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South Carolina’s Secular Crusader

The 2012 presidential race has brought religion into politics on an explicit level, as the candidates have competed to establish their bona fides as believers and defend their religious affiliations. And who could forget former Republican candidate Rick Santorum’s statement that the very concept of separation of church and state made him want to throw up? This year’s presidential contenders’ religious practices rest squarely at the center of political discussions.

Herb Silverman, founder and president of the Secular Coalition for America, has been following all of this very closely. During the Republican primaries, particularly around January’s race in his home state of South Carolina, Silverman wrote a series of columns for the Huffington Post in which he humorously observed the efforts of various politicians to impress voters with their spiritual credentials. (Full disclosure: I was his contact when he submitted his columns.)

Silverman has spent much of his life thinking about his beliefs, in an iconoclastic manner evidenced in his regular “On Faith” columns in the Washington Post. More significantly, Silverman knows about the intersection between religion and politics first-hand. As he recounts in his new memoir, Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt, Silverman—raised as an Orthodox Jew and now an outspoken atheist—ran for office in South Carolina to challenge a state law requiring candidates to assert religious faith. After an eight-year battle, Silverman won his legal challenge.

Using his own experience and years of political observation, Silverman uses his book to expose the hypocrisy and the lack of logic in politics and public life. Writing in simple prose that brings to mind the clarity and depth of a mathematical theorem, he traces the youthful origins of his atheism and his journey to its “logical” conclusion: activism on behalf of secular America.

“I’m hoping for the day when we will judge candidates on their positions and integrity,” he writes, “and not on their professed religious beliefs.”

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