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4 Reasons Atheists Have to Fight for Their Rights

In the U.S., atheists have laws protecting them. But laws aren't always obeyed, or enforced -- and fighting for legal rights can have dire consequences.
 
 
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"You atheists are just taking on the mantle of victimhood. There are laws protecting you -- especially the First Amendment. Therefore, you're not really discriminated against. And it's ridiculous for you to claim that you are."

Atheist activists get this one a lot. When we speak out about ways that anti-atheist bigotry plays out, we're told that we're not really oppressed. We're told that, because we have legal protection, because anti-atheist discrimination is illegal, therefore we don't really have any problems, and we're just trying to gain unearned sympathy and win the victim Olympics. (I'd love to hear Bob Costas do the commentary for that!) It's a classic Catch-22: If we speak out about oppression and point to examples of it, we're accused of "playing the victim card," and the oppression becomes invisible. And if we don't speak out about oppression ... then the oppression once again becomes invisible.

If you've ever made this "discrimination against atheists is against the law" argument, I have some really bad news for you. You may want to sit down for this, it may come as a shock:

People sometimes break the law.

Theft is against the law -- but people sometimes steal. Bribery is against the law -- but people sometimes bribe other people. Arson is against the law -- but people sometimes set buildings on fire.

Anti-atheist discrimination is against the law; in the United States, anyway. But people still sometimes discriminate against atheists.

It's illegal for public schools to prevent students from viewing atheist Web sites, while allowing them to look at religious ones. But the San Antonio Independent School District did it anyway.

It's illegal to make atheists swear religious oaths when they testify in court. But the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Fort Myers did it anyway.

It's illegal for the U.S. military to spend money evangelizing to U.S. soldiers, to demand that U.S. soldiers attend chapel, or to order U.S. soldiers to take a "spiritual fitness" test and order them to visit evangelizing chaplains when they fail it. But the U.S. military did it anyway.

It's illegal for businesses to give church-goers discounts they don't give to non-believers. But the Fisherman's Quarters II restaurant in Asheville, N.C. did it anyway.

It's illegal to deny atheist organizations the right to advertise in venues where religious groups advertise regularly. But when American Atheists and the NEPA Freethought Society tried to place a bus ad in Pennsylvania that simply had the word, "atheists," with the names and URLs of the organizations in smaller type, the transit system rejected the ad because it was "too controversial."

It's illegal to deny atheist students in public high schools the right to organize clubs. But it happens all the time. Talk to Secular Student Alliance high school specialist JT Eberhard. He spends a ridiculous amount of his working day pushing high school administrations to stop throwing up illegal roadblocks to atheist students, and to let them have the clubs they're legally allowed to have.

And the list goes on, and on, and on.

Talk to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, or Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the National Center for Science Education, or the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or American Atheists. Ask them about the lawsuits they're filing every month -- heck, every week -- about public school prayers, bible instruction in public schools, public schools' promotion of faith and religious activities as "developmental assets," government displays of the Ten Commandments and other religious texts, city council meetings and other government events being opened with prayers, religious creationism being taught in the public schools, or any of hundreds of similar incidents.

 
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