Atheist Discrimination: The Weird (and Serious) Ways Nonbelievers are Mistreated

What you’re about to read may shock you: Atheists experience discrimination.

It’s true. Despite showing themselves not to be evil baby-eaters time and time again, atheists are still viewed as the most hated and distrusted minority group, according to study after study after study. Sadly, this makes the group open to derision and discrimination, which can rear its ugly head in a number of ways, some of which are quite odd.

Atheist Shoes, a company based out of Berlin that sells shoes with the phrases “Ich Bin Athiest” and “Darwin Loves” stamped into the soles, recently conducted an informal study that yielded some disturbing results. The company sent two packages using the United States Postal Service to the same address, one sealed with atheist-branded packing tape and the other without. They did this with 178 packages sent to 49 states. According to Atheist Shoes, the packages with the branded-tape took on average three days longer to arrive than packages with plain tape, and were ten times more likely to disappear.

The company said they planned to contact the USPS Office of the Inspector General and stop using atheist-branded tape.

So was this a weird coincidence? An issue with customs? It’s hard to say since the study was small and unscientific, and the USPS hasn’t commented.

But this isn’t the first time the AHA has seen possible atheist haters working within the postal system. As the blog Temple of the Future pointed out, a package sent to the AHA’s 2010 Conference using FedEx was vandalized when someone wrote “God rules” and drew a cross on it.

Weird discrimination against nonbelievers isn’t reserved for postal system. It also affects atheists’ wallets and love lives.

Secular summer camp program Camp Quest Oklahoma set up a fundraiser at a Broken Arrow restaurant called Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ, which agreed to donate 10 percent of food and beverage proceeds made during a certain time period to the organization. But when supporters arrived this week, the owner had posted a notice canceling the event because Camp Quest’s “beliefs do not align with the Christian philosophy of our organization and we cannot financially contribute to their cause.”

No one was apparently asked to leave, but the 10 percent donation agreement was not honored. The AHA’s Appignani Legal Center is looking into the restaurant’s actions.

Camp Quest is requesting donations through its Web site, with the Stiefel Freethought Foundation pledging to match funds received this week up to the $5,000 mark.

Godfather’s Pizza in Hampton, Iowa recently offered a two dollar discount to customers who said “Jesus died for me,” as the Friendly Atheist reported. The legality of such a practice is questionable. Laws regarding public accommodations –private entities open to the public such as retail stores and restaurants– say such places cannot discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” But some silly civil rights law didn’t stop a restaurant in Mississippi from offering a 10 percent discount to customers who brought in a church bulletin in 2009. It also didn’t hamper a Texas auto shop from advertising a cheaper oil change in exchange for a customer recitation of a Bible verse in 2011.

Atheists have also reportedly had a hard time being matched on the dating Web site eHarmony, which at one time didn’t offer matching services to gay people. (On the plus side, being an atheist or humanist on OkCupid has shown to be helpful in getting dates. There are also dating sites for atheists, including Free Thinker Match and Atheist Passions.)

Of course, most discrimination against atheists is not of the weird variety – it’s quite serious.

Recently in Bangladesh, the government removed hundreds of online posts by seven atheist and secular bloggers who “defamed Islam and the Prophet Mohammed,” according to the AFP. The country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to punish the bloggers who spoke against Islam. So far, four bloggers – including one who openly identifies as a “militant atheist” — have been arrested and now face up to ten years in jail if convicted of violating cyber laws. “They have hurt religious feelings of the people by writing against different religions and their prophets and founders including the Prophet Mohammed,” deputy commissioner of Dhaka police Molla Nazrul Islam told the AFP.  The AHA issued an action alert, urging readers to demand the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh lodge a formal complaint.

The American Humanist Association compiled a report with the International Humanist and Ethical Union in 2012 detailing how atheists are discriminated against worldwide and met with the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom to urge these cases be highlighted. The report was also presented to the United Nations in February which, in part, spotlighted how atheists can be put to death in Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Weird or serious, discrimination against atheists is obviously wrong and should not be tolerated. Let’s hope tolerance, not just for atheists, but for all people continues to grow.

Sarah Anne Hughes, Communications AssistantSarah Anne Hughes is the communications assistant for the American Humanist Association.