In 2012, Greek citizen and scientist Phillipos Loizos created a Facebook page mocking Elder Paisios, the late Greek Orthodox monk seen by many as a prophet. On the Facebook page, he referred to the monk as “Pastistios”, giving a nod to Pastafarianism. He also replaced his face with an image of pastitsio, a Greek beef dish. For this, Loizos was arrested for blasphemy. He was later found guilty of “insulting religion” and sentenced to 10 months in prison.
Much of the discrimination atheists experience in places like America is caused by distrust and fear that is rooted in ignorance and misunderstandings making it difficult to quantify the degree of discrimination; but several surveys and studies over the past several years reveal pervasive and continuing problems world-wide that should not be ignored.
Even though those claiming no religious affiliation is on the rise (according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the number of young people doubting the existence of God has doubled in five years), a survey by Bertelsmann Stiftung found that 50 percent of Americans consider atheism to be threatening. There are more atheists than ever, but they are still in the minority; and their beliefs, attitudes and values are largely misunderstood.
Theists frequently accuse atheists of not having any moral convictions, of being nihilists and hedonists and of being less trustworthy than their religious peers. In 2012, Psychologists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon presented results of a study that demonstrate distrust of atheists is comparable even to rapists in certain circumstances; and according to former Governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, atheists are “dangerous” and “must be stopped”.
Atheist students often report being excluded and even bullied because of their atheism making them feel isolated and unsupported by teachers and support staff as well as alienated by peers.
After publicly expressing concern about the the Ten Commandments plaque that was hung on the wall of his Oklahoma high school's biology classroom, Gage Pulliam and his eighth grade sister experienced the kind of harsh responses and isolation familiar to atheist students who take a stand for the separation of church and state in their schools.
Students who are isolated are at a greater risk for poor academic performance and depression. Atheist students also experience religious pressure from teachers and administrators making them feel like they have nowhere to turn to for help – a problem articulated by AR writer Lee Myers who also provides contact information and various methods of reporting infractions if you or someone you know has been the victim of a Church/ State violation.
The bullying in schools and other types of discrimination atheists experience in North America and Europe is occasionally overt and blatantly cruel. But more often, there are passive assumptions that affect the way people interact with the nonreligious and the decisions they make about friendships, hiring and firing, social involvement and exclusion, etc.
- had their charitable efforts rejected
- been fired
- had their advertising rejected
- been forced to take part in religious ceremonies
- been denied the opportunity to form groups and organizations
- been denied participation in various organizations
These are all acts that would be unacceptable if taken against a religious person; demonstrating a double standard that exists in many countries today. Christians often pressure local law enforcement and governments, citing “religious protection” to obtain unfair advantages or prevent more equal opportunities for atheists and humanists. They often claim that if atheists are granted the same rights, it will infringe on their “religious rights”. Christians are allowed to refuse services to people whose life choices they find distasteful. Muslim students can refuse to receive academic instruction from female professors. Christians can hand out Bibles on school campuses or put them in hotel rooms. Religious organizations and clergy receive special tax exemptions. And the list could go on.
In the United States, it’s also virtually impossible for an openly atheist candidate to win an election. In the 20012 election season, a poll revealed that just over half of Americans would vote for a “well-qualified” presidential candidate who was also an atheist. There are currently ZERO admitted atheists in the United States Congress and ONE in all state legislatures. Six states have laws preventing atheists from holding public office. Even though these laws aren’t enforced, they represent the difficulty faced by any atheist wanting to run for office. In fact, the candidate doesn’t even have to publicly claim to be an atheist, she/he just has to be loosely associated with people who might have atheist ties, as demonstrated in the case of 2008 Senate Candidate Kay Hagen who was targeted in a Republican smear campaign for attending a fundraiser held by two liberals who were heavily involved with the ACLU, fighting for the rights of the oppressed and who also happened to be atheists.
We also cannot ignore the legal mistreatment and physical harm perpetrated against atheists around the world. In “The Freethought Report 2013,” the International Humanist and Ethical Union reported egregious human rights violations against atheists and other nonbelievers, including the use of the death penalty for various violations against the established religion in 13 countries.
Egyptian activist and blogger Alber Saber was arrested for insulting religion. He was violently attacked in prison and on December 12 of this year, he was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of blasphemy. He was released on bail and fled the country.
In Indonesia, civil servant Alexander Aan was attacked by a mob for criticising Islam on Facebook after saying he’d become an atheist. He was arrested and found guilty of blasphemy via the internet and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Indian humanist Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association embarrassed the Catholic Church on national television by debunking the weeping Jesus "miracle" proving it was actually the result of a leaky drain. The Church complained and the Mumbai police arrested Edamaruku on charges of "hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community." Edamaruku has fled India and is currently living in Finland.
Turkish citizen, Fazil Say is a world-renowned pianist and an atheist. He was arrested and charged with insulting Islamic values via Twitter after he quoted several lines from a poem. Following a retrial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 months in prison. The sentence was suspended and the case will be dropped if he doesn’t commit another crime within two years.
In Tunisia, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji were given a prison sentence of seven and a half years for their cartoons of Muhammad that they posted on Facebook. Beji fled the country but Mejri is currently serving his sentence.
An unnamed (for his protection) atheist Afghan citizen has been granted asylum in the UK because it is believed that were he to return to Afghanistan, he would be persecuted and possibly face the death penalty for blasphemy under Sharia law.
The problem of atheist discrimination and mistreatment should not be ignored – neither should it be exaggerated. We should not make the problem out to be more than it is and we should not play into the “who gets it worse?” competition; but, just like all forms of discrimination, we shouldn't ignore it either.
We can continue to make people aware of discrimination against nonreligious people and we can also take opportunities to let our atheism be known. Many people fear atheists because they think they don't know any. They might assume that all the “good people” they know are religious. But as more of us openly share our views, people will realize that some of those “good people” are actually atheists.
Atheist Republic advocates against religious oppression and violence toward all people around the world. We believe atheists have a right to live without fear of incrimination just like anyone else. Atheists should be free to speak out against ideas with which they do not agree and should be encouraged to stand up against the imposition of religion.
Have you been treated differently because of your atheism? Reply to this email to share your story and we may add it to our website. Please specify if you wish to remain anonymous.