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-four 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 Athena Hollins
Representing Minnesota’s District 66B
“When I stand up as a secular person, I can use my privilege to highlight the fact that there are MANY voices at the table—Muslim, Buddhist, Shamanist, Agnostic—and they all deserve to be heard as well. When we design our laws to not favor one group, we make it easier for all groups to exist and thrive.”
Representative Athena Hollins was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2020, and was re-elected in 2022. She serves in House leadership as Majority Whip and as Vice Chair of the Rules and Legislative Administration Committee. She also serves on the Committees on Property Tax Division, Climate and Energy Finance and Policy, and Public Safety Finance and Policy. She is also a co-chair of the Minnesota Secular Government caucus.
Hollins grew up in rural Hawaii and is the proud daughter of a small-business-owning veteran and a social worker. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2005 from Reed College, where she started her activism by volunteering with the Queer Alliance, Amnesty International, and the Feminist Student Union. She then earned a scholarship to the University of St. Thomas law school, where she earned her J.D. in 2011. In law school, she continued her student organizing work on the Lawyer’s Council on Social Justice, the Black Law Students Association, and Out!Law, the LGBTQ+ student association. During law school, she interned at the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights.
After passing the bar exam, she worked in family law, helping people struggling with substance abuse, domestic violence, and immigration issues. She then spent four years at Thomson Reuters in community relations, where she managed community grants and giving, employee volunteer activities, and diversity and inclusion efforts.
Inspired to make her neighborhood a great place for her first daughter Hypatia to grow up in, she joined the Payne-Phalen Community Council, where she was elected as president within a year. During her time serving on the Council, she increased the board’s diversity and recruited people that had not previously been involved in neighborhood decision making, transforming it into a majority minority board.
Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?
Rep. Athena Hollins: It sounds simple, but my children honestly motivated me to run for office. My first instance of realizing that I needed to get more involved, was when my five-year-old daughter refused a Happy Meal, because she didn’t want to contribute to more plastic being in the world. I have never been so proud and also so sad in one singular moment. I realized that this wasn’t her responsibility—she had inherited the issue of climate change, just like I had. But that cycle would stop with me. I would do everything in my power so that she wouldn’t have to still be fighting these battles when she is thirty-five years old.
Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?
Hollins: At the legislature I have prioritized taking bold action to confront climate change, and caring for and uplifting the communities that are disproportionately impacted by our climate crisis, specifically low-income and communities of color. My nonreligious worldview impacts this aspect of my work every day, because I believe in science. I believe in research, trends and double blind studies.
The science shows that climate change is being accelerated at an exponential pace, by the hands of human beings who have chosen profit over the longevity of our planet and the safety of our children. As a person who follows science, I believe it is my obligation to confront this issue head on.
Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity?
Hollins: In all honesty, when I was first elected, it wasn’t that important to me to highlight my secularism. I grew up in Hawaii where no religion can claim more than a third of the population and over twenty% of the population is Buddhist. When you’re living in a community where everyone has wildly different ideas about religion and morality the most respectful way to build a society is with secularism.
However, with the continued rise in white Christian nationalism, it has become more critical to openly push back against their attempts to dictate our culture and override our democracy. Christian nationalism threatens to dismantle all of the progress we have made with regards to civil rights, human rights, and feminism. Followers of these groups seek to silence anyone who doesn’t align with their extremely flawed belief system. When I stand up as a secular person, I can use my privilege to highlight the fact that there are MANY voices at the table—Muslim, Buddhist, Shamanist, Agnostic—and they all deserve to be heard as well. When we design our laws to not favor one group, we make it easier for all groups to exist and thrive.
Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?
Hollins: I have had almost no response about lack of religion. The most I have gotten is repeated offers to have me join local Unitarian chapters. I’ve worked alongside religious groups when our values align, and I think the community I represent is more concerned with my actions than they are about my private belief system.
To learn more about Representative Athena Hollins