The first Reason Rally was a public gathering for secularism and religious skepticism held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2012. The rally was sponsored by major atheistic and secular organizations of the United States and was regarded as a "Woodstock for atheists and skeptics". A second Reason Rally was held on June 4, 2016 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C..
Speakers and performers at the first rally 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. 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. 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.
According to the official website of the first rally, 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." The website had predicted it would be "the largest secular event in world history." The Atlantic said 20,000 people were in attendance. Religion News Service said 8,000–10,000. The documentary The Unbelievers says that over 30,000 people attended the rally. There are no official crowd estimates of events on the Mall.
The second rally, 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". The weekend of the Rally included advocacy events and conference sessions.
Purpose of the first rally
According to the first rally's official website, the event had three main goals:
- To encourage attendees (and those who couldn’t attend) to come "out of the closet" as secular Americans, or supporters of secular equality.
- To dispel stereotypes ("there is no one 'True Atheist' "). Participation by non-theists of all political persuasions, ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds was encouraged. The intent was to show that there are secular Americans in every major demographic.
- Legislative equality. Secular Americans should be permitted to run for public office and adequately represent non-theists, just as theists in office represent their constituents. Non-theists deserve a seat at the table just as theists do; the rally should put secular values "on the radar" of American voters.
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.”
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".
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".
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.