Anti-Discrimination Support Network
♦ Stop BSA from recruiting in our public schools: http://www.ftsociety.org/menu/anti-discrimination-support-network/anti-discrimination-policy-mission-statement/ (letter and certificate)
♦ Printable No-Discrimination Pledge Certificate for schools and school districts: http://www.ftsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/ADSN-School-Pledge-2.jpg
♦ The Anti-Discrimination Narrative Report Form: http://www.ftsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/ADSN-Narrative-Form-2010.pdf
♦ Anti-Discrimination Links: ADSN links of interest
♦ 2012: ADSN-report (pdf)
♦ Boy Scouts of America – multiple reports 2000 to 2012
A Report by Margaret Downey, President, Freethought Society:
For over a decade the Freethought Society (FS) has been documenting acts of discrimination against the nonreligious through the Anti-Discrimination Support Network (ADSN). ADSN is a committee of FS. In 1995, the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief invited me to submit information on discrimination against atheists by the Boy Scouts of America. The United Nations Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief’s mission is to record and monitor incidents of intolerance around the world. I was told that ADSN findings would be published in the committee’s final report only if the cases I documented were considered especially grievous. The United Nations committee quickly recognized that the Boy Scouts of America’s discrimination against atheists was no less severe than its far more widely reported discrimination against gays. A synopsis of my findings was included in the committee’s published report. (ADSN reports on the BSA)
Shortly afterward, the same United Nations committee asked me to assess other incidents of discrimination — in particular, what forms of discrimination were of greatest concern within the United States atheist community. During the following year, I conducted numerous interviews and discovered multiple instances of discrimination.
In 1998, I delivered a personal report to the committee, noting that bigotry against atheists was relatively common, much of it based in popular misunderstandings of the United States Constitution’s secular character and its intent to protect minorities against majority rule. I reported that, with respect to the atheist community, the United States was not in compliance with the 1981 United Nations “Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief”. During 1998, a Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights toured the United States and visited some of the families mentioned in my report. In his findings he noted atheism’s “non-acceptance by the majority of U.S. citizens. Nonetheless, he suggested that the situation faced by atheists in American society was “satisfactory.” Compared to the deadly violence that threatens some oppressed minorities in other countries, this may be true; still, discrimination against nontheists falls far short of the American ideal.
I resolved to strengthen my efforts to document discrimination against atheists, which had never before been attempted in a formal manner. There have been many surveys and reports since that time that substantiate my claims that Atheists are the most hated minority group in America.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 66% of Americans view nontheists unfavorably. Interestingly, that is double the hatred for Muslims. On January 20, 2010 the Pew Research Center reports 43% of Americans would be disturbed if a family member married a nontheist. A survey out of the University of Minnesota released their findings in a report that stated atheists are the most distrusted minority. Furthermore, the survey disclosed that parents would not like their children to marry a nontheist.
Documenting incidents of discrimination
In 1999, I developed the Discrimination Narrative Collection Form, an easy-to-complete incident description form which I released to every national humanist, freethought, and atheist organization. Read a summary of some of our reports: ADSN-report
In 2000, I mass-mailed the form to atheist, humanist, and freethought groups nationwide. In addition, I circulated it at every conference I have attended since 2000. I have heard many personal accounts of discrimination at the many conferences I have attended over the years. But persuading victims to put their experience on paper is sometimes difficult. One would think that any atheist who has experienced discrimination would be eager to submit an affidavit. Instead, the fear of suffering further discrimination as a “whistleblower” was widespread.
Some victims told me that they did not want to go public lest still more hatred come their way. This is the trauma of discrimination, just the sort of intimidation that discourages discrimination reports and makes it difficult to find plaintiffs for needed litigation. These obstacles notwithstanding, I eventually compiled hundreds of incident reports. The case summaries reside in an ADSN master file which is now available to the general public.
The ADSN narrative collection is divided into the following categories of discrimination reports: students and teachers, work, oaths, ceremonial deism, media, family and community, politics and government.
The largest amount of harassment and negative stereotyping can be found in the students and teachers category. Most of the situations are easily rectified, but we wonder how many situations go un-reported. This is why it is so important for everyone to help spread the word that ADSN is collecting narratives.
One of the most difficult areas to gather reports is in the work place. I think we would find more cases if nontheists were more vocal. Exposure of a minority belief system is no reason for someone to loose their job or suffer unwelcome proselytizing at the work place. ADSN can intercede in work situations, but we find that most nontheists simply put up with public prayer or stay quiet about their true life stance, even to the point that nontheists must behave hypocritically or un-principled just to fit in and continue making a living.
Suffering financial harm due to discriminating is also a concern for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). That government agency enforces Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
The time has come for nontheists to be proud of their philosophical life stance. Nontheists should be treated fairly in the work place and respected by their fellow employees. Anyone who is subjected to religious prejudice at work should keep a diary and build an evidence file for possible future legal action.
Stereotyping by the Media
We also receive many cases of negative stereotyping by the media. We respond as quickly as possible by writing letters of complaint directly to the offending person and the media that employees them. ADSN’s Media Watch form was designed for easy reporting.
We need help monitoring negative stereotyping of atheists by the media. ADSN is interested in knowing when, where, and how the media portrays nontheists. It is also helpful to send ADSN a report when someone in the media uses old sayings such as “There are no atheists in foxholes.” We will write a protest letter and encourage others to participate in a letter writing campaign until an apology is received or our concerns are recognized.
If you hear of a media person saying things such as they would never vote for an atheist, remember that if they made the same comment about a gay person, a Jew, a Hispanic, or an African-American, they would be reprimanded or even lose their jobs. We must demand the same respect as our fellow citizens who were also once unfairly labeled and demeaned. Read a summary of some of our reports: ADSN-report
National atheist, humanist and freethought publications frequently report on nontheists losing their jobs, facing abusive family situations, being subjected to organized shunning campaigns in their communities, receiving death threats, and the like.
It is no surprise that you will not find mainstream media coverage that substantiates discrimination against the atheist community. I am constantly amazed how seldom the two little words “and atheists” see print when journalists cover BSA discrimination against gays. When ADSN co-sponsored a 2003 press conference and two-day protest with Scouting For All, not one newspaper mentioned BSA’s anti-atheist membership policy. Even though BSA exhibits the same discrimination toward gays and atheists, the vast majority of press accounts mention only BSA’s anti-gay position.
The ADSN narrative collection has recorded accounts of physical and mental abuse, job loss, cruel media stereotyping, murder and other instances of discrimination. Atheist bashing really exists and is getting worse. Before atheists, humanists, and freethinkers can prove discrimination to the satisfaction of society in general, we must first prove it to ourselves. Otherwise we court the risk that activists who decry discrimination will be dismissed as “whiners,” even within our own ranks. No form of discrimination is insufficient. Aggrieved atheists should not resign themselves to abuse.
Please note that ADSN is not interested in hearsay or anonymous submissions. No incident is too old or too small. We can change our image by putting a stop to hate speech and negative stereotyping.
I am working to see the day when the public at large correctly understands that the nontheist community. is nonthreatening. In the meantime, here are just a few examples of the cases we have recorded:
A women in Greenville, Tennessee, joined a financial firm in June 2001. Shortly afterward, two Baptist coworkers took offense upon learning that she was an atheist. Management granted the coworkers’ request to be assigned workspaces further from the atheist woman. When the atheist woman complained about a picture of Jesus left on her computer, management discharged her. The atheist woman filed suit, seeking $250,000; U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull ruled that “religious discrimination (or preferential treatment of Christians) can be inferred.” In January 2004, the major bank that had since acquired the firm settled with the atheist for an undisclosed amount.
In Ada, Oklahoma, a Baptist student told a local newspaper she wouldn’t take classes because a professor was an open atheist, triggering a flurry of abuse. The professor received harassing notes and telephone calls, some threatening. His car was vandalized, for a time on a daily basis. A local church sold prayer buttons with the professor’s name on them. The professor’s children experienced shunning and beatings from religious children.
In Detroit, Michigan an atheist was shot to death by a man who proudly proclaimed that he was a Christian and an Eagle Scout. He said that killing the atheist was justified because the atheist was “evil.” The Eagle Scout was convinced that the atheist was the “devil.”
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a child from an atheist household was denied an honor roll certificate when he refused to participate in an unconstitutional “prayer time” at a public school. For three years, administrators ignored the family’s complaints until a lawsuit was filed.
In December 2001, an open atheist who maintains a museum of Christian religious atrocities — appeared before the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners to challenge a nativity scene placed on public land. Commissioners responded angrily, saying she had no right to be present and proceeded to ridicule her. The woman’s family suffered repeated harassment including annoyance calls, threatening and letters and phone calls, and vandalism. The county settled in U.S. District Court, agreeing to pay an undisclosed sum and to issue a “public expression of regret.”
My own atheism came to prominence when I became involved in a legal challenge to a Ten Commandments plaque on the façade of the Chester County Courthouse in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Neighbors organized a shunning campaign, some area merchants refused to do business with me, and I received hundreds of threatening letters and phone calls. I was forced to close my interior decorating business because of death threats that compelled me to stop visiting the homes of persons unknown to me.
Read a summary of some of our reports: ADSN-report
You might be wondering what is done by FS when a discrimination report is received.
FS sends an acknowledgment card and extends further assistance to the victim of prejudice by asking if they need help finding a guaranteed secular counselor; do they need legal guidance to further pursue the complaint; do they want to connect with others who have experienced similar discrimination circumstances: and finally we ask, whether they want ADSN to write letters in pursuit of justice?
The acknowledgment card FS sends is a way of bringing people closer and making the miles between us disappear. Fear, isolation, and loneliness are just a few of the feelings that have been reported to ADSN as a result of discrimination.
Thank you for visiting this section of the FS website. I hope you will assist FS in documenting more cases of discrimination. The databank FS is building can be used not only as proof of our claims, but can be used to help others.
Finally, as you can see, many hours of work must be spent on collecting, documenting and responding to submissions. A donation earmarked for this project will pay for FS to hire office help, produce literature and to represent atheists at the United Nations.