Part 2 of 2:
Active discrimination against Atheists.
Madison, WI is the first U.S. city to protect Atheists.
11 Active discrimination against Atheists (Cont'd):
The belief that Atheists should be discriminated against has been embedded in
American law for centuries:
- Public office: Eight states (AR,
MA, MD, NC, PA, SC, TN, and TX) have exclusionary language included in their
Bill of Rights, Declaration of Rights, official oath of office,
or in the body of their constitutions. Most of them specifically exclude
all Atheists and Agnostics from
holding public office. These phrases are historical relics, left over from earlier times. The First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution supersedes these
statutory laws and sections of state constitutions. It thus nullifies the
effect of the above clauses. Still, it would be almost impossible to get
citizens of any of these states to amend their constitution to end the
religious discrimination. They remain as a continuing expression of hatred and distrust of Atheists.
- Conscientious objector status: Throughout much of the 20th century, a person could not be recognized as
a conscientious objector unless their beliefs against participating in a war
were backed up by their religion which included a belief in God. Again, belief in any deity was
sufficient. Since 1967, belief in God is no longer required. According to Jrank.org:
"...a registrant needs only a conscientious scruple against war in
all forms to obtain conscientious objector status. A conscientious
scruple against war is an objection to war based on moral beliefs. A
conviction that war is wrong, arrived at solely on intellectual and
rational grounds, does not entitle one to exemption as a conscientious
Actually, it is not that simple in practice. A
person applying for conscientious objector status must prove that their beliefs
have been consistent for some time.
Documentation proving a history of personal opposition to war is important.
Many Americans would not vote for a Presidential candidate who is an Atheist:
The average American will not vote for an otherwise qualified candidate who
is an Atheist:
- Cliff Walker, webmaster of "Positive Atheism" made the following
- 1986: Wendy Kaminer wrote that as late as the 1980s: "....intolerance
for atheism was stronger even than intolerance of homosexuality."
- 1999: The Gallup Organization concluded that being an Atheist
was "the most
discriminated-against characteristic of the eight tested in the research."
Only 49% of American adults would vote for an otherwise qualified
presidential candidate if he was an Atheist; this compared to 59% who would
vote for a homosexual candidate and over 90% who would vote for a black or
female candidate. 3
- Rasmussen Reports stated in 2006-NOV-20 that 60% of voters said
they would never consider voting for a presidential candidate who is an
- A public opinion poll was conducted by Opinion Dynamics for
Fox News during 2006-DEC. It found that 50% of voters would be less
likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is an Atheist. Only one
category was worse: 53% would be less likely to vote for a Scientologist.
The flip side is that 5% would be more likely to vote for an Atheist; 4%
would prefer a Scientologist. 5
- Gallup conducted a poll on 2007-FEB-09 to 11. Results are shown in the above image. They asked American adults
whether they would vote for "a generally well-qualified" presidential
candidate nominated by their party with each of the following
characteristics: Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, an Atheist, a woman, black,
Hispanic, homosexual, 72 years of age, or someone married for the third
time. Only 45% would vote for an Atheist. Atheism is the only category for
whom most adults would not vote. 6
2011: Suprise development: Atheists no longer the most unfavorably viewed group:
In mid-2011-AUG, there was joicing among some Atheists as a result of data collected by "Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and David E. Campbell, a political scientist at Notre Dame. ... they have collected data indicating that the tea party is 'less popular than much maligned groups like 'atheists' and 'Muslims'.'" 7 They wrote:
"... in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right." 8
2015-MAR-31: Another surprise development: Madison WI extends protections to Atheists:
The Common Council of Madison, WI amended Section 39.03 of the Madison General Ordinances to add "nonreligion" as a protected class.
Actually, this is not a particularly important development, because all or almost all human rights ordinances at in municipalities and statutes at the state level protect persons from discrimination on the basis of their religion. Meanwhile, courts have generally interpreted such protections as including Agnostics and Atheists.
It involved a two word addition: "religion" became "religion or nonreligion" in the human rights law that bans discrimination on the basis of housing, employment, public accommodations, and city facilities. (Public Accommodations are typically companies that serve the general public).
However, it is worth noting that Madison is not only the first city in the U.S. to expressly amend its human rights orinance to cover Atheists, but they did it with a unanimous vote in favor by its Common Council and with nobody arguing against the change. 9.10
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Punctuation and grammar in some of the quotations have been altered.
- Frank Newport, "More Than 9 in 10 Americans Continue to Believe in God," Gallup, 2011-JUN-03, at: http://www.gallup.com/
- "Conscientious Objector," Net Industries, 2007. at:
- The Positive Atheism web site is at: http://www.positiveatheism.org/
- "Election 2008: 43% Would Never Vote for Mormon Candidate," Rasmussen
Reports, 2006-NOV-20, at:
- "Poll Recap: Mormon a Better Choice For President Than Muslim, Atheist,
Scientologist," Fox News, 2007-FEB-13, at:
- "Americans Will Vote For Anyone But An Atheist," AOL News Elections Blog,
- Rachel Rose Hartman, "Survey’s surprising finding: tea party less popular than atheists and Muslims," Yahoo! News, 2011-AUG-17, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
- David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, "Crashing the Tea Party," New York Times, 2011-AUG-16, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
- Eugene Volokh, "Madison expressly amends its antidiscrimination ordinance to cover atheists — who were almost certainly covered already," Washington Post, 2015-MAT-05, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
- "Amending Section 39.03 of the Madison General Ordinances to add nonreligion as a protected class." Legislative Information Center, City of Madison, 2015-MAR-31, at: https://madison.legistar.com/
- This is the symbol used by th American Atheists whose web site is at: https://atheists.org/
Copyright © 2007 to 2018, by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-SEP-24
Author: B.A. Robinson