Are atheism and promoting atheism consistent with American — let alone conservative — values and principles?
The operational policy of the American Conservative Union now appears to contradict Ronald Reagan's view on this.
Reagan believed atheism was not merely wrong, but the enemy of freedom. The ACU has functionally adopted the position that groups promoting atheism can be featured at its annual Conservative Political Action Conference — so long as they promote godlessness with civility.
In the same 1983 speech in which he declared the Soviet Union an "evil empire," Reagan unapologetically spelt out the "ideals and principles" that brought him into politics.
"The basis of those ideals and principles," said Reagan, "is a commitment to freedom and personal liberty, a commitment that itself is grounded in the much deeper realization: That freedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly acknowledged.
"The American experiment in democracy rests on this insight," Reagan said, "its discovery was the great triumph of our Founding Fathers voiced by William Penn: 'If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.'"
CNN reported last week that American Atheists would be sponsoring a booth at this year's CPAC.
American Atheists' point of view is plainly discernible from its website, which features a recent press release applauding President Barack Obama.
"Obama's administration has recognized atheism as having a place at the table more than any previous administration," the group said. "There is still a lot of work to do, and we have a long way to go, but this is progress."
Explaining American Atheists involvement in CPAC, ACU Communications Director Meghan Snyder told CNN: "The folks we have been working with stand for many of the same liberty-oriented policies and principles we stand for."
In the same article, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins rebutted this contention.
"Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God?" said Perkins.
"If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the 'C' in CPAC," Perkins said.
Also in the same CNN article, American Atheists President David Silverman said: "The Christian right should be angry that we are going in to enlighten conservatives. The Christian right should be threatened by us."
By the end of the day, ACU had disinvited American Atheists — not because it was promoting atheism but because of the way it attacked Christians.
"We spoke with Mr. Silverman about his divisive and inappropriate language," ACU Communications Director Snyder told Breitbart.com. "He pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. He has left us with no choice but to return his money."
William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review, described atheism as the main enemy in his classic first book, "God and Man at Yale." "I myself believe the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world," said Buckley. "I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level."
Whittaker Chambers, an early senior editor for National Review, expressed the same view in his own classic book, Witness.
Ronald Reagan, the greatest American political leader of the 20th century, often cited Chambers — including at CPAC.
"The crisis of the Western world, Whittaker Chambers reminded us, exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God," the newly elected president told the 1981 CPAC. "'The Western world does not know it,' he said about our struggle, 'but it already possesses the answer to this problem — but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as communism's faith in man.'"
"This is the real task before us," Reagan told CPAC, "to reassert our commitment as a nation to a law higher than our own, to renew our spiritual strength."
Two years later, in his Evil Empire speech, Reagan declared: "We will never abandon our belief in God."
"A number of years ago, I heard a young father addressing a tremendous gathering in California," said Reagan. "It was during the time of the Cold War when communism and our own way of life were very much on people's minds. He was speaking to that subject.
"Suddenly," said Reagan, "I heard him saying, 'I love my little girls more than anything in the world, but I would rather see them,' and I thought—oh, no, not that. But I had underestimated him.
"He went on: 'I would rather see them die now, still believing in God, than have them grow up under communism and one day die no longer believing in God,'" Reagan continued.
"There were thousands of young people in that audience. They came to their feet with shouts of joy," Reagan said. "They recognized the profound truth in what he had said."
Now the ACU seems ready to welcome the right types of atheist groups to promote their godless vision to the young Americans attending CPAC.