Civil Rights and Atheism?
Found an interesting article, Is Atheism a Civil Rights Issue?
, at Agnosticism / Atheism - Skeptical Inquiry, Freethinking, & Religious Philosophy
, which concerns a couple of articles published in Free Inquiry. This is the closest I could get to a direct link: About.com : http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/tabash_24_4.htm
I'm inclined to side with Grothe and Dacey. If "civil rights movement" is to mean anything, it seems to me that it must at the very least be a movement to achieve and establish the "civil rights" of some group that generally doesn't get the same basic civil rights as everyone else. In other words, it must be a fight for rights not currently recognized rather than for rights that are recognized, but not very happily and willingly.
Well, I'm not sure that I'd ever want to raise atheism to the level of a civil rights issue, but I will say my rights have upon occasion been run over rough shod. One example that comes to mind is that when I first went on active duty, I was basically coerced into putting Protestant on my dog tags in the religion section. Actually, I think I was finally able to get 'no preference' after some resistance. But, I was not 'allowed' (highly discouraged) from having none or atheist printed on them. Sort of the religious equivalent of 'don't ask, don't tell'. I did go out later to an army/navy surplus shop and have my own tags made. If memory serves, I had Pagan Druid, or something similar put on my tags, which I then wore in place of those the government provided.
And if overt prejudice is enough to warrant civil rights protection, well then maybe a case can be made for an atheist civil rights movement, especially here in the South. In high school in Alabama, I had a teacher mock my atheism, and the school counselor quietly informed my father that 'free thinkers' really weren't welcomed, though I think she said that for my benefit and not as a disparagement. She seemed to be fairly enlightened. And semi-recently, at my twenty year high school re-union, I had two women come up to me, and the first question out of their mouths, was something like 'Hi. Have you found god yet, or are you still a nonbeliever?'. When I told them quite honestly that I was most certainly still an atheist, they began crying, and informed me that they would pray for my soul. Now I appreciate the good karma that might come from having people care enough about me to pray for me, but talk about embarrassing.
And, while I now live in Atlanta where things like this don't happen as often, anytime I leave here for the hinterlands of Georgia and Alabama, the first thing I am often asked by people I meet is, "What church do you belong to?" Now, I don't go around with a pin, sign or even bumpersticker proclaiming my beliefs or lack their of, but I'm not going to lie when asked. This often leads to having to try to politely, or even upon occasion rudely, extradite myself from someone suddenly desperate to save my soul. And, if I was in anyway trying to conduct business, I can just forget it. In fact, I'm sure my lack of godliness has cost me at least one job at interview time. In hindsight, it would not have been a very pleasant work environment anyway. But, I guess that does raise the fact that while the work place is supposed to be free from religious pressures, it is not often the reality. And while I'm sure it may be difficult for Jews, Muslims, and possibly even Catholics down here, I can assure you atheist are at the bottom of the food chain. One further point along this vein, much business is done in churches down here. If your not at church functions, you'll miss out on a lot of business.
In the end, no, I don't think we need a civil rights movement, I'd settle for an education system that teaches critical thinking skills. I think that would largely destroy most current religions. And here, I'm not referring to teaching evolution, or any particular scientific subject, I think simple logic classes would go a long way to make people question their creation myths and the power they allow the church to have over them. Of course, they might also then begin to question the stupidity of rampant materialism and the advertising they see, which could have the unintended consequence of destroying our economy. "You mean I don't need a new car every year to get a girl?" "I could actually be happily married to someone who is not filthy rich?"
No, maybe our entire system requires massive ignorance to survive. And, that in itself may be even sadder then the prejudice in generates.