January 24, 2009

Addressing Anti-Atheist Bigotry: Emptying the Ocean With a Bucket

Dole's television "Godless" ad
Dole's television "Godless" ad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I started to write this post in the Atheist Defense Network group at Atheist Nexus but decided to post it here instead. Do you ever feel thoroughly overwhelmed with how much work we atheists have before us with regard to anti-atheist bigotry? That's how I am feeling at the moment. I'm sure it will pass, but I cannot help feeling a bit discouraged as I think back over 2008 and even what I've seen so far in 2009.

While finishing a recent post about Tyson, the Indiana library patron who is being retaliated against simply for questioning the appropriateness of a nativity scene in his local public library, I started to think about the broader experience of atheists in America. Many images flashed before my eyes. In 2008 alone,

  • Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) launched a bigoted tirade against atheist activist Rob Sherman, telling him that it was dangerous for children to even know of the existence of atheism. Despite the public nature of her outburst (during the General Assembly), some media attention, and calls for her resignation, Rep. Davis faced no consequences. She merely delivered the sort of non-apologetic apology to Sherman that we have become used to seeing from bigots and resumed business as usual. Calls for a pubic apology were ignored.
  • Christian schools were given free reign to discriminate against students suspected of being lesbians. In fact, it was deemed acceptable for such schools to remove students at will for "immoral or scandalous behavior that contradicts Christian values."
  • Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-North Carolina) utilized blatant anti-atheist bigotry during her campaign against opponent Kay Hagan. Although Dole was ultimately defeated, the mainstream media largely ignored the bigoted nature of her strategy of painting Hagan as an atheist. In short, the whole debacle provided other politicians with little reason not to make anti-atheist bigotry a campaign strategy.
  • California passed Proposition 8, rolling back previously granted civil rights to GLBT residents. They were able to do this because of a highly organized and well-funded effort by Christian extremist communities. Once again, media coverage largely ignored the religiously-motivated bigotry.
Many things did go well this year, but I am also realizing just how far we still have to go to realize atheist equality. I long for the day when bigotry directed at atheists is considered no more acceptable than that directed at women or minorities. Until that day, I will keep trying to make a difference. I will have periods of frustration and doubt, but I will persevere. I owe future generations of atheists than much.

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