Literally the last thing you expect to see at the Values Voter Summit, the annual gathering of religious conservatives, is a dude wearing an atheism t-shirt. So when I spotted Ron Adams, I had to ask him what the hell or, I guess, what the empty nothingness was going on. “I wanted to see this up close,” he told me. “It was almost like watching a car crash sort of thing. I wanted to see what gets the crowd going.” He said that yesterday he came “incognito,” without the shirt, but he put it on today and “it’s been a success so far because everybody keeps coming to me.” Contrary to what you might expect, “people are being polite. Just having good conversation,” he said. “I like that. That’s why I come to stuff like this.”
It turns out that Adams isn’t the only atheist crashing the Jesus party. Out on the sidewalk in front of the Omni Shoreham, a coalition of atheist groups are manning a table covered in atheist signs, atheist pamphlets, and atheist freebies like bumper stickers and buttons — a rebuttal to the largely religious booths you would see inside the convention.
“We’re here to counter the majority view of the people that are here in the Values Voter Summit,” Atheist Jeff told me, “which is more of an arrogant, morally presumptuous point of view where they feel that it’s okay for people in a public sphere to proselytize their religious beliefs and introduce it into government.” Jeff said they’d heard lots of support from locals (and some Ron Paul supporters), and have had “mostly respectful” discussions with Values Voters, save for the one guy who “said we’re going to hell” and “maybe some obscene gestures, you know, people flipping us off.”
As I was leaving, two self-described pro-life Values Voters stopped by the table. “It’s good to talk to people,” one woman told me. “It’s always nice to just have a conversation. I don’t think it’s something you need to ignore. I think it’s good to have a debate, especially philosophically.”