NOTE: In an informal poll of City Paper readers, Herb Silverman beat all other contenders for the Senate appointment by a landslide. Nice job, Internet. See the results of the poll here.---
This just in from the Department of Long Shots: Herb Silverman, South Carolina's most famous atheist, is in the running to fill U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint's seat when the conservative legislator retires partway through his term in January. And Richard Dawkins, the English biologist and author of The God Delusion, has started a letter-writing campaign to put him in office.
Silverman, a former math professor at the College of Charleston and current president of the Secular Coalition for America, knows he doesn't have a snowball's chance in South Carolina. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley will appoint DeMint's replacement, and likely candidates include prominent Republicans like U.S. Rep. Tim Scott and former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster.
If Haley were to pick him, Silverman says, "It would shatter my faithlessness. I might reconsider my belief in miracles." He says Dawkins approached him about the idea, and the point is to raise awareness for the causes of religious (and non-religious) equality and the separation of church and state. "I really hope there's enough publicity about my willingness to become a senator so that at least Nikki Haley has to acknowledge this and make a comment about it," Silverman says.
This isn't the first time Silverman has run for office to make a point. In 1990, after learning about a state law that denied public office to anyone "who denies the existence of a Supreme Being," he made a run for governor and lost spectacularly to Republican incumbent Carroll Campbell. In 1997, after Silverman attempted to become a notary public without saying "so help me God" in his oath, the S.C. Supreme Court unanimously struck down the law as unconstitutional.
In a press release, Dawkins asks people to show their support for Silverman by writing to Gov. Haley. Dawkins, who previously wrote the foreword for Silverman's autobiography Candidate Without a Prayer, pleads the case for installing an atheist senator from South Carolina:
South Carolina has recently shown itself to be a leader in political diversity, with an Indian-American Governor and the only African-American Republican in Congress. I think the time is now ripe for South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to appoint Herb Silverman as the first acknowledged Jewish Atheist in the United States Senate.
Silverman is careful to point out that he would actually be the first acknowledged Jewish atheist in the Senate. Only one member of Congress to date has openly confirmed his atheism — Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from California who narrowly lost his bid for re-election in November — but a silent poll released by the Secular Coalition for America in June showed that 28 of the 535 members of Congress did not believe in a higher power.
"We're hoping more will come out so that [Stark] won't be viewed as the only one, kind of like Barney Frank was the first gay to come out when we knew there were lots of closeted ones," Silverman says. "Now it's easier for others to come out, and we hope for the same thing within the secular movement."
Whoever is appointed to fill DeMint's seat will hold the office until a special election is held in 2014 to determine who will serve the final two years of DeMint's six-year term.
Note: Voting for the poll below is closed. Click here to see the results.