Are American atheists really a persecuted minority?

Atheism in America, photo by ruSSeLL hiGGs via creative commons

OCALA, Fla., May 8, 2014 — Let’s face it: Atheists have a hard time getting by in our society.

Quite often, when we hear about the “angry atheist” stereotype, and there is some truth to it. What we should ask ourselves, though, is just where this anger comes from. Is it simply blind hatred of theists, the majority of which, in the United States, at least, are Christian?

Perhaps in some cases, but probably not most. Instead, no small number of atheists are surely acting on deep-seated feelings which stem from their traditional marginalization.

Why do scores of self-proclaimed Christians and others dislike atheists? Taking the matter up a few levels, why do they also have negative sentiments about non-theistic Americans generally?

Whatever the answer to this might be, does this dislike cause the rights of secular Americans to be infringed upon?

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“Every church-state dispute….is a matter that directly or indirectly involves the rights of seculars,” American Humanist Association President David Niose told me in 2012. “Seculars are an invisible minority in America, so much so that the government and media rarely think about them or consider their interests when discussing policy.

“About one-quarter of the House of Representatives belongs to the Congressional Prayer Caucus, an entity that is ardently discriminatory toward secular individuals, constantly proposing ways to exalt religion – usually a thinly guised Christianity – in public life. CPC members have proposed declaring a ‘Year of the Bible,’ for example, and they have proposed – in the midst of tight budgets – erecting ‘In God We Trust’ signs in all public buildings, including classrooms.

“Little thought is given to what the taxpaying atheist or agnostic family might think of sending their child to school each day to face such overt religiosity. It is no secret that many fundamentalists feel that church-state separation is a myth, and if this view ever prevails it will be America’s seculars who will be most under threat. And even beyond church-state separation, we see governmental privileging of religion in many areas, from ‘conscience clause’ exemptions for health care providers to the rewriting of history and science text books.

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“Many fundamentalists see public education as an evil that must be dismantled, so it’s clear that the rights of seculars, as well as other rational Americans, are under attack. We could go further and look at religious favoritism in the military, exclusion of atheists from the Boy Scouts, and the general tendency to see believers as more patriotic. Unfair prejudice against nonbelievers is far too common.”

To illustrate the power behind being accused of atheism, one need look no further than the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The ever-controversial group supports the interests of U.S. Armed Forces members who face religious discrimination; usually at the hands of fundamentalist Christians. The MRFF’s detractors have smeared it as an atheistic propaganda outlet led by, of course, someone who does not believe in God.

Both claims are demonstrably false, which led the MRFF’s leader, Ronald Reagan Administration veteran and former Air Force Judge Advocate General Mikey Weinstein, to issue a legal warning. This was sent to a television host, Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, and Christian conservative stalwart Dr. James Dobson.

“We are very militant and aggressive, but our militancy and aggression is in support of the Constitution,” Weinstein tells me. “That’s why they devoted six minutes plus a few seconds [of] prime time Fox to me and my foundation, because we are so effective and they know that they can throw red meat to the not-terribly-well-educated, overtly uber-conservative people that watch their station and that are starving and salivating for this stuff.

“You throw the word ‘atheist’ out — that’s one of the worst things you can possibly be in the world of Fox, so that stirs up and gets people to watch, but of course it also stirs up people to make threats against us, and it also….creates this perception that unless you are an atheist, you can’t come to our foundation, which Fox has clearly — in many respects it’s a homage — they realize how effective we are, because if you’ll notice, they weren’t spending that much time castigating any other civil rights organization but ours, so I understand that, but we’re not going to take it anymore.”

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  • Poppy Clark

    What a crock! Atheist are in a highly vocal minority that is a constitutionally protected group who want total freedom FROM Christianity by marginalizing it. As for stereotyping, this article does a great job of painting Christians in Hollowoods vision of them as Elmer Gantry hypocrites. True Christian practice is one of concern, not dominance. Methinks it pricks their secular conscious.

    • Brian Westley

      I think what you’re saying is that atheists are being too “uppity”.

      Too bad for you.

      • SAks

        Nah, atheists are just being the normal douchebags that regular people see them for. Most of them don’t even realize how hypocritical they are.

        • Joe

          Yeah, you blindly paint roughly 2% of all Americans with one brush! Yeah! Base it all on a small fraction of Atheists because they’re all the same right? It’s not like they’re regular people like the rest of us, and thank goodness there aren’t any douchebags or hypocrites that give Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Republicans, Democrats, or any number of other groups of people a bad name!

  • tired of stupidity

    I am so sick of things like this, here is how it is, if you believe that is your right, if you dont believe that is also your right, the problem lies with the PC gurus, there is NO SUCH thing as PC because no matter what you do someoone will always be offended,GET OVER IT folks, this country was based on freedom, we can all believe or not believe that is our right, stop this craziness that if it does not agree with YOU it has to go away, live and let live, this world is crazy enough,

  • civilduty

    Here is my take. In the Declaration of Independence it states that all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Life Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is important, whether you believe in God, Jehovah, Allah, Buddha,the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny or The God Particle (See Big Bang Theory) your rights do not come from the government. It is a mechanism that keeps government in check. If the Government is not recognized as the ultimate power, then it’s powers are limited. If you take “God” away, the government becomes emboldened and not accountable because people recognize the government as the ultimate power not to be questioned. Why do you think communist countries persecute religion? It is not a question whether or not God exist. Your creator is the power you have over a Tyrannical government.

    • Joe

      In a Democratic society the PEOPLE are the check against the government. WE elect who is placed in a position of power not a deity.
      And the only mechanism we have that can keep the government in check are the ones outlined by the amendments within the Constitution. You want to be sure your government doesn’t turn sour? Become politically active, vote, back the candidates you support, read and understand the Constitutional amendments to know what rights your government cannot take from you.

  • William Fuzi

    How can a person be offended by something they don’t believe in? The only reason anyone even knows that atheist exist, is because they attack anyone who is religious.

    • SAks

      You tell me, atheists literally insult God despite not believing in him. It’s hilarious that they talk about God more than religious people.

      • Brian Westley

        “You tell me, atheists literally insult God despite not believing in him.”

        No, we insult people who believe in gods and who pretend to know how their god wants to run my life.

        • Andy Mansfield

          You do not seem or look intelligent enough to be on here Brian

          • Brian Westley

            Let’s see, no argument, just a couple of insults, one based solely on appearance…

            I’ll have to call a Poe; nobody could really be that stupid.

    • Your statement here, William, is a perfect example of what the actual answer is and just how wrong your way of thinking is. You didn’t post this as a reply to someone attacking someone who is religious. It’s YOU attacking and making assumptive statements about a group of people you don’t understand. In your grotesque over-generalization of a growing minority of the world, you start by assuming we are offended by the god we don’t believe in. Not even remotely close. I would venture to assume that you are not offended by Vishnu, but if you or your children were subjected to mandatory Hindu prayers, I would imagine you would be offended by that…and not their god that you don’t believe in. Next you correctly state that atheists can hide their minority status by simply being silent…what a POMPOUS thing to say! Why should we have to HIDE from you? Why should we be SILENT? Who are YOU to be the only ones to state your opinion? Which brings me to you last part where you mistakenly generalize atheist campaigns as “attacking” someone that is religious…quite the contrary. We don’t show up at your churches to protest. Your churches show up in the public square trying to force their way in. We are not “attacking”…we are “defending.” It is the religious that oversteps that separation of church and state. Not the other way around. Yet the 75% majority LOVES to claim persecution. Now, unlike you, I’m not claiming all religious people do this. But it is very clear in EVERY situation that the problem is religion pushing it’s boundaries and the people that don’t share that religion pushing back. Where I will take exception to this article is that it washes over the fact that most disputes don’t start with atheists. It starts with minority religions pushing back against Christianity and atheists support them. There are occasions that we do initiate the complaint, but it’s the exception and not thenorm…but that isn’t how Fox News is going to report the story.
      Now look at your supporters here:

      SAks brings up the idea that we talk about God more than religious people do…well, I’d suggest that black people in the 60’s talked about lynchings more than white people. Jewish people probably talk about the Holocaust more than German Catholics. But the interesting part is that not only may an atheist talk more about religion than a religious person, but numerous surveys have proven that we usually KNOW MORE ABOUT IT…this is most often part of what caused us to leave said religion.
      Then there is Andy who can only appear to speak in ad hominems.
      Add up your statements and theirs and you might get an idea why some atheist do get “angry.” You would too.

      • William Fuzi

        I rest my case! Oh, and I think you missed a dose, you might want to go check on your meds.

  • dragon5126

    Atheists are the persecutors! Just like the Nazis who went after the Jews, Atheists go after anyone who believes in God, and do their damnedest to find any excuse to force their beliefs (lack of belief is STILL a belief) on everyone else. I say hunt them down like the Nurembergist criminals they are!

    • “hunt them down like the Nurembergist criminals they are”
      Tell me again who is like the Nazis? Massive generalization and a call for encampment? which vaguely sounds like a threat of violence? There is no way to force you to not believe…we just want to force you not to make us take part in your Christian practices. Is that too much to ask?

    • Gauss

      “lack of belief is STILL a belief”

      Think about what you said. Once you process it, you will realize how dumb it sounds.

  • Andy Mansfield

    Atheists want to be persecuted against as it gives them the attention they so desperately crave.

    The reality is most normal people think they are a bit wierd and try to avoid them