Texas has a long history of atheism, although most of its followers like Madalyn Murray O'Hair who moved to Austin in the mid-1960s and founded the American Atheists, were few in number and didn't have a whole lot of power.
But lately there's been an increase in the number of Texans who've decided no, they don't believe in religion in any form. A recent Pew poll showed that the number of Americans who say they're "unaffiliated" with any religion is rising fast: Around one in five Americans now describe themselves that way, up five percentage points in the last five years. For people under 30, the number is closer to one in three.
This upsets people like David Stokes, a Houston street preacher who equates atheism with homosexuality and other practices he considers immoral. At a recent meeting in Austin, the sign-carrying Stokes faced off against the crowd and the likes of Aron Ra.
Ra, as it turns out, is a popular "YouTube atheist" from Garland, with more than 60,000 subscribers tuning in each week to hear his shows.
"Atheists aren't the problem here," Ra says, referring to the United States. "For one thing, we'd never force impressionable minors to recite a daily mantra that there is no God, because we're not the ones imposing our views onto other people's children. It's not the atheists impeding medical research either. Neither are we the ones who are against free or affordable health care, nor are we the ones trying to minimize or criminalize women's health care."
Ra believes the religious right is dragging the United States down and Texas perhaps fastest of all. "I've been to the European continent, and I've been to the Australian continent," he says. "And I can tell you from experience that overseas, the academics don't remember the Alamo. They don't talk about NASA. They're laughing at our lamentable politics."
Writer Anna Merlan has been talking to Texas atheists about where they are now and what they see the world becoming for their children in the future. Check out her report "Atheism Rising," this week's cover story in the Houston Press.