No group of people have taught me to hate more, or want to commit violence against more, than Christians and Muslims. Honestly? I fucking hate ALL Christians and Muslims and believe they are a disease to humanity, cockroaches, vermin, puss filled shitstains on the underwear of humanity. Who have committed far too many crimes against humanity, crimes against the children of the world. Crimes of mass genocides, crimes of mass murder, crimes of tortures and persecutions of others. Crimes of pure hate and violence, all for their twisted fucking theologies of bullshit and pure fucking unmitigated evil.
The ones who truly started teaching me how to hate? Were the Christian penguins at the Catholic school I went to. They taught me to hate myself, for supposedly being an evil motherfucker for having been born…..LEFT HANDED.
Then Christians taught me to hate in all kinds of other ways. In the Reich Wing Buybull Baptist Fundie cult church I was brought to while in a foster home? They taught me to hate lgbts and others.
Then the perverted pedophile priests who spent the night at St Thomas More in Durham NH gang raping me really taught me to hate.
And add more ChristoFascist Taliban scumbags whom I have had the unpleasantness to have met or seen etc in my long life. Scumbag ChristoFascist Taliban Cunt shitstains like Theodore Shoebat, Fred Phelps and the psychos of Westboro Baptist Cult; Steven Anderson, Scott Lively, Matt Barber, etc. All great teachers of Christian hate, violence and death.
And of course? You got the Muzzie Goat Fuckers, who hate us atheists so much? They got 13 countries of theirs with the death penalty punishment for being an atheist. And of course? Their deathly hate for lgbts, women who are raped, etc. The bunch of Allah (Shit Be Upon Him) and Momo the Pedophile Profit (Shit Be Upon Him) shit of the world want to take it over and be top dogs too and spew that shit from their well used Muzzie Cunt outhouses on the daily.
Yes, Muzzies and Christos are the greatest teachers of hate, of violence, of death, of bigotry, and persecutors of others. Oh but don’t you dare demand the deaths of Muzzies of Christos, or throw hate, bigotry or persecute them, cause then they get their little fucking diapers in a bunch and cry.
Well, I say it is pas t time that Christos and Muzzies reap back all the hate, all the violence, and all the mass death they have sowed upon far too many in their histories. Christos should be rounded up and forced on death marches to death camps and starved to death like they did to us Native Americans. They should be exterminated from the face of the earth as just Karma payback for all the extermination they did of us. And any of them left? Should be put into brutal slavery by black people. Let’s see if Christians like a fucking dose of their own goddamn medicine shall we?
As for Muzzies? For every atheist a Muslim murders? 20 Muslims should be lined up against a fucking wall and fucking shot. For every Muslim that rapes a woman or murders a raped women? 100 Muslim scum men should be lined up against a wall and the shots aimed at their fucking crotches and their dicks blown the fuck off. All psychopathic Muzzie Cunt Extremist? Should be rounded up, fucking beheaded and their fucking heads put on pikes as a warning to any other fucking Muzzie of trying to star t their bullshit.
Yes, see how great a teachers Christians and Muslims are in teaching others to fucking hate. Well they have taught me to hate so well, by their spewing unmitigated hate towards me for 59 years that I just now want to watch them all get fucking wiped off the face of the earth in the most majestic, the most brutal, the most vile and violent ways possible. Maybe then they would learn their fucking lessons?
A Christo gets his ass handed to him in my response to his hypocritical bullshit against me.
What a troglodyte Christian hypocrite you are.So I am supposed to be more Christian than you Christians and love those who hate me? Love those who demand I be put to death simply because I am an atheist and do not believe in your foul, evil god? Even if your god was real? THERE IS NO WAY I WOULD EVER BOW DOWN TO IT.
YOUR god? Is a child rapist, a child murderer and an advocate of child butchery. He is an advocate for the rapes of virgins. He is an advocate for slaughter and mass murder. Of course? YOU Christians? Demand we have no right to judge your psychotic, brutal, foul and evil god but he has every right to judge us? Yeah right.
And? YOU Christians? Feel in your hypocrisy? YOU got a right to judge others? But no one has a right to judge any of you.
Well? Suck it up and deal with it you troglodyte Christian. Go crawl back into your deep, dark cave of ignorance and superstition of our Bronze Age ancestors.
Oh and this? Is taken from your bible.And? It applies to ALL you Christians.
Galatians 6:7: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
Luke 6:31: And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
This? Is against you Christians? Judging ANY other human being.
Matthew 7:1-5: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Matthew 12:36-37: 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Luke 6:37-42: 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
James 4:11-12: 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[a] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
Romans 2:1-3: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
So? All your Christian Pastors of Hate and all their pew polishers who shout heart amens and praise the lords over their spewing hate and death and judging others? Will also reap what they have sown and be judged as they judged others and receive the exact same penalty that they? Rendered unto those? They judged. All you Christians? Will in fact? Reap back all you have sown and done unto others. like? Us Native Americans, or Pagans, or lgbts, or atheists, or many others? Christians have persecuted and continue to persecute to this very day. And all you Christians? Are actually? Not Christians yourselves if YOU spew one ounce of hate? Towards ANYONE. 1 John 2:9-17: 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. 1 John 3:14-15: 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 1 John 4:19-20: 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen Leviticus 19:17-18 You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things the Lord hates— no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family. Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.
So? As long as there is even one Christian out there? Preaching hate and death against others? Then? I will be all up in their faces and demand? As they sow? So shall they reap and as they want to do unto us atheists, or do to lgbts, or to Native Americans, or to Pagans? Shall be done right back unto them.
So? Suck it up and deal with it, cause I will stop hating on you Christians? WHEN ALL YOU CHRISTIANS? STOP HATING ON OTHERS.
PUBLISHED ON November 20, 2019 by Charlie A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. CHARLES DARWIN When I was an atheist, the thing that distinguished me from my peers was that I wasted no time trolling believers on their blogs or their websites or drawing […]
As Christians have done unto atheists? Unto Pagans? Unto Native Americans? Unto lgbts? Unto Jews and others? So should they reap and be exterminated off the face of the earth just like they tried to exterminate the Pagans, Native Americans and may others.
Time to expose the real Fascist pig fuckers, the Christians like himself, to this psychotic ChristoTaliban.
Isn’t it amazing? The atheist must contend with the fact that if man is an animal then he is a religious animal. The material universe produced material beings with desires for non-material things. This makes no sense. Yet, religious belief and superstition is ubiquitous, and human beings have expended great amounts of material, manpower, and resources over the centuries to serve these needs and desires for the non-material. Humanity desires the divine. The desperation of atheist trolls is merely a symptom of religious frustration stemming from a denial of this desire for the divine.
So here we have a god believer who insists that all humans are naturally desiring of a deity or divine. Really?
This is rather ChristoFascist Taliban of this Abrahamist. In essence this Fascist says? YOU MUST believe in our god because WE believe in our God.
He states tthat if atheists state that man is simply an animal? Then he is a religious animal. Really? I did not know that we all must be religious to be a human being who is not an animal. Because the history of Christians, Muslims and Hebrews prove? they were definitely animals alright. Savage, viscous, brutal, death-dealing animals who forced their psychotic Bronze Age religious beliefs upon all of us through either you believe as we do or we will put you to death.
Christians started their rise to power by taking out their biggest competition, the Pagans, in almost 300 years of attempting to exterminate Pagans off the face of the earth.
Christians Committing Mass Murder: Against the Pagans
We know how much Christians love to proclaim how theirs is a religion of peace, love, non-judgment, etc. But their history proves they are anything but. Here is a definitive timeline history of Christians and their committing mass murder and persecution of Pagans.
Here are a few highlights of how Christians brutally slaughtered Pagans in their forced conversion programs against the Pagans.
354 AD A new edict of Constantius orders the closing of all Pagan Temples. Some of them are profaned and turned into brothels or gambling rooms. Executions of Pagan priests. First burning of libraries in various cities of the Empire. The first lime factories are built next to closed Pagan Temples. A large part of Sacred Gentile architecture is turned into lime.
359 AD In Skythopolis, Syria, the Christians organise the first death camps for the torture and executions of the arrested non-Christians from all around the empire.
364 AD Emperor Flavius Jovianus orders the burning of the Library of Antioch. An Imperial edict (11th September) orders the death penalty for all Gentiles that worship their ancestral Gods or practice Divination (“sileat omnibus perpetuo divinandi uriositas”). Three different edicts (4th February, 9th September, 23rd December) order the confiscation of all properties of Pagan Temples and the death penalty for participation in Pagan rituals, even private ones.
370 AD Valens orders a tremendous persecution of non-Christian peoples in all the Eastern Empire. In Antioch, among many other non-Christians, the ex-governor Fidustius and the priests Hilarius and Patricius are executed. Tons of books are burnt in the squares of the cities of the Eastern Empire. All the friends of Julianus are persecuted (Orebasius, Sallustius, Pegasius etc.), the philosopher Simonides is burned alive and the philosopher Maximus is decapitated.
380 AD On 27th February, Christianity becomes the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire by an edict of Emperor Flavius Theodosius, requiring that “all the various nations, which are subject to our clemency and moderation should continue in the profession of that religion, which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter”. Non-christians are called “loathsome, heretics, stupid and blind”. In another edict Theodosius calls “insane” those that do not believe in the christian god and outlaws all disagreements with the Church dogmas. Ambrosius, bishop of Milan, starts destroying all the Pagan Temples of his area. Christian priests lead the mob against the Temple of Goddess Demeter in Eleusis and try to lynch the hierophants Nestorius and Priskus. The 95 year-old hierophant Nestorius, ends the Eleusinian Mysteries and announces the predominance of mental darkness over the human race.
381 AD On 2nd May, Theodosius deprives of all their rights the Christians that return back to the Pagan religion. In all the Eastern Empire the Pagan temples and Libraries are looted or burned down. On 21st December, Theodosius outlaws even simple visits to the temples of the Hellenes. In Constantinople, the temple of goddess Aphrodite is turned to a brothel and the temples of Sun and Artemis to stables.
385 to 388 AD Maternus Cynegius, encouraged by his fanatic wife, and bishop “Saint” Marcellus with his gangs scour the countryside and sack and destroy hundreds of Hellenic temples, shrines and altars. Among others they destroy the temple of Edessa, the Cabeireion of Imbros, the temple of Zeus in Apamea, the temple of Apollo in Dydima and all the temples of Palmyra. Thousands of innocent Pagans from all sides of the empire suffer martyrdom in the notorious death camps of Skythopolis.
389 to 390 AD All non-Christian date-methods are outlawed. Hordes of fanatic hermits from the desert flood the cities of the Middle East and Egypt and destroy statues, altars, libraries and Pagan temples, and lynch the Pagans. Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, starts heavy persecutions against non-Christian peoples, turns the temple of Dionysos into a Christian church, burns down the Mithraeum of the city, destroys the temple of Zeus and burlesques the Pagan priests before they are killed by stoning. The Christian mob profanes the cult images.
395 AD Two new edicts (22nd July and 7th August) cause new persecutions against Pagans. Rufinus, the eunuch Prime Minister of emperor Flavius Arcadius directs the hordes of the baptised Goths (led by Alaric) to the country of the Hellenes. Encouraged by Christian monks the barbarians sack and burn many cities (Dion, Delphi, Megara, Corinth, Pheneos, Argos, Nemea, Lycosoura, Sparta, Messene, Phigaleia, Olympia, etc.), slaughter or enslave innumerable gentile Hellenes and burn down all the temples. Among others, they burn down the Eleusinian Sanctuary and burn alive all its priests (including the hierophant of Mithras Hilarius).
401 AD The Christian mob of Carthage lynches non-Christians and destroys temples and “idols”. In Gaza too, the local bishop “Saint” Porphyrius sends his followers to lynch Pagans and to demolish the remaining 9 still active temples of the city. The 15th Council of Chalkedon orders all the Christians that still keep good relations with their gentile relatives to be excommunicated (even after their death).
408 AD The emperor of the Western Empire, Honorius, and the emperor of the Eastern Empire, Arcadius, order together all the sculptures of the Pagan temples to be either destroyed or to be taken away. Private ownership of Pagan sculpture is also outlawed. The local bishops lead new heavy persecutions against the Pagans and new book burning. The judges that have pity for the Pagans are also persecuted. “Saint” Augustine massacres hundreds of protesting Pagans in Calama, Algeria.
415 AD In Alexandria, Egypt, the Christian mob, urged by the bishop Cyrillus, attacks a few days before the Judaeo-Christian Pascha (Easter) and cuts to pieces the famous and beautiful philosopher Hypatia. The pieces of her body, carried around by the Christian mob through the streets of Alexandria, are finally burned together with her books in a place called Cynaron. On 30th August, new persecutions start against all the Pagan priests of North Africa who end their lives either crucified or burned alive.
482 to 488 AD The majority of the Pagans of Minor Asia are exterminated after a desperate revolt against the emperor and the Church.
546 AD Hundreds of Pagans are put to death in Constantinople by the inquisitor Ioannis Asiacus.
562 AD Mass arrests, burlesquing, tortures, imprisonments and executions of gentile Hellenes in Athens, Antioch, Palmyra and Constantinople.
578 to 582 AD The Christians torture and crucify gentile Hellenes all around the Eastern Empire, and exterminate the last non-Christians of Heliopolis (Baalbek).
580 AD The Christian inquisitors attack a secret temple of Zeus in Antioch. The priest commits suicide, but the rest of the Pagans are arrested. All the prisoners, the Vice Governor Anatolius included, are tortured and sent to Constantinople to face trial. Sentenced to death they are thrown to the lions. The wild animals being unwilling to tear them to pieces, they end up crucified. Their dead bodies are dragged in the streets by the Christian mob and afterwards thrown unburied in the dump.
Christians, Muslims and Jews Hate of Atheists Nothing says love quite like Christian and Muslim and Jews hate of us atheists. Here is a whole bunch of YouTube videos that show complete and utter murderous hate of us atheists by Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Now? Let’s look at the ChristoFascism against us atheists.
8,000Christian Death Threats to Atheists on Fox News Facebook Page
Death Threats Over Atheist Billboards 2 atheist billboards were taken down last week due to a ton of death threats by ‘christians’. The threats were made to both the people who made the ad, as well as the company who loaned out the sign space
Christian Extremists Send Death Threats to Professor: Christian extremists have targeted Sissy Bradford, a former adjunct professor at Texas A&M University San Antonio after Bradford opposed the building of crosses with city funding near the entrance to the university. The crosses came down, and then the death threats from angry Christians started to pour in.
Jessica Ahlquist (Atheist Student)’s Hate Mail: Sexual, Violent Threats from Christians
Here are just some of the examples of psychotic ChristoFascist scumbags shit and? As they sow? So should they reap and have done unto them as they want done unto atheists, lgbts and many others.
Psychologists have long known that people tend to favor their own group over others, a social phenomenon known as ingroup bias. But new research provides evidence that atheists are motivated to buck this trend in an attempt to override the stereotype that they are immoral.
Psychology researchers from Ohio University found that Christians demonstrated an ingroup bias towards other Christians in an economic game but atheists did not have an ingroup bias towards other atheists. The study was published online July 10 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
“The rise of the so-called ‘New Atheists’ about a decade ago coupled with the ongoing ‘culture wars’ between religious and secular groups in the United States has led atheists as a population to gain an unprecedented level of visibility in this country in recent years, even as their prevalence has only incrementally increased. This has sparked a particular interest in anti-atheist prejudice research in social psychology,” explained study author Colleen Cowgill, a PhD student.
“From this previous research, we know that the general population in America tends to stereotype atheists as being immoral and untrustworthy – a reputation that many atheists understandably find distressing. My primary interest was in how atheists themselves respond to these negative stereotypes.”
“Psychological research has demonstrated repeatedly that individuals facing negative stereotypes are not passive observers of this social landscape, but rather are impacted and react in a dynamic way to negative group-level judgments important to their identities,” Cowgill told PsyPost. “One example of this is stereotype threat, or the phenomenon wherein negative stereotypes about a group’s performance on a particular task can lead to decreased performance for individuals who belong to that group, regardless of their actual ability.
“The psychological stress of fearing that your performance may confirm a negative stereotype about your group serves to limit the cognitive resources you have available for performing well on the task. Another example of this is people’s response to what is termed ‘identity threat,’ or the threat of being disparaged or discriminated against due to one’s group membership. We often see that negative stereotypes about a group can lead members of that group to behave in compensatory ways that ostensibly seek to disconfirm that stereotype, such as when American immigrants strive to emphasize their American identity when it is threatened.”
“This was the rationale behind my hypotheses stating that atheists’ behavior toward Christians in economic games might be different from Christians’ behavior toward atheists in economic games,” Cowgill said. “In the same way that many White Americans are often stereotyped as racist and have consequently been shown by research to be particularly motivated to be liked by Black Americans during interracial interactions, I thought that atheists would be uniquely motivated to disconfirm negative stereotypes about their amorality or untrustworthy nature during interactions with Christians.”
“I chose to operationalize this through an economic game because I thought it would be an ideal paradigm to capture constructs like ‘generosity’ and ‘fairness,’ which can directly relate to ideas of morality and trustworthiness. Indeed, we found in multiple studies that our atheist participants behaved more fairly towards partners they believed were Christians than our Christians participants behaved towards partners they believed were atheists, which are results that appear to support the original hypotheses.”
“These effects disappeared when the participant’s own religious identity was concealed. Under those conditions, atheists and Christians demonstrated the same typically observed in-group bias, which rules out the possibility that the results could be entirely explained due to discrimination on the part of the Christians.”
The economic game was a modified version of the Dictator Game, in which one person (the dictator) is asked to share a monetary reward with another person who can only passively accept what is offered.
A pilot study with 205 participants revealed that people believed atheists would treat Christians unfairly. But three experiments, which included nearly 1,200 U.S. residents, found almost the opposite was true.
“I think that the average person should understand how the stereotypes saturating our society can create a variety of underlying subtexts during interactions between individuals, often leading people to maintain differential goals when they communicate and cooperate,” Cowgill remarked.
“Oftentimes, we’re not even directly aware of these dynamics. We absorb what our society reflects to us about how to perceive groups of people, how to perceive ourselves, and how others view us, then we carry these expectations with us into our everyday interactions, leading to myriad unexpected outcomes both positive and negative.”
When everyone’s religious affiliation was disclosed, Christian participants offered more money to fellow Christians than to atheists. However, this ingroup bias was not observed among atheist participants, who gave equally to atheists and Christians.
When their own religious identity was concealed from the other participants, however, atheists gave more money to their fellow atheists than to Christians. Presumably, they were less motivated to counter the stereotype that they were immoral. The behavior of Christians was unchanged.
“In this case, atheists appear to have been motivated by negative stereotypes to behave more prosocially. Although that may seem like a net positive, the mechanisms at work here may carry some more troublesome implications,” Cowgill told PsyPost.
“For instance, on a more speculative note, I think it is quite telling that atheists are perhaps so acutely aware of negative stereotypes about themselves that there are observable differences in their behavior as compared with Christians in even this small, low-stakes type of interaction. Arguably, they are on some level aware of a pretty serious stigma about their identity.”
“Might that stigma consciousness create obstacles for a talented atheist interested in doing something like running for political office or spearheading a charitable organization — endeavors that could be said to require a trustworthy reputation?” Cowgill wondered. “It’s hard to say, but I think research like this in the aggregate begins to build a case that there may be these kinds of hidden costs to the prevalent, unchallenged negative stereotyping in our society.”
Like all research, the current study has some limitations.
“It’s always worthwhile to keep in mind that the differences in behavior observed here between Christians and atheists, while unlikely due to chance given the number of participants and replications, may be explained by some alternative narrative the researchers have overlooked,” Cowgill said. “We did our best to rule out alternative explanations, such as that atheists were simply being discriminated against by Christians, but of course complete certainty can never be achieved.”
Some have also raised questions about whether atheists really consider themselves as part of a cohesive group.
“I think future work should continue to explore how atheists, agnostics, or religious minorities, such as Muslims, are impacted and respond to negative stereotypes or even outright discrimination towards their groups,” Cowgill said. “It seems likely that these findings would extend to other groups stereotyped as untrustworthy such that those groups would be motivated to ‘advertise’ their altruism, fairness, compassion, or overall level of morality.”
“Future work should also look at the some of the downsides to awareness of these negative stereotypes about one’s group. Do atheists demonstrate stereotype threat effects in tasks described as being related to moral competence? Does stigma consciousness limit atheists or religious minorities in a significant way or lead to negative health outcomes? All of these questions remain largely unexplored or in need of more in-depth research.”
High School Atheist Ostracized by Town — Atheist Community Steps Up When a high school atheist tried to stop prayer at his graduation, he was ostracized, threatened, and kicked out of his house. But the atheist community stepped in. Whatever you think about atheists — good, bad, mixed, indifferent — this story should seriously trouble you. By Greta Christina https://the-orbit.net/greta/2011/06/08/high-school-atheist-ostracized/
Damon Fowler, an atheist student at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was about to graduate. His public school was planning to have a prayer as part of the graduation ceremony: as they traditionally did, as so many public schools around the country do every year. But Fowler — knowing that government- sponsored prayer in the public schools are unconstitutional and legally forbidden — contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school — at first, anyway — agreed, and cancelled the prayer.
Then Fowler’s name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. And, as a direct result:
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.
2) One of Fowler’s teachers has publicly demeaned him.
3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to “jump him” at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.
4) Fowler’s parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.
Before we get into the details of all this, let’s be very, very clear about the facts and the law here: Nobody — not Fowler, not the ACLU, nobody — is telling anybody at Bastrop High School that they can’t pray. People can pray at graduations and other school events all they want. The sole issue here is whether a public school can have a prayer at a graduation or other school event as an official, school- sponsored part of the program. Individual prayer? Hunky dory. Off-campus prayers at churches or private events? Knock yourself out. Government promotion of a religious agenda? Not so much. What with the First Amendment and the “establishment of religion” bit and all. And it’s a law and a Constitution that protects everybody — not just atheists. If you wouldn’t want to be subjected to a government- sponsored Buddhist prayer, you ought not to be subjecting others to a government- sponsored Christian prayer.
Okay. I hope that’s clear.
So here’s a little more detail about what exactly happened with Damon Fowler.
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.. He’s become the center of what he terms a “shitstorm”: he has been harassed, vilified, targeted with insults and name-calling and hateful remarks. He’s been told that he’s the Devil. He’s been told, “Go cry to your mommy… oh, wait. You can’t.” (A reference to him being disowned by his parents.) He’s been told that he’s only doing this to get attention. A student’s public prayer at a pre-graduation “Class Night” event was turned into an opportunity for the school and community to gang up on Fowler and publicly close ranks against him — teachers as well as students. (Here’s video). And people seen defending him have been targeted as well.
As just a taste, here are a few comments on the Bastrop Enterprise news story about the controversy: “I personally see him as a coward.” “I hope they [Christians] put enough pressure on this kid to convert him and save his soul from the fire of hell.” “The kid was likely a recluse and apathetic about most everything until now.” “If he don’t want prayer at graduation he can stay at home and not come to graduation.” “Afterall, that’s what she or he wants isn’t it to be singled out! This just makes me ill.” “I hope that the little athiest is offended.” “What he is really doing is trying to shove his views down people’s throats.” “Why does this student only now decide to get engaged in what is happening at the school? Is it nothing more than our own self-destructive human nature to break down anything of which we may not approve?” “That student should just have to have his/her one man graduation ceremony all alone.” “Satan continues to prowl and is deceiving many in this world.”
2) One of Fowler’s teachers has publicly demeaned him. From the story in the Bastrop Enterprise:
Mitzi Quinn has been on the staff at BHS for almost 25 years, much of that time as a senior advisor. In the past, Quinn said there have been students who were atheist, agnostic and other non-Christian religions who “had no problems” with the prayer.
“They respected the majority of their classmates and didn’t say anything,” Quinn said. “We’ve never had this come up before. Never.”
Throughout her time working with the student, Quinn said they never expressed their personal beliefs or that they had any problems with other students’ Christian faiths.
“And what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates,” Quinn said. (emphasis mine)
In other words: Because the majority of students want an unconstitutional prayer at their graduation, therefore they’re in the right. Because nobody’s ever had the courage to speak up about this before, therefore the law was not being broken, and everything was okay. (After all, it’s not like anything bad happened when Fowler spoke up… right?) And because Fowler hasn’t “contributed anything” — other than, you know, a model of risking safety and security to stand up for a principle he believed in — therefore his basic legal right to not be targeted with religious proselytization by his public school is irrelevant… and he deserves to be publicly derided by one of his teachers.
3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to “jump him” at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.
4) Fowler’s parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the porch.
Let’s be very, very clear about this one. At a time when their son was being bullied, threatened, publicly pilloried, and ostracized from his school and his community, his parents joined the party. Their initial response was to hold him in their house against his will, take his cel phone and cut off his contact with the outside world, and even cut him off from contact with his older brother, Jerrett. Their more recent response has been to cut off financial support, kick him out of the house, and throw his belongings onto the porch.
Fortunately, Damon isn’t entirely alone. His brother Jerrett is assisting Damon, and will help put him through college; and as of the last report I’ve seen, Damon is currently living with his sister, also in Texas. And Damon is fortunate enough to have the backing of the atheist community, who are providing encouragement, emotional support, practical assistance, and even a scholarship fund. (UPDATE: The scholarship fund is now closed. Info on where you can make donations is at the end of this piece.)
More on that in a moment.
Since that’s a lot of what this story is really about.
There are a lot of hot-button issues in Damon Fowler’s story. There’s the depressing fact of how common this kind of story is: the fact that, despite the law being unambiguous on the subject, public schools around the country are continuing to sponsor prayers and otherwise promote theocracy, in flagrant violation of the law… apparently in the hopes that nobody will want to make waves and speak out against it. There’s the lack of understanding in the United States about fundamental civics: the all-too-common belief that “majority rules” in every situation, and the all-too-common failure to comprehend the principle that the minority has basic civil rights. There’s the ugly reality of anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination across the country — especially in high schools. According to JT Eberhard, high school specialist for the Secular Student Alliance, “In Alabama, Auburn High School is refusing to allow an SSA affiliate. In Cranston, Rhode Island, a public school is facing an ACLU suit for refusing to take down a sectarian prayer [a banner posted in the school gym]. In Texas we had a student who was told he could have a secular club if he called it a philosophy club and didn’t affiliate with the SSA. The list of similar situations is a mile long and these are only the ones I’ve become aware of in my first four and a half months on the job. The Fowler incident is much closer to being the norm than the exception.”
There are rants about religion to be had here as well. There’s the level of not only hostility, but panicked hostility, when entrenched religion gets its privileged status threatened. There’s the way that religion relies on social consensus to perpetuate itself — and how, when that consensus is threatened, it commonly reacts by smacking down dissent and expelling dissenters. There’s the idea that the unverifiability of religion — the beliefs in invisible, inaudible, intangible gods promising an afterlife nobody can know anything about — means that the harm done in its name has the unique capacity to spin off into the stratosphere… since there’s no reality check. There’s the image of religion as a colossal fortress protecting a house of cards: powerful, massive structures and institutions staunchly buttressed and hotly defended to ensure that nobody ever examines the ideas inside and sees how flimsy they are.
And of course — duh — there’s separation of church and state. There’s the principle that a public school should not be sponsoring prayers at graduations. What with that being a government establishment of religion and all, and thus being — oh, what’s that word? — unconstitutional.
All of that is important.
But there’s something else important going on here.
And that’s the way the atheist community has stepped up to the plate.
Damon Fowler was ostracized by his school, his town, even his parents. But he has been embraced and welcomed by the atheist community. Atheist writers have been all over this story from the moment it broke: it’s been covered on FriendlyAtheist, Pharyngula, BlagHag, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Atheist Revolution, The Thinking Atheist, Atheist Underworld, WWJTD, Rock Beyond Belief… the list goes on. Several atheist organizations are applauding Fowler for his courage. American Atheists said of Fowler, “This kid deserves mad props for letting his principal know on no uncertain terms that ACLU would be contacted if the prayer wasn’t cancelled. Good job, Damon, you speak for the freedoms of people who are trapped in the bible-belt!” JT Eberhard, high school specialist for the Secular Student Alliance, said, “Despite the vile threats, bullying, and hatred his community has given him, we recognize Damon for what he is: a brave student speaking up for religious liberty and inclusion.” Freedom From Religion Foundation spoke about “his courage in speaking out for his and other students’ rights.”
And it’s not just the atheist thought leaders. It’s the on-the-ground community. Fowler has received an outpouring of support from atheists around the country and around the world. The “Support Damon” group on Facebook has over 10,000 members as of this writing. The Reddit post from Damon and his brother Jerrett discussing these events has been loaded with expressions of empathy and outrage. Atheist forums and blog comment threads about Fowler all over the Internet have been extensive and passionate. And many atheists have written letters to the Bastrop High School administration expressing their support for Fowler’s position and their opposition to the prayer.
This support isn’t only emotional, either. Emotional support is not trivial, of course: it’s hugely important, especially when you’re being ostracized, targeted with a hateful smear campaign, and driven from your home. But a tremendous amount of practical and financial support is coming from the atheist community as well. Many atheists have offered Fowler transportation, legal advice, meetup groups, places to stay, physical protection, connections with others who could provide additional practical help, and more. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has given Fowler a $1,000 college scholarship. And perhaps most dramatically, Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta has established a scholarship fund for Fowler, so he can attend college despite being cut off financially by his parents — and the response has been overwhelming. At the closing of the scholarship fund, the atheist community had donated over $31,000. Essentially filling the role that his parents have abandoned.
Why am I bringing this up?
One of the chunks of mud that’s most commonly slung at atheists is that we’re selfish. Amoral. That without a belief in God and the afterlife, people would have no moral compass, and would just act to please themselves, without any consideration for others. That without a belief in eternal punishment in the afterlife for bad behavior, eternal reward in the afterlife for good behavior, and a supernatural authority figure refereeing it all, people would have no reason to be good people, and no reason to avoid doing terrible things. That without religion, people would have no compassion, no sense of justice, no empathy, no desire to see society running smoothly… and would just do whatever we wanted to do.
But when Damon Fowler was suffering and in need, the atheist community stepped up. It provided compassion. It demanded justice. It offered emotional support. It offered practical support. It opened its wallets. It made it unassailably clear to Damon Fowler that he was not alone: that although his school, his community, even his parents, had all turned their backs on him, atheists would take care of him, as best they could, until he could take care of himself. It made it clear that, even though he no longer had a home in Bastrop, he had a home in this movement. When Damon Fowler was suffering and in need, the atheist community proved itself to be a real community.
If atheism means we just do whatever we want to do… then apparently, what we want to do is take care of each other. Apparently, what we want to do is help people who have been injured. Apparently, what we want to do is speak out against wrongdoing. Apparently, what we want to do is put a stop to injustice. Apparently, what we want to do is make sacrifices for people in need.
A whole lot more than the Christians in Bastrop, Louisiana.
I’m not saying that atheists are morally superior to religious believers. I don’t think that, and I’m not saying it. I’m aware that many religious believers are good, compassionate people with a strong sense of justice. I’m even aware that many religious believers, indeed many Christians, are appalled by what’s happening to Damon Fowler, and oppose it with every breath in their bodies. And I’m aware that many atheists are hostile, self-involved schmucks. (Believe me… I’m aware of that.) That’s not my point.
My point is this: Human beings don’t need God to be good. Human ethics seem to be wired into our brains, through millions of years of evolution as a social species, and every human being who isn’t a sociopath has them. Some of us act on them better than others… but we all have them. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Rastafarian, Wiccan — and atheist.
And my point is this: The next time someone tells you that atheists are selfish and amoral? Remember Damon Fowler. Remember the religious community that bullied him, harassed him, ostracized him, and drove him out.
And remember the atheist community that took him in.
If you take away just two things from the story about atheist high school student Jessica Ahlquist, and the court case she won last week to have a prayer banner taken out of her public school, let it be these:
1: The ruling in this case was entirely unsurprising. It is 100% in line with unambiguous legal precedent, established and re-established over many decades, exemplifying a basic principle of Constitutional law.
2: As a result of this lawsuit, Jessica Ahlquist is now being bullied, ostracized, and threatened with violence in her community. She has been called “evil” in public by her state representative, and is being targeted with multiple threats of brutal violence, rape, and death.
Which leads one to wonder: What the hell is going on here?
Let’s get #1 out of the way first. This court decision — that as a public school in the United States, Cranston High School West cannot promote religion, either any particular religion or the idea of religion in general — is, in any legal sense, entirely non-controversial. In court ruling after court ruling after court ruling, for decades now, this principle has been made eminently clear. There have, of course, been some genuinely controversial court cases recently about separation of church and state, which examined previously untested questions and established new legal precedent. But Jessica Ahlquist’s was not one of them. Not even in the slightest. This was a no-brainer. If the school district’s lawyers didn’t uncategorically advise the district that they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell, and fervently plead with them to concede the case before trial, they should be disbarred. (A PDF of the full court ruling, including extensive citation of clear precedent, can be found on the Friendly Atheist blog.)
For anyone who doesn’t understand this ruling or agree with it, let me take a moment to explain. First of all: No, the majority does not always rule. In a Constitutional democracy, people with minority, dissenting, or unpopular opinions and identities have some basic rights, which the majority cannot take away. If the majority thought that everyone had to dye their hair brown, or that all witches should be burned at the stake, the majority would not rule. Redheads have the right to not dye their hair brown; witches have the right to not be burned at the stake. No matter how much in the minority they are.
And the right to not have your government impose a religious belief on you is one of these basic rights. The right to make your own private decisions about religion or the lack thereof, without your government enforcing or promoting a particular view on religion that may or may not be your own, is one of the most central rights that this country was founded on. In fact, it’s the very first right established in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux said in his ruling, “When focused on the Prayer Mural, the activities and agenda of the Cranston School Committee became excessively entangled with religion, exposing the Committee to a situation where a loud and passionate majority encouraged it to vote to override the constitutional rights of a minority.”
Oh, and no, this case was not about “history” or “tradition.” Many people opposed to this ruling are making a very disingenuous argument: saying that the prayer in question wasn’t really a prayer, that the religious content wasn’t really religious but was simply “history” and “tradition,” and that it therefore shouldn’t be a problem. Bull. When a public school has a banner in its auditorium beginning “OUR HEAVENLY FATHER” and ending “AMEN”… that’s a prayer. The religious fervor with which the banner was defended attests to that. As Judge Lagueux pointed out in his ruling, “No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that.” Furthermore:
The Court refrains from second-guessing the expressed motives of the Committee members, but nonetheless must point out that tradition is a murky and dangerous bog. While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction. The Court concludes that Cranston’s purposes in installing and, more recently, voting to retain the Prayer Mural are not clearly secular.
And — very crucially:
The retention of the Prayer Mural is no doubt a nod to Cranston West’s tradition and history, yet that nod reflects the nostalgia felt by some members of the community who remember fondly when the community was sufficiently homogeneous that the religion of its majority could be practiced in public schools with impunity.
And no, this court ruling didn’t take away anyone’s right to practice their own religion, or to express their religious views, or to pray at their school, or even to organize religious student clubs on their school campus. People in Cranston, Rhode Island are still entirely free to do all these things. The ruling simply said that, as a government institution, Cranston High School West is not allowed to endorse any one of those religious views and practices. It said — as has been said again and again and again by the courts in the United States — that the government, including the public schools, should stay the hell out of the question of religion.
Very importantly, this is a principle that doesn’t just protect atheists. It protects everyone’s right to practice their own religion, or lack thereof, as they choose — regardless of whether that religion is the majority or the minority. As someone in a discussion about this case so eloquently pointed out to Christians screaming “Majority rules!”: If you lived in a small town, and dozens of Muslim families quickly moved in and became the majority, should they have the right to post a prayer to Allah in the public school?
So yeah. To anyone with even the most basic understanding of civics and the Constitution, the court decision in favor of Jessica Ahlquist, ruling that her public high school could not have a banner in the school auditorium offering a prayer to the Christian god, was about as surprising as the fact that millions of people enjoy chocolate and think kittens are cute.
So why are so many people so enraged about it?
Have no doubt — people are enraged. Not just disappointed; not just upset. Enraged. Even before the judge’s decision, Jessica Ahlquist had been ostracized, bullied, and even occasionally threatened over her lawsuit. But when the court ruling came down last week, the climate of harassment and hostility against her escalated out of control, into widespread vilification, venomous bile, and explicit, widespread threats of violence, rape, and death. Including the following:
“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho”
“I want to punch the girl in the face that made west take down the school prayer… #Honestly”
“hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”
“Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”
“lol I wanna stick that bitch lol”
“We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”
“Brb ima go drown that atheist in holy water”
“”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”
“shes not human shes garbage”
“wen the atheist dies, they believe they will become a tree, so we shld chop her down, turn her into paper then PRINT THE BIBLE ON HER.”
“May that little, evil athiest teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!”
“definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”
“yeah, well i want the immediate removal of all atheists from the school, how about that?”
“If this banner comes down, hell i hope the school burns down with it!”
“U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”
“Nothing bad better happen tomorrow #justsaying #fridaythe13th”
“How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI right now? Your a puke and a disgrace to the human race.”
“I think everyone should just fight this girl”
“I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus”
“literally that bitch is insane. and the best part is she already transferred schools because shes knows someone will jump her #ahaha”
“Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her”
“gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”
“I found it, what a little bitch lol I wanna snuff her”
“if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”
“nail her to a cross”
“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”
Even her state representative, Rhode Island State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, has gotten into the act. He went onto WPRO talk radio to excoriate the ruling (saying, among other things, “we’re crucifying Jesus again”), and to mock and vilify Ahlquist, calling her a “pawn star” (that’s a 16-year-old girl we’re talking about), a “clapping seal,” and an “evil little thing” (later modified to “coerced by evil people”). (Slight tangent: It’s bad enough when ordinary citizens don’t understand enough Civics 101 to know that this ruling was not only correct but entirely uncontroversial. It’s much worse when this isn’t understood by a State Representative, whose job it is to understand the law, and who took an oath to uphold the Constitution. Palumbo’s phone number, by the way, is (401) 785-2882, and his email is email@example.com .)
What the hell is going on here?
Why has an entirely unsurprising court ruling — on a well-established point of law, based on one of the most fundamental rights established by our country’s Constitution, protecting everyone’s right to practice their religion without government pressure or interference — resulted in such grotesque, hateful, violently threatening rage aimed at a 16-year-old girl, simply for having the temerity to ask her public school to obey the law?
Some of it, of course, is Internet culture, and the anonymity that makes people feel comfortable saying horrible, cruel, threatening things they would probably never say in person. Some of it seems to stem from a grossly underfunded public education system, and the widespread piss-poor understanding of Civics 101 that apparently goes along with it. And some of it, of course, is just generic enforcement of conformity, and generic hostility aimed at anyone who steps outside social norms. (A tendency that’s especially prevalent in high school.)
But some of it seems to have to do with the unique nature of religion.
Religion, unlike any other belief system or social structure, is based on a belief in that which cannot be seen, felt, heard, touched, or otherwise detected by any normal or reliable means. It is based on ideas that have no good evidence to support them, and that by definition can’t have good evidence to support them.
And in a frustrating and exasperating paradox, when people hold beliefs we don’t have good evidence for, we have a strong tendency to defend them more vigorously, more vehemently, and in many cases more violently.
This is something Daniel Dennett pointed out in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. If you see that the sky is blue, and someone else says that it’s orange, you don’t feel a particularly passionate need to defend your position… because it’s freaking obvious that you’re right. You have an easy way of resolving the dispute, and the facts are clearly in your favor. But if you think that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that your faith in his divinity is required for you to get into Heaven — and someone else insists that no, Jesus Christ is not the son of God, there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet — you don’t have any way of resolving that dispute. Neither of you can point to any good evidence showing that one of you is probably right. All you have is your personal feelings and beliefs and wishful thinking, and the teachings of authorities who don’t have anything better to back up their ideas than you do.
So — paradoxically — the less good evidence we have for a belief, and the less defensible it is, the more vigorously we defend it.
And if that indefensible belief is important to us — if it’s a central part of our philosophy, our community’s culture, our consolation in the face of hardship, our deepest personal identity — our defense of it is likely to become even more vigorous. And our need to shut down any contradictory ideas becomes even more vehement. In some cases, to the point of ostracism, bullying, and outright threats of violence.
So when religion is questioned, and the privilege it enjoys is challenged, all too often the answer is, “Shut up.”
That is exactly what the bile and vilification and threats against Ahlquist are. They are not a serious attempt to engage with her on the question of separation of church and state, or even on the question of atheism and religion. They are an attempt to shut her up. They are an attempt to terrify her into silence. And they are an attempt to terrify anyone else into silence who dares to ask questions about religion, to challenge unjust religious privilege, and to insist that the government stay the hell out of their personal religious convictions.
So those of us who care about religious freedom — including the well-established freedom to not have our government impose religious views on us — need to speak out about it. Believers, atheists… everyone. We need to speak out about it. We need to act on it. And we need to support the organizations and the people who are defending it on the front lines, in the face of willfully ignorant and hideously cruel opposition.
“You atheists are just taking on the mantle of victimhood. There are laws protecting you — especially the First Amendment. Therefore, you’re not really discriminated against. And it’s ridiculous for you to claim that you are.”
Atheist activists get this one a lot. When we speak out about ways that anti-atheist bigotry plays out, we’re told that we’re not really oppressed. We’re told that, because we have legal protection, because anti-atheist discrimination is illegal, therefore we don’t really have any problems, and we’re just trying to gain unearned sympathy and win the victim Olympics. (I’d love to hear Bob Costas do the commentary for that!) It’s a classic Catch-22: If we speak out about oppression and point to examples of it, we’re accused of “playing the victim card,” and the oppression becomes invisible. And if we don’t speak out about oppression … then the oppression once again becomes invisible.
If you’ve ever made this “discrimination against atheists is against the law” argument, I have some really bad news for you. You may want to sit down for this, it may come as a shock:
People sometimes break the law.
Theft is against the law — but people sometimes steal. Bribery is against the law — but people sometimes bribe other people. Arson is against the law — but people sometimes set buildings on fire.
Anti-atheist discrimination is against the law; in the United States, anyway. But people still sometimes discriminate against atheists.
It’s illegal for public schools to prevent students from viewing atheist Web sites, while allowing them to look at religious ones. But the San Antonio Independent School District did it anyway.
It’s illegal to make atheists swear religious oaths when they testify in court. But the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Fort Myers did it anyway.
It’s illegal for businesses to give church-goers discounts they don’t give to non-believers. But the Fisherman’s Quarters II restaurant in Asheville, N.C. did it anyway.
It’s illegal to deny atheist organizations the right to advertise in venues where religious groups advertise regularly. But when American Atheists and the NEPA Freethought Society tried to place a bus ad in Pennsylvania that simply had the word, “atheists,” with the names and URLs of the organizations in smaller type, the transit system rejected the ad because it was “too controversial.”
And then tell me — or any other atheist — that we don’t experience discrimination.
Getting anti-discrimination laws and court rulings is hugely important for any marginalized group. But it’s only a first step. After that, you typically have to play a decades-long game of Whack-A-Mole, in which violations of the law pop up in local venues all over the country, and have to be smacked down again, and again, and again. That’s true of sex discrimination, racial discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination in states where that’s illegal. To give just one example among zillions: It’s illegal for banks to discriminate in lending practices on the basis of race… and yet Wells Fargo just settled a $175 million lawsuit over charging higher fees and rates on housing loans to racial minorities. Not in 1946, not in 1969 — in the last decade, in the years 2004 to 2009. It’s illegal to do that. It’s been illegal to do that for decades. They did it anyway. The mere existence of anti-discrimination laws is no guarantee that those laws will be obeyed.
So yes. Anti-atheist discrimination is illegal in the United States — and it happens anyway. I know. I haz a sad. And I’m going to have to hit you with even more bad news:
Standing up for your legal rights sometimes has ugly consequences.
Ask Jessica Ahlquist. High school student and atheist Jessica Ahlquist fought a legal battle she never should have had to fight: the battle to get her public, taxpayer-paid high school to take down a prayer banner from the auditorium. From a purely legal perspective, this was an utterly non-controversial issue: decades of legal precedent clearly supported her position, and to anyone familiar with the law, the ruling in her favor was almost entirely unsurprising.
But as a result of filing this lawsuit, Ahlquist was bullied, ostracized and threatened with violence. She was called “evil” in public by her state representative, and was targeted with multiple threats of brutal violence, rape and death. And this wasn’t just from hateful strangers trolling on the Internet — it came from her own schoolmates and her own community. This wasn’t in the Bible Belt — it was in Rhode Island.
And Ahlquist is hardly alone. When atheist student Damon Fowler tried to stop his public high school from having an illegal prayer at his graduation, he was physically threatened, publicly demeaned by one of his teachers, pilloried and ostracized by his community, and kicked out of his home by his parents. When atheist student Skyler Curtis tried to publicize his group at his high school, his posters were torn down, the local newspaper ran a letter from a parent calling his atheism an “atrocity,” and he received threats of violence. When atheist John Kieffer protested prayers at his local school board meeting, he was arrested.
Not everyone is able to fight these fights. Not everyone is able to risk hateful ostracism and violent threats from their community. It’s hard enough for a 16-year-old high school student like Jessica Ahlquist to face down this kind of venomous hostility. It’s even harder when you’re trying to hold down a job and support your family, and you literally can’t afford to alienate your bosses and co-workers and customers. Yes, the law is mostly on our side, and atheists and church-state separation advocates generally win these lawsuits. (Although not always — more on that in a tic.) But it doesn’t do much good to have the law on your side if fighting a legal battle is going to destroy your life.
And I have yet another piece of shocking news for you. I know, the terrible news just keeps on coming:
Sometimes laws aren’t enforced.
To give just one appalling example: It is — or it should be — illegal to deny custody to atheist parents, purely and explicitly on the basis of their atheism. And yet this happens, again and again and again. It has happened in states including Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas. According to Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy, “In 2001, for instance, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld an order giving a mother custody partly because she took the child to church more often than the father did, thus providing a better ‘future religious example.’ In 2000, it ordered a father to take the child to church each week, as a [lower] Mississippi court ordered… reasoning that ‘it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training.’”
Try to imagine a judge in this country denying or limiting custody to parents, explicitly and specifically, because they were Jewish. Because they were Mormon. Because they were Baptist. And now, try to imagine a judge in this country denying or limiting custody to a parent, explicitly and specifically because she’s an atheist. You don’t have to imagine it. This is real. This happens.
It is illegal. Or it should be. But custody laws vary greatly from state to state — and family court is something of a special case, where judges have far more leeway than they do in other courts. So this is a very, very difficult legal battle to fight. The laws against it exist — but they are very difficult to enforce.
And finally, I have one last piece of earth-shattering news that will almost certainly shake your worldview to its foundations:
Not all bigotry is illegal.
The fact that atheists are the least-trusted group in America? Totally screwed-up — and totally legal. The fact that atheists are the minority group Americans least want their children to marry? Totally screwed-up — and totally legal. The fact that only 54 percent of Americans think atheists could share their vision of society? Totally screwed-up — and totally legal. The fact that only 54 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for president — a lower number than any other group? Totally screwed-up — and totally legal. People have the legal right to not vote for an atheist… just like they have the legal right to not vote for a woman, or an African American, or a Muslim, or a Jew. It’s still discrimination. It’s still screwed-up.
And it’s still worth fighting.
Plus, of course, all of this is just in the United States, where we do have a Constitution that ostensibly gives us the legal right to not be religious. In much of the world, the situation for atheists is far worse. In much of the world, it is literally against the law to be an atheist, and to say so, and to say anything critical of religion. To give just one example of many: In Indonesia, atheist Alexander Aanwas beaten by a mob, arrested, convicted, and sentenced to over two years in prison — for stating his atheism on Facebook. (There is currently a petition to the White House, asking President Obama to speak out about the Alexander Aan case and call on the Indonesian government to correct this gross violation of human rights.)
Is anti-atheist bigotry as bad as homophobia or racism, misogyny or transphobia? No. Almost certainly not. Not in the U.S., anyway. It’s worse in some ways — we consistently show up in polls as the least trusted group in America, and the least likely to be voted for — but atheists don’t seem to be subject to the same level of physical violence as gay or trans people, or the same level of economic oppression as women or people of color.
That’s not the point. Here is the point.
If you were mugged, nobody would tell you, “Quit whining — there are laws against mugging, you have legal protection, you don’t have anything to complain about.” The fact that there are laws against mugging did not stop you from getting mugged. It is reasonable for you to say something about it, and to express distress that it happened. And if muggings are happening a lot in your town or your country, it is reasonable to ask your community to pay attention, and to do something about it.
Atheists are getting mugged. Atheists are experiencing real, law-breaking discrimination. The fact that it’s illegal does not always stop it from happening. It is reasonable for us to speak out about it. And it is reasonable for us to expect people to give a damn. It is reasonable to expect our friends, our families, our colleagues, our communities, our country, to pay attention — and to do something about it.
Writing sometime around the 10th century BC, the furious author of Psalm 14 thundered against those who say there is no God. “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” If the denunciations of wicked atheists coming from today’s apologists for religion are any guide, the spirit of Iron Age Israel is abroad in 21st-century Britain.
In advance of the pope’s visit, clergymen and commentators are deploying every variety of bogus argument against those who advocate the superiority of secularism. Edmund Adamus, director of pastoral affairs for the Catholic diocese of Westminster, led the way when he denounced the “wasteland” secularism produced. If he had been condemning the atheist tyrannies of communism and fascism, I would have no complaint. However, Adamus was not objecting to Cuba, China or North Korea, but to the wasteland of secular, democratic Britain “with its ever-increasing commercialisation of sex, not to mention its permissive laws advancing the ‘gay’ agenda”.
Rightwing columnists and, depressingly but predictably in these appeasing times, leftwing journalists have joined the moaning chorus. The arguments of Geoffrey Robertson QC and Professor Richard Dawkins that the cops had grounds to ask the pope to account for his church’s failure to stop the rape of children in its care drove them wild. “The hysterical and abusive nature of some of the attacks on the pope will do nothing but discredit secularism,” said Andrew Brown in the Guardian. “I accept, of course, that lots of secular humanists are tolerant and reasonable people,” says the more restrained and judicious Stephen Glover of the Mail. “But there is a hard core which embraces and promotes atheism with the blind fervour of religious zealots.”
Not all of those who condemn atheism are pious themselves, as the presence of journalists among their number suggests. Rather, they believe in piety for the masses and fear that without religion the lower orders will lose their moral bearings. “All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician and ridiculous to the philosopher,” said Lucretius. And behind many of the demands of today’s religious apologists that we “respect” Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and even the Scientology cult lies a desire to keep the plebs in their place by protecting their ridiculous but politically useful beliefs. Although I am proud to be on the board of the National Secular Society, Britain’s most urgently needed pressure group, I am not a militant atheist. I have seen too many vicars being moved by their Anglicanism to dedicate their lives to others to agree with Christopher Hitchens’s bald statement that “religion poisons everything”.
But the notion that in free countries atheism promotes intolerance and immorality is demonstrably false. Last year, Californian sociologist Phil Zuckerman responded with facts rather than witless abuse to claims from Christian psychologists and theologians that atheists were “selfish and pusillanimous curmudgeons”, “unnatural” or “just damn angry”.
He pulled together the available evidence and found that the more atheists or agnostics a free society has the more moral it becomes.
Predictably, atheists were far more likely to be tolerant supporters of women’s rights and gay rights than believers. The pope, like militant Islamists, orthodox Jews and the ultras in every faith cannot see that struggles for female and homosexual emancipation are among the most moral causes of our age. But as believers in a sternly misogynist and homophobic god, they must want to be tough on crime.
If so, they should welcome the contribution that atheists make to promoting law and order.
A study in the 1990s found that a meagre 0.2% of the US prison population were atheists. In America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates are among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.
True, there is some evidence to suggest that atheists and agnostics are more likely to engage in underage drinking and illicit drug use. But the wider conclusion on the links between crime and religious belief holds good: if you want safe streets, move to a godless neighbourhood.
Atheism and secularism, Zuckerman continued, are also correlated with higher levels of education and lower levels of prejudice not only against women and gays, but people from other ethnicities as well. For good measure, atheists were less likely to beat their children and more likely to encourage them to think independently.
In many US courtrooms, judges restrict or deny child custody rights to atheist parents. If they want children to grow up to be law-abiding citizens, and not end up back in court as juvenile delinquents, they should stand that policy on its head.
What applies at city and state level applies internationally. Sweden, the most secular country in the world, gives the highest proportion of its gross domestic product in aid. Of the top 10 aid donors, only the United States is a strongly religious country. Needless to add, the oil-rich and religion-saturated Iran and Saudi Arabia are nowhere near making the premier league of charitable nations, which should not be a surprise because Iran concentrates its overseas efforts on exporting terrorism, while Saudi Arabia uses its petrodollars to promote its brutal Wahhabi theology.
An easy point to make is that secular democrats do not stone women to death for adultery or murder Afghan teachers for the crime of teaching girls to read and write. But it is not entirely irrelevant to the argument about the papal visit. Robertson’s and Dawkins’s enemies can accuse them of being “hysterical” and “abusive” and in the grip of the “blind fervour of religious zealots” while knowing that secularists will not respond by trying to kill them. Ever since the ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie they have not dared use the same language about real abusive and hysterical zealots, who just might.
Not that I agree with Robertson and Dawkins that the police should arrest the pope. The best way for anyone caught up in religious crimes to make amends is to convert to secularism. The odds are that they will be better people for it.
Lubna Yaseen was a student in Baghdad when death threats forced her into exile. Her crime was to think the unthinkable and question the unquestionable—to state, openly, that she was an atheist.
Growing up in Hillah, a city in central Iraq, she developed an independent mind at a young age. “My mother is an atheist intellectual person, and she brought up me and my siblings to think for ourselves and to be open to anything,” she told me. Yaseen was particularly concerned about her teachers’ attitudes toward women. “I always asked why girls should wear a hijab and boys are not obligated to do so,” she said. Why would “God” treat the two sexes differently? She quickly learned the dangers of expressing these views: Her teachers often threw her out of their classes, and sometimes beat her.
In 2006, when Yaseen and her mother were driving home one day, al-Qaeda militants pulled them over and threatened to kill them for not wearing the hijab. Still, Yaseen’s desire to explore secular thinking grew at university. “I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Whenever there was a conversation, I talked.” She started handing out leaflets on Mutanabbi Street, the heart of Baghdad’s intellectual life, and wrote about her atheist beliefs on Facebook. Her activism attracted further threats from fellow students and local Islamist militia groups, but she was determined to continue. “I believed in my rights to be who I am,” she said.
The tipping point came when Yaseen’s story caught the attention of the American TV host Dave Rubin, who featured her on his show The Rubin Report in early 2016. After the clip was released online, she faced a torrent of death threats and finally went into hiding. “I disappeared—I left everything. I had to be always on the run, changing places and disguises,” she said. “I couldn’t feel anything except that I would end up being killed.”
Yaseen would still be at risk if it weren’t for the actions of Secular Rescue, which helped her escape to California, where she is waiting for her asylum claim to be approved. The initiative, launched in 2016, is run by the Center For Inquiry, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that aims to promote secular values, such as scientific rationality and freedom of speech, with the support of Richard Dawkins and other prominent atheists.
“It’s really an underground railroad of sorts for non-believers in countries where simply expressing doubt about religious belief is a criminal offense or where it may lead to grave physical harm,” Robyn Blumner, the president and CEO of the CFI, told me.
Secular Rescue does not just face challenges abroad in militantly religious countries; due to some unnervingly resilient biases, implicit prejudice against atheists is still prevalent in ostensibly secular Western countries, making it difficult to raise the necessary diplomatic support there for people like Yaseen.
Even in states that ostensibly protect religious rights, atheists may have to fear repercussions from vigilante groups. In Iraq, for instance, the right to freedom of conscience is enshrined in the constitution, yet Yaseen faced regular death threats from fundamentalists and got little support from the police. “There is a mob mentality that sanctions violence against people who don’t conform on religious grounds,” Blumner said.
Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for Secular Rescue, told me that government complicity is a particular problem in Bangladesh, which has seen the murder of at least 10 writers who had questioned the religious dogma since 2015. “We know there have been, and may still be, hit lists, issued by those who are trying to keep their hands clean, encouraging young radicals to slaughter secularists of their own volition,” Fidalgo told me. “And one of the worst parts is the callousness of the response from the Bangladeshi government. From the prime minister and other officials, we get several versions of ‘Well, they shouldn’t have been insulting religious beliefs.’ After one student was murdered, officials began to investigate the dead guy to see if he had written anything worth killing him over.”
When faced with these threats, many people are understandably reluctant to admit their religious doubts even to their closest confidants, making it difficult to gauge how widespread atheism actually is around the world. But there are signs that the numbers of atheists are sizable. A 2012 Win/Gallup International Poll, for instance, found that 19 percent of people in Saudi Arabia claimed not to be religious, with 5 percent identifying as convinced atheists—roughly the same proportion as in the U.S. That’s a surprisingly high number given the difficulties of exploring non-religious thought in this country, and the true figure may be greater; even if their responses remain anonymous, many non-believers may still have been reluctant to declare their religious doubts openly.
Mark Aveyard, a social psychologist in the United Arab Emirates, believes that some changing attitudes toward religion (at least in the UAE) may be linked to shifts in the way people are encouraged to think in education and at work. “They study or work in organizations where they’re encouraged to be bold, disruptive, innovative, creative, unconventional—with business, technology, entertainment, academics, etc. They’re rewarded for questioning the received wisdom.” Although many manage to compartmentalize these more critical attitudes, it has caused some to rethink their religion, Aveyard said. “So there are more youth now who question and doubt, but they do so privately.”
For non-believers like Yaseen who are more committed to expressing their opinions, however, the internet now provides a community and forum for the formation of an atheist identity. Arabic Facebook groups promoting atheism can reach tens of thousands of followers before they are targeted by “cyber jihadists.” (One popular tactic is to break into the account and post pornography, leading Facebook’s moderators to shut it down.) Blumner, meanwhile, points out that an Arabic translation of Dawkins’s book The God Delusion has reportedly been downloaded by more than 10 million people, with about 30 percent of downloads (3 million) coming from Saudi Arabia. “It shows you there’s a tremendous appetite for understanding religious doubt, for exploring religious doubt, for affirming religious doubt,” she said.
Some religious leaders and politicians are hoping to regulate atheism with increasingly fiery rhetoric and more stringent laws. Egypt, for instance, already criminalizes the act of blasphemy, leading to the recent conviction of a 29-year-old computer scientist for running a Facebook page on atheism. But in late December, the Egyptian government announced plans to extend these laws, so that disbelief itself would be criminalized, even if the person does not actively declare or promote atheism (although it remains unclear how this could be practically enforced).
Although some organizations like Amnesty International have taken up the cause of certain individuals, the CFI’s Secular Rescue was founded to tackle the broader global problem. The support it offers is largely diplomatic, financial, and legal: to pull strings with government agencies, organize the transportation of potential victims, and pay the costs of settling in a new country. Since 2015, it has helped save 30 people, including Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (also known as Tutul), who was chosen by Margaret Atwood for the PEN International Writer of Courage Award in 2016. The year before, he had suffered a nearly fatal machete attack by insurgents in Bangladesh, after which Secular Rescue helped his family to Norway. With enough funds, the group would hope to help many more.
Beyond creating these escape routes, Secular Rescue also campaigns for bodies like the UN to protect the rights of atheists to express their freedom of conscience. Blumner, for instance, recently visited the UN Human Rights Council to discuss mounting concerns in Malaysia, after an eruption of atheist persecution in August was sanctioned by the government. She says that the plight of non-believers is overlooked by politicians from ostensibly secular societies, meaning that activists working on behalf of persecuted atheists often struggle to garner the necessary support. “Part of the problem is that people don’t like atheists and it’s hard to protect a group you don’t like.”
This is even the case in the United States, where Blumner’s assertion finds support in a series of studies by the psychologist Will Gervais at the University of Kentucky, who has described atheists as “one of the most hated groups in the U.S.,” even as they face no state-backed persecution. His work has centered on a well-accepted measure of prejudice that tests how much people implicitly associate certain acts with representatives of a particular group.
In one early study from 2011, he found that people assume that atheists are more likely to commit immoral acts such as stealing money from a wallet left on the sidewalk, or failing to give the correct insurance information after a road accident. Indeed, of all the groups he measured—including Christians, Muslims, Jewish people, feminists, and homosexuals—only rapists were considered to be similarly untrustworthy. He has since shown that people are also more likely to implicitly associate atheism with incest, bestiality, animal torture, even murder and mutilation. Opinion polls, meanwhile, reveal that nearly 50 percent of people would rather that their children did not marry an atheist (compared to 34 percent who declared that they would be disappointed if their child married a Muslim).
“People have these strongly negative reactions to atheists,” Gervais told me. Strikingly, these views were not limited to religious participants in his studies. “Even our atheist participants seem to intuitively think that serial killers are atheists.”
He emphasizes that these associations are probably learned, and even if you don’t go to church, you may still be exposed to lingering cues in our culture that encourage that distrust. “We have had millennia of religious influence,” he said. Nor are these biases restricted to the U.S. In 2017, Gervais demonstrated that they are shared across many countries usually assumed to embody secular values, including the U.K., the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.
It’s worth noting that people turning away from religion in the West may also feel threatened by the people in their community, and given the widespread bias against atheism—among the religious and non-religious alike—it’s not surprising they sometimes fail to report their fears. Maryam Namazie, founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, has described a “tsunami of atheism” in the U.K., with many living in fear of reprisals from their religious community. “There are many cases where ex-Muslims have gone to the police and not received any support at all because the problems aren’t taken seriously,” she told the Independent.
Increasing the acceptance of atheists in the West—and concern about their plight in the West and elsewhere—may be a battle in itself, one that must be fought in tandem with the battle to sustain an “underground railroad” that rescues atheists from physical harm.
Yaseen, for her part, told me that she is still trying to heal from her experiences, but that they have ultimately made her more determined to share her story and build awareness of the dangers facing atheists in countries like Iraq. “I hope my voice can be heard, so Western communities can open their eyes to what’s going on, and build a safer place for people like me.”