New Study Examines Anti-Atheist Discrimination in the Workplace

A study claims that people are more biased against atheists expressing their lack of belief versus theists expressing their beliefs, particularly in the workplace environment. "Explaining anti-atheist discrimination in the workplace: The role of intergroup threat" authored by Kimberly Rios, Leah Halper, and Christopher Scheitle was published in a journal by the American Psychological Association (APA), APA Psycnet, on March 4, 2021.

The study is based on two theories, the Intergroup Threat Theory and the Ingroup Identity Model. According to the authors, another basis for the study is the current atmosphere in America and how most Americans view atheists. Kimberly refers to atheists as "one of the most disliked groups in the United States," as atheists are viewed less warmly in the US versus Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

In the publication, the authors conducted an experiment across three studies with significant variations. The premise of the experiments was focused on the "whether and why" when it comes to religious expression in the workplace. In the studies, participants were shown vignettes of employees seeking to express their beliefs or lack thereof. The vignette shows employees requesting to display something that lets them express their belief or non-belief. The employees in the vignette were a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, and an Atheist. After going through the scenario, the participants were asked to rate their willingness to grant the employee's request.

The study identified two possible reasons that drive the participants' lower approval for an atheist to express their views at work. The first perceived reason was that atheists constantly impose their lack of belief on other individuals who have a religious subscription, regardless of whether they are Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. According to the authors, the second perceived reason is something more practical and realistic, and it's that atheists are seen as detrimental to the company's economic status and resources.

In the study's conclusion, Rios and her team explained that the result of the three studies refers to atheists as being an outgroup. Adding that it may have something to do with the fact that Christians, Jews, and Muslims "fall under the broader umbrella of 'religious,' whereas atheists are a separate category altogether."

In the US, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees that employees should be accommodated reasonably regarding their "sincerely held… ethical and moral beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer." But this law does not control how employees should perceive their colleagues, nor does it criminalize non-cooperation with an individual's expression of belief or non-belief. Nevertheless, with the rising number of Americans unaffiliated from any religion, the slow and arduous journey towards workplace safety for atheists is gaining momentum.

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