Atheism is not a civil rights issue? Really?  

Sunday, July 01, 2007

For my Blog Against Theocracy post I am going to point out six cases of discrimination against non-theists. I'm posting this in advance because I'm going to be out of town next week and I won't have much of a chance to post this weekend.

This post is largely in response to Matthew C. Nisbet's post Atheism is not a Civil Rights Issue. In effect Nisbet is stating that if someone is beaten, dismissed from his job, wrongly accused of a felony, and ordered by the court to attend church, simply because that person is a non-theist that's not a civil rights issue.

I like PZ Myer's response to him in “Polarizing” is a dirty word, so atheists should surrender.

However, far from being the paramount focus of modern atheism, atheists have treated civil rights violations simply on a case-by-case basis. It's there, all right, but we don't have a simple, sweeping case of legal discrimination that has to be dealt with; we aren't denied the right to vote, we aren't told to sit at the back of the bus, there aren't many laws that overtly discriminate against non-believers, and the main legal issue we have to deal with are pervasive attempts (some successful) to get the government to endorse religious belief. We know all this; nobody has complained that atheists are oppressed anywhere near as badly as minorities or women. No one is demanding legal redress in the form of something analogous to the Civil Rights Act or universal suffrage. So really, Nisbet's argument begins with a lie, a false claim that we are making a big deal out of one view of the issue … which greatly simplifies his job of dismissing it.

In reality many people don't see atheists as being discriminated against because they are perceived as a class of educated, white males. It's a fallacy, but it's the perception.

Most of the cases listed below are governmental, but a few are not. Still, it shows that religious bigotry is still a force within America. All of these cases come from the comments section of Nisbet's article.

1. Religion in America: Atheists claim discrimination

The problem arose, says Universist Movement founder Ford Vox, when he met with Anderson to discuss holding a gathering at Cool Beans. After she asked what the group believed in, he claims, Anderson said she was not comfortable with it meeting in her cafe because she is Christian.

2. Discrimination Against Atheists

n 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 Mississippi court ordered in 2000, reasoning that "it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training."

3. Smalkowski Found Not Guilty on All Counts

Outside of his front fence, the principal struck Chuck, who blocked the blow. Both men fell to the ground and Buckley sustained minor injuries, the provable origins of which were strikingly contrary to his under oath trial testimony. Buckley then took out misdemeanor criminal assault charges against Chuck. After Smalkowski rejected the offer to drop the charges if he and his Atheist family left the state, the charges were raised to a felony.

4. Army EO [Equal Opportunity] Reps: “Discrimination Against Atheists OK”

Now the Army National Guard is telling its unit level Equal Opportunity representatives that it is OK to discriminate against atheists. They are using my formal EO complaint as a training scenario in which a Lieutenant files a formal EO complaint against a general officer for claiming that there are no atheists in foxholes. The Sergeant Major who conducted the EO training for Ohio’s unit level EO reps told them that “since atheism is not a religion, atheists are not protected by the regulation and it is acceptable for officers and chaplains to disparage their own soldiers”.

5. Luken v. Brigano

On April 23, 2002, appellant filed a complaint against Brigano and Wilkinson, claiming that the ODRC grooming policy violated his right of conscience as guaranteed by Section 7, Article I of the Ohio Constitution, and requesting that the court enjoin appellees from taking any disciplinary action against him. Appellees moved for summary judgment on October 23, 2002, and the trial court granted the motion on December 17, 2002. In its decision, the trial court stated, "Reasonable minds could certainly conclude that Mr. Lukens' beliefs regarding his hair are sincerely held. There can be no issue, however, that they are not in deference to or the mandate of a higher being."

6. Mirecki Affair

Sen. Kay O'Connor (R-Olathe) was reported by the Daily Kansan as saying whoever beat him should be "prosecuted to the fullest." "If they try to cover themselves under the mantle of being Christian or being Christian people, sorry Charlie," she said. "They're just thugs."

This was a change from her somewhat sinister comments prior to the beating: "I'm surprised that something more severe isn't happening to this teacher who obviously has a hatred for Christians."

Editorial writer Phillip Brownlee from the Wichita Eagle even suggested, prior to the beating, that Dr. Mirecki be physically assaulted:

But KU officials - though not state lawmakers - still need to get tough on Mirecki. A chairman of a religion department shouldn't be hostile to conservative Christianity. How about making Mirecki go through a paddling line at one of KU's fraternities?

For more information about supporting the separation of church and state visit First Freedom First.

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