For Atheists, Even Portland Can Be Unwelcoming February 27, 2008

For Atheists, Even Portland Can Be Unwelcoming

After writing about an atheist denied admission into the Elks club because of her lack of faith, reporter Margie Boulé was contacted by an atheist in Portland.

Sylvia Benner read the story and wasn’t surprised. “I am an atheist as well,” she wrote. “I have experience with this ‘last bias.'”

Sylvia, and other atheists, believe discrimination against them is one of the last acceptable prejudices in our society.

This discrimination is occurring in a place where even Sylvia admits, “is a pretty sane place to live if you’re a nonbeliever.”

What has Sylvia experienced?

Sylvia says her 11-year-old son has been denied admission to two local private schools because of his atheism. “Both are Christian and both say they admit people outside their own faith — but not, apparently, people of no faith.”

Sylvia says her son has had to deal with negative responses to his atheism at school. When he told a girl he didn’t believe in God, “She said, ‘Then you’re a bad person.’ ”

The one thing Sylvia and other nonbelievers really miss, she says, is the sense of community that comes with church membership.

For that reason, and to create a location where they can get together — a local bookstore recently declined to host a monthly atheist book group, citing fear of controversy — Sylvia and others are starting a local chapter affiliated with the national Center for Inquiry (

It’s one thing to not be let into a private Christian school, but being denied space to discuss literature… in a bookstore?! What “controversy” was the bookstore worried about? Rational dialogue? A spirited debate? Perhaps it was the baby bonfire that would surely take place before the discussion began…

Sylvia, who’s 42, looks forward to getting together with others who don’t feel like they have to “admit” to their beliefs, who aren’t afraid to say the word “atheist” out loud.

“We have some education to do,” Sylvia says. Maybe it would change some minds in America. Perhaps, she says, “we wouldn’t be at the bottom of the list when it comes to acceptable behavior.”

It’s a long road… but we’re making some headway.

(Thanks to Primate in Repose for the link!)

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Lee

    Here’s to Margie and Sylvia… (tipping a beer to you both). Wear your scarlet letter proudly! A’s all around!

  • Ashe

    Lee said: “Wear your scarlet letter proudly! A’s all around!”
    Were can I get that scarlet letter?

  • Joe

    Too bad they don’t say which local bookstore. Surely not Powell’s?

  • This is the Center for Inquiry I grew up with (note: in South Carolina), so it has taken some getting used to that THE “Center for Inquiry” somehow has something to do with “secularism” or anything people could be against …

  • I’ll see your atheist bias, and raise you with the other last acceptable discrimination: sizism.

    …I’m not trying to take away from the seriousness of exclusionary practices, but it just strikes me as funny when everyone has the ‘last remaining bias.’

  • I’ve never bought into the “most discriminated group” meme of atheists. Yes their is prejudice but it just seems like the “whoa is me, i’m a victim” doesn’t really get anybody anywhere.

    I’ve taken the “quit bitchin’ that there isn’t anything for atheists and do something” attitude. This is the same thing that Sylvia has done and I applaud her.

    If its any consolation (while I’m only a recent member) there is a Freethought Fort Wayne group (Fort Wayne, Indiana) that is incorporated under the CFI – Indiana banner as well. You find more information at until we get a website going.

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