One of the most helpful things that Andrew Sullivan has done for political debate was to coin (or at least popularize) the term “Christianist” to differentiate religious belief from a specific political agenda that (in its current form) wants to fuse authoritarian state power with the certainty of evangelical protestant belief.
“I don’t believe there’s such a thing as the separation of church and state. In fact, the First Amendment to the Constitution actually calls on the United States Congress to make sure, to ensure that people are allowed to practice their religion.”
Or so says Leo Berman, sponsor of a bill in Texas to create a mandatory bible-study elective in all Texas schools. In this case, it appears that Berman does not consider atheism to be religion, it is the absence of religion in his eyes. At the same time though, one of the more common statements that those pursuing Christianist goals will make is that atheism is just another religion.
It seems in fact that the rhetorical divide is entirely obvious, when attempting to fuse religion with state power, Christianists determine that atheism is not a religion (therefore denying that atheists’ rights are infringed by such attempts). When attempting to limit the presence of ideas that they consider proxies for atheism in the public square (most often this means evolution), Christianists resort to declaring atheism “just another religion.”
For the record, a query of atheist websites reveals that most atheists do not consider what they believe to be religion (I guess my little business idea of selling Richard Dawkins icons is a bust now). I thought about this and remembered that many protestant Christians are also fond of making the claim that they have a relationship with Jesus, not a religion. I suspect that neither group though would want these assertions to undercut their legally defined religious freedoms.