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10 Scariest States to Be an Atheist

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

United states Let’s be clear. It’s not like it’s easy to be an atheist anywhere in the U.S. Atheists are the most distrusted and disliked of all minority groups — more than Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, and gays and lesbians — and polls show that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist than they are for a person in any other minority or marginalized category. And this hostility can have serious consequences, in the form of harassment, bullying, ostracism, vandalism, alienation from family, loss of jobs, and more.

But to be honest, there are parts of the country where being an atheist really isn’t all that awful. Heck, I live in one of them. There’s some bigotry, some discrimination, a fair amount of misunderstanding and even hostility… but all things considered, it’s pretty okay. And then, there are some parts of the country where being an atheist sucks giant donkey dicks.

Let’s talk about a few of those, shall we?

Red regions blue regions Now, to a great extent, how badly it sucks to be an atheist may not depend on the state you live in. It’s sort of like the red-state/ blue state myth: cultural differences in the United States break down more along urban/ rural lines than they do along state lines. Is it easier to be an atheist in New York than in Texas? Maybe… but it may also be easier if you’re in Austin, Texas than if you’re in rural upstate New York.

Many atheist and secularist leaders I spoke to stressed this point. According to Fred Edwords, National Director of the United Coalition of Reason (the organization responsible for many of the atheist billboard campaigns), “As for the worst states to be an atheist, it doesn’t generally work that way. It depends on what part of a state you are in.” In fact, he’s not even sure that this difference always breaks down along urban/ rural lines. “Is the key idea that the more rural areas give us the most trouble?” he asked. “Maybe. But we had bus ads vandalized in Detroit, too.” And he added that in Kentucky, “we had no problem in Louisville, but I still can’t get a billboard company to run our ads in supposedly more liberal Lexington.” And according to the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State “No state is really safe for non-believers. You find creationist ideas in schools from Louisiana to New Jersey. You find efforts to send secular tax dollars to religious schools in Indiana and Florida. And, finally, you find polls done of all Americans demonstrating that plenty of families don’t want their sons or daughters marrying atheists. There are many sad states of affairs.”

So the point here isn’t to show that some states suck for atheists worse than others. The point is to show that anti-atheist bigotry is real. The point is to show that it has real-world consequences. And the point is to let you know what some of those consequences are.

So with all that being said — let’s get on with the list! If you’re finishing your degree in secular studies and are trying to decide where in the country you want to plant your godless stakes… here are some places you might want to avoid.

Pennsylvania #10: Pennsylvania. Yes, I know. Everyone’s expecting this list to be overloaded with the deep South. And yes, I’ll be getting there soon enough. But religious privilege and anti-atheist hostility don’t stay below the Mason-Dixon line. Anti-atheist bigotry can, and does, happen anywhere.

And Pennsylvania is Exhibit A. Specifically, Annville, Pennsylvania. Where atheist veterans marching in the Memorial Day parade were jeered, booed, insulted, cursed at, yelled at to leave, and told they were going to burn in hell. Not once or twice by a couple of fanatics… but repeatedly, throughout the course of the parade.

Let me spell that one out again. In small town America, veterans — veterans, on Memorial Day, marching in a Memorial Day parade — were jeered, booed, insulted, cursed at, yelled at to leave, and told they were going to burn in hell.

Because they were atheists.

‘Nuff said.

Idaho-postcard #9: Idaho. Where atheist billboards — not in-your-face controversial ones, but almost aggressively mild ones, simply announcing that atheists exist and are good people — are vandalized on a regular basis. According to Maggie Ardiente, Director of Development and Communications of the American Humanist Association, “Thanks to a member of ours who lives in Moscow, Idaho, the AHA has been putting up billboards over the past two years to promote humanism and atheism. When we put up a factual, non-controversial billboard that said, ‘Millions are Good Without God,’ it was vandalized twice! We continue to put billboards in the area, but there is often additional security provided when we put up a new one.” Just like it says in the Bible: “And whatever place will not take you in and will not give ear to you, when you go away, put off the dust from your feet… and then deface their billboards like a douchebag.”

Arkansas postcard #8: Arkansas. (I told you I’d get to the deep South!) Hey, at least in Idaho, atheists can put up their dang billboards. In Arkansas, the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) has flatly rejected an atheist ad that the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason wanted to put up on 18 buses… solely and entirely because the content of the ads — “Are you good without God? Millions are” — is atheist.

I am not kidding. Even the public excuses being given for rejecting the ads — possible vandalism and even “terrorism” due to the “controversial” nature of the ad — are based on the fact that these ads have atheist content, expressing the “controversial” view that atheists, you know, exist, and are good people. And as the behind-the-scenes scrambling reveals, they are blatantly doing this based on religious hostility to atheism. Check this out:

In response to an e-mail message dated February 28, 2011, from Plaintiff’s media broker to the Advertising Agent conveying the content of the Proposed Advertisement, the Advertising Agent forwarded the message to Betty Wineland, the Executive Director of the Authority, stating in her accompanying message (in its entirety): “Dear God……HELP!” Ms. Wineland replied: “I need Him now more than ever. Good grief. I think we need to throw religion into the advertising policy – as a negative. Stall while CATA reviews.”

Let me spell this one out very plainly: A government-run public transit authority is rejecting religious-themed advertising — solely because the religious view being advertised is the view that religion is mistaken. And no, they haven’t changed their policy to reject all religious-themed ads. They still take religious-themed ads. Just not ones from atheists.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: Yes. They’re being sued.

Alabama-Postcard #7: Alabama. The state where the actual governor, Robert Bentley, said in actual words, “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister.” The state where it took an interfaith delegation, led by the Anti-Defamation league, to inform him that there are non-Christians in Alabama. Non-Christians who — I hope I don’t have to remind you — are fully fledged legal residents of the state. Non-Christians whom Bentley also serves as governor… every bit as much as he serves the Christians. As American Atheists president David Silverman says, “Top of my list is Alabama, home of Roy Moore and ‘You are not my brother’ Governor Bentley. It appears that to hold office in Alabama, you have to be completely ignorant of American Law and despise the Separation of Church and State.”

Oh, and in case that’s not enough: Let’s talk about some places where it sucks to be an atheist in high school. Let’s talk about the Secular Student Alliance, and their new program specifically devoted to supporting high school atheist groups. Let’s talk about the resistance that atheist students routinely get from public high school administrators who want to block students from forming secular groups. And let’s talk a little more about Alabama. The only state where the SSA has had to initiate a lawsuit about it.

Duncan Henderson wanted to form a secular club at his public school — which he has the full legal right to do. But his school principal denied his request. According to JT Eberhard, campus organizer and high school specialist at the Secular Student Alliance, “When Duncan’s father scheduled a meeting to discuss the matter, the principal showed up to the meeting with a lawyer, who more or less repeated, ‘We’re going to follow the law’ in response to every question. But the school has not followed through on that promise to follow the law. The school has stonewalled, and attempts by the SSA to discuss the matter were met with an email from the school’s attorney saying they’re not going to speak to anybody.”

Hence — lawsuit. Which, as of this writing, is happening solely and entirely in the state of Alabama. As Eberhard added, “While it’s not the first state in which we have seen pushback from adults in a position of authority over students to the idea of atheists forming clubs in the same way religious students form clubs, it is the first state in which we’ve had to bring in lawyers to fight for equality denied.”

North carolina postcard #6: North Carolina. Where in December of 2009, Cecil Bothwell couldn’t even get elected to the Asheville city council, without people trying to invoke laws — antiquated laws overruled by the Supreme Court, but laws nonetheless — banning him from taking office because he’s an atheist.

Okay. Let’s be fair. This isn’t exactly an isolated case. Lauren Becker, Vice President and Director of Outreach of the Center for Inquiry, points out that several states have antiquated laws on the books banning atheists from holding office. “The Supreme Court has said that federal law prohibits states from requiring a religious test to serve office,” she says, but “there are still some states that have such laws, whether they enforce them or not.”

North Carolina, however, has the distinction of actually trying to enforce one of these laws. Less than a year and a half ago.

Florida-postcard Florida-postcard #5. Florida. On the other hand, in Florida, you might get kicked out of a city council meeting simply for wearing an atheist T-shirt. And if you protest against prayers at city council meetings, you might actually get arrested.

So that’s gotta suck.

Rhode_island_postcard #4: Rhode Island Did you hear the one about the public high school with the prayer banner in the school gym — a prayer banner specifically addressed to “Our Heavenly Father”? The public high school that got asked to take the banner down by fifteen-year-old atheist high school student Jessica Ahlquist, since it’s an unconstitutional promotion of religion by government? The public high school that’s digging in its heels and hanging on to the banner, despite decades of unambiguous legal precedent making it clear that they’re in the wrong? The public high school that’s getting sued by said atheist high school student and the ACLU… and is still digging in its heels, devoting extensive time and resources to defending their promotion of religion?

That’s Rhode Island, folks. And this story isn’t just about a school administration insisting on its right to unconstitutionally establish religion. It’s about a community’s ostracization of an atheist teenager — in some cases to the point of threats of violence. Ahlquist has been shunned, insulted, vilified, and even threatened with violence. Students in an English class in her school said — during class — that she should be “smacked around and beat up” for fighting the prayer banner. Comments in the Providence Journal article on the story were ugly, personal, even threatening — to a great extent about the ACLU, but largely about Ahlquist herself. (“I think you need to talk to a doctor and get help… you are sick in the head.” “Looks like we have a moon bat in the making.” “Make no mistake, Jessica and the Bolshevik thugs representing her are driven by anti-Christian bigotry and intolerance and censorship… Curse them to hell.”) In fact, according to the Providence Journal, Ahlquist and another student were removed from their regular classroom schedule last month — after some students said they intended to harm her. To quote JT Eberhard, high school specialist at the Secular Student Alliance, “In the city of Cranston, an entire community, perhaps an entire state of adults, is engaging in a smear campaign against a single high school student. Her crime? Believing her school violates the first amendment by hanging a prayer banner in the gym invoking the phrases ‘Our heavenly father’ and ‘Amen’.”

And this is in New England. This is Rhode Island. The first of the 13 original colonies to declare independence from British rule. The state specifically founded as a place of religious freedom, as a response to religious persecution. A slat in the cradle of liberty. And they are vilifying and threatening a fifteen- year- old girl for being an atheist, and for insisting that her public school follow the Constitution and not shove religion down her throat. Anti-atheist bigotry is everywhere. It’s not just in Alabama or Mississippi. Or even Texas.

Texas_postcard #3: Texas. Wow. Where do you start with Texas? The public high school graduation ceremony that was like a revival meeting? The transit company that changed their policies and stopped accepting any bus ads for any religious organizations… just so they wouldn’t have to take ads from atheists? The governor who responded to economic troubles, natural disasters, and terrorism by initiating a state day of prayer, and exhorted Texans to “call on Jesus”? The governor, again, who decreed three official state Days of Prayer for Rain? The public school where they distribute Bibles? The high school textbooks which teach that the Bible was a “foundational text” in the framing of the U.S., that the King James Bible “remains one of the… most-loved books in the history of the world,” and that “the sun went black” when Jesus was crucified? The state Constitution that says, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being“? The teachers that get fired, not for being atheists, but for being suspected of being atheists? The town where they get seriously hysterical about atheists playing “Jingle Bells” in a Christmas parade?

Come on. Did you really expect Texas not to be on this list?

Mississippi postcard #2: Mississippi. I could say a lot about Mississippi. For instance, I could talk about how, when the Second Chance Prom was being organized for lesbian student Constance McMillan, the state chapter of the freaking ACLU refused to take money from the American Humanist Association and the Stiefel Freethought Foundation… because it was atheist money. I shit you not. In an e-mail message to AHA, Jennifer Carr, the fund-raiser for the ACLU of Mississippi, said, “Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist.'” The ACLU would later apologize and accept the money; but, as Maggie Ardiente, Director of Development and Communications of the AHA, puts it, “We were very disappointed to see an organization that’s famously known for standing up for everyone’s rights — including the right to be an atheist or humanist — initially discriminate against us.”

That’s reasonably messed-up. But I want to focus instead on a much more practical, nuts-and-bolts, life-screwing-up form of anti-atheist bigotry — child custody.

It is depressingly common for atheists to have child custody limited, or even denied, explicitly on the basis of their atheism. Cases have been documented again and again and again, in states including Michigan, Minnesota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas. But according to Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy, “Mississippi is the most serious offender.” Volokh goes on to say, “In 2001, for instance, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld an order giving a mother custody partly because she took the child to church more often than the father did, thus providing a better ‘future religious example.’ In 2000, it ordered a father to take the child to church each week, as a [lower] Mississippi court ordered… reasoning that ‘it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training.'”

Try to imagine a judge in this country denying or limiting custody to a parent, explicitly and specifically, because they were Jewish. Because they were Mormon. Because they were Baptist. And now, try to imagine a judge in this country denying or limiting custody to a parent, explicitly and specifically because they’re an atheist. You don’t have to imagine it. This is real. This happens. And it happens in Mississippi more than anywhere else in the country.

And finally, we come to my Number One Worst State to Be an Atheist:

Louisiana-postcard #1: Louisiana.

I freely admit that this list, and the order I’m presenting it, is subjective. It’s not based on a careful statistical analysis of rigorously gathered data based on journalistically objective criteria about anti-atheist bigotry. It’s based on stories that happened to get my atheist dander up. It’s based on stories that made me sad — and enraged.

And the story that happened in Louisiana made me sad, and enraged, more than almost any other.

I’m talking about Damon Fowler.

I’m talking about the atheist high school student who opposed his public school having a school-sponsored prayer at his graduation. Whose name was leaked. And who, as a result, was hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community; publicly demeaned by one of his teachers; physically threatened; and thrown out by his parents, who cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and threw his belongings onto the front porch. Whose public school went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway. Who has had to leave his home and move in with his sister near Dallas, Texas.

You know things are bad when your atheist safe haven from extremist religious persecution is in Texas.

That’s Louisiana.

Worst. State. Ever.

*

United_states postcard And you wanna know the really sad thing? This piece could have been a lot longer. This could easily have been the 20 Worst States to Be an Atheist. The 30 Worst. Heck… the 50 Worst.

You’ve got Maryland. Where yet another atheist high school student started a group, whose posters were torn down by other students — and where actual parents of those students wrote letters to the editor supporting the vandalism, and calling the atheist posters “an atrocity.” You’ve got Georgia. Where students taking their AP tests at a church were proselytized to by church members. You’ve got Utah. Where, says American Atheists president David Silverman, “the State Attorney General is trying to have the Roman Cross pronounced secular so it can be placed on public buildings and schools without regard to equal access.” You’ve got Oklahoma. Where still another public high school student tried to start an atheist group, and was accused by his principle of trying to start a “hate group”… and where the faculty advisor for the group suddenly withdrew, saying she had been told sponsoring the group would be “a bad career move.” You’ve got… oh, you get the idea.

Is anti-atheist bigotry as bad as homophobia or racism, misogyny or transphobia? No, probably not. Not for the most part. I don’t like comparing oppressions: it’s divisive and pointless, and I don’t think anything is gained by playing “more oppressed than thou.” There are a few ways that anti-atheist bigotry is worse than others — the roadblocks being tossed up against high school students leap to mind, as does the whole “least trusted/ least likely to be voted for” thing. But atheists don’t seem to be subject to the same level of physical violence as gay or trans people — or the same level of economic oppression as women or people of color. And I’m not saying that they are.

My point is not that anti-atheist bigotry is as bad as other forms of bigotry. My point is simply that it exists. It is real. It happens all over the country. And it has real-world consequences.

So if you’re ever tempted to ask why atheists are so angry, or why they have to kick up such a fuss all the time, or why they want to organize and form groups based on what they don’t believe in… remember that.

Comments

  1. says

    “This could easily have been the 20 Worst States to Be an Atheist. The 30 Worst. Heck… the 50 Worst. “

    How right you are. Even here in New Hampshire (supposedly one of the most secular states of all in the US), you have theitards behaving like they own the place on a regular basis. Of course, since they already accept their dogmas and rules, they see no problem in demanding that others follow them, because deep down, I don’t think they really care about other human beings on that level.

  2. says

    Showed this to some of my friends who don’t believe that people hate atheists.
    I’m in Northern California, just north of San Francisco, so of course it isn’t nearly as bad as it is in these places…but it does still exist. And as frustrating as it is for people to tell me I couldn’t possibly have ever been discriminated against, it’s even more frustrating when they think that everywhere is like NorCal. Someone told me Damon Fowler wasn’t treated like that for his atheism–he MUST have done a bunch of other bad things/made stuff up/whatever, because religious people would never do something like that.
    Hopefully this article can help show them…

  3. says

    Someone told me Damon Fowler wasn’t treated like that for his atheism–he MUST have done a bunch of other bad things/made stuff up/whatever, because religious people would never do something like that.

    Are they fucking kidding?
    They know about the Crusades, right? The Inquisition? The Salem witch trials? The troubles in Ireland? The assassination of abortion doctors? Hell — 9/11?
    “Religious people would never do something like that.” I think my face is not permanently embedded in my palm.

  4. Lana says

    I liked this list, but I’d also love to see a list of 10 best states to be an atheist. As an atheist in Washington, I have to say the level of acceptance (or at the very least, “meh, whatever”) I’ve experienced is pretty awesome. I read about these other states, and I want to donate money to American Atheists and similar organizations to spread this sort of acceptance across the nation.

  5. Lana says

    *To clarify: By “this sort of acceptance,” I mean the sort of acceptance I experience in Washington.

  6. Minz says

    Thank goodness I’m an Australian, with an unmarried atheist prime minister (even if she’s not doing a great job, it does speak of a level of acceptance!)

  7. says

    Re: Oppression/privilege, I think the issue is that while atheists are hated, harassed etc, they are still more likely then not to be educated, middle class and white. i.e. They might not get voted for, but they are more likely to have access to the other necessary resources to gain office.
    I can second the thankful to be Aussie sentiment. I’m traveling in the Pacific now, and the second question I’m asked is which church I go to. (First questions is who my husband is).

  8. says

    I am curious what the situation is like in other countries. Canada is generally okay, but there is a growing conservative/Christian movement here and it sickens me, honestly.

  9. Bill says

    Read the “CASE FOR CHRIST”..GOD HELP ALL Atheists.. Your lives are almost over and you are headed for hell or pure nothing… WAKE UP!

  10. Eclectic says

    Bill, I’m headed for pure nothing, like all of us. After death, my brain will stop working and my personality will come to a complete halt.
    In a word, oblivion.
    It’s nothing to be afraid of; I was the same way before I was born, and bear no scars from the experience.

  11. says

    Bill, I know you mean well, and that you wholeheartedly believe you’re doing a good thing, but please, treat us like adults. You may not agree with someone’s world view, or they yours, but it’s best to treat people with respect, you’re not going to change someone’s beliefs by just shouting at them. As the good man says, the best way to convert is by leading an example of what a good Christian should be.
    Anyway, as an English agnostic with a girlfriend in Florida, this article does make me wonder slightly about the future :X

  12. Hitch says

    Good article. Reminds me of a chain of videos that appeared on youtube a while back discussing these issues in the context of what was called atheismophobia. The stigma of atheists is so high that we don’t even have a word for the stigma yet, while other marginalized groups managed to get the stigma at least recognized, in words like homophobia, islamophobia and so forth. The effect is that the phobia is actually seen and accepted as normal, and the issue is not visible and a non-issue.

  13. says

    And, finally, you find polls done of all Americans demonstrating that plenty of families don’t want their sons or daughters marrying atheists. There are many sad states of affairs.
    That seems to be a strange thing to be upset about, particularly one to come from someone who claims the title “reverend.” Most people in the U.S. are not atheists, and most people would prefer their children marry someone of a similar faith.
    I don’t see how someone who has a strong belief in God could marry someone who rejects the idea of God – and for that matter, vice versa. Barry Lynn essentially seems to be opining that it is terrible that non-atheists take their beliefs seriously – again, a strange position for a minister to take.

  14. says

    Okay, but isn’t it natural for people to want their children to have the same religious beliefs that they do? If a person takes their religious beliefs seriously, and have a religion that makes claims to objective truth, shouldn’t they prefer that their children and their spouses share the same beliefs, rather than that the children choose a belief system that the parents believe is not correct?
    Again, Barry Lynn seems to be against people who take their religious beliefs seriously, which is an odd position for a “reverend” to take.

  15. Filip says

    I live in Serbia. You know Balcans, the place ethnicity is based on religion… If you are Ortadox Christian then you are Serb, if you are Catolic then you are Croat and if you are Muslim you are Bosnian. We all, Searbs, Croats and Bosnians live on teritory roughly 500miles wide, but the bunch of people are ready and eager to KILL ant TORTURE each other on religius behalfe.
    But…In Serbia, in Belgrade, the things are SUPERB compared to this states. -_-

  16. auntbenjy says

    This makes me so glad to be back in New Zealand. About 70% of the people I know here are atheist or agnostic, and it has never been an issue.

    Even in Boston, often the first question I was asked was which church I went to, and the looks of horror I got when I told them I didn’t surprised the heck out of me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be afraid of admitting to being an atheist, and I really admire the courage of those who do under these circumstances.

  17. Kol says

    Yay! My state wasn’t on the list!

    It used to be normal in my area for this exchange to occur:

    Q: “So, what church to you go to?”
    A: *ignore the placement of the preposition* “Saint Mary’s”
    Q: “Oh! So you’re Catholic?”
    A: “Yes. That’s it. Catholic.”
    Q: “You do realize that all Catholics are going to Hell, right?”
    A: “That’s news to me. Father (insert name here) tells us that…”
    Q: “You poor thing! Didn’t you know you’re on the wrong path?”
    A: “I thought there was just supposed to be one path.”
    Q: “Satan has blinded you. Would you come to my church?”
    A: “Okay.”

    But now, it’s like:

    Q: “What church do you go to?”
    A: “I don’t.”
    Q: “What?”
    A: “I would explain it to you but I don’t want to be rude.”
    Q: “Are you a God Hater?”
    A: “No. That would be stupid.”

    As it turns out, there are more people that understand that response than any poll would lead us to believe.

    @Filip, I feel for you. Your situation is an example of real world political and religious extremes. If only the religious variable were removed from the equation, we might find ourselves bickering over where a school should be built instead of our favorite theological flavor.

    Be patient with me, people. I’m newly unconfused.

  18. Al Stefanelli says

    Excellent! Of course, being the Georgia State Director for American Atheists, Inc. does pose it’s challenges, as well. :D

  19. Tony says

    Can someone please explain to me (and this is probably one of those unanswerables…sigh) what is it about atheism that brings out such venom and violence from believers?
    It’s another way of thinking (leaving aside questions of truth/non truth, real/unreal) and it doesn’t hurt anyone to be an atheist (in and of itself; obviously this post shows that it can be harmful, but that harm is from external sources).
    So why the sheer hatred? The vicious attacks? The venomous words?
    It’s almost as if someone decided that telling us to shut up wasn’t enough, and now it’s time for them to MAKE us shut up.
    And somehow these hateful individuals can still sleep at night and consider themselves good people.

  20. Aquaria says

    Can someone please explain to me (and this is probably one of those unanswerables…sigh) what is it about atheism that brings out such venom and violence from believers?

    Depends on the person. For some, it’s selfish idiocy welded to tribalism: “I believe or belong to this–so everybody is supposed to.” The delusional churches also pimp this nonsense that everyone’s supposed to believe the same thing, convert them if you can’t, damn them if you can’t. So when someone says they aren’t part of the stupidity, these delusional bigots go into wig out mode.

    Some of it is that, deep down, they know, on some level that the atheists are right, and they can’t accept it.. The cognitive dissonance is tough to live with.

    All of it is rank ignorance.

  21. King of New Hampshire says

    @Larian LeQuella

    I agree, NH has our problems. But after living in the deep south, I was relieved to be able to tell my rather preachy boss that I was an atheist and found his religion to be silly in the full knowledge that he had no real recourse, that his attempt to “teach me” anything would be harshly dealt with. In Georgia, I had no such protection when I worked at a school and was constantly preached to with the strong, if subtle, reminder that any counter on my part would be the same as quitting. I now work at a university that refuses to name their course on evolution “evolution” because they fear the religious majority here in West Virginia.

    Sometimes I think saying NH is one of the most secular states is like saying a kid is the smartest kid in special ed. I’m proud, but not deluded.

  22. brian says

    i live in one of these states it can be bad there are times at my school where i was berated for telling people that i was an atheisti was told repetadly that i was going to go to hell but the ignorant people at my school have no human decency that they can not simply respect my beliefs and they tried to shove religion down my throat

  23. Peter Hockley says

    The reason atheists don’t get beaten up in The States, is unless you are wearing something that declares your atheism, you are not as identifiable as people of colour, transvestites/sexuals and on and on. Good grief can you imagine the kind of trouble you would be in, if you were a dark skinned, transsexual wearing an atheist t shirt!

  24. says

    Thank god I live in Canada. I’ve never, ever, experienced any discrimination because of my “rather in your face” atheism. I even spent 27 years in the Air Force and never had even a hint of a problem. Hell, there were atheists all over the place. Sure, I ran into a few god botherers but they were the ones who generally stayed in the closet because most people just rolled their eyes if they preached. The majority of Canadians I know are cafeteria christians who use their evolved empathy and learned social skills to define their morality. If you question them on whether they really believe any of the doctrinal nonsense (talking snakes, virgin births, resurrection etc), they kind of mutter some equivalent of “not literally”. They just haven’t really thought about religion so consider themselves nominally xtian because that’s how they were raised. These are the kind of theists I can tolerate.

  25. Sarah says

    Greta Christina, A profoundly heartfelt THANK YOU to you from me! I come across “angry atheists” articles and comments ALL THEE TIME. Now, I have a great link to add to the discussion. There are not adequate words to express how much I appreciate you. I have been reading your column for years. You have such a gift for using words to corral atheist ideas and bring them into sharp focus as you expound. It reminds me of the “There’s an app for that” advertising campaign, for when I need a crystal-clear response in religion/atheism discussions, I may give one of my own, but often it’s just best to post a link to a GC blog article. Reading your articles has sharpened my ability to defend atheism and criticize religion. Thank you. Merry Santamas!

  26. I amafreeman says

    TONY, It is because you are not afraid to “go it alone”; that is, without a psychological crutch. Religious types could NEVER admit that to themselves; what, admit one is a coward? Perish the thought.

    There is also the “I am better than you” clique philosophy; you do realize that 90% of the American (and probably the entire westernized world) population still live in a high school state of mind and never got much past 13-17 in psychological development?

  27. sunnydale75 says

    I amafreeman:

    -It’s ironic you said that I’m “not afraid to go it alone”. Internally, I’m not afraid of venturing anywhere. I can happily expand my brain all day long, while sitting in the bed. Externally is different. I *am* afraid to go it alone. I really dislike doing anything alone. I hate shopping, going out to eat, going to the movies, and I especially hate travelling–by myself. Not sure why (though the comfort level afforded by a trusted companion, along with the bonus of someone you know that you can talk to during your trek are definite factors). In addition, I *am* afraid to go it alone romantically. I long ago cast aside notions of finding “one person in all the world” or “the one” or “my soul mate” or anything else like that. I’ve accepted that it’s possible that we can go through our lives experiencing several strong, loving, committed relationships; that it doesn’t have to be just one person (it *can* be though; it’s not like there’s only 2 flavors). Being gay though (and part of me wants to say “plus living in the south”, but not having lived as an adult in other regions of the country, I have no idea how different it is), it’s been hard to meet anyone to date, let alone forge something long term. Then once I became more firm in my non belief, I realized that being an atheist might hinder my efforts to find someone to date, as I’m not sure how to begin a relationship between an myself and a theist. As I type this, it’s my 36th birthday and I’m actually dating someone for the first time in 7 years. As a result, some of that fear has been beaten back a bit. It doesn’t make me any less curious as to why I have that fear in the first place.

    Tony

  28. Walluh says

    Ah, Texas…
    I was brought up in Denmark, country with about 80% atheist (and whenever Danes hear that statistic, they ask “Who are the 20 percent?” because to be honest, in all my life in Denmark I have met maybe… 5 people who believed in a god) and never really thought about it in any significant way…
    Then I moved to Texas. Very rural West Texas. I usually refer to my time there, as the time where I had nothing in common with anyone. Religious views being one of them. Students talked about atheists like it was a ghost story, wondering what they would do if they ever met one, wondering how these people could even exist.
    Once I tried casually slipping in that I probably wasn’t particularly religious, but the horrified, and slightly threatening, response I was met with, forced me to cowardly backtrack. I would say, several times I was deeply concerned about what would happen to me if anyone found out.
    (needless to say, I do not live in that town anymore)
    I know not all of the US is like this, but to Danes, the mere idea that something at all like this could take place is simply bizarre, and quite often, Danes do not believe me when I tell stories, of cite statistics of how religious Americans really are, because it seems so so strange to us, that a Western country can be so backwards on the attitude to freedom of religion, secularism and separation of church and state…

  29. Godless says

    Great read, I’ve enjoyed a number of articles here, thank you all. A little late to the party, but here goes… I live in a small town just miles from a larger college town, the differences are stark. The urban/rural lines you mention are quite apparent in this red state (with tiny blue dots), making this a particularly interesting read.

    One thing you said bothered me though, the part about your home town:

    “There’s some bigotry, some discrimination, a fair amount of misunderstanding and even hostility… but all things considered, it’s pretty okay.”

    That made my head hurt. “Pretty okay” implies just that, but none of the traits mentioned were even mildly acceptable. Maybe I am over-analyzing, or the sarcasm went over my head, but after reading this and some of your other articles, I’m surprised at the statement.

    That’s all. Keep up the good work!

  30. Dianne says

    Pennsylvania is sometimes described as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and a lot of Alabama in between. Apparently so. But having been born in Louisiana and brought up in Texas, it takes a lot more than PA to scare me.

  31. Nika says

    I live in Asheville, where the incident with Cecil Bothwell occurred. Just want to say that the man, Edgerton, who tried to bar Bothwell from serving on city council, is the former head of the local NAACP and slavery apologist who claims “it was better to be an African in the Southland as a slave than to be free in Africa.”. This man dons a Civil War Confederate costume to celebrate Confederate history, though he is an African-American. He is a local character who in no way embodies the spirit of Asheville, a liberal town with a strong history of support for minority and LGBT rights. His claims were quickly dismissed as ridiculous and Bothwell was allowed to serve in his duly-elected capacity and is now running for US Congress. He is very popular in our town. NC may be in the Bible belt, but this incident is not an accurate reflection of Asheville or NC.

    More info on Edgerton: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2000/summer/confederates-in-black

    Bothwell for Congress: http://bothwell2012.com/about/

  32. says

    Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.

  33. says

    Add another black mark for Louisiana, where our legislature gave in to political pressure from wing nuts who objected to anti-bullying laws being passed on the grounds that the law would protect homosexuals.

  34. says

    Oh, and for Bill @ #11 read the Bible! Start from Genesis and read every word through the entire Old testament. Better still read the Torah – far less translation errors than KJV. If you’re a believer when you finish call again.
    When I die that will be the end. No brain function. Chemical decomposition so my atoms will be re-used. I’ve been close to death a few times and it just isn’t at all scary; not even the time I spent in fox-holes under fire! There have even been times I’d have welcomed a swift death. Compare to my mother in law who prays daily and seems to live in abject terror of the end. Sadly I know nothing I can say now will help her see her folly and ler her face death more easily.

  35. petzl20 says

    I don’t think Pennsylvania being on the list should come a surprise. Anything west of Philadelphia should more properly be thought of as “East Ohio.”

  36. TN4th says

    I’m slighted! Tennessee didn’t make the list. What an oversight. It is actually in our state constitution that atheists cannot hold public office. Boy, I’d like to see that challenged. But first, we have to find an atheist who can get elected, and who is willing to press the point.

  37. THEMAYAN says

    10 Scariest States to Be An Atheist
    “Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist than they are for a person in any other minority or marginalized category.”

    First off, atheist have never had to go through the same civil right struggles. There is no history of atheist in this country being strung up on trees or being denied the right to vote or having laws segregate them by force in American society. So please do not piggy back the atheist agenda on the collective of minorities as in the civil right struggle. Some of the wealthiest and most powerful people were and are atheist.

    I may also remind GC that this is not only the sensibilities of many theist, but even atheist S.E. Cupp recently said……… She would never vote for an atheist, because a person who only represents 5-10 percent of the population and thinks everyone else is wacko but me is not a good choice, and she has her share of atheist supporters. Actual quote below

    “because I do not think that someone who represents 5 to 10 percent of the population should be representing and thinking that everyone else in the world is crazy, but me,”

  38. rustypotter says

    You know, this just makes me even MORE proud to be a Louisianian.

    Great food, great football (we’re coming for you Bama), great culture, AND a refusal to abandon our commitment to Christ.

    Best. State. Ever.

    God bless,

    RKP

  39. nathanaelnerode says

    FYI, rural upstate NY is actually relatively good for atheists.

    I have a suspicion as to why. The “Burned-Over District” has massive numbers of religions, many very small, and with all kinds of wildly different doctrines. Would you expect them to *approve* of atheists? No, and they don’t. But they’ve been forced to understand the value of tolerance.

    Because if they ever start approving of religion getting involved in the government, they recognize that *it might be the wrong one*. Their friends and neighbors *routinely* go to different churches (or church-like places) with huge and wild differences in belief, including beliefs which are not Christian or monotheistic. Every time one of them starts a theocratic push, they discover that they have lots of neighbors pushing for a somewhat different theocracy and it settles back to an uneasy truce. Far from ideal, but….

    I was surprised to discover how much this is *not* true in many parts of the country; there are often just a few large church groups and those few agree on a lot of stuff. Areas with fairly uniform belief are intimidating because they just assume that you believe whatever they believe and that if there’s a theocracy they’ll be in charge.

  40. says

    I know I’m a bit late in response but have only just found this site. I am lucky in that I have had religious freedom all my life. What amuses me is whilst my friends accept my atheism, I don’t think they truly believe that I don’t believe. I went to a wedding in a church recently (btw, I love old churches) and my friend asked me why I wasn’t joining the prayers. (I was respectful and quiet, but not saying anything). I said, ‘you know I don’t believe in God’ and she was shocked and said ‘you can’t say that in here’ and was genuinely worried when I asked her what difference the building made.
    I also find it amusing that it is assumed I am a Christian, and when I explain I am not a Christian, Athiest is the last thing people think off.

  41. stever says

    Nietzsche said that faith is not wanting to know what is true. Mark Twain was blunter: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Could that be the reason for the violent reaction of many believers to encountering an atheist? Deep down, they know that they have been wasting a lot of time, money and emotional capital on bullshit. Pointing that out to them can provoke rage. I remember a little poem:
    There was a man who had a clock;
    His name was matthew Mears.
    And every day he wound that clock,
    For eight-and-twenty years.
    But then one day he found the clock
    A six-day clock to be.
    A madder man than Matthew Mears
    I hope I never see.

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