This is part of The Humanist’s monthly series highlighting openly nonreligious elected officials across the nation. Because of the work of the Center for Freethought Equality, the political and advocacy arm of the American Humanist Association, there are over 100 elected officials at the local, state, and federal level who identify with the atheist and humanist community serving in thirty-two states across the country. Join the Center for Freethought Equality to help politically empower the atheist and humanist community—membership is FREE.
The Center for Freethought Equality’s advances have been groundbreaking. Prior to the 2016 election, there were only five state legislators and no members of Congress who publicly identified with our community; because of its efforts, today we have seventy-three state legislators and a member of Congress, Jared Huffman (CA-2), who publicly identify with our community. It is critical that our community connect and engage with the elected officials who represent our community and our values—you can see a list of these elected officials here.
Representative Eric Morrison
Representing Delaware’s 27th House District
“I believe that my nonreligious worldview makes me a better legislator. In everything I do, I practice critical thinking without relying on a religious text or prayer to inform me regarding the right thing to do. I also rely on reputable studies, statistics, and professionals. And of course, I listen to my constituents.”
A lifelong Delawarean, Representative Eric Morrison was raised in Bridgeville and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in 1996 as the first person from his family to attend college. He was first elected to the Delaware House of Representatives in 2020. He sponsored and cosponsored over 300 bills during his first term, and was re-elected to his second term in 2022. He is currently sponsoring a bill that would remove the legal exemption declaring that priests in a confessional setting do not have to report child abuse and neglect to the state, as do all other residents. Morrison currently serves on five House Committees: Corrections, Education, Health & Human Development, Labor, and Veterans Affairs.
Prior to serving in public office, he worked as an educator, in Medicaid, Medicare, and other health insurance programs, and human resources. Deeply active in his local community, he has held volunteer, fundraising, and leadership positions in many Delaware nonprofits and organizations like Delaware Pride, the Food Bank of Delaware, AIDS Delaware, and the Rainbow Chorale of Delaware. As a political activist, he has organized public educational events and forums, led issue campaigns, and helped elect Democratic candidates.
Representative Morrison currently lives in Glasgow, Delaware and has been outspoken both as an open atheist and an open member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?
Eric Morrison: I’ve always been deeply involved in my community but not in politics per se. However, in 2016, I was very inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders during his first bid for the presidency and volunteered for his campaign. When he did not win the nomination, I became very active in local and state politics. The more I learned about my current state representative’s positions on issues and his voting record, the more disappointed I became. For example, he did not support LGBTQ+ equality, abortion rights, or cannabis legalization. I consider myself to be very progressive and I believed that progressive stances on issues were much more in-line with my district. Also, I wanted to start public dialogue about various issues including atheism.
Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?
Morrison: I support public policy that is people-centered and also empowers and lifts up marginalized groups and individuals. It frightens me how much of a say corporations, the wealthy, and the powerful have in our government, our laws, and our political system overall. I believe that my nonreligious worldview makes me a better legislator. In everything I do, I practice critical thinking without relying on a religious text or prayer to inform me regarding the right thing to do. I also rely on reputable studies, statistics, and professionals. And of course, I listen to my constituents. I do not believe that legislators’ decisions should be informed by their own personal religious beliefs. I know that the representative I replaced often “prayed over” decisions regarding legislation (and sometimes refused to vote on legislation) based on his religious beliefs. Because of this, he often voted on legislation in a way that directly conflicted with what the majority of his constituents and Delawareans wanted.
Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity?
Morrison: First, I understand the importance of representation for minority and disenfranchised groups. I believe that I am the first openly atheist individual to serve in the Delaware General Assembly—and possibly in any Delaware elected office. (Also, when I was first elected in 2020, along with two state senators, we were the first openly LGBTQ+ individuals ever to be elected to the Delaware General Assembly in its 244-year history.) Nonreligious individuals should be able to “see themselves” in elected office and in public roles. Second, I want to help educate the public about who we are as nonreligious individuals. We are often misunderstood and demonized, and I want to help break the stigma. Third, I’d like for my example to encourage other nonreligious individuals to run for office. Finally, I want to open a dialogue about the role of religion in government and elected office, and educate individuals about the many pitfalls of it.
Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?
Morrison: When I first ran for office, I was not as open as I am now about my atheism. Whenever anyone asked about my religious views, I was candid. However, I did not want to make it a focus of my campaign because I am aware of the great prejudices that exist against nonreligious individuals, especially candidates for public office. Also, as a first-time candidate, I already faced some prejudices as an openly gay man and a former female impersonator. I committed myself to fully “coming out” as an atheist during my second term, which is what I have done.
Earlier, this year, I introduced a resolution recognizing National Atheist Day. The resolution was very controversial and the first version of it failed. I updated the resolution slightly including recognizing “Atheist Awareness Day” instead of National Atheist Day, and I was able to get the resolution passed (although by a narrow margin). The resolution inspired a lengthy floor debate that helped start a dialogue about nonreligious individuals and the role of religion in government.
It also sent a message to other legislators that there are nonreligious individuals serving in public office in Delaware. Finally, this extended to a public conversation since the resolution received some press and social media coverage. During that time, I received some very ugly feedback but also some very positive feedback, as well as encouraging gratitude from nonreligious Delawareans, other elected officials, and even Delaware General Assembly staff members who consider themselves nonreligious or atheist but are uncomfortable revealing it publicly.
To learn more about Representative Eric Morrison: