New Study Explores Anti-Atheist Discrimination

Atheists generally believe we have a good sense of the degree to which our group is subject to discrimination based on our rejection of supernaturalism, but that understanding is primarily anecdotal. We hear each other’s stories, we see how we’re spoken about in the culture, and we form an idea of just how low that stained-glass ceiling really is for us (wow, that metaphor sounds familiar).

A new study just published in Secularism & Nonreligion (no, I didn’t know such a journal existed either) attempts to put hard numbers to the experiences of atheists enduring such discrimination.

Which piece is the atheist…?

Titled “Forms, Frequency, and Correlates of Perceived Anti-Atheist Discrimination,” the study uses answers from 761 self-identified atheists in the U.S. who voluntarily responded to a web questionnaire (read: not scientific). The authors point out that, importantly, they were not able to collect answers from, for example, atheists without computers or Internet access, or those folks who do not believe in any gods yet don’t self-identify specifically as “atheists.” A series of scenarios was presented to respondents who would then indicate the number of times they had experienced that scenario.

Some of the most pronounced findings will ring true for many of us.

From the study:

The five forms [of discrimination] most frequently reported were: witnessing anti-atheist comments in newspapers or on television (94.7%), being expected to participate in religious prayers against one’s will (79.1%), being told one’s atheism is sinful, wrong, or immoral (75.2%), being asked to attend religious services or participate in religious activities against one’s will (74.4%), and being treated differently because of one’s atheism (67.5%).

Just personally, it’s almost upsetting to know that almost 80% of us might find ourselves “forced” to take part in religious prayers and the like against our will, but I know I’ve been there myself in my less-militant years. I’m frankly surprised that only 67.5% report being “treated differently,” and I’d very much like to know what kind of neighborhood those other 32.5% live in.

In all, 96.7% reported experiencing some form of what the study deems “slander,” and 92.5% reported experiencing “coercion.” A little more than half reported “social ostracism.”

Eye-opening to me was a frequently-cited reason for a lot of the stress associated with being an atheist: the lack of social structures that mirror those of religions. (Calling James Croft!)

From the authors:

Despite the documented recent growth in secular and atheist groups at both the local and national levels… many respondents reported experiencing stress at the perceived lack of social, group, and community support for their atheist identities and viewpoint. The relative preponderance of religion, and the lack of an alternative atheist counterpart, in volunteer opportunities, charitable work, and community support was a source of frustration for many respondents. Though the social and symbolic boundaries between theism and atheism are important for atheist identification… the marginalizing aspects of being an atheist in the United States, including the perceived absence of some of the important social, cultural, and organizational resources which their religious counterparts enjoy, is a clear source of stress for some atheists. The lack of secular/nonreligious, in comparison to religious, holidays was a frequent example… Interestingly, a few participants even remarked on the additional stress they experienced while trying to “not make trouble” for others during religious holidays or other events. In the words of one respondent “… it seems like my atheism makes OTHERS feel stressed around the religious holidays that I don’t share. It’s as though they feel like I’m snubbing them because I won’t go through the motions on their holidays.”

The authors conclude that atheists seem to experience stresses and discriminatory situations that closely match those of other maligned minorities, but that this particular study should be seen primarily as a starting point for further work. Particularly, the authors were concerned with the overall implications for health and well-being that the stress of discrimination may cause this growing American demographic — it’s not a good thing is a sizable chunk of the population is figuratively and literally sick over how they’re being treated.

There’s a lot more interesting data in this study, so read it for yourself here.

(image via Shutterstock)

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • Pablo Rajczyk

    As a life-long atheist (that is, since I was a preteen) I can’t say that I have ever experienced outright discrimination or prejudice. While I have had conflicts with extended family members (cousins and such that I rarely see) I can honestly say that my atheism has never caused me to be the victim of discrimination.

    I will add that I’m surprised how uninformed people are. For example, a neighbor once asked me, upon hearing that my wife and I are atheists, and are raising our children as such, “So, you don’t believe in anything?”

    Then again, I’ve never run for political office. ;)

    • amycas

       My manager at work defined atheism as “not believing in anything.” I think I did a pretty thorough job of educating her.

  • Question Everything

    Oddly enough, the most prejudice I’ve experienced is with church programs that help the needy.  For some reason, churches need to have long meetings about if they will let atheists donate money to feed the hungry, for example (and they usually decide that no, only holy money is good money).

    • Jackie McClanahan

      Really? They think “Should we get more or less money for the needy? What would Jesus do?” and decide that the needy aren’t actually needy enough to get goods and money from people who don’t believe exactly what they do? Do atheist poor and hungry people not get their services?

      • Question Everything

        Well, yes, they do reject money for the needy, depending on the source.  Sad and scary, but true.  Apparently it looks bad to give the nod to atheist groups or individuals who are willing to help out, which I find rather silly (but it’s also why I don’t tell them about my lack of faith when helping out.  I’m fine keeping that a secret if it means I can help people who need it).

        I have no idea who these programs will service or not, I’m talking about who they allow to donate to causes.  The local programs I work with don’t ask about faith when distributing food, just when getting the money.  I know some do require the hungry to get a sermon or other religious-type stuff, but I don’t know much else about them.

  • JWH

    What are the circumstances of some of this?  I wonder about a couple things listed here.  

    Witnessing anti-atheist comments in the media is not “discrimination.”  It’s annoying, but it’s part of life.  

    And the bit about being asked or forced to attend religious ceremonies … what does that mean?  Does it mean your boss at work making you go?  Does it mean that people tsk tsk when you say you don’t go to church?  Is it your grandfather telling you you need to go to church?  Those are vastly different scenarios.  

    • Sean Burton

       If there were homophobic, sexist or racist comments in the media, would you say that they are “not descrimination” and “annoying, but a part of life”? If not, why are anti-athiest comments any different? Just because the comments are generalised rather than being aimed at a specific individual does not mean they aren’t descriminatory, even though the descrimination is comparatively mild.

      • JWH

        I would call all of the above potentially bigoted. But I would also call them “freedom of speech.” Discrimination, in my estimation, is about actions, not words.

        • Michael Appleman

          Not all discrimination is illegal. Usualy its the actions, like you said, that are illegal. But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is good.

          The only reason you don’t see sexist or racist comments in the media is because the vast majority of people think its wrong(and the people who would say such things would catch more shit than they want to deal with). That there are fewer people who think anti-atheist comments are wrong is irrelevant. Unless you think racist comments were just “annoying, but a part of life” for blacks in the past.

          • JWH

            Michael, please, have a little perspective.  

            You’re right that it would be nice to see a little more social opprobrium directed at those who spout off anti-atheist statements in the media.

            But at the same time, I have trouble drawing an analogy between “He said something mean about my race/religion/sex/sexuality on TV” and “I was sent to the back of the bus because of my race” and “I was denied the opportunity to attend a quality school because of my race.”

            Are you going to insist on your analogy? If so, are you going to insist that speech be given the same treatment legally as actual discrimination? If so, you’re headed for some mighty perilous waters.

            • amycas

               The degree of discrimination is different (in this country at least), but you can’t deny that it’s still discrimination.

              • JWH

                Look upthread. I already did.

      • Georgina

         any one being rude, i.e. homophobic, sexist or racist comments not actions!) deserves to be insulted back. 
        Always consider the source, these people are morons, do you really care about their opinions?

  • Daniel Lee Baker

    Give me a break!  Being forced to participate in public prayer?  How does that look exactly?  Do they have henchmen going through the crowd pushing people’s heads down?  Being in a crowd of people who are bowing their heads and mumbling to some imagined being doesn’t force you to do anything except relax for a minute or two wile the superstitious folk have their little comforting moment.  IT’S NO SKIN OFF YOUR NOSE!  Chill out.

    • Andrew B.

      In other words “I’m not bothered by this, so everyone that is is wrong.”  How thoughtful of you.

      • Daniel Lee Baker

        I just want to know why you think that you have a right to NOT be bothered?  Why does an entire crowd of people who want to pray together have to refrain from it just because YOU are bothered by it?  I’m bothered by people who don’t trim their nose hairs but I don’t sue them in court over it and try pass laws against long nose hairs.  Next time you find yourself in a crowd of people praying, take the opportunity to borrow your wife’s compact and trim you nose hairs while no one is looking.  Everybody wins!

        • Baal

           So you’re saying that you’re willing to spend about 20 seconds twirling around a fire while you me and my friends chant the eerie and uncanny words that Saint Lovecraft divined from communing with the cosmos on Sat. afternoon before the cookout?  It’s how we give thanks and ask to be devoured first.  It’s the only religious thing we do but we take it very seriously.  Right, you’d not be totally weird ed out?

          • Daniel Lee Baker

             No I won’t be doing any twirling around your camp fire.  I don’t bow my head when others pray either.  And Yes it would weird me out a little bit.  So what?  I’m a big boy.  I can tolerate other people who are not like me.  I don’t need laws that tell them they can’t be.  I’m heterosexual and seeing gay men kiss each other weirds me out a little bit but I don’t need a law keeping them from doing it in public.  You’re the ones who are discriminating, not the other way around.  You talk a good game about tolerance but you don’t know the meaning of the word.

            • Leo Buzalsky

              Two things…
              1. “I’m a big boy.” Are you sure? That, as well as your “big girl panties” remark in another comment displays a very condescending, not to mention potentially sexist, attitude. I can’t speak for everyone, but I find such attitudes to be childish.

              2. “I can tolerate other people who are not like me.” Yeah?  How many people do you actually hang around that are significantly different than you? Your example was gay men kissing. Well, gay men make up probably 5% of the population at most. Compare that to atheists who live with Christians who make near 80% of the population.  Your argument is somewhat equivalent to saying that you can tolerate drinking one beer and not get drunk. Therefore, we should be able to tolerate 16 beers (80/5 = 16) and not get drunk. 
              But, there are, of course, flaws in this analogy, the biggest of which is that those gay men aren’t going to put social pressure on you to likewise go about kissing men. The types of tolerance you are trying to compare are not the same. You’re tolerating being weirded out a bit. Well, guess what? Most of us atheists can tolerate that too! What we are complaining about are the expectations to conform to the majority.  (This is partially why Baal’s example fails — you aren’t picturing this fire twirling group being the majority. The other part is Baal gave no suggestion that you would be frowned upon for not participating.)
              The root problem, though, is that you imply “force” to be limited to the physical, failing to consider the psychological. (Have you never heard the question, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”) On that, I suggest you study some psychology. You can start by reading up on the Asch studies from the 1950′s.

              And, I do have to go back to the first point, now.  You talk about being a “big boy.” But the reality is that maybe your ability to “tolerate” (or, rather your ability to not conform to the majority, if you even have such an ability) is the exception, not the rule.  Your argument is based on a presumption that everyone should be able to react to things the same way you do.  I reject this presumption.

              • Daniel Lee Baker

                1. Okay, you’re right. The big girl panties thing was a little harsh. Sorry. But the message behind it is still valid and it is still going to feel condescending to you when I put another way: It’s not going to kill you to let other people be who they are. Demanding that they stop because of how it makes you feel is like having three kids in the back seat of Toyota Tercel and having the one in the middle screaming, “He’s touching me! She’s touching me, too!” To which any sane parent would reply “It’s a Tercel! You’re gonna have to deal with them touching you! Now shut up about it!… (smile) okay honey?” Instead, you actually expect the parent to tell the other two to stop touching her!
                2. Well, let’s see, last Monday night I went to a seminar/guest appearance of the “Machine Gun Preacher” at the Coast Grace church in Cypress, CA because some Christian friends of ours invited us. It was painful to sit through especially the alter call he did at the end. But my wife and I endured it because we value the friendships we have with them. Afterward, we were honest and told them that we probably would not do that again and they understood. We will still be having dinner at their home next week and they will still be hanging out at my pool on occasion.
                My sister is gay and we have Xmas (a Christian holiday) together every year. We would see each other more often but she lives in Ohio and we are in CA.
                My wife and I have two very dear male friends who are gay and in a committed relationsip and whenever they have a little too much to drink, one of them invariably makes a pass at me, which I invariably decline.
                And you are right. The majority of people are not as tolerant as I am, thought they talk a lot of crap about it. You don’t want people praying in front of you and they don’t want gay men kissing in front of them. Both of you would gladly pass laws to get your way because both you are intolerant.

            • Question Everything

              “I’m heterosexual and seeing gay men kiss each other weirds me out a little bit” – really?  Every time I’ve seen it, I thought “yay, two consenting adults have found love”.  Hm, but I’m still heterosexual.. strange.

              As for the discrimination, well, I’m not sure if the two of us read the same article, but it was pretty clear about “the marginalizing aspects of being an atheist in the United States”

              • Daniel Lee Baker

                Awesome! You are very tolerant of homosexuality. Too bad you can’t stand in a crowd of people who are praying and think, “yay, hundreds of people who have the comfort of their religion.” That’s what do. Hm, but I’m an atheist. Strange.

                • Question Everything

                  “Too bad you can’t stand in a crowd of people who are praying and think, “yay, hundreds of people who have the comfort of their religion.” ” – actually, I have, rather often, because a church is one of the large contributors to a food program I work with.  Hm, but I’m an atheist, too.  Strange.

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  I’m sorry. You said something earlier that made me think you were against public prayer. Something about being marginalized. But hey, if I got that wrong,it’s great to have you on my side, buddy!

                • Question Everything

                  Well, I’m not quite sure what side yours is.  To be perfectly clear, I’m an atheist, and think that if people get a benefit from prayer, that’s much like a placebo, so sure, it could help them, but it’s not because of a deity.  And it can also be horrible at times.

                  I’m a bit confused on how you can jump from “the marginalizing aspects of being an atheist in the United States” to public prayer.  They aren’t really at all the same.

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  This thread has centered mostly around the subject of public prayer and how it makes atheists feel marginalized. I didn’t make that jump, they did. Frankly, I don’t get it either. Anyway, since you are posting in this thread I just assumed you had actually read it. My bad.

                • Question Everything

                  Yes, you started there.  But you were mentioningan aspect of what I said (marginalizing), an I was respondingto that.  My bad for trying to keep the chaingoing.  Want to take this to a new comment chainso it’s not 40 pixels wide?

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  I appreciate the offer, but it’s 5:15 and I was off work 15 minutes ago. Time for my long commute home. I bid you, goodnight. :)

                • Question Everything

                  You were doing this on the clock?  I’m an independent contractor (work by the hour), so every moment I’m reading or responding here is free for my employer.  You get paid and can spend time on here?

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  I’m an IT Director. At any given time I have four or five windows open and various processes going. This blog window gets attention when the other windows are processing.

        • amycas

           “Next time you find yourself in a crowd of people praying, take the
          opportunity to borrow your wife’s compact and trim you nose hairs while
          no one is looking.”

          Actually, the fun thing I like to do during a public prayer is look around the room and smile at the others who aren’t praying. My family has an annoying habit of gathering in a circle to stand and pray before meals at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and any other holiday where we have a big meal. They won’t start the prayer until everybody is in the circle, and nobody eats until the prayer. So, you are kind of forced to join in. What I’ve found the last couple years is that there are about 5 or 6 other people inmy family who never close their eyes (along with my 8-year-old niece, I always make a funny face at her). It’s kind of fun to look around the room and be able to spot the others who don’t buy into the bullshit.

          • Daniel Lee Baker

            lol. I do the same thing. It’s great, but I find that I’m the only one who keeps his eyes open in my family.

    • Persephone

       It looks like “God Bless America” being the focal point of the 7th-inning stretch instead of “Take Me out to the Ball Game.” Man, I miss the latter. It’s such a sweet and innocent song, as opposed to the raving jingoism of the former.

      • lathem

        “raving jingoism?”  and not just “jingoism,” but RAVING jingoism.  Wow.  You know some big words.  I bet you went to college, huh?

        • Persephone

           Here’s some short words: wow, you’re an asshole.

    • Defiantnonbeliever

      Daniel Lee Baker, you give me a break.  Have you ignored 50 years of court fights over prayer in schools, and forced pledges of allegiance?   How about political speeches and comments calling atheists non citizens not deserving free speech rights to dessent at such times or at all about the systemic violations of church state separation?  

      • Daniel Lee Baker

        No I haven’t overlooked the court cases.  In fact there was one in Texas today in which your side lost.  In the cases where your side won, I simply disagree with the rulings.  As far as political speeches go, it is called free speech, they can say whatever they want.  Saying it doesn’t make it true and it certainly doesn’t make it legally binding.  Whoever said those things is an idiot, but the solution is not to limit people from practicing their religion in public.  You feel a little weird when people around you are praying?  Put your big girl panties on and deal with it.  It’s a couple minutes out of your life and most of those people, when they are not praying, are pretty nice people who mean you no harm.  Jeeze!  You people are uptight.  Take a chill pill.

        • Persephone

           Misogyny, nice. And by “nice” I mean “repulsive.”

          • Daniel Lee Baker

             Misogyny!  Another big word to hide behind.  If you keep this up I’m going to start feeling intimidated by how smart you are.

            • Persephone

               Wait, so you’re making fun of education? That’s really appalling.

              • Daniel Lee Baker

                No, I’m making fun of people who use big words in order to sound smart, especially when they fail to use those words to say smart things.

                • Persephone

                   I have nothing more to say to you.

                • Daniel Lee Baker


                • Blue


                  Wait – you seriously think the word “misogyny” is a “big word” people use to sound “smart”?

                  You need to get out more.

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  Wait – You seriously think that misogyny is a word used by the common man? You need to get out of your intellectual circles more. And yes, misogyny is a word that people like you use to sound smart. Whether or not you really are depends on how well you put such words to use. I have known an intellectual or two who are brilliant, but most of you are just blowhards parroting the brilliant ideas of others.

                • Blue


                  The word is not that uncommon, Daniel, and by no means do I delude myself that I’m an intellectual. I’m about as average as they come. The “people like you” jabs at total strangers don’t do much to bolster your point, either.

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  The word, “misogyny” or “misogynist” is invoked almost exclusively by political activists and intellectuals to win arguments through labeling. It is, in fact the kind of “jab,” as you put it, that bolsters weak arguments. What a hypocrite you are. You enter this conversation with a jab at me – “You need to get out more,” and then get all indignant when I call “people like you” intellectuals, and you get all high minded about how jabs don’t bolster arguments. But you didn’t go after the person who called me a troll in this conversation, did you? You didn’t go after the person who called the people she was criticizing, “rabid gingoists,” did you. And you didn’t go after the person who labeled me a “misogynist” and tell her that jabs don’t bolster arguments, did you? No, because you don’t really believe that. You just want to be able to take shots at people you disagree with and then act indignant when they come back at you with bared teeth.

                • Blue

                  In browsing through the comments, what briefly interested me is your assertion that the word “misogyny” is used by those who are attempting to seem “smart”. I disagree with that, and stand by my original statement that the word is NOT that uncommon. You are free to disagree, rant and rave all you like, but the last thing I want is to create a society where a good vocabulary actually warrants criticism.

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  I see. You imputed a thought to me that I did not intend. I love words. I love BIG words! I love even love words that have the ancillary benefit of making someone sound smart. The keyword being ancillary (a smart sounding word in itself don’t you think?), not primary. Any imbecile can develop an impressive vocabulary. Look no further than Monica Lewinsky for and example. And insulting people takes very little brain power at all no matter what words you use to deliver the insult. It just sounds more intimidating to some people when you use big words while insulting them. But it doesn’t intimidate me even a little bit. As I said I love big words, but it still takes real brain power to put those words together in a way that forms an intelligent idea. And when that happens, the idea rarely turns out to be an insult to anyone. All I did was call someone out on it. Granted I wasn’t very nice about it, but she was dishing it out first and that is what I was responding to. You may not agree with Christians, Neither do I. But disrespecting them pisses me off. Argue your point on substance or shut up. Otherwise, if you draw first blood (with any size vocabulary, someone is liable to finish the fight you started.

            • Patterrssonn

              Damn that would be tough. If you started getting intimidated by people smarter than you you’d never be able to make it out the door.

              • Daniel Lee Baker

                That was a good one, Patterssonn! And you didn’t even have to use big words to pull it off. You should get together with Persephone and give her a few pointers.

                • Patterrssonn

                  Well, I’m typing on a phone.

    • mobathome

      Don’t feed the troll.

      • Daniel Lee Baker

        What you really mean is, “Since none of you are able to defeat his arguments on substance, lets just start calling him names and dismiss him.”

        • Deven Kale

           To be fair, your argument about prayer is sound. As long as the person doing the praying isn’t doing it just to be a dick to those who believe differently than them, or using it to subtly say “this is a , and if you’re not you can fuck off” then I have no problem with it.

          But just so you know, even though you’re basically right, you’re still acting like an asshole and look very much like just another troll. That’s basically what everybody seems to be saying now. Free speech buddy, so if it bothers you when we say that, just “[p]ut your big girl panties on and deal with it.”

          • Daniel Lee Baker

            I’ve read through this blog. I see how you people insult Christians. Atheists are assholes to Christians all the time on this blog. I just figured if you can dish it out you should be able to take it too. But you’re not used to being punked by one of your own. The only reason everybody is crying fowl over the way I’ve argued this is because they can’t defeat my arguments substantively. Otherwise, I would have been buried under an avalanche of real argument first, topped of by a variety of choice adjectives that Persephone learned in philosophy class – but mostly they would be small words that they learned in the school yard describing my intelligence level and general worthiness to exist. So, don’t you worry about my big girl panties, pal. Check your own drawers. You already admitted I’m right. In my school yard we call that defeat, bitch.

            • Deven Kale

               Thank you for proving my point. I admit you’re right, tell you that the problem people have with you isn’t your argument so much as your attitude, and you just give us more attitude? That’s both dickish and childish. Seems you’re really not wearing your big girl panties today.

              • Daniel Lee Baker

                I didn’t make your point. You missed mine. You don’t get to tell me I’m right in one breath and then call me an asshole and a troll in the next expect to walk away like the fight is over. And your right, I’m not wearing panties. I find that they squeeze my nuts too much. You should grow a pair and learn how to admit when you’re wrong WITHOUT the face saving insult tacked onto the end.

                • Deven Kale

                   You really don’t get it, do you? My post was informative. I’m simply telling you that people don’t seem to care anymore what your original argument was, or even it’s validity. All they seem to be saying now (in my view, at least) is that you’re an asshole. And guess what, all you’re doing is proving myself and all of them right. You are proving my point, because my point really had little to do with whether your argument was valid. My point is now, and always has been, about your dickish nature.

                  And again, if you have a problem with that, “then put on your big girl panties and deal with it,” because I see no point in continuing a conversation with someone so hostile to ideas different than theirs such as yourself.

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  You weren’t trying to inform me of anything. You jumped into the Frey by calling me a troll and your tried to extricate yourself from the fight by giving in on my argument and then saving face by calling me a troll and an asshole on your way out the door. So you’re not as lofty minded as you are pretending. And the reason no one is talking about the original argument anymore is because they ran out of valid arguments, as have you. You are the only one left because you are the only one trying to get the last punch in. And now that you see you aren’t going to be able to do that you are trying a different exit strategy, “I’m too high minded to have to talk to the like of you.” But you know, and I know that you drew first blood by calling me a troll. So you go ahead and run away like a little girl but if you shout another insult over your shoulder at me like you’ve been doing I’ll be right here to put you back in your place.

            • kaydenpat

              Should you be cursing if you are a Christian?  Why not be Christ-like?  Is this how you reach out to non-Christians? 

              • Deven Kale

                 He’s not a Christian, he already said that. He’s just another troll who can’t stand the idea of somebody thinking differently than him, and that others don’t consider him as super amazing as he does.

                Oh look, here he comes now, with some angry rant about how inferior everybody else is and how he’s so much better than all of us because he can make a single reasonable argument that other people don’t like. Maybe he’ll even have the audacity to tell other people what they said. Let’s all find out, shall we? *waits patiently for the troll to stomp his way over*

              • Daniel Lee Baker

                I’, an atheist, dipshit.

                • Daniel Lee Baker

                  I just threw the “dipshit” in there for humor. Don’t get mad. Obviously you are coming to the party late. You need to read the entire thread before jumping into the fight.

    • JWH

      Baker … shouldn’t you be complaining about the billy goats atop your bridge right about now?

      • Daniel Lee Baker

        No. I’m too busy complaining about cowards who resort to name calling labeling to make up for pathetic arguments.

  • marfita

    Being asked to a church service by someone is merely socially embarrassing.  It’s no  more stressful than any other awkward social moment and we can’t get through life without running into those, so it’s not something peculiar to atheists. Being asked to pray with a person or a group is similar, but becomes more stressful when they become insistent. But it’s still just awkward. It’s only the reactions to reasons given for not doing these things that can veer into “discrimination.”
    I used to have no qualms about bowing my head and remaining quiet while others prayed. It’s a free country and I respect their beliefs. It does annoy me when it crops up in the workplace. But I’m just annoyed – not discriminated against.
    Those who miss the “church” thing can find replacements. I’ve even attended virtual humanist meetings (on Sunday – always gives me a giggle) online. There are the Unitarian Universalists for those who like church but not the god stuff. Or you can make up your own group.
    Real discrimination involves abrogation of civil rights, ostracism, or more subtle abuses – not invitations to a church service.

    • amycas

       My sister recently started attending a UU church (she had a baby and decided her family needed more religion to help raise it). There’s plenty of god stuff at the UU church.

      • Virginia Smith

        Depends on which one you go to. Mine’s pretty secular. Some are fairly comfortable talking about God/gods. Some are kinda New Age.

        In any case, when a UU minister says “God,” it’s with the expectation that the listener will translate it to “whatever force I believe powers the universe, up to and including natural forces” or “whatever force I believe binds us all together, up to and including simple love.”

        UU leaves it up to your interpretation, for the most part.

  • DKeane123

    “I’m frankly surprised that only 67.5% report being “treated differently,” and I’d very much like to know what kind of neighborhood those other 32.5% live in.” – We live in VT and NH

  • Georgina

    ” being told one’s atheism is sinful, wrong, or immoral”, here in Europe, the usual reply to such comments is: Don’t act like a pusillanious ass.
    I am constantly surprised what people put up with in the name of religion.

    Thor curse them all!

  • Earl G.

    “I’d very much like to know what kind of neighborhood those
    other 32.5% live in.”


    My “neighborhood” is one in which the majority of my
    coworkers are nonreligious scientists, the majority of my friends are
    freethinkers, and the religious members of my family are far away.
     To put it succinctly.  So despite living in a conservative region, I don’t personally get any flack for my nonbeliefs.

    I have sympathy for those who are not so fortunate.

  • Grumble F Kitty

    As one who doesn’t usually feel as though I’m treated differently, I’ll tell you where I live. It’s a small, midwestern city with several colleges/universities with international draw. We have a highly diverse and liberal-leaning populace. We also have our fair share of normal midwesterners, but they’ve learned that to get along with their liberal neighbors, co-workers etc., they can’t be bullies. I rarely even get asked if I go to church or anything. Just got asked this spring for the first time in years, and was so taken aback, I let this little old lady ramble at me for several minutes while I tried to work out if she was serious! Lol! I did finally have to tell her firmly that I wasn’t interested, and turn away to get her to shut up, but seriously, that’s the first time anything like that has happened in over 10 years.

    • John H

       Hey, are you in the Milwaukee Metro Area as well?

  • Jack

    Well, obviously all of the atheistic pieces are white…

    I could not resist. Am I a bad person? D:

  • Richard Wade

    I’m frankly surprised that only 67.5% report being “treated
    differently,” and I’d very much like to know what kind of neighborhood those other 32.5% live in.

    The relatively lower number can be easily explained by considering that many atheists simply keep their atheism a secret so that they won’t have to go through being treated differently.

    This does not mean that they’re free of stress from this issue.  They’re free of the stress of being ostracized mildly or severely, but they’re not free of the stress of having to be extra careful about what they say and do, having to be coy and evasive in conversations that include religion as a topic, and having to come up with cover stories to avoid being found out.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Exactly my thought on reading that sentence.

    • Anna

      It also depends on where you live, Richard. I’m open about my atheism and have never had any trouble in the San Francisco Bay Area. Religion rarely comes up in conversation, and I’ve never felt the need to hide my views. On the contrary, they’re right on the bumper of my car for all to see.

  • Richard Treitel

    I have to wonder how many of those respondents know what “coercion” means.  On the rare occasions when family members pray in my presence, they don’t ask my permission, but neither do they ask me to join in.  I don’t see this as “coercing” me to listen to their mumblings — they have a right to free speech and I have a right to not listen.

    • Daniel Lee Baker

       Bravo, Richard.  Well said.

    • Michael Appleman

      Well duh, that isn’t coercion. 

      The paper is talking about situations where there IS coercion. Like emotional blackmail from a family member, not rocking the boat with your boss because  you want a promotion, those types of things.

    • amycas

       My family won’t eat until the big family prayer, and they won’t do the prayer until everybody is in the circle holding hands. That’s coercion. Over the last year my boyfriend and I just started showing up late to avoid it.

      • kaydenpat

        If you told your family that you are not comfortable participating in their prayer circles, wouldn’t they understand and leave you out of this ritual? 

        I’m not Catholic, but have been invited to attend Catholic churches by my Catholic friends (for Christenings, graduations, etc.). I always politely refuse to participate in their communion services. 

        • amycas

          You don’t know my family.

        • Anna

          Just FYI, you’d only upset the Catholics if you did participate in their communion services. Non-Catholics aren’t allowed to receive the eucharist. Of course, there’s no way for the priest to tell who is or isn’t Catholic, so if people enjoy the idea of sticking it to the church, they can go up and get it anyway.

  • Michael Harrison

    I was once asked to lead prayer one Thanksgiving. I was a bit confused, but decided to give it a try. Having recently read some Joseph Campbell, I thought I’d give thanks to the food, for dying so that we may eat. Sad to say, this was all done in complete sincerity; I’m just that kind of person. However, I did luck onto a way of not being asked to lead the prayer again.

  • John H

    I’m frankly surprised that only 67.5% report being “treated
    differently,” and I’d very much like to know what kind of neighborhood
    those other 32.5% live in.

    We live in neighborhoods like Shorewood, WI (where I went to high school and presently live), where our school board immediately and without hassle removed a logo with a Christian cross from the helmets of our joint football team with an area Catholic high school (long story) when a parent pointed out that they really weren’t appropriate for a public school (they were newly added this school year, and present for about a month and a half in total). They’re also one of three school districts in the state to maintain collective bargaining rights with teachers after the state banned them (a recent lawsuit resulted in the outright ban being struck down, though the case has been appealed to the Right-wing-dominated state Supreme Court). Seriously, it’s a flipping progressive, secular bubble  – one is FAR more likely to be derided for trying to publicly assert a religious principle than atheism, and it is wonderful. We have more parks and bars in the village limits than churches, and I’ve never experienced even the slightest bit of anti-atheist sentiment there.

  • Bcterri

    I think that  this study kind of diminishes the nature of discrimination against minorities. Being expected to participate in religious prayers, or being asked to attend religious services against one’s will, or even being told that one’s atheism is sinful doesn’t amount to discrimination.

    Compare for instance, what an African-American would consider discrimination; regular police harassment, and brutality, over-representation in prisons and on death row of black convicts, harsher prison sentencing, extremely high comparative poverty rates within the black community, and discrimination in employment. Makes this “discrimination” against atheism seem like a utopia.

    • Deven Kale

       The problem is that it’s much more than just that. I can tell you didn’t read the actual study, which is freely available from the website linked to in the original post.

      From page 3 of the actual article:

      Author David Mills was directly threatened with violence by local police when he announced his intention to protest a visiting Christian faith healer who encouraged diabetics to stop taking insulin and pray for divine intervention instead (Mills, 2006). In 2007, Army Specialist Jeremy Hall reported being threatened by fellow soldiers upon revealing his atheism (MSNBC, 2007). A male participant in Hunsberger and Altemeyer’s (2006) study of American atheists reported, “My kids have been harassed at school, I’ve been a victim of religious discrimination at work, my car has been vandalized, I’ve received  death threats via email, mail, and under my windshield wipers” (p. 49). Other atheists in the same study reported being shunned by family, losing friends, and being fired from jobs.

      In other words, people are being actively discriminated against simply for being an atheist. This is far more than simply “being expected to participate in religious prayers, or being asked to attend religious services against one’s will” etc.

      If you want to know what those references actually point to, you’ll have to read the article. That’s just a pure cut and paste from it.

  • Darrelray

    Hemant, I would like to suggest that your comment, “read unscientific” in your summary of this research, is inaccurate. A study can be quite scientific and still not be randomized. What is accurate about this study is that it did not randomly sample from the universe of possible target people. Many types of research do not need random sampling to draw reasonable conclusions. Indeed, random sampling is not even possible in many cases, but that should not stop us from researching. Lets call it what it is, non-randomized research. Then evaluate whether the lack of random sampling undermines the conclusions of the research or is at some level irrelevant or less relevant. Many times this type of research leads to new ways to examine social data and new research methods. It is still quite scientific. Does it reach the “gold standard” of research? Maybe not, but that does not make it unscientific. I would further suggest that if it is “unscientific” then it should not be reported at all. By that I mean, if it uses methodologies that are not recognized by the scientific community, then it should be suspect. This research is not the “gold standard” but it does use well established methods of scientific inquiry.