In reading the latest missive from the Humanists News Network, I saw an interesting note about an atheist who lived among evangelicals as part of an upcoming Fox Television program called "30 days." In the introduction, the HNN article makes the following statement:
"Brenda" attended church and Bible studies with her "adopted" family and in turn introduced them to a local atheist group. She hopes her experience will help to dispel public misunderstanding of and prejudice toward atheists.
Prejudice toward atheists? I have never witnessed prejudice towards atheists, so I decided to search the web for evidence of this prejudice. I found no evidence outside of atheist-run websites, but what I read disturbed me. For example, on a webpage entitled "Discrimination Against Atheists: The Facts, the author listed five examples of acts of discrimination and prejudice towards atheists that were very, very troubling.
Gray, Tennessee: Carletta Sims joined a financial firm in June 2001. Shortly afterward, two Baptist coworkers took offense upon learning that Sims was an atheist. Management granted the coworkers’ request to be assigned workspaces further from Sims. When Sims complained about a picture of Jesus left on her computer, management discharged her. Sims filed suit, seeking $250,000; U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull ruled that “religious discrimination (or preferential treatment of Christians) can be inferred.” In January 2004, the major bank that had since acquired the firm settled with Sims for an undisclosed amount.
Ada, Oklahoma: A Baptist student told a local newspaper she wouldn’t take professor William Zellner’s classes because he was an atheist, triggering a flurry of abuse. Zellner received harassing notes and telephone calls, some threatening. His car was vandalized, for a time on a daily basis. A local church sold “I am praying for Dr. Zellner” buttons. His children experienced shunning and beatings from religious children.
Minneapolis, Minnesota: First-grader Michael Bristor, an atheist, was denied an honor roll certificate when he refused to participate in an unconstitutional “prayer time” at a public school. For three years, administrators ignored the family’s complaints until a lawsuit was filed.
Caro, Michigan: In December 2001, Anonka—an open atheist who maintains a museum of Christian religious atrocities—appeared before the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners to challenge a nativity scene placed on public land. Commissioners responded angrily, saying she had no right to be present and proceeding to ridicule her. Anonka and her family suffered repeated harassment including annoyance calls, threatening calls and letters, and vandalism. In February 2004, the county settled in U.S. District Court, agreeing to pay an undisclosed sum and to issue a “public expression of regret.”
Pocopson, Pennsylvania: My own atheism came to prominence when I became involved in a legal challenge to a Ten Commandments plaque on the wall of the Chester County, Pennsylvania, courthouse. Neighbors organized a shunning campaign, some area merchants refused to do business with me, and I received hundreds of threatening letters and phone calls. (The depth of public animus against me became a subject of local news and magazine coverage.) I was forced to close my interior decorating business because of death threats that compelled me to stop visiting the homes of persons unknown to me.
Calgary, Alberta: An eleven-year-old boy (name withheld) experienced daily physical attacks and threats against his life by schoolmates—notably the sons of three local pastors—after protesting intercom readings of the Lord’s Prayer in a public school. He was repeatedly body-checked into hallway walls and attacked in the rest rooms. One pastor’s son stalked him with a butcher knife in an empty portable classroom. Despite the seriousness of this incident, no action was taken. The boy’s parents transferred him to another school for his own safety.
Now, I personally think that this is horrible. I was expecting to find examples of people discriminating against atheists in such situations as not allowing them to be president of the local chapter of College Cuusades for Christ. In that situation, discrimination seems to me to be a perfectly rational act since having an atheist in charge of a local Christian organization designed specifically to reach out to the community with the love of Christ seems patently absurd. But these acts, if true (and I have no reason to doubt them at the moment other than the vagueness of dates and a lack of sources being listed) go beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior.
As a Christian, I condemn almost all of these actions by other Christians as being very unchristian and not at all how Christ would expect us to act towards others (the one exception being that I don't have much of a problem with the "I am praying for Zellner" buttons, if they were, in fact, praying for Zellner). I call upon the Christian community to remember that God calls upon us to love our neighbor, and beating, shunning, threatening, and other similar actions are not loving in any way, shape or form that I can see. I hope other Christians will do the same.