First out congressman Barney Frank advises atheist politicians to stay in the closet

The first openly gay Member of Congress, Barney Frank, has advised politicians to remain in the closet about their atheism.

Mr Frank, who came out as gay in 1987 amid a scandal over a male prostitute, retired in 2013 after 32 years in the House of Representatives representing Massachusetts.

The politician – who was the first Jewish congressman for 100 years and the first openly gay congressman ever – opened up to Big Think about his lack of faith.

He said: “The problem with atheism politically starts with the phrase.

“I have advised people who are themselves non-believers, not to use the word atheist, it has a harshness to it.

“Religion is important to people. It has a history of being seen as a source of good behaviour.

“From the politician’s standpoint, the question is why pick a fight that doesn’t have to be waged?”

Of his own lack of faith, he continued: “I never expressed the fact that I was not a believer in any theistic approach, because it was never relevant.

“I did fight very hard to prevent rules and laws that put non-believers at a disadvantage… but beyond that it didn’t come up.”

He added: “In my own case there was another reason I didn’t talk about it, I’m Jewish.

“Obviously there was a strong terrible history of persecution of Jews. Judaism is a religion, but it is also an ethnicity.

“For many of us Jewish-Americans today, it is an ethnicity more than, or even to the exclusion of, the religion.

“When I was the first Jewish person to be elected to the Congress of the United States since 1884… it would have looked as if I was separating myself from the Jews, and I wouldn’t want to do that.

“Even today, secular as I am, when the high Holy days, I am not going to be seen in public doing things other Jews wouldn’t do.”