Atheist Sites Blocked at Work: What Do You Do? June 24, 2009

Atheist Sites Blocked at Work: What Do You Do?

A reader sends this question via email:

I currently work for a large Fortune 500 company and I check the Friendly Athiest and other secular blogs on a regular basis. I also listen to several secular podcasts.

I was dismayed to find that your site as well as several of the podcasts have been blocked at work as of last week.

I received a warning notice saying that the site has been blocked under the “Occult” category.

I know they have a right to monitor and limit web usage at work, but this still bothers me because they have not restricted access to any religious sites that I can tell.

What do you do at this point?

I suppose if you don’t want to “out” yourself at work, you could somehow file a complaint anonymously.

The reader also wonders if this would bother anyone enough to look for a different job.

Personally, I’d just try to find a proxy — a roundabout way of getting to the sites you want. Someone at work always knows how to work around an Internet filter…

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Josh

    Most IT departments don’t have time to manage a web blacklist, so they usually use a 3rd party web filter that keeps and updates it’s own blacklist of sites. You need to find out what web filter package your company uses and then Hemant will have to write to them to have his site removed from their blacklist. A lot of companies use these services, so if Friendly Atheist is on one of their blacklists, then the problem may be more widespread than just your company.

  • Erp

    Are Christian religious sites also banned?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The “Occult” category? So this is what philosophers mean when they talk about a “category error.”

  • Ben

    I’d recommend AnchorFree. I used to use them to get around the same problem at work. Basically it’s just vpn software. It’s also useful if you are on an untrusted network, like a public wifi network, and want to avoid snooping.

  • theShaggy

    Just petition the filter company to re-categorize the site. That way you’re not complaining about it being banned, more “I think you’re not banning this for the reason you think you’re banning this.”

    I only get Hemant’s site because his domain diverts to his blog site… otherwise anything Blogspot/Wordpress/such and such is blocked.

    Or better yet, Google Reader RSS feeds tend to work past filter.

  • Crux Australis

    I teach Science and Physics at a Catholic high school in New Zealand, and your site obviously isn’t blocked for me, nor are any others, as far as I can tell. The one that is, is Ray Comfort’s “Atheist Central”.

  • Richard

    How about Tor?

    It should be pretty easy to use, and would get around most filters.

  • I’ve found several sites blocked recently where I work as well. They all seem to have some form of “atheist” in their titles. Friendly Atheist and Daylight Atheism are blocked; Pharyngula, Mike the Mad Biologist and Thoughts from Kansas still get through.

    The reason given for the blockage is “no business purpose,” which I can’t really argue with. OTOH, the company I work for is usually very liberal about allowing workers to browse the Internet at the office, indeed, to use any of the office equipment if it’s not abused…basically, get your real work done, don’t download porn, and don’t use company resources to make your own money on the side; so the blockage surprised me.

    I like to think that atheist sites are getting enough hits these days that somebody noticed the lost bandwidth. 😎

  • Infinite Monkey

    You could also throw yourself on the floor and start kicking and screaming. “I want my religious freedom! I want it! I want it!”

  • John Moeller

    I’ve been out for a while, and I never ran into an issue with atheism sites specifically. Had that happened, I would have said something, especially if Christian sites were allowed through. (On a side note: occult?? Does that also mean that they block any site with a horoscope?)

    Be careful about proxies. My last workplace expressly forbid certain sites and using a proxy to bypass the net filter. They’re wise to that. It was a termination offense.

  • How about an online RSS reader? I use Google Reader and read all the Friendly Atheist posts through that. I assume as it’s Google that’s contacting FA and not your browser is should work.

  • I work at a government research facility with rather strict internet filtering rules (e.g. no web-based e-mail), but nothing religious or atheism-related is blocked. I’m lucky…

  • My bet is that this guy’s productivity was suffering because of all of the great, distracting content on here.

  • Bria

    I can get through to Friendly Atheist at my (nonprofit) workplace, but things like Planned Parenthood (where I volunteer) are blocked under the category of “Sex Education”.

  • Miko

    How about Tor?

    It should be pretty easy to use, and would get around most filters.

    I didn’t realize there was a version of Tor that ran off a USB drive. That’s fantastic, as it should allow easy bypassing of install-restrictions.

    It’d get around any and all filters, unless they’re specifically targeting Tor nodes (a good idea from a filterer’s standpoint, but nonetheless unlikely).

  • Anonymous

    I work for a public school district in Florida. Employees are sent through the same filter students are sent through, though some of us (lucky me!) are authorized to bypass it. (The URLs are logged when we do.)

    Since I can bypass the filter, it doesn’t bother me directly. What bothers me, however, is that students can’t bypass the filter, keeping them away from useful information. For instance, the following sites are among those blocked as “alternative spirituality/occult”:

    This site Atheism
    American Atheists
    The Secular Web (

    But these are allowed:

    Rapture Ready
    Answers in Genesis
    Living Waters/Way of the Master/Ray Comfort

    Notice a trend?

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and another thing:

    I’m a programmer for a school board (a government agency).

    Among the categories that are blocked:

    Education. (Not ‘sex ed’, though that’s blocked too.)

  • Google Reader’s RSS feed seems to get me past most of the blog blocks. I may miss out on pictures and “below the cut” sections but I simply save those for when I get home.

  • Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who only does work while at work. I don’t check email, I don’t read blogs, I don’t do facebook. I guess I’m just a company stooge. 🙁

  • peregrine

    They don’t block things where I work (well, not technically, anyway. They did have things blocked when I started, but in an odd way that I’m still trying to decide if it’s clever or foolish).

    But we were notified today that they’ve started monitoring Web usage. I assume it’s more about time wasting than content, And I have struggled with that in the past. When I catch myself wasting time at work, I usually try to make up for it at home. That doesn’t always work out, but I make the effort.

    Still, we’re on notice that we might start loosing some “privileges” if they find it becomes a problem. “So-in-so spends a lot of time at blog X, so let’s block blog X” sort of thing. Some places might be seeing less of me from now on, even though some of them haven’t been seeing much of me as it is.

  • Yossarian

    As an IT guy, I can confirm what Josh said. I work in the IT department of a large company, and we use a 3rd party filtering service (Websense). We don’t choose the sites that get blocked – just the categories. And it is not uncommon for some sites to be miscategorized.

    I’ll also point out to be sure to comply with your network use policies at work Trust me. We know if people are using proxies and such, and in my company at least it is grounds for termination if you use them. The reasoning is that proxies and other such services can be used to steal proprietary information.

  • My company uses Websense and blocks most non-christian sites as “Occult” as well. has been blocked. Until about a week ago it was available but only in text format. All images were blocked. Just so happens that is when our Websense was updated. I cannot connect to any other regular Atheist site at work due to the Occult filter. So I use my iPhone to check for updates.

    My company treats proxy users in a similar fashion as Yossarian’s. Only we don’t treat it as “grounds for termination” we use it as “instant termination offense.” Once it’s spotted the logs are pulled and HR is notified. The user is typically gone within thirty minutes. We have to adhere to strict government compliance regulations. If a website doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Unless you can justify a business need for it you don’t get it unblocked.

    We don’t actively hunt for people trying to get around the system but they are easy enough to spot. When somebody walks up behind you and sees porn/myspace/facebook/twitter/etc… running it’s pretty obvious. Most people are caught when the antivirus triggers an alarm for something added to the IE cache or installed by such websites.

  • Somebody commented on an “Education” filter earlier.

    We have that same issue but it’s mind numbingly stupid.

    All employees are required to go through HIPPA, PHI, Ethics and Harrasment training each year. There is a three month window where users access a company website to take the courses and complete the tests at work.

    Some users have stricter internet access than others because of the information they work with. When they attempt to access the mandatory training website it is blocked by Websense with the “Eductaional” filter. What the??? Each employee affected by this has to submit a business justification to the help desk to have the site unblocked. The help desk then has to escalate the request to the network administrators. It takes approx 70 hours for the whole process to run.

    Block an internal mandatory site and require paper work for access. Good grief!

  • SarahH

    The problem seems to be that atheism (and perhaps other non-Christian religion) has been classified as “occult” (which Wiccans aren’t going to like either).

    If Christian sites that serve the same general purposes (blogs, news, etc.) are allowed, I think that all other religious and religion-related sites should be allowed. It’s obviously a problem of (hopefully outdated?) prejudice on the part of the filtering services.

    I’d bet that if atheists and believers who are in the minority teamed up, we could petition or pester these companies in a way that would get them to clean up their act.

  • bigjohn756

    What are you doing reading blogs at work? Are you paid for that, or, are you paid to do something for the company that earns it(you) enough money to make keeping you around worthwhile? And, before you tell me that you only browse during breaks and lunch, remember this; the company does not owe you entertainment using their equipment.
    Go get a job where they don’t care if you work or not, or stop whinging.

  • Daniel

    Atheist sites are blocked at your work: what should you do?

    How about your job?

  • Ever heard of a lunch break, Daniel?

  • bigjohn756

    Ever read the other comments, Mike?

  • eL_sTiKo

    Looks like Websense has rendered the site text-only for me today, too!

    Anyway, I was going to say:

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus (clandestine, hidden, secret), referring to “knowledge of the hidden”.[1] In the medical sense it is used to refer to a structure or process that is hidden, e.g. an “occult bleed”[2] may be one detected indirectly by the presence of otherwise unexplained anaemia.

    The word has many uses in the English language, popularly meaning “knowledge of the paranormal”, as opposed to “knowledge of the measurable”,[3][4] usually referred to as science.

    So… There’s blocking a site about REASON by saying it looks PARANORMAL…


  • Hiya,

    I had a similar problem at my work with the exact same “occult tag” I discovered using an RSS Reader like Google Reader will get around most web traffic blocking software 🙂

    Only issue is that some blogs dont publish their whole posts in RSS however Friendly Atheist does 🙂 So you should be able to get around this filter issue with a minimum of fuss.

    Miss Addict aka an RSS Lurker 🙂

  • Philbert

    Atheist sites are blocked at your work: what should you do?

    How about your job?

    Hehe – true, and a good reason not to complain about such things at work in the current economic climate.

    I would note, though, that some filtering software allows users to “suggest” that sites be tagged with a particular filtering category. Unscrupulous individuals might label a site incorrectly in order to get things they don’t like blocked.

    If you can find out who is filtering the site, you can try to contact them directly. I’ve heard that Websense is pretty good at dealing with misclassification issues.

  • Stephen P

    I’m glad at least a few people think that you’re at work in order to work. I do sometimes spend a bit of time on non-work-related sites, if things are really quiet in the office, or at lunchtime. But I see no grounds whatsoever for complaint about blocked sites (unless they are blocking sites you need to do your job, which did happen to me once).

  • Guest Pest

    Why is there a Scientology “Dianetics” Flash advertisement near the top of this page? Perhaps it’s the real reason this blog gets tagged with the “occult” label.

  • Yes, Daniel, I have. You made no reference to them at all. Instead, you implied that people who surf the web AT ALL at work have no right to complain when the sites they want to visit are blocked.

    I visit this site and others only during my lunch break. Should I be doing my job right now, or eating my lunch?

  • InsertCotku

    I am proud to say that I recently started reading because the military UNblocked it. 😀 GOGO Air Force!

  • I am happy to report that my place of business does not block this site. Of course, I am one of the 3 people that control web access company wide, so that kind of helps.

    As for the comments related to “when you are at work, you need to work”, I understand this and we do block sites like MySpace and Facebook and other sites that people spend hours on. I seriously doubt Friendly Atheist is a site people spend hours on (no offense, Hemant) and should never be considered as a site to be blocked, unless you are an uptight religious kook that labels this site as “occult”

  • Pamela

    Some of you commentors are harsh. I’d hate to work for you or your company.

    My org is great. No blocked sites at all. Very progressive, very lenient and laid back and we still bring in the big bucks and do our jobs without BB looking over our shoulder.

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