Islamo and Atheisto Phobia

Muslims and atheists have nothing in common theologically, but they do share some unenviable commonalities. Since 1937, Gallup has been asking people if they would vote for a generally well-qualified presidential candidate nominated by their party if the nominee belonged to various minorities. The good news is that there is now less discrimination against minorities, and in the most recent poll in 2012 all nine categories received more than 50 percent. Muslims were next to last at 58 percent while atheists bottomed out at 54 percent.

All religious freedom is not created equal, as shown in a poll last month. Americans place the highest priority on religious freedom for Christians, with the lowest priority for Muslims and atheists. Only about 60 percent thought protecting religious freedom for Muslims and atheists was important. Part of this problem is that some define religious freedom as the right to break the law and discriminate against those of other faiths and none, as happened with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

No law prevents a person from being a religious bigot, but we are all required to respect the rule of law. Religious freedom means nothing if it doesn't allow for people to worship differently or not at all. As an atheist I think all worship is wrong, and I have the right to refrain from worshipping any deities.

At the moment, Muslims are more concerned about such bigotry than are atheists because in some parts of the country Muslims have been receiving threats to themselves and to their mosques. It's more difficult to spot an atheist, and atheists don't have any houses of worship to damage.

Muslims are sometimes afforded more religious freedom than atheists when religion is assumed to be necessary for a moral society. Politicians in both parties have proclaimed that we are entitled to freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion. It's not much of a freedom if you have the right to pick the god of your choice, but you must pick a god. It reminds me of a Freedom Foundation address in 1952 when President Eisenhower regrettably said, "Our government has no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith--and I don't care what it is."

I've gotten used to ignorant and pandering politicians, and have taken comfort from our godless constitution that guarantees us the right to worship one, many, or no gods. This founding document prohibits giving preference to one religion over another, or religion over non-religion. That's why I was shocked when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently said we could legally favor religion over non-religion, and that the First Amendment offers no protection to atheists. Scalia is free to believe that God watches over America and favors those who worship God in an approved way, but he has no right to treat as second-class citizens those of us who favor evidence over superstition.

Given the high-profile atrocities committed by some Muslims in the name of their religion, it is understandable why a number of people are concerned about giving complete religious freedom to Muslims. Defenders say that those who commit such terrorist acts are not true Muslims or do not represent Islam. However, there are passages in the Quran that can be interpreted to justify such acts. There are also passages in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles that can be interpreted to justify terrorist acts against infidels. However, we need to distinguish between peaceful believers and those who are inspired by their holy books to commit atrocities. It becomes Islamophobia when we lump all Muslims into the same category.

What about Atheistophobia (my made up word)? How can people justify denigrating or discriminating against atheists? We might advocate for separation of church and state in ways religious people disagree, but we do so peacefully. You might believe we are theologically incorrect, but everybody believes those of other religions are theologically incorrect. We have the free-speech right to make fun of religion, just as religious people have the free-speech right to make fun of atheists. Christians and Muslims in the past or present have sentenced people to death for blasphemy. Even a relatively enlightened country like Ireland has blasphemy laws, with fines up to $35,000 for insulting religions in a way that causes outrage among its adherents.

We shouldn't blame all people in a religion because of the atrocities committed by some in the name of that religion. We also shouldn't blame all atheists if some commit atrocities in the name of atheism. And just as an exercise, how many can you name?