I missed this Op-Ed when it ran three days ago, but I think it's good to bring it up, given what I've written in the past on the way certain religious minorities have been treated during political campaigns.

The article, by Frances Wilkinson, tells the story of Robert Ingersoll, "the most notorious heretic in the land, famous for his lectures debunking Christianity and the Bible." He also campaigned for Republicans back when the party wasn't dominated by religious nuts, which means back in the days of Rutherford B. Hayes through William McKinley.

Imagine Richard Dawkins giving a speech at a major party's nominating convention. Ingersoll did just that, back in 1876, back in a time that many people--myself included--look at as hopelessly enthralled to the magical thinking of religion. It's unthinkable today. There are days in this campaign when it seems the two major candidates are locked in a battle over who can out-Jesus the other.

It's understandable. Even though 16 "percent of Americans categorized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Society as atheist, agnostic or free-range 'nothing in particular,'” when it comes to running for President, you're better off being a Mormon or a Muslim than an atheist. Not a Scientologist, though. That's heartening, I guess. We're not as despised as Tom Cruise or John Travolta.

What Wilkinson points out, though, is that it wasn't always this way, which gives me hope that it won't always be this way either. It would be nice to see an open atheist make a speech at a major party's nominating convention one day.

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