Prejudice Against Atheists?

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.


Siamang said…
Thanks for the thoughtful post. I hadn't read any of those stories.

On the Dr. Zellner thing... the buttons, I certainly wouldn't like it if I were singled out by a church group with buttons saying "I'm praying for Bruce." I wouldn't like it if I were singled out by any church simply because of my beliefs--it's none of their danged business.

I don't mind people praying for me. But even from a christian point of view, it's the buttons that I think push the issue into a picketing territory, rather than a spiritual territory. It may be using prayer as a picketing prop, which I would be against if I held that prayer was a holy act. Praying for him is one thing. Telling people you're praying for them pushes it a bit. Putting it on a button that is to be worn... I don't know.

There are, of course, other instances beyond these anecdotes.

A current issue is cases where child custody was decided against an atheist parent on religious grounds.

Recent polls show atheists to be the most distrusted group in America.

Which is one of the reasons I'm posting here. I'm trying to up our popularity ratings. How'm I doing ;-)

I'll be watching this show tonight. I hope it's good, and not some hot-button pushing thing made to embarrass any of the participants. (reality tv syndrome).
Anonymous said…
Thank you very much! I'm linking to this at my Blog. What do you say about internet Christian apologists who feel that they can harrass us all they want to because we seek to rationally debunk their faith?
slaveofone said…
Yikes! I don't have to agree with them, but if I ever see someone harassing, maltreating, and threatening an athiest simply because he/she is an athiest--I will stand with that athiest and defend them from such repugance to whatever end.
Frank Walton said…
Personally, I don't think that John W. Loftus is one to talk about harassment: click here and here.

You should also know that Loftus was fond of linking a blogsite (now gone) from an atheist who had my home address and phone number on it as well as racial epithets.

Mr. Loftus, please don't play innocent.
Jason Pratt said…
Ditto with slaveofone.

Come to think of it, it isn't unusual for me to catch flack for defending atheists, including in my apologetics. (For one instance of such a defense: despite the weaknesses of Richard Carrier's approach, which are manifest and serious, I _do_ think he nevertheless wins against J.P. Moreland's ethical argument in _Scaling the Secular City_ by a solid edge. Sorry, Layman. {s} I'm saying it, however, _as_ a proponent and defender of orthodox trinitarian theology.)

Bruce: while there are many and various reasons for why atheists are the least trusted group in America (ranging from annoyance at people who are saying the Emperor is naked--which could be true in this or that case!--to annoyance at groups who proudly identify themselves as traitors whose word cannot be trusted--i.e. the Internet Infidels), there is one underlying reason for the distrust which simply can never be overcome:

at the end of the day, you're always going to be telling us that your ethics and your reasoning are fully and without remainder the result of nonrational, nonmoral causation. (Even Richard has to do it, when he calls even his own ethical behaviors nonrational--and then tries to give a rational explication of them.)

That just goes with the territory. If you were saying something else (which atheists do in fact usually do), and if you were really meaning it (which admittedly atheists do in fact usually do), you'd be making _theistic_ claims of some sort, not atheistic ones. This discontinuity doesn't go unnoticed either, though; neither does it help with the trustworthiness.

(Keep in mind, I _did_ give RC the edge over JPM's attempt, though. {s})

Jaso Pratt
Jason Pratt said…
Uh, whoops, sorry Layman again! {G}

Actually it was BK who wrote that series. Liiiiiitle tiny font for the author-post tag. I don't know how I got Layman stuck in my head as the author, but it's been there for days. Bad neuron! Bad neuron! {whapping faulty neuron with a rolled-up newspaper and rerouting...}{g}
Anonymous said…
Frank Walton is the worst offender on the web. His "atheism sucks" website and blog will tell the rest of the story. Google it up. Surely atheists are not as dumb stupid or vile as he says they all are. I'll not respond further to him except to say that he twists and turns everything anyway he can. He's respulsive and has been banned from my Blog. He thinks it's his responsibility to poison the well against listening to atheists. See here.
nsfl said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Layman said…
I'm going to leave this dispute between Walton and Loftus for now, but the use of a disparaging term will not be tolerated.
Frank Walton said…
My response to John W. Loftus' link. Also, my response to Daniel Morgan.
Jennifer said…
BK, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Thanks for the post.
Anonymous said…
How do you respond to someone who continually wallows in the mire without getting dirty yourself? They never respond intelligently to our arguments. They just bother and harrass us until we eventually fire back, and then they take a snapshot of it and continually bring it up even though it was provoked and very old news. I suspect if they get nothing else on me they will still dog my steps with the same frivolous and meaningless accusations ten years from now. Why? Because they cannot deal with my arguments and because I'm considered a real threat to their faith. In a way it's a very big compliment. See here.
Layman said…
Loftus and Walton,

I've had about enough sniping between you too. I'll be deleting further posts between you that are of this nature.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Siamang said…
Oooookay, that was strange.

Whew I'm glad I don't have a big website to moderate.

To respond to Jason who wrote:

"at the end of the day, you're always going to be telling us that your ethics and your reasoning are fully and without remainder the result of nonrational, nonmoral causation. "

Sorry, I'm having a hard time as, again, I'm not versed in the language of philosophical argumentation. Do you mean that I think that reason and ethics have an ultimate cause rooted in biology?

And that's why people don't trust atheists?

If so, I think that's a rather poor reason to distrust someone.

Again, I ask the question, what of love? What of compassion? What of sympathy, charity, virtue?

Is there no room for these in the various calculations of philosophers? I think I'll never understand philosophy. It seems to have just about zero to do with real life.

You also wrote:

"If you were saying something else (which atheists do in fact usually do), and if you were really meaning it (which admittedly atheists do in fact usually do), you'd be making _theistic_ claims of some sort, not atheistic ones. This discontinuity doesn't go unnoticed either, though; neither does it help with the trustworthiness."

If you'd like a response to this point, I'm afraid you're going to have to help me parse it. Again I apologize for my lack of understanding of philosophical argumentation. What is it you think I might be arguing, and why is it discontinuous?

I'm really trying to help with the trustworthiness thing, although I feel I may be trying to apologize for things other people have written, and perhaps mistakes they make or assertions that I do not agree with.

Anyway, apologies in advance for where I may misunderstand you.

Siamang said…
Hey, did anyone watch the show?

I think overall it was pretty good, although some of the things I think they made the Christian dad look wierd at first. Besides that, I think it had some small success accomplishing what it set out to do, which was some one-way understanding.

I wish it was more suited to two-way understanding.

Anyone see it?
Frank Walton said…
I am against atheist being discriminated just because of their philosophical worldview. But compared to them Christians are definitely harassed way more:

Since having gone public with my website and blogsite I had threats hurled at me, racist comments made against me because of the color of my skin, my wife's name and our home address and phone number publicly published on a website and blogsite (I have this all documented by the way). I received one threat (via e-mail) so disturbing (he talked of raping my wife and lynching me) I had to call the police to see if we can find the guy.

Not only that but agnostic Ed Babinski has hounded me for not giving out personal information about myself (where I'm from, what school I go to, my major, etc.). I told him that I didn't want to give out said information because I crave a certain amount of anonymity. It's for my protection from any fundamentalist atheist who may lash out at me or harass me. Guess what? Babinski didn't care. Instead of respecting my privacty, he continued to send me e-mails over and over and over again requesting personal info about myself. He went so far as to go to a Christian forum and accused me of "avoidance apologetics" and to provoke some personal information about myself!

Also, I'm not the only Christian who faced harassment...

Atheist Farrell Till had the temerity to publish JP Holding's (author of phone number, home address, wife's name and work place in a public webarticle.

Also, Christian Jason Gastrich had his home address published in a public website by atheists. Worse of all they actually took pictures of his home!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. And I hope atheists would come to their senses and condemn such despicable acts. They're prone on pointing their fingers at us. But they should look at people of their own ilk.
Layman said…
In my experience, I was harassed while posting regularly on various atheist discussion boards. But since cutting down on discussion boards and focusing on blogs and articles, I have experienced little of what I would call harassment. And certainly nothing involving threats to me or my family, despite the fact that I my real name and location are widely available.

On the other hand, I may simply not be a big enough target to attract such attention. JP has a much bigger web footprint than our humble site and blog.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
nsfl said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
nsfl said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BK said…
Okay, I've had enough. While debate is okay, sniping is not. So, I am deleting the last few posts altogether and stopping all comments on this blog. If you want to have this conversation, you can carry it on elsewhere.

Popular posts from this blog

How Many Children in Bethlehem Did Herod Kill?

Where did Jesus say "It is better to give than receive?"

The Bogus Gandhi Quote

Discussing Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Exodus 22:18 - Are Followers of God to Kill Witches?

Revamping and New Articles at the CADRE Site

A Non-Biblical Historian Accepts the Key "Minimum Facts" Supporting Jesus' Resurrection

Jewish writings and a change in the Temple at the time of the Death of Jesus

A Botched Abortion Shows the Lies of Pro-Choice Proponents

Asherah: Not God's Wife