Other Religions Atheism and Agnosticism How Are Atheists Discriminated Against? Share Flipboard Email Print Luis Mariano González / Getty Images Other Religions Belief Systems Atheism and Agnosticism Logic Ethics Key Figures in Atheism Evolution Atheism Myths and Misconceptions By Austin Cline Atheism Expert M.A., Princeton University B.A., University of Pennsylvania Austin Cline, a former regional director for the Council for Secular Humanism, writes and lectures extensively about atheism and agnosticism. our editorial process Austin Cline Updated July 14, 2018 Bigotry against atheists is not limited to theory and harsh language — anti-atheist bigotry can also lead to anti-atheist discrimination. After all, if bigots are convinced that atheists are immoral, untrustworthy, and perhaps even evil on some level, then it’s only to be expected that they will treat atheists unequally and as inferiors. Unfortunately, the reasons behind anti-atheist discrimination are no better than discrimination against Jews and racial minorities in the past. Atheists Are Discriminated Against in Politics Perhaps the most obvious example of how atheists are discriminated against is in politics: people are less likely to vote for atheists than they are for any other minority — women, blacks, Jews, Muslims, or even gays. No atheist is likely to be elected on any level anywhere in America and no politicians are likely to specifically appeal to atheists’ votes by defending their interests. Some even openly express bigotry against atheists, for example, President George H.W. Bush. Atheists Are Discriminated Against in Child Custody Cases Some may find it surprising, but atheists are routinely discriminated against by judges deciding child custody cases. There is a common assumption that religion — any religion — is necessary for properly raising children and that atheists are incapable of seeing to the religious, moral, and social needs of their own kids. Parents who regularly attend church are given great preference over parents who don’t believe in gods. Atheists Are Discriminated Against in the Boy Scouts It is well known that the Boy Scouts of America excludes atheists both as members and as leaders. Not so well known is why: the Boy Scouts of America asserts that atheists are incapable of being sufficiently moral or patriotic to deserve to be involved with scouting. As a private organization this is their right, however bigoted it is; so long as they receive public assistance and funding, however, their discrimination should be as illegal as it is unethical. Atheists Are Discriminated Against in the Workplace Religious discrimination in the workplace is illegal, but this doesn’t keep those who are prejudiced against atheists from acting. Atheists can be the targets of discrimination like any other minority unless others are unaware of a person’s atheism — one reason why many atheists keep their true beliefs a secret. Very rarely does one find people willing to admit to discrimination, but it does happen because some really don’t believe that bigotry and discrimination against atheists is wrong. Atheists Are Discriminated Against in Schools Discrimination against atheists in school isn’t too uncommon, unfortunately, and as a consequence atheists can feel very much alone. Just as some schools have tried to hinder the creation of groups for gay students, some have tried to hinder the creation of groups for atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers. Such discrimination is illegal, but that doesn’t stop school administrators who don’t want to be seen as supporting godless atheists. Atheists Are Discriminated Against in the Media When was the last time you saw an open atheist in the media — whether news media, movies, or television programs? It’s very rare, and often when we do see atheists they’re rarely portrayed as normal, well-adjusted people. Gay characters and individuals are far more visible than atheists, which is yet another example of how even gays are less despised in America than atheists. Atheists Are Discriminated Against in Families It’s a sad but unfortunate fact that many atheists have to keep their atheism hidden from their own families. Sometimes, not even spouses are made aware that one is an atheist — they go to church if they have to and participate in religious holidays but without really believing and without the ability to be truly honest. They feel this way because some families will simply disown and turn away from someone merely for being an atheist. Bigotry shouldn’t twist families apart like that. Atheists Are Discriminated Against in History Perhaps the most unusual place we find discrimination against atheists is in history — or the presentation of history, to be more accurate. There have been a number of known or suspected atheist philosophers, scientists, and political leaders throughout history as well as quite a few freethinkers who remained theists but rejected orthodox religious beliefs. How often, though, do we hear about these things? This is not unlike how the homosexuality of many famous figures is suppressed. Atheists’ Fear in a Christian Nation A common theme throughout all these examples of how atheists can be discriminated against is the fear atheists can experience at the prospect of others finding out about them. The consequence of Christians’ anti-atheist bigotry can be quite severe, so of course, atheists will do all they can to avoid revealing the truth. This, of course, only serves to underscore the courage of those willing to come out of the closet to stand up for what’s right and against illegal behavior. Christian Right bigots who seem to revel in promoting anti-atheist prejudice commonly attack these same atheists verbally, accusing them of being anti-American and threatening to destroy the liberties which define America. Why? Because they dare to challenge what they see as improper government promotion of religion. These verbal attacks all too frequently encourage actual physical attacks: atheists who challenge issues such as school prayers or teaching creationism have had to contend with assaults, threats, and vandalism. They may be shunned by their community where neighbors will turn away and merchants will refuse to serve them. Coming out as an atheist in any manner, but especially in a very public manner, is dangerous and made even more dangerous by Christians in America. They insist that America is a “Christian Nation,” which often appears to mean that atheists aren’t welcome and shouldn’t make waves by demanding equality. For many atheists, the idea of America as a “Christian Nation” is one that instills fear at the prospect of what Christians might do when they have even more power to discriminate than they currently do.