Discriminating Against Atheists in Missouri: A Case of Christian Privilege

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I hope we can all agree that a governor of any U.S. state should not say anything remotely close to the following:

...I share these beliefs and would not have nominated someone who does not share the same Christian values.

When Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) wrote this in a statement announcing the resignation of the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, he was rightly blasted by various secular organizations. Then again, I'm glad he wrote it because we now know how he feels. It couldn't have come as much of a surprise that he had been operating this way. After all, he was on record with the following from a 2017 interview:

I mean, if you’re not a believer, there’s no way, I believe, you can be a truly effective leader because when you are in this arena you are a leader. And to make decisions without faith, to me, would be impossible. I don’t know how you make the decision and how you’re going to affect the future if you don’t have belief and faith.

Public statements like this should disqualify someone from holding public office. There's too much at stake to fill these offices with people who are clearly delusional, especially when they signal their intent to engage in discriminatory hiring practices. So why does this sort of thing almost never result in someone being removed from office?

I'd suggest that there are at least two reasons besides the fact that our political system is designed to favor incumbents. First, there are many areas where voters actually want to hear this sort of nonsense and continue to elect those who spout it. If this is what they want, they are very unlikely to penalize it by voting someone out of office. Second, the Christian privilege and open hostility to atheism that grips our mainstream news media seems to be a powerful deterrent in how stories like this are reported. Many stories like this aren't even reported or are reported without examining the role of Christian extremism. So while many voters want this, some who might not are not even aware it is happening in their state.

I'm not sure what the optimal solution to this problem might be, or even if there is one. It does occur to me that part of the solution probably involves making sure as many people as possible hear about what is going on. Applying pressure to public officials who do this sort of thing may help, and I am encouraged to see the secular organizations doing so. I suspect that at least as much pressure probably needs to be placed on our mainstream news media. Stories like this need some investigative reporting, and I am not sure we can rely on national secular organizations to do it. Perhaps the subject of Christian privilege in the news media is one that deserves more attention than it has received.

Maybe there's an even bigger and more complicated issue to figure out. Time and again, we see public officials making statements that sound an awful lot like they are confessing to illegal behavior. The use of discriminatory hiring practices is a common one but certainly not the only one. There is almost never any sort of accountability when they make these statements. They issue a quick and unconvincing denial, and the issue seems to go away. Why is that? Is it Christian privilege, an example of a news media with little appetite for investigative journalism, a legal system where the wealthy and powerful really are above the law, or something else? I'm really not sure. What I am sure of is that it doesn't look good. It looks like we are comfortable tolerating many things we should not be tolerating.