Today, Seattle Atheists launches an ad campaign on local buses. Twelve buses will carry banner ads with photos of four people in average settings with the tag line, “1 in 4 is an Atheist.” The campaign runs through early January.
One in four Seattle residents has no god belief—in other words, they are atheists. Seattleites may not consider that the person who sold them their morning coffee might have been an atheist. Or the person who drove their bus or repaired their car or did their taxes or treated their illness. Atheists are their coworkers, their friends, their family. Whether they realize it or not, they know plenty of atheists.
These are smart people who take pride in their work and love their families and appreciate the great things about America, just like religious people.
The Problem. While atheists do their part within society, they don’t always get the same consideration in return. They’re sometimes told, “This is a Christian nation and if you don’t like it, move to Europe.” Some risk their jobs by revealing who they are, and some risk ostracism and the loss of their family or community. Some are bullied or discriminated against within schools or by the military. Seeing this, many atheists remain silent. Many churchgoers are among these silent atheists.
The political season is a time when atheists are particularly reminded how out of step they are with much of America. The U.S. House recently passed a resolution to reassure us that, yes, “In God We Trust” is still our national motto. Governors appeal for prayer to solve problems rather than using the power of their office. Political candidates often vie with each other to be the most Christian. When it comes to people we wouldn’t vote for, atheists are at the bottom.
What Atheists Want (and What They Don’t Want). Many of the fears Christians have about atheists are invented by clergy or politicians. American already is a secular nation—the Constitution makes this clear—but that’s not a threat to Christians. Indeed, it’s the best environment for Christians.
Christians can send their children to public school and know that they won’t hear a Bahá’í or Satanist prayer. Christians can go to a city council meeting and not see “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic script on the wall. Christians can go into a courtroom and not see a Shinto or Hindu god of jurisprudence glaring down at him. But while government is constrained in its religious speech, citizens are not, and Christians can still preach or hand out flyers in the public square. Everyone wins.
Atheists don’t want Christians denied their right to free speech. When atheists object to preachers recommending political candidates or “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, they don’t want to limit the rights of Christians or get special privileges, they just want equality.
Next Steps. If you’re an atheist, consider coming out. Politely make your presence known. The biggest factor in the American public becoming more tolerant of homosexuals was simply knowing one, and it works the same way for atheists. But whether or not you feel comfortable making your atheism public, find local atheist or freethought groups and connect with your community.
If you’re a theist, be aware that there are atheists all around you. These are people just like you, honest and hardworking. Instead of praying before a meeting, evangelizing in the workplace, or putting a Jesus fish on your web site, consider if actions like these may offend others. Encourage your friends to speak their mind and be who they are.