Quite possibly, the last minority group in the United States that it’s socially acceptable to bash openly with abandon is the secular crowd. This would include atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and other Americans who either don’t believe in a god, or those who do, but think god should be kept out of government. If you doubt this, consider that 53% of Americans say they’d be less likely to vote for an atheist to be president. Also consider that in conservative circles, secular-bashing is actually regarded as a way to win votes. And consider that in 2009, Family Feud host Steve Harvey said that anyone who doesn’t believe in god is “an idiot,” and kept his job without having to apologize.
Imagine what the reaction would have been if the targets in the aforementioned instances weren’t atheists, but instead had been women or Latinos or gay people. There would be widespread outcry and condemnation, and rightly so. But when it comes to trashing secularists, there are no consequences, and maybe there’s even some applause.
But a new campaign is aiming to stop this. On Saturday, more than two dozen secularist organizations including the Richard Dawkins Foundation, the Secular Coalition For America, the Secular Student Alliance, and others, launched a campaign “to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance by getting secular people — including atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists and nonreligious people — to be open about their beliefs.” The campaign is called Openly Secular, and it was announced by Richard Dawkins and Robyn Blummer on The Huffington Post last week.
Dawkins and Blummer wrote,
“Many religious Americans would be startled to discover how many non-believers they already know and like. Too many religious Americans are convinced they can’t trust people who don’t subscribe to a faith. The truth is, they are constantly trusting nonbelievers; they just don’t realize it.”
As they point out, 53% of Americans say it is necessary to believe in god to be moral, which means most of the country thinks that atheists are immoral, or at best, amoral.
The Openly Secular website features a series of YouTube videos featuring secularists explaining why they are “openly secular,” and the campaign hopes others will do the same. One of the videos features former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) who after leaving Congress, revealed that he is an atheist. As of right now, none of the 535 members of the U.S. Congress have admitted to not believing in god. Given that about 5% of the U.S. population is atheist, it would be virtually a statistical impossibility for there to be no nonbelieving members of Congress. Indeed, according to the American Humanist Association, 24 of them have privately told the group that they don’t believe in god.
While it’s understandable that these lawmakers have chosen to remain anonymous, their reluctance to come out about their lack of religious belief is helping perpetuate the cycle of intolerance toward nonbelievers and secularists in general. Clearly, the public has some very grave misconceptions about those who hold secular beliefs, and so the best way to counter this is for more Americans to let their secular beliefs be known to their families, their friends, and others who need to be disabused of the idea that secular Americans cannot be moral and upstanding citizens.