The American Atheists sent out their annual survey to known atheists expecting to get 5,000-10,000 responses. They got 34,000. They produced Reality Check: Being non-religious in America in May 2020 as the first analysis with more detailed information to follow.
The 32-page report is well done with graphs, charts, photos, sidebars with participant comments, methods, and resources. Of the 34,000 who responded, 57% identified as atheists with Humanist the next most popular label at 15%. One in seven respondents were raised in a non-religious home but one in seven were also raised in a very religious home. While most parents did not know of their child’s choice to reject religion, of those that did, 30% rejected the child leading to increased depression in that group. Of the total respondents, 44% concealed their atheist status at school or work.
Of those who responded, including over 1,000 from AZ, the largest number (24%) were between 35-44 years-of-age; 58% were male; 80% were heterosexual; 33% had bachelor’s degree or higher education; 61% worked full time; 46% lived in suburban areas; and 92% were white. While all varieties of people were represented, they were obviously not represented in the percentages they actually exist in the population.
The largest number of respondents was from the South which was also the most religious area of the country along with Utah and Idaho. In Arizona, 20% of respondents said their community was very religious. The more religious the community, the more discriminatory toward the non-religious.
Blacks were half as likely to have supportive parents and three times more likely to be physically assaulted. Muslims were twice as likely to have had negative experiences with court or police. Veterans and service members had half of their negative experiences while in the service. Youth were five times more likely to be physical assaulted and three times more likely to be depressed.
The three main policy priorities of the respondents were to maintain secular public schools, oppose legal exemptions that allow discrimination, and ensure access to abortion and other reproductive health care.
The kind of discrimination faced by atheists is illustrated by the finding in 2017 that 42% of Americans said It is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. I find that quite ironic as I have often said to people, “I may be an atheist but I’m a far better Christian than you are” (because I care about people and have morals and values). In 2019, 40% of Americans said they would not support an atheist for president. Article VI of the Constitution says:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
I’m old enough to remember when the country went into hysteria because John F. Kennedy, who was running for president, was a Catholic. He said:
I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote – where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference – and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion is different from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source – where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an action against one church is treated as an act against all.
How far we have strayed from the Constitution with religious schools and churches that drain the public fisc and the Bible thumping politicians of today who rush to profess their devotion to their god before their country – including Pence.
Of those now identifying as atheist, 55% had been raised Protestant (as I was) and 30% were raised Catholic. Participants were asked if they had had negative experiences and if so, in what arena. The main places atheists had experienced negative interactions were health services – mental health, substance abuse and reproductive care. The main type of situation where they experienced it was in educational settings (25%) and employment, business services, and volunteer work (20%). The main settings where they had personally seen or experienced negative attacks were on social media (58%), family (54%), and the military (46%).
In public settings, 66% of atheists had been asked to thank god; 45% had been asked to go along to get along; 38% had been told that atheists don’t know the difference between right and wrong; and 12% had been subjected to physical attacks. Not surprisingly, 73% were bothered by religious symbols in public places.
Fortunately, we are a politically active bunch. 95% were registered to vote and 87% voted which is much higher than average. Of the AZ respondents, 85% voted.
The main need the respondents felt was for community. 66% belong to some organization; 20% belong to a local organization or participated in a local event. Many more were interested – 64% – and would participate if they knew of it. Naturally participation reduced depression by one-third.
So is discrimination against atheists the next “ism” to attack? Everybody knows one so like the gay movement, visibility is the first step. We need a Coming Out Day. The religious right has been mounting attacks for years bemoaning alleged religious discrimination against them and attacking non-discrimination laws and reproductive rights. Atheist groups across the nation have fought back tenaciously with a smidgen of the resources, including our Secular Coalition for AZ. So whether you are an atheist or not, know that we are standing in the gap to maintain the separation of church and state and ensure the rights of us all.