Discrimination Against Atheists Is Alive And Well

By Debra Kelly on Friday, July 3, 2015
Selective focus on the word "atheism". Many more word photos in my portfolio...
“The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: / Those with brains, but no religion, / And those with religion, but no brains.” —Abul Ala al-Ma’arri

In A Nutshell

Atheism is on the rise, and it’s also becoming an idea that’s very, very threatening to many. The result is discrimination, hatred, and suspicion, to the point where there are organizations being formed to help support those who are atheists. Studies have suggested that being confronted with an atheist point of view makes others question their own beliefs, think about death more and, consequently, think about what comes after.

The Whole Bushel

If you think of some groups that are suffering under the bootheel of discrimination, prejudice, and oppression, we’re pretty sure that it’s a long list. There’s one group that’s probably not on that list, though, but they’re having such difficulties with discrimination that there are even laws being enacted to protect them.

In Madison, Wisconsin, it’s now illegal to discriminate against an atheist. Strangely, there was no court case or cited examples of atheists being discriminated against (and the law was enacted on April 1), but those behind it say that’s it’s only fair. People are protected for their religious beliefs; people should also be protected for their lack of religious beliefs.

And according to some atheists—and some studies—it’s protection that’s needed.

In 2011, University of British Columbia and University of Oregon psychologists ran a study to see what kind of perceptions people really had about atheists. They surveyed both Americans and Canadians and asked them what kind of person it was that hit a parked car, left the scene, then found—and kept—a money-filled wallet. There were three choices: a teacher, an atheist teacher, or a rapist teacher. The most common response was the atheist teacher.

There are a lot of claims out there of just how damaging being an atheist can be, from having difficulties on dating sites to being denied fundraising opportunities by organizations that don’t agree with a lack of religious belief. A report by the American Humanist Association, the Center for Inquiry, and like-minded organizations was done in 2012, outlining just how much the non-religious were discriminated against. They cite the prevalence of the religious oaths required for taking public office in various countries, and even things like Malta’s official religion (Roman Catholicism) and their constitutional right to teach it in all state schools as a part of a required curriculum.

They also took issue with Ireland’s anti-blasphemy laws, which could result in a €25,000 fine, and laws in the UK that allow for free bus transportation if you’re attending a religious school but not a secular one.

We’ve all heard stories about students and parents protesting things like a mention of God in school or a sign on the wall that bears the Ten Commandments, but some atheists are feeling so threatened and misunderstood by hateful, religious people that there are organizations popping up all over the place to help atheists deal with the discrimination. The Secular Student Alliance is a nonprofit advocacy group that has more than 390 affiliates on high school and college campuses across the States, and Secular Safe Zone is striving to create a network of like-minded atheists who are struggling with alienation, discrimination, and harassment.

A university-run study suggests that there’s something very real about atheist-hate, and they found that it has something to do with how they make others think.

Humans are all very, very aware we’re going to die, and that’s a terrifying thing. Many take comfort in religion, whether that means believing they’re going to be in a better place after death or returning for another chance. It’s something, and it helps to fight off the absolute terror they might live in otherwise. Those that take comfort in religion are forced to face the idea that there might be nothing—and that some people that are comfortable with that—in the face of an atheist. Finding out that someone is an atheist was found to lead increasingly to thoughts on death, forming what seems to be a very real basis of hatred toward atheists.

Show Me The Proof

The Guardian: Madison law bans religious discrimination … against atheists
SPPS: What If They’re Right About the Afterlife?
2012 Report on Discrimination Against Atheists, Humanists, and the Non-Religious
The Atlantic: Bullied for Not Believing in God
Secular Safe Zone
USA Today: Study: Atheists distrusted as much as rapists