This weekend, as thousands of Utahns celebrate Easter and Passover, hundreds of people will gather at the American Atheists national conference in Salt Lake City.
According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, 16 percent of Americans identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing.”
American Atheist representative Dave Muscato spoke with UPR from the conference. He said the 51-year-old non-profit was founded to promote the complete separation of religion and government, to fight discrimination against atheists and provide a community for people who sometimes feel isolated. That last point is one of the main reasons Salt Lake was chosen to host this year’s conference.
“There are a lot of communities in this country where if you’re not Christian, you don’t quite fit in. But if you’re not Mormon and you live in Utah you really don’t fit in, or at least that’s the perception of it,” Muscato said. “Part of what we wanted to do was help people understand that there are a lot of atheists here; that it’s okay to be atheist; that there is, in fact, an entire community of atheists.”
More than 35 speakers and panel events are scheduled. Though the conference typically only offers multi-day passes, Muscato said higher demand by closet atheists led organizers to begin offering single-day passes.
“For a lot of atheists living here, if they’re not out to their family and their friends and their workplace, it can be very suspicious for them to not participate in certain religious activities,” he added. “With this Sunday being Easter Sunday, for a lot of people that we’ve talked to they’ve said, ‘I definitely want to come to this convention, I’m an atheists, but my family doesn’t know, and if I were missing on Easter Sunday that would raise way too much suspicion.’”
Muscato said 800 people were in attendance on Friday afternoon. The last time the conference was held in Utah was 1981.