Long after Barney Frank came out of the closet [in 1987] to become the first openly gay U.S. Congressman, he outed himself again–this time as an atheist– on Aug. 2, 2013, in a post-show interview with Bill Maher. Here’s the clip:
Bill Maher: … you were in a fairly safe district. You were not one of those Congresspeople who have to worry about every little thing. You could come on this show, and sit next to a pot-smoking atheist, and it wouldn’t bother you…
Barney Frank: [Pointing back and forth to himself and Maher] Which pot-smoking atheist were you talking about?
Bill Maher: Ooh, you are liberated!
Frank also told Maher that had he been appointed to the open Senate seat in Massachusetts he would have had his husband Jim “hold the Constitution, not the Bible, and affirm, not swear, that I was gonna be a wonderful Senator.”
Clearly, Frank thought it was more politically acceptable to come out as gay—which he did while serving in Congress—than it would have been to announce that he was an atheist. Gay is, at long last, okay. Atheism is not. In fact, seven states currently ban atheists from holding office.
Some observers were shocked that someone who previously identified himself as Jewish would declare that he’s an atheist. I don’t find that so strange: There are a lot of us who have cultural Jewish identities while not accepting the concept of a supreme being. Or, to paraphrase –for myself–Barney Frank’s own coming-out statement, [pointing back and forth between me and you], “Which Jewish atheist are you talking about?”
One thing that is surprising, though: On its 2011 scorecard, the Secular Coalition of America gave then-Congressman Frank a grade of C [57%] on religion-related issues.
The only U.S. Congressman who was openly atheist during his term in office was Pete Stark (D-CA), who served from 1973 to 2013. Stark acknowledged his atheism in response to questionnaire sent by the Secular Coalition of America to public officials in January 2007.