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The Atheists Are Coming – Out of a Closet Near You

At an exhibit table at the 2014 meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association are Robyn Blumner,Executive Director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, and Todd Stiefel of  Stiefel Freethought Foundation. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Pitching atheism at the Religion Newswriters Association conference last fall were Robyn Blumner, executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, and Todd Stiefel of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

That’s right. If the folks behind a new movement called Openly Secular have their way, more and more American atheists will be coming out of their religion-free closets to declare their unbelief to friends, family and coworkers.

And your neighborhood agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and seculars will be joining them.

A blue flyer reads "I believe in good., American Humanist.org. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Religion reporters were offered all manner of stickers and buttons at the conference.

Nontheists are tired of the discrimination they experience in the U.S., according to the folks at Openly Secular, a campaign organized by a coalition of dozens of secular organization across the country.

In the South, they say, newcomers are commonly greeted with “What church do you go to?” and shunned if the honest answer is “none.” All around the country, nontheists often find themselves losing jobs, businesses, marriages, and even custody of their children because of their non-believing convictions.

A 2014 Pew Research Center poll indicates that the Openly Secular folks might be right about how the American public feels about them. On a scale of one to 100, the pollees gave atheists an average score of 41, just one point above the 40 given to Muslims – the group that received the lowest score of any group.

(Jews received the highest score, btw, with a rating of 63. And America’s Catholics and Protestants were a close second with scores of 62 and 61.)

A bumper sticker offered at the Religion Newswriters Conference in 2014 reads "Praying Is Begging." Photo by Barbara Newhall

The Openly Secular movement hopes to rectify all this discrimination and marginalization by encouraging atheists, humanist and secular people in general to come out of the closet and make their world view known to those around them. Being openly instead of secretly secular, it is hoped, will de-stigmatize unbelief and demonstrate that secular people are decent, ethical people.

A button handed out at the 2014 Religion Newswriters Conference reads "Keep your theocracy off my democracy." Photo by Barbara Newhall

The secular movement seems to be growing. At the very least, its efforts to get some positive ink from the media are expanding. At last fall’s meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association in Atlanta, for example, a half-dozen a-religious organizations along with their press kits and give-aways occupied a large section of the exhibit space.

A red button with the words "Conkservative Atheist" was handed out by American Atheists at a 2014 meeting of the Religion Newswriters Conference. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Among them were the American Humanist Association, the Secular Student Alliance, the Center for Inquiry, the Secular Coalition for America, the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, the Richard Dawkins Foundation and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, American Atheists.

One of the fattest press kits handed out came from the Openly Secular campaign. “Non-religious people are treated like second-class citizens,” the hand-out states. They are “often shunned by family and friends. Kids are bullied and even assaulted on the playground; activists receive death threats.”

The thinking at Openly Secular is that much of this antipathy could be diffused if more nonreligious folks would take a page from the GLBT movement and come out of the closet – go public with their thoughts and beliefs. Let their neighbors know that they are just folks – friendly, concerned citizens.

As for Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and other religion-dissing atheists who like to slice and dice their opponents, Robyn Blumner of the Richard Dawkins Foundation asserts that Dawkins, for one, is incredibly popular with young non-believers.

Students wait in lines for an hour and half to see Dawkins, she said. “They are as flush with excitement as they would be if he were Lady Gaga.”

If you enjoyed this post, you might like “Want to Shock Your Atheist Family? Convert to Christianity” and “The Rise of the ‘Nones’ — Young Americans Are Doing Without Church.”

A brochure for Atheist TV on Roku was on display at the 2014 Religion Newswriters Conference. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A button displaying the dome of a captol has the words "This is not a church.: photo by Barbara Newhall

Photos by Barbara Newhall

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Comments

  1. Mike Shaler says:

    Hi Barbara. Well, since Ellen and I were married by a the then executive director of the Society of Humanist Judaism, a group that believes in “our independence from supernatural authority” I especially enjoyed this article.

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