TAMPA — It can be taboo to talk about religion in public and especially atheism.

That's why a new study from the University of Kentucky might surprise you.

It says the real number of atheists in the United States may be way higher than we thought:

It estimates more than a quarter of all American adults are atheists. They don't believe in God, or a higher power.

That's about 62 million people - the population of Florida and California combined!

But the same study says a lot of those atheists never talk about it.

Something else that might surprise you:

A Gallup poll found 54 percent of Americans would vote for a presidential candidate who was openly atheist.
About 90 percent said they'd vote for a Catholic candidate, 80 percent said they'd vote for a Mormon, and 58 percent said they would vote for a Muslim candidate.

We are getting answers to your questions from Jim Peterson of Atheists of Florida, who does want to talk about being an atheist.

RIVERA: What the study has said is a lot of atheists in the US are afraid or feel like there's some reason they can't come out and talk about it. What do you think that is?

JIM PETERSON: Over the years, from the very beginning, it was apparent that atheists were the subjects of a good deal of prejudice, discrimination and outright bigotry. But a lot of people have become disenamored of religion altogether. They no longer feel that it's relevant to their life.

RIVERA: A lot of people ask, "can you be a good person and be an atheist at the same time?"

PETERSON: Of course!


PETERSON: Well, pretty much do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There's no God in that formula. Morality does not grow from religion. Morality grows from the practice of everyday life.
We are the ones who have to make up our minds.

Nobody comes into this world a Presbyterian. You have to learn how to do it. Or Jewish, or a Hindu, or Muslim, or Catholic, or anything else. You have to learn it. And some of us get to unlearn it.

RIVERA: Do you think people, when they hear someone is an atheist, make an instant judgment on that?

PETERSON: If the only thing they know about someone is that person is an atheist, then they will immediately have some sort of a reaction.

RIVERA: What are the negative connotations along with the idea of atheism?

PETERSON: They don't have any sense of responsibility to the broader community, they don't participate, they don't care.

RIVERA: Are they wrong?

PETERSON: Yes. Atheists as a group or people. They're just regular folks.

RIVERA: If there's one thing you want people to take away from a conversation with an atheist something people don't do every day what would that be?

PETERSON: Think. Just think about your situation. Think about the world. Compare and contrast. Learn about your religion, no matter what it is right now. Everything that is human has something to tell us. And as a whole picture - it demonstrates that we have a life. And it is not dependent upon a god.