Are Atheists Members of a Persecuted Minority Group?

English: Kingdom Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia....
Kingdom Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Taken by BroadArrow in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an atheist, are you a member of a persecuted minority group that regularly faces discrimination and bigotry by the religious? Could you be a member of such a group even if you have not personally experienced this sort of thing?

The Freedom of Thought Report, recently released by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, has been receiving quite a bit of attention among atheists and humanists and for good reason. The editor of the report, Bob Churchill, wrote a post for Religion News Service in which he offered three suggestions for what should happen in response to the report. I expect that two of them will be entirely uncontroversial among secular persons, so I'd like to mention the third:

3. Atheists and humanists should not be afraid of recognizing they are a persecuted minority. This language does not come easily. For some it may just sound ridiculous, because it’s such an unreality in the lives of relatively comfortable, secular, liberal countries. For other atheists, the idea of being a group is antithetical. Many came to atheism as individuals and may have left religion in part because of what we saw as the perils of groupthink. Nevertheless, we are a group in the eyes of intolerant societies. We must recognize this, even embrace it. We must show solidarity to people living in parts of the world where advocating humanism or even lobbying for secularism or liberalism can be dangerous.

I think he's correct here. Many of us do have a hard time accepting the idea that we face persecution for our beliefs, especially those living in parts of the West where secularism is fairly well tolerated. And many of us do seem to value individuality (and even a sort of isolation from others) even though it may be to our collective detriment. And yet, this notion that we need to overcome these tendencies, join together to advocate reason, and speak out against ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by against atheists strikes me as worthy of serious consideration.