Friday, September 12, 2014

American Atheists And Their Struggle For Equal Rights

There are those who say that atheists are simply those who do not believe in a supreme being. And technically that's true in the abstract. But in the real, concrete world we can't "do" atheism without ensuring that our rights as nonbelievers are recognized and protected. Separation of church and state is probably the most paramount of these interests. How can I claim to be an atheist for example but then be forced to swear on a bible that I will tell "... nothing but the truth so help me God" when appearing in court as a witness, or making a pledge to uphold the law or as a candidate for jury duty? In the past, there were discriminatory laws against atheists throughout the U.S. And I would bet that if some Christian legislators were to have their way at present, atheists would be barred from giving legal testimony or serving as jurors for refusing to comply with this form of oath-taking.

Coincidentally, shortly after entering the above observation in my Facebook page,  I came across the following news story also in FB. It's one that shows just how hostile theistic government officials can be to non-believers. An atheist, Joseph Richardson was forced by mayor John Rees of Winter Park, Florida to leave a City Commission public meeting under police escort because he refused to stand when requested to do for a Christian prayer and for  the pledge of allegiance which contains the phrase "under God". According to previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Richardson was completely within his rights to take this position (no pun intended) but was still "escorted" from the chamber by a police officer. Fortunately, through intervention by the  Freedom From Religion Foundation, the City Commission agreed to refrain from further such infringements on personal rights.  But the trampling of Richardson's personal freedoms should never have happened in the first place.

Then there is the matter of a U.S. Air Force  sergeant (who has chosen to not be publicly identified)  who wanted to extend his term of service but was rejected just  because he crossed out the phrase "under God" in the oath section of his  re-enlistment contract. He is now in the unenviable position of having to file suit against the U.S. Government in order  to challenge this unconstitutional requirement just to be allowed to continue serving his country.

In short, it should be small wonder that atheists resent attempts by advocates of Christian privilege not only for their attempts to impose their beliefs on others but especially their means of doing so, such as by abuse of political power,  contempt for the American Constitution, and lack of common decency towards others who do not share their beliefs.

This anti-atheist malice by those in power can make life difficult for non-believers. But considering what's at stake, it's essential for atheists to stand our ground and fight back by asserting ourselves and our rights when faced with such stumbling blocks. When these challenges arise, remember people like Joseph Richardson or the beleaguered Air Force sergeant, and be inspired by their courage. 

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