying not to self-destruct. Still, the CFC’s website lists him as a member.
In case you need a refresher, the CFC was first announced in 2018 by Rep. Jared Huffman, a Humanist (and fellow Californian) and currently the only openly non-religious member of Congress.
It now has a total of 19 members:
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) (Co-chair)
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) (Co-chair)
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI)
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA)
Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL)
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA)
Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA)
Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA)
Rep. Kevin Mullin (D-CA)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
Rep. Greg Casar (D-TX)
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA)
(Jerry McNerney, a former co-chair of the group, chose not to run for re-election in 2022. Another former member, Carolyn Maloney, lost her primary to another Democrat after their congressional districts in New York were redrawn last cycle.)
To be clear, this isn't an “atheist club” for Congress, as some critics have suggested. This is just a group of lawmakers dedicated to promoting reason-based public policy, keeping church and state separate, opposing discrimination against non-religious people, and championing freedom of thought around the world. There’s really no reason anyone should be against this. That’s why there’s nothing hypocritical about the fact that nearly every member of the Caucus is religious.
The hope is that the membership continues growing—making the Caucus more influential—while the stigma of being an atheist (or even being associated with non-religiosity) decreases across the country. Those two things are more closely linked than we might imagine. Keep in mind that the Congressional Prayer Caucus, which typically promotes a version of conservative Christianity, is much larger and has members from both major parties. By that metric, the Freethought Caucus has a long way to go.
As I’ve said before, perhaps the most shocking thing about the Caucus is that, based on the relative lack of media interest, people don’t seem to care who the members are… which is to say, no one—not even in right-wing media—thinks it’s a big deal for sitting House members to align with a group defending atheists.
That also means none of these lawmakers believes joining the Caucus will be a concern for them heading into the 2024 elections, which may come as a shock to anyone who remembers a time when aligning with atheism was considered one of the biggest taboos in politics.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)