A survey from Pew (Sep 2007) reported on Americans’ opinions of various religions.
Basically, most people (76%) tend to have a favorable opinion of Jews and Catholics, more than half (53-60%) like Evangelical Christians, Mormons and Muslim Americans, though non-American Muslims are viewed unfavorably by about a third of Americans.
But then we see down at the bottom that — what a shock — atheists are the most disliked group. Only about a third of Americans have a favorable opinion while more than half have an unfavorable opinion of atheists. They’re much more disliked than Muslims, despite all the extreme Christians and nationalists media-blitzing on the dangers of Islam lately.
It seems Americans just don’t like atheists. (Note: it doesn’t ask for their opinion of atheism, the belief, but atheists, the people). Not a surprise I guess, given:
- a 2007 Gallop poll showed that more than half of Americans would refuse to vote for an otherwise well-qualified atheist as president (a similar Newsweek poll has the number at 62%). We’re more likely to see someone female, black, Jewish, Mormon, gay, etc.
- a 2006 study Univ of Minnesota study found atheists to be the most mistrusted minority among Americans (even more than homosexuals, Muslims, etc., and we’ve seen how backwards people can be about those subjects).
- a number of states’ constitutions only extend protection from religious discrimination to those who acknowledge a deity; also, many states’ constitutions still bar atheists from public office or testifying as a witness in court. (Thankfully most of these wouldn’t stand up to federal constitutional scrutiny).
- negative popular opinion: for example, in Tampa Bay half of the city council walked out of their meeting because an atheist had been invited to give the invocation.
- in child custody cases, religious parents are preferentially chosen over non-believer parents (under the assumption that a religious education is in the child’s best interests).
- these has never been a known atheist representative in Congress. (The first African-American in the House was in 1870; the first woman in the House was in 1916; the first known gay Congressperson was in 1972, after coming out in 1983).
- common claims of atheists being immoral or criminal…despite the fact that atheists make up less than 1% of the prison population (i.e. underrepresented in crime).
- treatment by public figures: for example, the elder Pres Bush said in 1988 “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic.” His son has been as bad (the same guy who claimed that God told him to go to war with Iraq). Note we’ve never had a non-Christian president, certainly not an atheist.
- media coverage is generally antagonistic: see example CNN video on Youtube)
- countless personal anecdotes of jobs lost, students assaulted, families harassed, etc. when people find out someone is an atheist. Such harassment isn’t as well-recognized or well-published as some other discrimination because beliefs are not as overt as, say, skin color, but out-atheists can face as much or more persecution than out-homosexuals.
I could go on, but then it’s easy to find a similar list of discrimination against many groups (even majority religious groups still get discriminated against in some instances). Odd to think, though, that at the end of the day the atheists may have the hardest hill to climb, given that they’re the most disliked and mistrusted group in the U.S. right now. Thankfully we’ve come a long way in accepting peoples’ differences in this country, but we’ve got a long way to go yet.