Have You Been Discriminated Against Because of Your Atheism? September 2, 2009

Have You Been Discriminated Against Because of Your Atheism?

The Secular Coalition for America is one of many groups fighting against things like Faith-Based Initiatives that allow religious groups to receive federal funding while at the same time letting them fire people who don’t adhere to their faith. It’s not right in so many ways.

To fight this, it would be helpful to cite personal stories of people who have been discriminated against because of their atheism (even if you wish to remain anonymous).

The following types of stories would be ideal to know about:

  1. I was fired from my job working for an organization that receives government grants because I am either a) not of the same religion as the organization that I work for, b) not religious or c) a nontheist.
  2. I volunteered with an organization that receives government grants for their work in my community and witnessed people who sought help at the faith-based community center being proselytized to and harassed while they were trying to obtain services (ex: A homeless person who wanted a bed in a church-run homeless shelter in my town was forced to pray before bedtime; I know for a fact that this center receives federal and state grants for their work).
  3. I went to a religious organization to receive social services and was proselytized to. I know that this religious organization receives government money for the work they do (ex: I am a recovering alcoholic and was court-ordered to receive group therapy for my alcoholism. The only place in my town that provided this service was a religious organization. They received government money to run this alcohol-treatment center but I found that I was constantly proselytized to while going there but I had no other option that to remain in the facility.)
  4. I do not believe in a god and I have been teased, harassed, or humiliated because I refuse to say “under God” in the pledge and/or I know someone who has been teased/harassed/humiliated for this reason.
  5. I am a nontheist who attended a public school that only taught abstinence-only-sex-education. As a result, I received false or misleading medical information or religiously based information that resulted in…
  6. I know of a religious childcare facilities in my state where children appear to be mistreated and/or endangered due to the unhealthy and unsafe environment of the facility.
  7. As a nontheist in the military, I was harassed and discriminated against because of my beliefs (or lack thereof).

If any of these things have happened to you or anyone you know, please send an email to stories@secular.org.

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  • Tizzle

    I’ve never had any of that happen, but I think I was un-friended on facebook because of the A-word.

  • DreamDevil


    But being the asshole that I am, I take any good opportunity to question somebody’s religion until they cry (not really, but enough engage a little doubt).

    This usually backfires ofc… however, usually not from the actual religious person. It usually comes from my #1 hated group, the wishy-washy anti-confrontational crowd (usually women).

    Then follows the usual comments about how I’m mean (I never slander people, only question what they believe), how people should be allowed to believe anything they want (I never said they couldn’t) and I often get the comment that I’m just as close minded as religious fanatics (laughable).
    Oh, and these people are usually non-believers themselves.

    Finally, when I point out that just because they do not take religion seriously, that doesn’t mean that everyone else thinks just like them, but by that time they’ve already deemed me an asshole not worth listening too.
    Also these people usually travel in packs of equally ignorant-yet-determined folks. It usually ends up with me being stared down as despicable or some other form of communal disapproval.

    So I guess I get discriminated against when trying to hold an interesting conversation (and maybe put the seeds of an idea into somebody’s head).

  • I’ve been yelled at for my tenuous association (i.e. we’re both atheists, I don’t even know the guy) with some atheist who made a stink about a public religious display on government property, but never actually discriminated against.

  • Sandra

    Hemant, perhaps ask Brother Richard (if you haven’t already) to put some info about this on the A/N home page. Even a simple mention with a link for more info would be helpful.
    I know of at least one person (with a young child) on A/N who was denied food from a church run food bank because not belonging to ‘the faith’.

  • Sandra

    The above is merely an idea.

  • Kate

    Does it count that my public high school forbade the use of GLSEN materials for the national day of silence due to the school’s desire to “refrain students from associating themselves or their groups with national organizations,” even though the National Association of College Athletes had a group at the school and used official promotional posters?

  • @Sandra Not quite 2 years ago the neighborhood was flooded with flyers for a local church and their food bank. On the bottom, it clearly said that recipients would be required to attend church services to receive food.

  • JulietEcho

    I only got abstinence-only education here. *sigh*

  • Christ Davis

    The city I live in is awash in churches and I work with addicts who are uniformly connected to one of the myriad 12 step groups, which all are full of religious language. I am an open atheist; everyone who knows me knows it, but very few people talk to me as if I’m a pitiful wretch. Perhaps it is because I am not a bomb thrower any longer I don’t scare them; I have no problem laughing at the amazing rules and explanations I hear which does occasionally lead to tears and promises of the Lake of Fire, but that’s just another opportunity to laugh.

  • no name please

    Back when I was a drinker (I have since quit), I suffered a concussion and was taken to the hospital for a few days. My blood alcohol was high, as was my blood pressure. The doctor gave me blood pressure pills while I was there, but said he would not refill them unless I joined AA. I couldn’t argue with him because I couldn’t form words (Ever get a concussion?). I assume all hospitals get public money, at least indirectly. What an asshole.

  • I was Wiccan in high school, there were a bunch of us pagans and we wanted to use a classroom to meet once a week. We were flat out denied, even though the christians were allowed a space to meet.
    The teachers thought paganism was evil or something.

    Not about atheism, but discrimination in a (NZ) public school nonetheless.

    These days I’m more likely to silently discriminate against theists by thinking they are a bit stupid.

  • Amy G

    I don’t feel like I’ve been discriminated against yet. My mother has asked me to not tell my Catholic grandmother because “she’s old and should be able to live the rest of her life without worrying about you” (in other words “she’ll die soon anyways and I don’t want to hear her bitch about it”). I usually don’t advertise my atheist beliefs to people I don’t know well, so I also get a lot of “Wow. I had no idea you weren’t Christian. You’re so nice!” (then they say the same thing when they find out I have tattoos). However, I don’t think that any of my beliefs have affected me negatively. I guess I’m just lucky?

  • MJ

    Hi! I actually was looking for something else and stumbled across this post—great! Yes I am actually wrangling with my son as he is a 3rd grader and now subject to “weekday religious education” (my middle child, who goes along with everyone). I am worried about him not being able to think for himself (I let my oldest go, because I knew he was the type to not be brainwashed and to use his sarcasm against the bible bashers oh and did he ever!) but after refusing to let my middle son go for the last few weeks, he is begging me to go? Why? Because he is outcasted because everyone else is going! I talked to the teacher and she teaches Creationism–I told my son this is not such a bad thing BECAUSE she invited me to sit in and listen and I can “save” the kids in this class by saying “kids this lady doesn’t believe in dinosaurs”…what’s the worst that could happen? I get kicked out?lol

  • Valdyr

    Discriminated against? Probably not overtly, but I’m not very open about my beliefs; I’m even too polite to say something as simple as “No thanks, I’m an atheist” when people on campus rush over to me with armloads of religious pamphlets. I have definitely seen atheists excluded and overlooked, though. Most of the people I’ve met here at college have are firmly nonreligious or very apathetic about religion, yet there’s only one secularist group (only started last year) and an absolute assload of groups for Christians of every stripe–Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, African-American. I’m not sure if that comes down to religion creating an unfriendly environment for atheists, or a simple lack of organization/visibility, though.

  • silver

    The only thing I can think of is when my rather devout Christian room mate. Once in our class the topic of evolution came up and I discovered that she was a creationist and she found out I was an evolutionist.

    Needless to say, when we got into our room, she asked me about my beliefs (I think before she only thought I was a non-practicing christian, since I only mentioned that I didn’t go to church when her first question to my face was ‘What church do you go to?)

    Several days later I came into my room to find her packing her things; she was moving down the hall.

    Other than not speaking for a whole year after that, we didn’t have any problems.

    I think that’s the only trouble I’ve run into regarding my atheism. Though I’m pretty sure my great-aunt would have had a problem with it if I had told her (she thought that the Dark Materials Trilogy were Devils work or something).

  • MJ

    Yes, truly what scares me the most is that people fight more to get Creationism in science classrooms while Evolutionists are obviously busy doing important things and not fighting for it! I think that weekday religious ed, in schools are just a precursor to what may come later and even if you’re not an atheist and believe in evolution—stand up and make sure that kids aren’t being brainwashed! Genesis is a MYTH! Darn it Dinosaurs existed I just don’t understand some people!!!

  • Chris Jones

    “I’ve never had any of that happen, but I think I was un-friended on facebook because of the A-word.”

    I’ve never had any of the incidents in the list happen to me either, but I have a similar Facebook experience. I’ve had someone I had met in real life who was warm and friendly for several months suddenly become distant and somewhat cold immediately after adding one another on Facebook.

  • vivian

    I can’t think of anytime I was discriminated against, because I don’t usually talk about it. But I once stopped going to therapy because they just wanted to sell me on church (even AFTER I said I’m an atheist). The nurse went so far as to draw a map where she goes to church and gave me the hours of their meetings. After that, I couldn’t take anything she said serious and never went back. So I guess I discriminated against her.

  • I don’t know that I’ve ever been discriminated against at work (though, I don’t let my bosses or potential employers know about my religious beliefs). I’ve had trouble with dating, because many women are uncomfortable dating someone who doesn’t believe in God. They seem to see “religious belief” as a kind of marker for “moral and trustworthy”.

    Also, my old boss once hired a girl who was the daughter of someone he knew at church. She was totally incompetent at her job. It was widely believed that she got the job because of the religious-social connection. Maybe that should count as pro-religious discrimination. (She was ‘let go’ about the time that my boss was asked to resign for other reasons.)

  • Joseph R

    I had a similar facebook incident as a couple of the above commenters. I answered an opinion poll question asking if you think “under god” should be omitted from the pledge of allegiance. I believe that it should be taken out. I have a family member that unfriended me because of it. I was surprised, but didn’t really care. I suppose this wasn’t really atheism related, but I wasn’t asked for any clarification before I was unfriended either.

  • ladyvonkulp

    I was told to stand in the hall in high school because I would not put my hand up or say ‘under God’ in the Pledge.

  • Kangaroo-Jockey

    *note* This is in Australia so anecdotal only *end note*

    I was the subject of ridicule and other general unpleasantness at my high school for stating my position (When asked) about belief in the Christian deity. (Most private high-schools, here are affiliated with a religious organistation). Not by the teachers, but by my peers, called a ‘devil worshiper/satanist’ (Which I never understood, that would make me most definitely /not/ an atheist), and other subtly but much more… invasive attempts to proselytize. All in all served to make me somewhat uncomfortable whenever discussions of ideas cropped up.

  • Ryan Rodemoyer

    I wasn’t discriminated against for being an atheist, but I was (not-legally) discriminated against by a fundamentalist Christian.

    In April of 2008 my girlfriend was 8 months pregnant and we were looking for an apartment. I answered an ad in the paper and the person asked how many people and when I said we’d have a child he asked if we were married. I told him we were not and he said would not help us “live a life of sin” and that renting to us would “not be something Jesus would approve of”. I hung up on him.

  • vivian

    tinyfrog…you reminded me of what my husband has to go through at work.

    They have a ‘purpose statement’ that says the employees not only serve their clients the best they can, but also serve God. They do a weird training called LaRed that “teaches biblical principal to businessmen world wide”. Half of the people that work there are from the same church (and many are the worst employees there).

    But I guess he should’ve expected it to be like that when they asked what religion he was in during his first interview (at the time he was still pretty much in the closet and was afraid he wouldn’t get the job if he told the truth).

  • Staceyjw

    Even though I never hide my atheism or shy away from speaking my mind, I’ve only been discrimated against in one situation (below). I am sure this has more to do with my location (city areas in San Diego/Austin/NYC/Columbus OH), my career choices (renewable energy design and sales), and my race/class (white/upper middle). I’m just not around fundies- or many religious people- in any sphere of my life. I consider myself fortunate 🙂

    Unfortunately, I have an example that is sadly all to common.If you are an atheist and use alcohol or drugs there is no place for you in todays “treatment” industry. There are other options, but they are not well known, and not available in most places. (12 step is 99% of all “treatment”, 100% in many places) If you go to a 12 step based facility/ group expect to be abused, insulted, ignored by staff and clients. Its awful, and only makes your problem worse.

    Because of the bias towards faith, away from science, 12 step faith healing is the norm here in the US (nowhere else). It is entrenched to the point people (even MD’s who should know better) don’t question its effectiveness (let alone the details), and even fight against treatment that is evidence/science based. I could go on for days about why AA is a cult, dangerous, ineffective, but this is is not the place. So I will just point out the discrimination that pervades the entire 12 step world.

    This is not a topic that atheists talk about, but we should, as it is the most glaring example of faith based healing overtaking real medicine- its even worse than natural “medicine”. If you went to a hospital for lung cancer (from smoking), and was only told to do the 12 steps, you would sue for malpractice. But its ok to tell alcoholics to “pray away their disease” (aka “work the program”). Its INSANITY! Harmful, fundamentalist insanity!


  • Tyler

    i am atheist. when I told my mom she said,”Well why don’t you go have a heart to heart talk with the pastor( of her church) and talk to him about why your atheist?” I just wanted to yell at her. I am just not going to talk to that pastor because i know why i am atheist.I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do or what to think. And if they don’t treat me with respect and if they tell me i have to worship god or you will go to hell well then I am not going to listen to anyone anymore.

  • Lily

    In a college English class, we had to split into groups and make a list of things we all “wonder” about. As the only atheist in my group, the things I wonder about are significantly different from the group. (eg, I don’t wonder what heaven looks like, or why God didn’t make pigs with wings)
    They wrote my questions down, which was openminded, but afterwards, it was obvious that none of them wanted anything to do with me anymore.
    It’s not legal discrimination, but it still hurts.
    (On the bright side, my teacher is a nun and she knows that I am atheist and doesn’t hold it against me in any way)

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