In a heartbreaking Reddit post, a public school teacher from Arizona illustrates the threat of persecution and discrimination faced by many atheists via a conversation with his eight-year-old son.
Recently Redditor NeroJoe submitted the following post titled To the Christian lurkers on this sub, do you want to know what it really feels like to be persecuted? to r/atheism:
So, I just landed a new job in a public school, and I chose to enroll my children there as well.
The community is very Christian, and also includes a pretty big Mormon population. Virtually all of the staff consists of Christians as well.
This is the conversation I had to have with my eight year old today:
Me: Hey buddy, I need to talk to you.
Me: Know how some of your friends talk about God, and Jesus, and going to church and stuff?
Me: Well, you know how I don’t believe in that stuff? Like, I don’t believe in God.
Son: Uh huh.
Me: You can never let your new friends know that about me.
Me: Because I’ll have their brothers and sisters in my class… and if they tell their parents… their parents might try to get me fired… or they might complain about me so I won’t get to teach here next year.
Son: Why would they do that?
Me: Because some people think someone like me shouldn’t be a teacher. So, can you just make sure you don’t tell anyone?
Son: Yeah. I won’t.
And there you have it. While all of my coworkers freely wear crosses on their necklaces, and adorn their cars with their church stickers. I have to keep my religious belief a secret.
I must fear the prospect of a witch hunt.
Now, you might say don’t worry they can’t fire you over it. That’s technically true.
However, to be successful at my job, I must build good relationships with students and parents. If my atheism were even made known, it would spread through the gossip channels, and I would be ostracized. Many religious parents, as well as students, would lose their respect for me altogether.
Just because of my beliefs.
Now… Imagine yourself having to keep your Christianity a secret.
No, I’m not talking about simply keeping your mouth shut and not proselytizing at work…
I mean keeping your beliefs an absolute secret, and even having to instruct your own children not to expose you.
The moving and heartbreaking post illustrates the fact that in many parts of the country it is simply not possible to be an out of the closet atheist without the fear of real and damaging repercussions.
To be clear, unlike other parts of the world, atheists in the U.S. do not face prison or even death for being good without god. However, in some parts of the country, being an atheist can mean facing informal discrimination in employment, and social ostracization from colleagues, friends, and family.
Godless In Dixie blogger Neil Carter has personal experience with facing the kind of persecution Redditor NeroJoe fears. As a public school teacher Carter was “outed” as an atheist by a student after the student found some “incriminating evidence” on a social media post Carter believed to be private.
In a post titled “The Sequel to God’s Not Dead Happened in My Classroom, But In Reverse” Carter describes the tragic ramifications of being identified as an atheist while teaching in a public school in the Bible belt. It is not a pretty picture. After word got out, Carter was harassed and treated poorly by school administrators, and in the end his teaching contract was not renewed.
Bottom line: Not all atheists in the U.S. face persecution, or even the fear of persecution, but many do. Atheist are still a minority and Christians are the majority. As with all things human, the majority can and often will persecute the minority.
What do you think? Have you faced informal discrimination or persecution because of your beliefs, or lack thereof? Leave a comment, express yourself.