Representation Matters: State Senator Ryan Braunberger

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 120 elected officials at the local, state, and federal level who identify with the atheist and humanist community serving in 34 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 valuesyou can see a list of these elected officials here.

State Senator Ryan Braunberger

Representing North Dakota’s 10th Senate District

“My nonreligious worldview, far from being a barrier, actually fosters an environment of inclusivity and understanding. It enables me to listen to and respect various viewpoints, while always maintaining a steadfast commitment to upholding people’s religious freedoms.”

State Senator Ryan Braunberger was first elected to the North Dakota State Senate as an openly gay atheist in 2022. He is one of only four Democratic Senators in the forty-seven districts across the state. In addition to his role as Minority Caucus Leader, he serves on the Committees of Judiciary, State and Local Government, Workforce, Energy Development and Transmission, the Commission on Juvenile Justice, and the Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve Education Coordination Council.

Braunberger earned his associate degree in Business Administration from Southeastern Technical College, and his bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He is a proud member of the National Association of Social Workers. Prior to his election, he worked as an independent contractor and in the insurance industry.

As an active member of the LGBTQ community in North Dakota, Braunberger has spoken out against numerous anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in the North Dakota legislature.

Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?

Ryan Braunberger: My motivation to run for office began when I returned to school for a degree in social work. While getting my degree, I learned about the need for specific social policies, such as those protecting civil rights, affordable housing, and healthcare access. In the state of North Dakota, there has been a continuous attack on the rights of the LGBTQ community. I knew I could no longer stand by and watch as individuals in the state legislature attempt to erode my community’s rights.

I originally planned to earn some experience in the social work field. However, during my internship, I was approached about an opportunity to run for a newly formed district. I agreed to throw my hat into the ring because when a door opens, you take it.

Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?

Braunberger: My priorities are renters’ rights, affordable childcare, and protecting human rights. I believe individuals have a right to housing, which must be protected regardless of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ethnicity. I also believe that parents should never have to choose between pursuing a career and having children.

I’m fighting for human rights as religious individuals in my state are actively trying to dictate how people should live based on their religious teachings. My nonreligious view helps me understand that people have the right to determine their destiny.

Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity?

Braunberger: Residing in a state with a significant representation of religious conservatives, I am acutely aware of the value of diverse perspectives. My nonreligious worldview, far from being a barrier, actually fosters an environment of inclusivity and understanding. It enables me to listen to and respect various viewpoints while always maintaining a steadfast commitment to upholding people’s religious freedoms. This commitment extends to all, regardless of their beliefs, as I firmly believe in respecting diverse viewpoints.

Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?

Braunberger: I have had little response to my nonreligious identity. Talking to individuals of religious backgrounds has been relatively positive, including admiration. I did get questions about how my moral compass is guided. I explain that I believe in allowing individuals to be themselves and always be kind. I also explain that I often use religious texts to learn lessons, such as what we learn from Greek mythology.

There is a changing tide amongst religious individuals in North Dakota, with some even opposing the views of the staunchly conservative. This shift in attitudes has created an environment where diverse perspectives are more accepted. I keep it well known that I respect people’s views, which are meant to be respected but should not be used to dictate how others live their lives. Religion is a right to have but should not be used to control others.

To learn more about State Representative Elinor Levin:

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