November 19, 2008

Proposition 8 Protests Offer Lesson For Atheists

Why aren't more atheists vocal about their feelings on religion? Why aren't more atheists willing to take a stand against anti-atheist bigotry and demand equality? In a word, fear. We fear losing friends, alienating family, getting fired from our jobs, or even being physically assaulted by religious extremists. These concerns are understandable, but true equality for atheists is likely to require some measure of risk. I submit that we could learn quite a bit from the protests of Proposition 8.

Yes, I realize that the protests we are now seeing in every state (even Mississippi) were prompted by a specific political action which removed rights previously granted to same-sex couples in California. Some may argue that atheists have faced no such denial of rights previously granted and that our efforts would be every bit as impressive if this were to happen to us. I'm sorry, but I don't believe that for a second.

Over at Mississippi Atheists, I posted a video from a small protest in Mississippi last weekend. Roughly 40-50 brave individuals gathered in a Mississippi town across the street from a college campus only a couple hours before a home football game. Those of you familiar with football in the South know what this means. For everyone else, think hordes of drunken rednecks pouring in from tiny rural communities for the game.

And yet, these protesters were out there, wrapped in rainbow flags and holding signs calling for equality. Some may have been terrified, but they did it anyway. They spread their message to passersby and received local television and newspaper coverage. And all over America, people were doing the same.

I know that atheists typically beat out all other groups, including members of the GLBT community, on lists of the most hated persons in America. But I simply do not believe that it would be measurably more perilous for us to take a stand. We can (and should) learn as much as possible about how to organize and foster activism from the GLBT community. However, I suspect that the crucial lesson on which all others may depend is one of working through our fear.

I'll tell you what I learned yesterday - I have no excuse for not standing up for atheist equality. None whatsoever. It is time to face the fear.

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