Saturday, June 30, 2007

Atheism and Civil Rights

There is a discussion in the blogsphere about whether there exists a type of discrimination against atheists that counts as a civil rights issue.

Matt Nisbet in "Atheism Is Not a Civil Rights Issue" says that atheists should not compare themselves to gays, jews, and blacks as victims of discrimination.

He refers to a column in Free Inquiry magazine that says "Atheism Is Not a Civil Rights Issue"

This, in turn, refers to comments by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that atheists do face discrimination.

Well, Friendly Atheist ignited a long discussion of the merits of blogging anonymously in "How To Blog About Atheism" that describes atheists fearing the loss of jobs and other opportunities if they should announce that they are atheists.

If there were no discrimination, then saying that one is an atheist should, in itself, be no different than saying that one is a Seventh-day Adventist.

Grothe and Dacey dismiss these concerns by saying, By their nature, minority viewpoints are unpopular and held in suspicion by the general public: just ask a Wiccan or deep ecologist.

Yet, there are countless 'minority viewpoints' that are not viewed with general distrust. Indeed, every one of us holds a minority viewpoint on at least one issue. Yet, there are few issues where we worry about the loss of jobs, friends, and even life or limb as a result.

Personally, one of the effects of letting others know that I did not believe in God when I was young was being attacked by fellow classmates. One particular attack involved holding me under water until I could hold my breath no more. I screamed for help (which, for somebody who is under water at the time, is an extreme act of despiration) - thinking that the lung full of air I screamed out was the last I would breathe.

It is a horrendously frightening experience. I think about it every time the press mentions 'waterboarding'.

Yet, that was only one religiously-motivated attack.

I wanted to spend my adult life in public service - as an elected official. However, most people will not vote for an atheist.

Phrases like, "There are no atheists in foxholes" and "Atheists cannot be moral" are bigoted statements that deprive atheists across the country from opportunities that will give their life meaning because agents in this country carefully cultivate an attitude of hate, fear, and distrust of atheists - a campaign that feeds on itself, and that cannot be broken until one points out the basic injustice of these attitudes.

There is very much in common between the unreasoned hatred of atheists expressed through denigrating stereotypes, and the unreasoned hatred of other groups expressed through denigrating stereotypes.

There is no reason to refrain from pointing out to people the fact of these similarities.


Anonymous said...

I'm an atheist and I make it well known. Discrimination is not reserved only for ethnic minorities, homosexuals, or any other group you can think of. There also exists discrimination against people who are short. I'm not but trust me I see it everyday.

What few people really want to talk about is the facts. Christians are waging a war in this country. They want to pump the schools, government, and public property full of their ideas and beliefs. It was not until around the 40's & 50's that "one nation under god" and "in god we trust" truly started. That is my understanding at least. I have nothing against Christians but we are supposed to be (like it or not) a secular nation. Separation of church and state. The freedom of and from religion. These are what made this nation successful. Christians want to change that and force their ways on everyone else. Christians discriminate against gays all the time. Do you know what their bible says we should do with gays?

If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what it detestable. They must be put to death. -Leviticus20:13

According to "World Christian Encyclopaedia" and other research there are at least 150 major religions world wide. That means that no matter which you choose you only have a 0.6% of having the correct religion. This also means there is a 99.4% chance you have the wrong one or lack there of.

There is a reason why we have the freedoms and laws we have. If we allow this nation to go under siege by radical Christians we will be no different than the Taliban. Although I doubt it would ever go to that length the possibility does exist.

Hume's Ghost said...

Eddie Tabash wrote a rebuttal, also featured in Free Inquiry, entitled "Atheism is indeed a civil rights issue"

But regardless, Grothe and Dacey are wrong. As Eugene Volokh has demonstrated, if you are an atheist you are more likely to lose custody of your child than a non-atheist. That most certainly is an issue of civil rights and discrimination, as well as a violation of the first amendment.


Miscreanter said...

I read Free Inquiry magazine article you link to called "Atheism Is Not a Civil Rights Issue" and nowhere does it refer to comments by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that atheists do face discrimination like you said. Just thought I would point that out.