Reason Rally

Atheists and irreligious people gathered for the Reason Rally on the National Mall.

The Reason Rally was a rally for secularism and religious skepticism held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2012.[1][2] The rally was sponsored by major atheistic and secular organizations of the United States and was regarded as a "Woodstock for atheists and skeptics".

Speakers and performers included biologist Richard Dawkins, physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, musician Tim Minchin, MythBusters co-host Adam Savage, actor-comedian Eddie Izzard, Paul Provenza, PZ Myers, Jessica Ahlquist, Dan Barker, and magician James Randi, among others.[3] The punk rock band Bad Religion performed and other notables (Rep. Pete Stark, Sen. Tom Harkin, comedian Bill Maher, magician Penn Jillette) addressed the crowd by video link. Participants recited the Pledge of Allegiance, deliberately omitting the phrase "under God", which was added by the U.S. Congress in 1954. Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces were represented, and a retired Army colonel, Kirk Lamb, led veterans in an affirmation of their secular military oaths.[4] Speakers urged those assembled to contact local and national representatives and ask them to support church-state separation, science education, marriage equality for gays and lesbians, and ending government support of faith-based organizations, among other causes.[5]

According to the official website, the aim of the Reason Rally was to "unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society."[2] The website had predicted it would be "the largest secular event in world history." The Atlantic said 20,000 people were in attendance.[6] Religion News Service said 8,000–10,000.[7] The documentary The Unbelievers claims that over 30,000 people attended the rally.[8] There are no official crowd estimates of events on the Mall.


According to the rally's official website, the event had three main goals:[2]

Organizers said the aim of the rally was twofold: to unite individuals with similar beliefs and to show the American public that the number of people who don’t believe in God is large and growing. “We have the numbers to be taken seriously,” said Paul Fidalgo, spokesman for the Center for Inquiry, which promotes the scientific method and reasoning and was one of the organizations sponsoring the rally. “We’re not just a tiny fringe group.”[9]

According to rally spokesman Jesse Galef, diversity with the attendees was a focus this year, he stated 'We can't succeed if we are only coming from one demographic'". Comparing the 2012 rally to the 2002 Godless rally which was mainly over-40 white men, the attendees were "largely under the age of 30, at least half female and included many people of color".[7]

Speaking to NPR prior to the rally, American Atheist president David Silverman stated that this is a coming-of-age event for atheists, "We'll look back at the Reason Rally as one of the game-changing events when people started to look at atheism and look at atheists in a different light".[10]

With goals of bringing unity, energy, and visibility to the secular demographic, the rally can be seen as a manifestation of the secular movement that emerged in America and elsewhere in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Writing for The Guardian Sarah Posner states that the Reason Rally was modeled on the LGBT movement, encouraging people to 'come out' about their non-belief and working to humanize atheism by getting "people to personalize someone they'd always thought of as an 'other.'" Once people realize that their neighbor, co-worker or family member is an atheist it goes a long way towards acceptance. Politics played a large part of the Rally according to Posner; considering that there is only one openly atheist American Congressperson, there is a lot of work to still be done.[11]



Reason Rally crowd
Greg Graffin of Bad Religion sings the National Anthem at the Reason Rally.
Jessica Ahlquist speaks at the Reason Rally


In the Huffington Post, Staks Rosch praised the rally. He stated that atheists "face a great deal of discrimination and fear of discrimination for being outspoken" and that many "fear having their families disown them, losing their jobs, or simply being harassed by the religious."[12]

David Niose, the president of the American Humanist Association stated that "The secular demographic does not claim to have a monopoly on rationality, but it does feel that it has something to offer. By rallying in Washington, seculars are not whining about some imagined victimization, but rather they are exercising a voice that has been silenced for too long."[13]

Nate Phelps, an atheist and estranged son of Fred Phelps, the founder of the fringe group, Westboro Baptist Church, supported the Reason Rally and was among the event's speakers.[14][15][16]


The Reason Rally elicited criticism for the anti-theist rhetoric and tone that some speakers employed, since its purpose is to reject religion and superstitions, in favor of employing reason and promoting a secular lifestyle. Editorial writers including Nathalie Rothschild,[17] and Tom Gilson[18] and representatives of various religious communities such as Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership[19] and William Anthony Donohue of the Catholic League[20] all voiced disapproval.

Notable speaker quotes


The second quadrennial Reason Rally was held on June 4, 2016 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C..

The Reason Rally for 2016 was billed as "a celebration of fact-driven public policy, the value of critical thinking, and the voting power of secular Americans".[32] The weekend of the Rally included advocacy events and conference sessions.

Event organizers were targeting an attendance of 30,000, but crowds proved much smaller; sources disagree on the exact attendance..

See also


  1. Aratani, Lori, " 'Godless Rally' in D.C. for Recognition and Respect", The Washington Post, C1, C10; Sunday, March 25, 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 "Reason Rally - About". Retrieved April 7, 2012.
  3. "Speakers". Reason Rally. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  4. Torpy, Jason, “Reason Rally shows patriotism and military support”, Atheists in Foxholes News, 26 March 2012.
  5. Winston, Kimberly (2012). "Nonbelievers flex their political muscles". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
  6. Benjamin Fearnow & Mickey Woods, "Richard Dawkins Preaches to Nonbelievers at Reason Rally", The Atlantic, March 24, 2012.
  7. 1 2 Winston, Kimberly (March 24, 2012). "Atheists Rally On National Mall; The 'Reason Rally' Largest Gathering Of Nonbelievers (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  8. Gus Holwerda, "The Unbelievers" April 2013
  9. Aratani, Lori (24 March 2012). "Atheists, others gather at Reason Rally". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  10. Hagerty, Barbara. "'Woodstock For Atheists': A Moment For Nonbelievers". NPR. Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  11. Posner, Sarah (March 26, 2012). "Can the Reason Rally resonate in this most religious of democracies?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-05-03.
  12. Staks Rosch (March 8, 2012). "Why The Reason Rally is Worth Coming Out For". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  13. Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET (2010-04-07). "Reason Rally is a coming out party for the secular movement". Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  14. "Westboro church pastor's son to face off against dad's picketers at atheist rally". March 15, 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  15. McCormack, Simon (March 15, 2012). "Nate Phelps, Son Of Westboro Baptist Church Pastor, To Speak At Reason Rally". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  16. "Westboro to Protest 'Reason Rally' Where Phelps' Atheist Son Will Speak". The Christian Post. March 16, 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  17. Nathalie Rothschild (March 5, 2012). "Why The Reason Rally Isn't Worth Coming Out For". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  18. Gilson, Tom (March 21, 2012). "Atheists don't own reason". The Washington Post.
  19. "Why the Reason Rally is unreasonable". Fox News. March 26, 2012.
  20. 1 2 "Atheist Rally Draws Haters". Catholic League. March 26, 2012.
  21. Rosenhouse, Jason, “At the Reason Rally”, EvolutionBlog, March 27, 2012.
  22. Dawkins, Richard. "Richard Dawkins - Reason Rally 2012". Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  23. Haggerty, John (March 27, 2012). "Letters: Mockery hurts understanding of religion". USA Today.
  24. Kwon, Lillian (2012). "Atheists Rally for Reason; Urged to Mock the Religious". Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  25. Grossman, Cathy (March 24, 2012). "Richard Dawkins to atheist rally: 'Show contempt' for faith". USA Today. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  26. Savage, Adam. "Adam Savage at the Reason Rally".
  27. Ahlquist, Jessica. "Jessica Ahlquist at Reason Rally". Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  28. "Greta Christina". Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  29. "Reason Rally - March 24, 2012 Washington DC (highlights from Rally)". Retrieved 2012-05-13.
  30. Jillette, Penn. "Penn Jillette Reason Rally Address". Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  31. Maher, Bill. "Bill Maher at the Reason Rally 3/24/12". Retrieved 2012-05-03.
  32. Speak Up for Reason!
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