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Discrimination against atheists, both at present and historically,

includes the persecution of those identifying themselves or

labelled by others as atheists, as well as the discrimination

against them. As  atheism  can be defined in various ways,

those discriminated against on the grounds of being atheists

might not have been considered as such in a different time or

place. As of 2015, 19 countries punish their citizens for

apostasy, and in 13 of those countries it is punishable by death.


Legal discrimination against atheists is uncommon in

constitutional democracies, although some atheists and atheist

groups, particularly in the United States, have protested against

laws, regulations, and institutions that they view as

discriminatory. In some Islamic countries, atheists face

discrimination and severe penalties such as the withdrawal of

legal status or, in the case of  apostasy , capital punishment.


Some historians, such as Lucien Febvre, have postulated that

atheism in its modern sense did not exist before the end of the

seventeenth century. However, as governmental authority

rested on the notion of  divine right , it was threatened by those

who denied the existence of the local god. Those labelled as

atheist, including early Christians and Muslims, were as a result

targeted for legal persecution.


During the early modern period, the term "atheist" was used as

an insult and applied to a broad range of people, including

those who held opposing theological beliefs, as well as suicides,

immoral or self-indulgent people, and even opponents of the

belief in witchcraft. Atheistic beliefs were seen as threatening to

order and society by philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas.

Lawyer and scholar  Thomas More  said that religious tolerance

should be extended to all except those who did not believe in a

deity or the immortality of the soul. John Locke, a founder of modern notions of religious

liberty, argued that atheists (as well as Catholics and Muslims) should not be granted full

citizenship rights. 


During the  Inquisition , several of those accused of atheism or blasphemy, or both, were

tortured or executed. These included the priest Giulio Cesare Vanini who was strangled

and burned in 1619 and the Polish nobleman Kazimierz Łyszczyński who was executed in

Warsaw, as well as Etienne Dolet, a Frenchman executed in 1546. Though heralded as

atheist martyr during the nineteenth century, recent scholars hold that the beliefs espoused

by Dolet and Vanini are not atheistic in modern terms.


During the nineteenth century, British atheists, though few in number, were subject to

discriminatory practices. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University of Oxford and denied custody of his two children after publishing a pamphlet titled  The Necessity of Atheism . Those unwilling to swear Christian oaths during judicial proceedings were unable to give evidence in court to obtain justice until this requirement was repealed by Acts passed in 1869 and 1870.


 Atheist Charles Bradlaugh  was elected as a Member of the British Parliament in 1880. He was denied the right to affirm rather than swear his oath of office, and was then denied the ability to swear the oath as other Members objected that he

had himself said it would be meaningless. Bradlaugh was re-elected three times before he was finally able to take his seat in 1886 when the Speaker of the House permitted him to take the oath.


In Germany during the Nazi era, a 1933 decree stated that "No National Socialist may suffer

detriment... on the ground that he does not make any religious profession at all". However,

the regime strongly opposed " godless communism ", and most of Germany's atheist and

largely left-wing free thought organisations were banned the same year; some right-wing

groups were tolerated by the Nazis until the mid-1930s. During negotiations leading to the

Nazi-Vatican Concordat of April 26, 1933 Hitler stated that "Secular schools can never be

tolerated" because of their irreligious tendencies. Hitler routinely disregarded this undertaking,

and the Reich concordat as a whole and by 1939, all Catholic denominational schools had

been disbanded or converted to public facilities.


In a speech made later in 1933, Hitler claimed to have "stamped out" the Gottlosenbewegung

atheistic movement. The word Hitler used, " Gottlosenbewegung ", means "Godless

Movement" in German, and refers to the communist free thought movement, though might

not refer to atheism in general. The historian Richard J. Evans wrote that, by 1939, 95% of Germans still called themselves Protestant or Catholic, while 3.5% were so called "gottgläubig" (lit. "believers in god", a non-denominational nazified outlook on god beliefs, often described as predominately based on creationist and deistic views) and 1.5% atheist. According to Evans, those members of the affiliation gottgläubig "were convinced Nazis who had left their Church at the behest of the Party, which had been trying since the mid 1930s to reduce the influence of Christianity in society". Heinrich Himmler, who was fascinated with Germanic paganism, was a strong promoter of the gottgläubig movement and didn't allow atheists into the SS, arguing that their "refusal to acknowledge higher powers" would be a "potential source of indiscipline". The majority of the three million Nazi Party members continued to pay their church taxes and register as either Roman Catholic or Evangelical Protestant Christians.





Four nuns are standing

in line at the gates of

heaven. Peter asks the

first if she has ever


"Well, once I looked at a man's penis," she said.
"Put some of this holy

water on your eyes and you may enter heaven," Peter told her. 

He then asked the

second nun if she had

ever sinned.

"Well, once I held a man's penis," she


"Put your hand in this holy water and you may enter heaven," he said. 

Just then the fourth nun pushed ahead of the third nun. 

"Why did you push

ahead in line?" asked Peter.

"Because I want to gargle before she sits in it!" replied the nun. 



Mother Superior calls all the nuns together and says to them.

"I must tell you all something. We have a case of gonorrhoea

in the convent." 

"Thank God," says an

elderly nun at the back of the room, "I'm so tired of Chardonnay." 




Jesus walks into a motel, throws a bag of nails on the counter and says,

"Can you put me up for the night?"



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darwin fish canvas design

A 2009 survey showed that atheists are the most hated

demographic group in Brazil, among several other minorities

polled, being almost on par with drug addicts. According to the

research, 17% of the interviewees stated they feel either  hate or 

 repulsion for atheists , while 25% feel antipathy and 29% are



Canadian secular humanist groups have worked to end the

recitation of prayers during government proceedings, viewing them

as discriminatory. Scouts Canada states that while a belief in God

or affiliation with organized religion is not a requirement to join,

members must have " a basic spiritual belief " and one of the core

values is "Duty to God:

                                   Defined as, the responsibility to adhere to

spiritual principles, and thus to the religion that expresses them,

and to accept the duties there from."


Discrimination against atheists in the United State occurs in legal, personal, social, and professional contexts. Some

American atheists compare their situation to the discrimination faced bye ethnic minorities, LGBT communities, and women. "Americans still feel it's acceptable to discriminate against atheists in ways considered beyond the pale for other groups," asserted  Fred Edwords  of the American Humanist Association.


INFIDEL One Who Does Not Believe In Your God

However, other atheists reject these comparisons, arguing that

while atheists may face disapproval, they have not faced

significant  oppression  or discrimination.


In the United States, seven state constitutions include religious

tests that would effectively prevent atheists from holding public

office, and in some cases being a juror/witness, though these

have not generally been enforced since the early twentieth

century. The U.S. Constitution allows for an affirmation instead

of an oath in order to accommodate atheists and others in court

or seeking to hold public office. In 1961, the United States

Supreme Court explicitly overturned the Maryland provision in

the Torcaso v Watkins decision, holding that laws requiring

"a belief in the existence of God" in order to hold public office

violated freedom of religion provided for by the

 First Amendment to the United States Constitution . This

decision is generally understood to also apply to witness oaths.


Several American atheists have used court challenges to assert discrimination against atheists. Michael Newdow challenged inclusion of the phrase "under God" in the United States Pledge of Allegiance on behalf of his daughter, claiming that the phrase was discriminatory against non-theists. He won the case at an initial stage, but the Supreme Court dismissed his claim, ruling that Newdow did not have standing to bring his case, thus disposing of the case without ruling on the constitutionality of the pledge.

Respondents to a survey were less likely to support a kidney transplant for hypothetical atheists and agnostics needing it, than for Christian patients with similar medical needs. As the Boy Scouts of America does not allow atheists as members, atheist families and the  ACLU  from the 1990s onwards have launched a series of court cases arguing discrimination

against atheists. In response to ACLU lawsuits, the Pentagon in 2004 ended sponsorship of Scouting units, and in 2005 the BSA agreed to transfer all Scouting units out of government entities such as public schools.


Religion Is Responsible

Few politicians have been willing to identify as non-theists, since such revelations have been

considered "political suicide". In a landmark move, California Representative Pete Stark

came out in 2007 as the first openly nontheistic member of Congress. In 2009, City Council

man Cecil Bothwell of Asheville, North Carolina was called "unworthy of his seat" because of

his open atheism. Several polls have shown that about 50 percent of Americans would not

vote for a qualified atheist for president. A 2006 study found that 40% of respondents

characterized atheists as a group that did "not at all agree with my vision of American

society", and that 48% would not want their child to marry an atheist. In both studies,

percentages of disapproval of atheists were above those for Muslims, African-Americans and

homosexuals. Many of the respondents associated atheism with immorality, including criminal

behaviour, extreme materialism, and elitism. Atheists and atheist organizations have alleged

discrimination against atheists in the military, and recently, with the development of the

Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, atheists have alleged  institutionalized 

 discrimination . In several child custody court rulings, atheist parents have been discriminated against, either directly or indirectly. As child custody laws in the United States are often based on the "best interests of the child" principle, they leave family court judges ample room to consider a parent's ideology when settling a custody case. Atheism, lack of religious observation and regular church attendance, and the inability to prove one's willingness and capacity to attend to religion with one's children, have been used to deny custody to non-religious parents.


Prominent atheists and atheist groups have said that discrimination against atheists is illustrated by a statement reportedly made by George H. W. Bush during a public press conference just after announcing his candidacy for the presidency in 1987. When asked by journalist Robert Sherman about the equal citizenship and  patriotism of American atheists , Sherman reported that Bush answered, "No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God." However, Sherman did not tape the exchange and no other journalist reported on it at the time. George H. W. Bush's son, George W. Bush, acknowledged those who do not worship during a November 3, 2004 press conference when he said "I will be your president regardless of your faith... And if they choose not to worship, they're just as patriotic as your neighbour."


The Best And Worst In People



God Is A DJ
God Is A DJ


Atheists, and those accused of defection from the official

religion, may be subject to discrimination and persecution in

many Islamic countries. According to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, compared to other nations, "unbelievers... in Islamic countries face the most severe – sometimes brutal – treatment". Atheists and religious sceptics can be executed in these twelve nations:

             Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

According to popular interpretations of Islam, Muslims are not

free to change religion or become an atheist:

                                                                        denying Islam  and thus becoming an apostate is traditionally punished by death for men and by life imprisonment for women. The death penalty for apostasy is apparent in a range of Islamic states.


Although there have been no recently reported executions in

Saudi Arabia, a judge in Saudi Arabia has recently

recommended that imprisoned blogger  Raif Badawi  go before

a high court on a charge of apostasy, which would carry the

death penalty upon conviction. While a death sentence is rare,

it is common for atheists to be charged with blasphemy or

inciting hatred.


New "Arab Spring" regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have

jailed several outspoken atheists.


Since an apostate can be considered a Muslim whose

beliefs cast doubt on the Divine, and or Koran, claims

of atheism and apostasy have been made against

Muslim scholars and political opponents throughout

history Both fundamentalists and moderates agree that

"blasphemers will not be forgiven" although they

disagree on the severity of an appropriate punishment.

In north western Syria in 2013 during the Syrian Civil

War, jihadists beheaded and defaced a sculpture of

 Al-Maʿarri (973–1058 CE) , one of several outspoken

Arab and Persian atheist intellectuals who lived and

taught during the Islamic Golden Age.


Jordan requires atheists to associate themselves with a

recognised religion for official identification purposes. In

Egypt, intellectuals suspected of holding atheistic

beliefs have been prosecuted by judicial and religious

authorities.  Novelist Alaa Hamad  was convicted of

publishing a book that contained atheistic ideas and

apostasy that were considered to threaten national

unity and social peace.


Several Bangladeshi atheists have been assassinated,

and a "hit list" exists issued by the Bangladesh iIslamic

organization, the  Ansarullah Bangla Team . Activist

atheist bloggers are leaving Bangladesh under threat

of assassination.

Religion Is Rubbish

                                            Atheists in Indonesia experience official discrimination in the context of registration of births and marriages, and the issuance of identity cards. In 2012,  Atheist Alexander Aan  was beaten by a mob, lost his job as a civil servant and was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for expressing his views online.


In Iran, atheism is not recognised as a belief in a legal sense. The law specifies that

all citizens must declare themselves as Muslim, Christian, Jewish or  Zoroastrian , with adherents of the latter three religions counted as religious minorities. The four recognised religions provide rights such as applying for entrance to university, or becoming a lawyer, with the position of judge reserved for Muslims only.


The Penal Code is also based upon the religious affiliation of the victim and perpetrator, with the punishment often more times severe on non-Muslims. Numerous writers, thinkers and philanthropists, have been accused of apostasy and sentenced to death for questioning the prevailing interpretation of Islam in Iran. The  Iranian Atheists Association  was established in 2013 to form a platform for Iranian atheists to start debates and to question the current Islamic regime's attitude towards atheists, apostasy, and human rights.

In March 2014, the  Saudi interior ministry  issued a royal decree branding all atheists as terrorists, which defines terrorism as "calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based".


Compulsory religious instruction in Turkish schools is also considered discriminatory

towards atheists.  The United Church Of Bacon 









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 The material on this site does not necessarily reflect the views of What If? Tees. 

 The Images and Text are not meant to offend but to Promote Positive Open Debate and Free Speech. 

 The material on this site does not reflect the views of What If? Tees. 

 The Images and Text are not meant to offend but to Promote Positive Open Debate and Free Speech. 

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