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 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 (the appointee will hold the office until a special election is held in 2014 to determine who will fill the final two years of DeMint’s term). 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 equality and the separation of church and state. “I really hope there’s enough publicity about my willingness to become 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 on the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science website, Dawkins asks people to show their support for Silverman by writing to Gov. Haley. He pleads the case for installing an atheist senator in 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.


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