Representation Matters: City Treasurer Neil Polzin The Humanist

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.

City Treasurer Neil Polzin

Representing Covina, California

“By being open about my nonreligious identity, I highlighted the importance of secular governance and the need to protect the separation of church and state. It was a testament to the changing attitudes in our community and a reflection of our collective desire for an inclusive, representative government.”

City Treasurer Neil Polzin (he/him) was elected in 2022. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Cal Poly Pomona, a Master’s in Philosophy from Cal State Los Angeles, and an MBA from UC Irvine, he brings a rich educational background to public service. In his day job, Polzin is a Sales Executive at an EV start-up, where he plays a pivotal role in advancing sustainable transportation solutions.

With a two-decade track record of activism in the secular community, Polzin has been a steadfast champion for the inclusion of atheists, particularly secular youth. His advocacy gained national attention in 2009 when he was dismissed from his position as an Aquatics Director at a Boy Scout camp in Southern California due to his atheism. This incident highlighted the ongoing religious tests within Scouting and sparked wider conversations about inclusivity.

Polzin’s nonprofit career began on the Board of Directors for the Secular Student Alliance in 2005, transitioning to significant leadership roles as Board Chair for Camp Quest and longtime Director for Camp Omni, a secular summer camp in California that features science, natural wonder, and humanist values.

Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?

Neil Polzin: Like many atheists, I once believed running for office wasn’t even worth considering. My journey into activism began in the mid-2000s, starting with the Secular Student Alliance and expanding to other organizations, including the then-nascent Secular Coalition for America.

Later that decade I provoked dismissal from the Boy Scouts due to my atheism, and went public with the story. My social media name ‘HeathenTheVegan’ hardly concealed my progressive views. No way I could be elected Dog Catcher.

I remained engaged in secular activism over the next decade, regularly attending movement conferences like those hosted by the American Humanist Association. Year after year, I listened to Ron Millar [of the Center for Freethought Equality] advocate for secular individuals running for office. I always supported the notion—for someone else. Given my public history, I dismissed the thought that I could be one of those candidates.

The 2016 election was a pivotal moment, prompting many, including myself, to seek more active roles in local politics. Despite residing in predominantly blue Los Angeles County, my local City Council was controlled by Christian nationalists. This spurred me to investigate what it would take to run in my local race.

I was surprised to find that the requirements for candidacy were quite minimal: only twenty valid signatures and a $25 fee were necessary in my town of 50,000. However, I also learned that for over two decades, most council elections had gone uncontested, a situation that preserved the status quo, favoring the incumbent Christian nationalist majority. Ron’s call to action echoed louder in my mind.

By the time I began my research, the filing period for the city’s off-season March 2017 elections was already open—and quickly closing. Once again the stage was set to be a non-competitive race. Despite my lack of experience, I saw an opportunity with little to lose. I decided to dive in, pulling my nomination papers.

I didn’t win that race, but it marked the beginning of my journey.

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

Polzin: As City Treasurer, my primary responsibility centers around the stewardship of city funds and resources, as well as vigilantly guarding against their misuse. At first glance, one might assume such duties are largely unaffected by personal worldviews, whether religious or secular.

However, the reality in our city challenges this assumption. Despite being part of a region perceived as progressive, we find ourselves entangled in practices that blur the lines between church and state—such as maintaining Police Chaplains, initiating Council meetings with prayer, hosting public meetings in churches adorned with Christian symbols, and subsidizing religious youth groups that discriminate. Yes, even here, in the heart of the progressive utopia known as Los Angeles County.

From my perspective, adopting a secular approach to governance is not about promoting atheism; it is about ensuring neutrality and inclusivity. Given the entrenched nature of Christian privilege in our city’s practices, even a modest move toward secularism is both revolutionary and essential. It redefines the role of city governance to one that truly serves all citizens equally, without bias or favoritism towards any particular religious viewpoint.

In this context, my nonreligious worldview doesn’t just impact my policy platform; it fundamentally shapes it. By striving for a secular approach, I aim to promote fairness, equality, and the strict separation of church and state, ensuring that our city’s policies and resources serve the common good, devoid of religious influence.

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

Polzin: When I first ran for office in 2017, the importance of openly identifying as nonreligious was unclear to me. My atheism was no secret, yet I refrained from making it a part of my public persona.

However, in the years that followed (after I lost that race), my role in the community shifted dramatically. I transitioned from simply being an atheist to becoming known as the town atheist, actively challenging the city council in public comments on issues like the invocation of prayer at meetings and the existence of a Chaplain program. My efforts included numerous public information requests, revealing a Chaplain emailing the Police Chief to take care of a ticket.

During that time, I was the local activist filling out legal intake forms for organizations including the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and American Atheists. Each organization taking the city and its elected officials to task in different ways for breaching the separation of church and state.

It wasn’t until after years of being a persistent advocate for secularism that I ran for citywide office again in 2022—and won. The victory wasn’t attributable to a single factor; it was the result of numerous small changes over the years. Yet, one significant difference was my unwavering stand against the Christian nationalist tendencies within our city’s governance. This stance resonated not only with secularists but also with a broader audience of constituents eager to preserve a pluralistic society.

By being open about my nonreligious identity, I highlighted the importance of secular governance and the need to protect the separation of church and state. It was a testament to the changing attitudes in our community and a reflection of our collective desire for an inclusive, representative government.

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

Polzin: During the 2022 race, I encountered a broad spectrum of reactions to my nonreligious stance, the vast majority of which were surprisingly positive. However, one exception stands out vividly.

While door-knocking, I approached a residence and was greeted by a middle-aged man. After introducing myself and explaining my candidacy, his response took me aback.

“Are you one of those godless baby-killing atheist democrats?” I had to pause, considering the layers of misunderstanding. Was “godless atheist” a double negative? Was baby killing referring to general pro-choice stances or specific QAnon conspiracy theories? Not knowing any other way to answer, I replied: “Well, yes, I guess I am,” which promptly led to the door swiftly closing.

It’s crucial to note, however, that this was an isolated incident. In stark contrast, I’ve had countless positive interactions. Voters from diverse backgrounds, including local atheists, members of minority religions, and liberal Christians, have expressed their gratitude. They value a secular government that embraces inclusivity and resists the exclusionary co-optation of religion.

Moreover, the overwhelming support from secular communities, through volunteers and donors, was instrumental to my campaign. Their commitment to promoting non-religious representation in office was evident in their willingness to invest time and resources. This underscores the importance of community backing for candidates who champion secular values, it’s a collective effort from each of us to ensure our governance reflects a truly pluralistic society.

To learn more about City Treasurer Neil Polzin:

City of Covina, CA Administration page
Meet the four men running for Covina City Council in March (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

The post Representation Matters: City Treasurer Neil Polzin appeared first on

“I highlighted the importance of secular governance and the need to protect the separation of church and state.”
The post Representation Matters: City Treasurer Neil Polzin appeared first on