(Update: Another ACU Board member has responded to CNSNews.com's question about the propriety of allowing atheists to sponsor a booth at CPAC.)
(CNSNews.com) – Morton Blackwell, a longtime member of the American Conservative Union’s (ACU) Board of Directors, said that American Atheists should not have been invited to participate in the ACU-sponsored Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which will be held in Washington, D.C. March 6-8th.
“My answer is no,” Blackwell replied when CNSNews.com asked him whether, as a matter of principle, the atheist group should have ever been invited to the annual conservative conference in the first place.
“CPAC was originally supposed to represent the conservative movement, and that means the principles of American conservatism in many ways embodied by Ronald Reagan: limited government, free enterprise, a strong national defense, and traditional values,” explained Blackwell, who is also president of the Leadership Institute, an official sponsor of CPAC.
And while “we certainly should not insist that every participant in CPAC is in agreement on every public policy question," he said, they should “not be openly hostile to any other elements of conservative principles,” including “attacks on traditional values, including religious faith."
Blackwell was the only one of more than two dozen ACU Board members and CPAC sponsors contacted by CNSNews.com who was willing to go on record opposing CPAC’s decision to allow American Atheists to set up a booth at the annual gathering, which is attended by hundreds of conservative activists from across the country.
Update: ACU Board member Jameson Campaigne, Jr., who was unable to respond until after this story was published, told us later in an email: "First I'd heard of of this. Sorry to have missed your deadline. Odd they were even allowed to have a (mere) booth in the first place. Too many new young staff at CPAC, including a subcontractor thousands of miles away who knows nothing of politics."
As of Friday morning, ACU Board members Al Cardenas, Tom Winter, Becky Norton Dunlop, John Bolton, Carly Fiorina, Van Hipp, Jr., James Lacy, David Keene and Suhail Khan had not responded to CNSNews.com's repeated inquiries. We were unable to contact Muriel Coleman or Paul Erickson.
CNN reported on February 25 that CPAC had confirmed that the atheist group would be hosting a booth at CPAC, quoting conference spokeswoman Meghan Snyder, in explaining the invitation to the atheists, that “the folks we have been working with stand for many of the same Liberty-oriented polices and principles we stand for.”
However, the invitation was withdrawn hours later, amid controversy, after the group’s president, David Silverman, told CNN: “I am not worried about making the Christian right angry. The Christian right should be angry that we are going in to enlighten conservatives. The Christian right should be threatened by us.”
“American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government,” Snyder later explained in a statement to reporters.
But yanking the group’s CPAC credentials did little to assuage conservative leaders who were outraged that the militantly atheist group had been included in the first place.
“The invitation extended by the ACU, [ACU Chairman] Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself,” said Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, of which CNSNews.com is a division.
“How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?” Bozell said.
“It makes absolutely no difference to me that CPAC and ACU have backed down and removed the booth,” Bozell added, declaring that “no conservative should have anything to do with this conference. If you do, you are giving oxygen to an organization destroying the conservative movement.”
Bozell was seconded by Citizens United President David Bossie.
“When you have a conservative stalwart like Brent Bozell pulling out of CPAC because of the mismanagement of a conference that is supposed to be about conservatism, not republicanism, the conference has lost its way,” Bossie told Breitbart News that same day.
“It is truly a shame that every year it seems we have drama surrounding this conference because ACU leadership forgets the three-legged stool of conservatism, which is a strong national defense, belief in the free market, and traditional family values….If we lose those principles, the conservative movement is dead,” Bossie said.
On Thursday, CNSNews.com contacted members of ACU’s Board to ask if the atheist group should have been invited to CPAC in the first place. Only three board members besides Blackwell responded to our calls and emails, and of those three, only one expressed an opinion on the matter.
Alan Gottlieb said he had “no problem inviting atheists to attend as long as they support the same conservative principles. But divisive language is a reason for them not to be there.”
“The Board does not make those determinations and I’m not going to speak for the Board and I’m not going to speak for me personally,” ACU Board member Charlie Gerow told CNSNews.com.
ACU board member Joseph Bast had “no comment.”
CNSNews.com posed the same question to 16 conservative groups that are sponsoring CPAC at various levels, asking them whether American Atheists should have been invited to the conservative conference in the first place.
Only three responded to our emails and phone calls, and they proved just as reluctant as ACU Board members to comment on including atheists at CPAC.
Tom Minnery, president of Citizen Link, did not answer the question specifically, instead saying in reply, "We were surprised to learn that the atheists were invited to CPAC, and we believe CPAC made the right decision in revoking that invitation. It's always good to recall Thomas Jefferson's statement: ‘The God who gave us life gave us liberty.’”
Carol Houseal, director of Member Communications at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), told CNSnews.com: “Well, I'm not going to make a public comment on that. Obviously, we're not a political organization whatsoever, so what CPAC decides to do or not do is their political part…We are an educational organization and we will be there to show what we do. So, that's all I can comment on."
“I have my own personal views but I cannot say them on behalf of ISI," she said. "And ISI can't comment because of our 501(c)3 standards that we have here. I could not offer you a comment for a news piece."
Madison Peace, assistant to the editor at National Review, told CNSNews.com that she was not certain if NR had taken an editorial stand on whether it was right to have invited American Atheists in the first place.
She advised people to read the two articles posted at NR about the topic, and said she would try to get a definitive response to our question from the senior people at NR.
One of the articles, entitled “Yes, Atheism and Conservatism Are Compatible” by Charles C.W. Cooke, a staff writer for NR, states that “If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative.”
In the second article--“CPAC is Right: Disinviting that atheist groups makes sense”--A.J. Delgado writes, “Of course it would be fine for CPAC to host a group called 'Atheists for Conservatism” or “Libertarian Atheists and Proud of It, Suckas!' But American Atheists is not a conservative group; it does not even purport to be a conservative group. More important, it is a group that seems openly hostile towards Christians or other people of faith."
Other CPAC sponsors that did not respond to CNSNews.com’s inquiry by the time this story was published are:
One America News Network
Tea Party Patriots
Townhall Media/Regnery Publishing
Koch Industries, Inc
Red Alert Politics
TPNN (Tea Party News Network)
Run Ben Run
CNSNews.com asked Blackwell if the ACU Board should insist on an official policy guideline making it clear that groups that are openly hostile to any one of the four major pillars of conservative thought--including traditional values--will not be allowed to participate in future CPACs.
“I would hope that lesson should now be obvious,” he replied.