How Can Atheists Avoid Employment Discrimination?

At Skepticon 5, American Atheists’ Managing Director Amanda Knief gave a talk on how those of us who are godless can avoid employment discrimination:

I haven’t had a chance to watch the full video yet, but I know this is a constant source of stress for a lot of people who email me, so her topic couldn’t be more relevant. If any particular moments stand out to you, please leave the timestamp and summary in the comments!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=35702181 Christopher Check

    May wanna put an NSFW marker on that baby.  Bit of profanity in her talk.

    • 3lemenope

      NSFW also because bosses don’t like employees learning about their rights, by-and-large.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I tried to ignore it at first, but since a friend who is a professional speaker brought it up, her chosen vocabulary is kind of distracting.  I’ve love to seen an empirical study, one talk like this, and another with more professional language, and then a quiz at the end to see which audience retained more information.

      • Blacksheep

        Amen.

        • LJB

          Being an Atheist, I’ve been discriminated against a good chunk of my life, especially recently. But they normally don’t come straight out and say “I don’t like you because you’re not religious.” Oh, no. That would be direct and debatable. And easily proven to be discrimination.
          For instance, after working 5 years at a company in Rockleigh, NJ called Crestron, I was viciously setup and fired. I was an excellent worker and had received a top-rated review for my work on my last review there. No, I don’t go prancing around and advertise my non-belief. I keep it to myself. I mind my own business and do my won work for that is what I was paid to do. Unfortunately I was surrounded by extremist types. Right Wing Christian fundies on one side, and Muslims on the other. They probe. As in making small talk and asking little questions Around religion because it’s such a big thing in their lives. I do my best to dodge the questions or down-play them. One tries to get me to read a bible or some such and I say I’m not interested or it doesn’t do anything for me. But they keep at it and at it. I say that I’m more into technology and science. That’s like a red flag to them. Eventually they follow me to my car where I sit and read during breaks or at lunch time. They keep their eyes open. They see my tech books, my science fiction novels (with colorful illustrations of Aliens on the cover–Demons?? Hmm??). They keep making small talk. I say I’m into SF, roleplaying, astronomy… Eventually they conclude rightly that I’m a non-believer. News travels. Eventually my small circle of co-worker buddies starts getting smaller and smaller. Not that we were all buddy-buddy or anything, but acquaintances. The next thing you know they’re talking in whispers about me behind my back: “Don’t trust this guy, don’t believe this guy, don’t listen to him. But Watch Him!” And the circle grows every smaller to non-existent. Next people are cracking jokes about “Hey, he looks like a serial killer!” Real funny, right? One day, I go to work and sit there at my bench going through the usual work. I’m tapped on the shoulder and two or three police officers are there. My fat boss comes over takes my cap off and “searches” the rim. My jacket is searched. I’m escorted out to the police station. Basically I’m told that someone said I had a gun and was going to shoot people! After hours at the police station, I find out that I’ve been fired. No reason. My car was searched although they deny it (they took my car keys–and only Later returned them!). Personally, I didn’t like the job nor how I was treated but this whole affair was disgraceful. I was logged as a “terrorist” in peoples eyes. I couldn’t get a lawyer. The company said I “violated company policy” and that was the Real reason for my firing. For what it’s worth, Crestron is owned by a billionaire named Feldstein who virtually Owns the local police department. You know, if two guys are having a loud verbal fight in the parking lot on their break time, they can and will call the police and fire them. If someone writes their initials on the mens room wall–call the police, it’s “vandalism”–have their “detectives” investigate.

          The only people who have rights in this company are the higher-ups, and they kiss ass to get even higher.

          • LJB

            Want more? Let me go back a few years earlier to when I worked for a hole-in-the-wall electronics company in Norwood, N.J.

            Basically I was surely not the only Atheist there but perhaps the most vocal. People spoke their mind, but unfortunately after working there 7 years nobody bothered telling me that the boss was, as far as I’ve been able to make out, a part-time preacher. Nobody bothered to tell me this until the last weeks there before it closed. During Xmas parties I never would attend but I’d pick up the various “goodies” exchanged later on. I, like another employee (who fortunately quit) would receive a nicely wrapped Xtian Bible. Everyone else, incidentally received a nice, large chocolate bar in the same wrapping. Clever how they’re both basically the same size and shape! I also was poorly treated by the supervisors and boss, talked down to, basically treated as anything But an equal as other employees were treated. I got the most meager or raises and when one employee found out what I was making, I was laughed at for being such a fool to keep working for the company. But, you know, it was nearby, paid the bills, and gave me medical insurance.

            Now let’s fast forward to the present. The OKCupid free dating site. Here I proudly stated under “religion” that I am an Atheist and “somewhat serious about it.” You would probably be surprised by how many women rejected me for that alone, not that they’d come out and actually say it though. The more friendly folks tried to convert me. My screen name was TheSFNut (SF standing for Science Fiction). I typed up a classy, long, elaborate description of myself, my views on life and the universe. etc. I was on there for a month or two until inexplicably being deleted in 2012. No reason given, no explanation. I guess my stated beliefs (or lack thereof) “offended” the religious. Basically if you view another person’s profile, that gets logged and they see that you’re reading their profile. Do this to the same person multiple times and that person, as stupid as it sounds, thinks you’re “stalking” them! With so many people on there, I can’t keep track. I see a pretty-faced girl I read her profile. Eventually she might e-mail me to quit checking her out…She can and does Report such things to the people who run the place. At least the more honest ones respond “Sorry, but I can’t have a relationship with a godless man” or something akin to that. I was deleted without any explanation given. Some months later I went back on, reposted my profile (but did Not answer their 3,000 odd quiestions, with essays for each as I Had done the first time around–just goes to show you how frustrating this is!). My new screen name was TheSFNutReturns. More of the same ensued and just this morning when I tried to log on. I couldn’t. My profile was, again, apparently deleted. No reason given.

            If this isn’t discrimination, then I don’t know what to call it.

  • Libertarian

    Amanda, I was fired, and lost the use of the restaurant I was frequenting back in December of 2004 due to being Atheist.

  • Canieldonrad

    Being a humanist chaplain seems like it would be awesome

    • Ryan Jean

      Then do it. Various UU churches will endorse, and you can apply through American Humanist Association (via the Humanist Society) for endorsement as a Humanist Chaplain/Minister/Celebrant (you get to pick the term) if you’ve been a member for a year or more. On the opposite side, CFI has certified secular celebrants (who go through a surprising amount of training) although they aren’t recognized by most states.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i guess i’m just coming to realize how hard it is for so many, on this level. i’ve been spoiled; it has never really been an issue for me or my friends. my knee jerk reaction is something like “leave the South’ but i increasingly understand that there are more places than Deep South, Alabama in which this is a problem. but i’ve never been ‘religion tested’ for a job before. race and sexuality have always been much more of a concern. 

    • John

       It’s also not always practical for someone to move a long distance, especially if discrimination makes it hard them to get a good job to save money.

  • Guest

    If the discrimination is real that is most likely because atheists generally have lower EQ and IQ and at the same time are so argumentative and behave as if they are superior in intellect. Such people cannot be very productive. From what I experience, many atheists fit the bill. If someone who is not smart enough to be a boss and has to work for others, he should learn when to shut up.

    • KeithCollyer

       hey guys, watch, I’m feeding the troll!
      funny how people who argue like this don’t have the courage to sign in. In my experience, EQ has little to do with atheism or belief, and there is significant evidence that higher IQ correlates with less belief, so your pathetic statement (I wouldn’t even call it an argument) is bullshit

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        Not even a troll but a drive by troll who son’t come back.

    • Ryan Jean

      [citation needed]

      Seriously, that’s about as obvious a BS statement as you can have. Atheists have routinely tested slightly higher (around 2 points on average) on IQ*, and there is no reasonable standard for EQ (with quite a bit of both believers and atheists being scattered around regardless of the measure utilized).

      The rest of that is just your opinions, and keep in mind that with MOST atheists you probably wouldn’t even know that they were. Epic fail is epic.

      * (While this is sufficient to neuter the obvious falsehood of atheists scoring lower on IQ, it also should be noted that it cannot and should not be used as evidence of the opposite conclusion, since 2 points on IQ is far too small a difference when the standard deviation is 15 points.)

    • RobertoTheChi

      You’re a joke! Did your parents hit you too hard over the head with a bible when you were a baby?

    • Blacksheep

      I know many brilliant Christians. However, I can tell you that some of the people whom I consider to be the smartest (probably in IQ) both at work and socially happen to be atheists. What does this mean? I have no idea, but it’s still true.

  • Lurker111

    “How Can Atheists Avoid Employment Discrimination?”

    Lie.  Assholes don’t deserve the truth.

    Sorry.  Been a bad week.  (Next week looking a bit better.)

    • 3lemenope

      Yeah, well, that actually kind of nails it on the head. 

      When a person asks a question of you, it is a demand for information. The decision whether to comply with the demand ought to be predicated in part on whether the demand is justified. Under normal circumstances, when there isn’t much of a power dynamic in play, you can simply refuse to answer a question you feel unjustified, but when the situation is such where the person asking the unjustified question has power over you, or has malevolent intent, or both, it can be perfectly acceptable (depending on the stakes of the question) to not comply by giving a false answer as a last option when all other deflection methods would result in problems as bad or worse than those caused by acceding to the unjustified request.

  • Rebelmann

    It is hard to aquire evidence when companies dont allow you to record or video on THEIR property,  or on THEIR time.  It also doesnt help much to go to HR when the owner has hand picked bible nuts working in that dept. In some places you basically have to sign your rights away in order to work their.

  • One Man Damned

    Everybody has complaints about about their job but thankfully religion never comes up at mine.  I work in the government sector (in the south, even) but I’ve never really had a problem.  I often complain about the seemingly ridiculous
    number of diversity/sexual harassment/equality/code-of-conduct
    trainings employees are required to attend every year, but they DO appear to help a little with stuff like this. I’ve heard some horror stories from co-workers who used to work in the private sector about their former workplaces, but it hasn’t been an issue here. 

    Perhaps because people live in fear that if they end up doing anything someone considers inappropriate, it will mean all of us will be required to sit through yet another mandatory and mind-numbing “tolerance in the workplace” training session.  The possibility of having to have another horrible Powerpoint being read aloud to us, and being forced to watch some poorly-produced videos with bad acting and simplistic, condescending messages, is a strong deterrent.  Brutal.

  • Grizzlefun

    I personally am a God fearing woman, I never knew that Atheist’s were a target for job  discrimination. Can someone please explain why this is a problem? I know that it is wrong, everyone has a right to be or believe what they want to believe. Can’t you sue a company for this? Is it not the same everywhere that the app’s say  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits
    employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or
    national origin. Sorry if so many questions but I just don’t understand why being atheist should be a problem in the workforce, it is not like a person with this belief are going to convert someone that does not already have questions, or are already thinking about it anyway.

  • Grizzlefun

    I personally am a God fearing woman, I never knew that Atheist’s were a target for job  discrimination. Can someone please explain why this is a problem? I know that it is wrong, everyone has a right to be or believe what they want to believe. Can’t you sue a company for this? Is it not the same everywhere that the app’s say  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits
    employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or
    national origin. Sorry if so many questions but I just don’t understand why being atheist should be a problem in the workforce, it is not like a person with this belief are going to convert someone that does not already have questions, or are already thinking about it anyway.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Because religious discrimination is very hard to prove.  No employer is going to tell you they’re firing you because you don’t go to church.  If they can’t make you quit by treating you poorly, they’ll find some other way to excuse it, which is why Amanda says “document everything”.

      I could detail a few real life examples I’m aware of, but basically, there’s no law saying your co-workers have to invite you when everyone goes out to lunch.  Or that they have to talk to you about last night’s TV at the water cooler.  If being an atheist makes them just really not like you, then there’s not a whole lot anyone can do about that.  At least not in the short term.

      That’s what drives many of us who can to be more open.  We’re hoping that more personal examples of atheists who are ordinary decent people will change a few minds.  As you said, nobody is going to get converted.  But maybe we can all treat each other with a little more respect.  That doesn’t mean agreeing with the other person, or even respecting their belief.  But smiling and holding the door for someone isn’t going to change whether they go to hell or not.

  • Sarah

    Personally,what I believe is my business not my employers. I just wouldnt say anything until after I was hired, and then only if I incountered something offensive like being handed a religious tract, or being forced to pray. “christmas” parties are fine as long as they are all about santa and reindeer because i think they are fun.