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CPAC drops atheist group after backlash

After an uproar on the right, conservative gathering CPAC is barring both atheist and gay groups from participating in the convention.
Audience members listen during the 2013 CPAC conference, March 16, 2013.
Audience members listen during the 2013 CPAC conference, March 16, 2013.

First gays, now atheists. The list of groups not welcome at conservative gathering CPAC, a traditional showcase for national Republican stars, is growing by the day. 

The American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, announced on Tuesday that they would no longer allow American Atheists to sponsor a convention booth after previously granting them permission.

David Silverman, head of the atheist group, had told CNN Monday that he hoped to court "many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives" at the event. CPAC spokeswoman Meghan Snyder defended Silverman's inclusion in the same article, on the basis that “conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”

By Tuesday afternoon, however, Snyder told Politico that CPAC had reversed its decision in response to Silverman's “divisive and inappropriate language."

The fight threatens to distract from CPAC's main proceedings, which features speeches from an all-star lineup of potential presidential candidates, among them Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. 

ACU's decision to drop American Atheists came after a backlash from both religious conservatives and more socially liberal conservatives alike. 

On the right, activists denounced the inclusion of atheists as an affront to the movement's traditional emphasis on faith. Media Research Center president Brent Bozell called for a conservative boycott of CPAC, telling Politico that even after the decision to drop American Atheists, the ACU was guilty of "giving oxygen to an organization destroying the conservative movement."

Among more tolerant conservatives, a number of commentators complained that CPAC had allowed the American Atheists to open a booth while still banning GOProud, a gay Republican group, from doing the same. 

"It's hard to explain to skeptics how the GOProud/American Atheists double standard isn't rooted in something ugly," Guy Benson, senior political editor at Town Hall, said on Twitter

Allahpundit, an influential anonymous blogger on the right who identifies as atheist, complained that the move was especially troubling given that GOProud is closely aligned with conservative and Republican consensus on most issues. 

"There will be gays at CPAC; if the event’s all about freedom of expression and representing the diversity of the movement, why not a booth for them?" the columnist wrote in a blog post.