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10 Scariest States to Be An Atheist

If you're finishing your degree in secular studies and are trying to decide where in the country you want to plant your godless stakes, here are some places to avoid.

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That's reasonably messed-up. But I want to focus instead on a much more practical, nuts-and-bolts, life-screwing-up form of anti-atheist bigotry -- child custody.

It is depressingly common for atheists to have child custody limited, or even denied, explicitly on the basis of their atheism. Cases have been documented again and again and again, in states including Michigan, Minnesota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas. But according to Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy, "Mississippi is the most serious offender." Volokh goes on to say, "In 2001, for instance, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld an order giving a mother custody partly because she took the child to church more often than the father did, thus providing a better 'future religious example.' In 2000, it ordered a father to take the child to church each week, as a [lower] Mississippi court ordered... reasoning that 'it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training.'"

Try to imagine a judge in this country denying or limiting custody to a parent, explicitly and specifically, because they were Jewish. Because they were Mormon. Because they were Baptist. And now, try to imagine a judge in this country denying or limiting custody to a parent, explicitly and specifically because they're an atheist. You don't have to imagine it. This is real. This happens. And it happens in Mississippi more than anywhere else in the country.

And finally, we come to my Number One Worst State to Be an Atheist:

#1: Louisiana.

I freely admit that this list, and the order I'm presenting it, is subjective. It's not based on a careful statistical analysis of rigorously gathered data based on journalistically objective criteria about anti-atheist bigotry. It's based on stories that happened to get my atheist dander up. It's based on stories that made me sad -- and enraged.

And the story that happened in Louisiana made me sad, and enraged, more than almost any other.

I'm talking about Damon Fowler.

I'm talking about the atheist high school student who opposed his public school having a school-sponsored prayer at his graduation. Whose name was leaked. And who, as a result, was hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community; publicly demeaned by one of his teachers; physically threatened; and thrown out by his parents, who cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and threw his belongings onto the front porch. Whose public school went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway. Who has had to leave his home and move in with his sister near Dallas, Texas.

You know things are bad when your atheist safe haven from extremist religious persecution is in Texas.

That's Louisiana.

Worst. State. Ever.

And you wanna know the really sad thing? This piece could have been a lot longer. This could easily have been the 20 Worst States to Be an Atheist. The 30 Worst. Heck... the 50 Worst.

You've got Maryland. Where yet another atheist high school student started a group, whose posters were torn down by other students -- and where actual parents of those students wrote letters to the editor supporting the vandalism, and calling the atheist posters "an atrocity." You've got Georgia. Where students taking their AP tests at a church were proselytized to by church members. You've got Utah. Where, says American Atheists president David Silverman, "The state attorney general is trying to have the Roman Cross pronounced secular so it can be placed on public buildings and schools without regard to equal access." You've got Oklahoma. Where still another public high school student tried to start an atheist group, and was accused by his principle of trying to start a "hate group"... and where the faculty advisor for the group suddenly withdrew, saying she had been told sponsoring the group would be "a bad career move." You've got... oh, you get the idea.

 
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