6 Outrageous Incidents of Discrimination Against Nonbelievers

Atheists are often seen as crying wolf when they speak about bigotry. But discrimination against atheists around the world is real.

hands on prison bars“Oh, you atheists are always whining about how put-upon you are. You don’t experience real discrimination: not like African Americans, or gays, or women, or immigrants. So knock it off with the pity party.”

You may have heard this refrain. You may have even sung it yourself. So let’s look at this question for a moment: Are atheists subjected to real discrimination?

It’s certainly true that, in the United States, while atheists do experience real discrimination, it’s typically not as severe as, say, racism or misogyny. Or rather, since I don’t think comparing discriminations is usually all that useful: Anti-atheist discrimination takes different forms. It’s not like the systematic economic apartheid African Americans experience, or the systematic enforcement of rigid gender roles women experience. It takes other forms: such as social ostracism; bullying in schools; public schools denying atheist students the right to form clubs; religious proselytizing promoted by the government; widespread perceptions of atheists as untrustworthy; businesses denying equal access to atheists and atheist organizations; government promotion of religion in social service programs; government promotion of religion in the military. And it’s true that atheists have significant legal protection in the United States: people sometimes break those laws, and those laws aren’t always enforced, but we do have these laws, and they do help.

But the United States isn’t the whole world.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a world umbrella group bringing together more than a hundred humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, and freethought organizations from 40 countries, has just produced the first ever report focusing on how countries around the world discriminate against non-religious people. Published on December 10 to mark Human Rights Day, the Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious:

…covers laws affecting freedom of conscience in 60 countries and lists numerous individual cases where atheists have been prosecuted for their beliefs in 2012. It reports on laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.

And the results are appalling.

There are two big take-home messages from this report. One: This is a world-wide issue. Examples of anti-atheist discrimination have been reported in 60 countries, from Algeria to Zambia; including the Bahamas, Brazil, Bahrain, and Belize; Italy, India, Israel, Iceland; the United Kingdom and the United States. It’s been reported in brutal theocracies notorious for their human rights violations, like Pakistan and Iran — and it’s been reported in supposed secular paradises, like Sweden and France. It’s worse in some countries than others, obviously… but this is a global problem.

Two: In some countries, this anti-atheist discrimination is severe. It doesn’t take the form of government proselytizing or being denied the right to organize clubs. It takes the form of being arrested. It takes the form of being imprisoned, for years. It takes the form of being targeted by a mob screaming for your blood… and when the police who should be there to protect you show up, instead they throw you in jail. Where another mob forms up, screaming for your blood.

Don’t believe me? Here are six outrageous examples of discrimination against non-believers.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 6 Outrageous Incidents of Discrimination Against Nonbelievers. To find out more about discrimination and human rights violations against atheists around the world — in countries from Indonesia to Poland, Italy to Egypt, Turkey to Tunisia, Zambia to Mauritania, India to Greece — read the rest of the piece. (And yay for me writing for AlterNet again! Feeling closer to being back in the saddle every day.)

The Newtown Shootings: It Is Not Too Soon to Start Talking

I have very little to say right now about the Newtown shootings. Except maybe this:

It is fucking well not too soon to start talking about gun control.

When abortion clinics are bombed, we start talking right away. When Hurricane Katrina happened and the levees broke, we started talking right away. When terrible tragedies happen, and we think they might have been preventable, we start talking right away about what we might to do prevent them from happening again. When terrible tragedies happen, and human beings are fully or even partly responsible, we start talking right away about what we might to do prevent ourselves and each other from doing that again. We may disagree, passionately even, about how the tragedy might have been prevented, and what prevention methods we might consider, and whether those methods would be effective, and whether the cure would be worse than the disease.

But when terrible tragedies happen, we use our grief, and our rage, and our shock, to drive us to action.

That is not the worst of us. It is the best.

I don’t know what exactly I want to say about gun control, except that I’m for it. But as many people have been saying in the last few hours: It is not too soon to start talking about gun control. It is too late.

There’s a good conversation over on Pharyngula. Check it out. Or talk here if you like. But if you talk here, do it kindly. I don’t have the strength or the stomach right now to moderate a flame war. Thanks.

4 Ways Christianity Sneaks Into Our Secular Government — And Why it Matters

In God We Trust“In God We Trust” on the money. “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Creches and crosses on public land. Religious mottos on public buildings. Prayers starting public government meetings. Prayers in the public schools. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the religious right was right, and the United States really was a Christian nation.

Of course it’s not. The United States is a secular nation. The principle that citizens have the right to reach their own conclusions about religion, and that government should stay out of that choice, is deeply enshrined in the foundation of our government, in the First Amendment and elsewhere. This separation of state and church was not accidental or an oversight — it was written into the Constitution by careful, conscious choice, made against significant pushback. And the country has citizens who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, “spiritual but not religious,” many other religions — plus, of course, citizens without any religion at all.

Yet what often gets called “ceremonial deism” is all over our government. Now, when this “ceremonial deism” get challenged in court, it typically gets defended — and is often even upheld by judges — on the grounds that it isn’t really religious. In court, its defenders argue that all this God talk is obviously just tradition, without any actual religious meaning. (How could you silly people think that “God” means something religious?) But when you look at the ideas and motivations driving this “ceremonial deism,” it becomes clear that it’s anything but secular. Passionate religious belief is driving every one of these battles. It wouldn’t be defended so fiercely if real religious fervor weren’t behind it. And every one of these “ceremonial” incursions of religion into government gets used — on the ground, in tangible, real-world ways — to marginalize non-believers, and to treat them as second-class citizens.

Here are four ways that the concept of God gets into government — and pushes atheist citizens to the sidelines.


This begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 4 Ways Christianity Sneaks Into Our Secular Government — And Why it Matters. To find out how “synbolic” religion gets into our government — and how it has an effect on our citizens that’s very real indeed — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

I Kill Sperm in My Vagina With My Mind

Just my mind kills sperm in my vagina…

James Taylor fans everywhere are dying a thousand deaths. But this is both one of funniest and one of the most savage bits of commentary on the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” travesty that I’ve seen.

It’s the Kinsey Sicks, America’s Favorite Dragapella® Beautyshop Quartet, singing “I Kill Sperm in My Vagina With My Mind.” (Captioned for the hearing-impaired.)

I know, right?

The Family Research Council Shooting

Whenever there’s a shooting or a bombing at an abortion clinic, I’m always appalled at how the right wing spin machine typically handles it. I’m always appalled at how often they equivocate, blame the victims, use it as an opportunity to promote their agenda. I’m always appalled at how difficult they find it to just say, without equivocation, “This is not acceptable. We do not shoot people just because we disagree with them.”

So I’m going to say this about the shooting at the Family Research Council:

This is not acceptable. We do not shoot people just because we disagree with them.

I disagree with the Family Research Council about pretty much everything. And right now, that is entirely irrelevant. We do not shoot people just because we disagree with them. This is not acceptable. Full stop.



I’m just sayin’, is all.

I love how crazy Twitter is going tonight. I love that people are gathering at Times Square chanting, “Science! Science! Science!” I think we needed this. Thank you, NASA. Life can suck sometimes… but today, humanity can be proud.

The Clergy Project: Do Atheist Clergy Change The Religion Game?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

A burst of media attention has been focused on atheists of an unexpected stripe — clergy members. Could non-believing clergy change how we see religion?

What happens when a clergy person — a minister, a priest, a rabbi, an imam — realizes they don’t believe in God?

And what happens when they say it out loud? What happens when they find each other: when they support each other in coping with their crises, when they help each other with resources and job counseling and other practical assistance? What happens when they encourage each other to come out?

Could this affect more than just these clergy people and their followers? Could it change how society as a whole thinks and feels about religion?

That’s what the Clergy Project is finding out. In recent months and years, atheists have been all over the news. But over the last few weeks, a burst of media attention has been focused on atheists of an unexpected stripe — clergy members. And in particular, attention is going to the Clergy Project — an online meeting place and support group that exists specifically for these unexpected additions to the ranks of the godless. [Read more…]

Just When You Think They Couldn’t Sink Any Lower…

In yesterday’s New York Times: In Milwaukee Post, Cardinal Authorized Paying Abusers.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York authorized payments of as much as $20,000 to sexually abusive priests as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee.

Jesus. Fictional. Christ. I think I’m going to be sick.

Questioned at the time about the news that one particularly notorious pedophile cleric had been given a “payoff” to leave the priesthood, Cardinal Dolan, then the archbishop, responded that such an inference was “false, preposterous and unjust.”

But a document unearthed during bankruptcy proceedings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and made public by victims’ advocates reveals that the archdiocese did make such payments to multiple accused priests to encourage them to seek dismissal, thereby allowing the church to remove them from the payroll.

A spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed on Wednesday that payments of as much as $20,000 were made to “a handful” of accused priests “as a motivation” not to contest being defrocked.

Translation: “I can’t believe you would make such a heinous accusation! Paying off priests who raped children, to get them to leave the Church quietly? Outrageous! Insulting! How dare you!” (shown evidence) “Oh, right! Those payoffs!”

“It was a way to provide an incentive to go the voluntary route and make it happen quickly, and ultimately cost less,” said Jerry Topczewski, the spokesman for the archdiocese. “Their cooperation made the process a lot more expeditious.”

Right. Because when children are being raped, the important thing is to hush it up quickly and cheaply.

You know a really good way to get employees who are raping children to leave your organization?


Obama Endorses Same-Sex Marriage

I think we could all use some good news right about now. Fortunately, we just got some.

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

That’s President Obama.

Happy right now. Not much more to say.

Atheists’ Existence Is “Controversial,” “Sparks Public Debate”

You really can’t get any clearer than this.

A bus company in Pennsylvania has rejected an atheist ad. I know. You’ve heard this story before. Moderately newsworthy, but unfortunately not that unusual.

This one’s different, though.

The content of the ad?

The word “Atheists.”

Plus, in smaller type, the names and URLs of the sponsoring organizations.


The transit company says they have a policy of not accepting ads “which could be deemed controversial or otherwise spark public debate.” And apparently, this ad falls into that category.

The word “atheists.” Not, “You know it’s a myth.” Not even, “You can be good without God.” No criticism about religion being mistaken; no assertion about the nature of atheist morality. A simple statement that we exist. This is controversial. This could spark public debate.

You can’t get any clearer than this. The mere fact that we exist is controversial. The mere fact that there are people who do not believe in God — not people trying to persuade believers out of religion, not people trying to get religion out of government, just people existing in the world and thinking to themselves, “I don’t believe in God” — this is controversial. This is a matter for public debate.

To give you an idea of what they don’t consider controversial: This same transit company has been running a bus ad saying, “God bless America.” Not a paid ad, either — a public service ad, at taxpayer expense. (I know, right? It’s like they’re trying to get sued.)

So there’s two things I want to say about this.

First: If there’s any doubt in your mind at all that bigotry against atheists is real — erase it. This is as blunt as it can get. This is a flat statement, from a public, taxpayer-paid utility, that saying our name in public will spark public debate. This is a flat statement — not from some blowhard on Fox News, not from some extreme right-wing fundie picketing a funeral, not from some nimrod in their parents’ basement writing venomous comments on the USA Today website, but from a public, taxpayer-paid utility — that it is controversial for us to even fucking exist.

And second:

If you think there is any possible way for atheists to organize, to create visibility, to create community, to even just come out of the closet, without angering or upsetting or offending people?

Get it out of your head right now.

I do not want to hear another goddamn word about framing, about how all atheists should be nice and sweet and diplomatic so religious believers can hear our message, about how if we’re too blunt or mocking or confrontational people will be offended and won’t listen to us.

You know what atheists have to do to avoid offending people?