I had an op-ed piece published in the Greensboro News and Record on Sunday, June 28. Here's the link
if you'd like to read (or see below).
There have been few responses thus far, and nothing unexpected.
Taken from the N&O web site:
Is there a place for atheists in America?
SUNDAY, JUNE 28, 2009
What do you think?
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By TOM ARCARO
Ten years ago, few Americans would have thought an African American could be elected president of the United States. Which will be the next minority group to gain this highest level of acceptance?
Will we have an openly gay president?
A Muslim president?
How about an atheist president?
In 2006, a University of Minnesota study found that atheists are the least trusted among several categories. In that study, some 40 percent of Americans said of atheists, "This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society."
Compare this number to other groups that often experience discrimination, such as Muslims who were next at 26 percent, and gays just after that at 23 percent.
Yet, a recent survey by Trinity College in Connecticut found that 15 percent of Americans claim they adhere to no religion, making them the fastest growing group of believers -- or, rather, nonbelievers -- in the United States.
The American Religious Identification Survey also found that the number of people who self-identify as "nonreligious" is growing in every state.
With the nonreligious far outnumbering Jews and Muslims, and pulling roughly even with Episcopalians, one would assume acceptance in American society.
Atheism is trendy in entertainment.
On television, we have Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie in the Fox drama "House," and HBO pundit and "Religulous" filmmaker Bill Maher.
We hear about major authors that the public associates with atheism -- Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens.
But where are the voices of the "everyday" atheist?
Research I conducted last fall uncovered some unsettling trends. More than 8,200 atheists from around the globe completed a survey to share examples of the stigma they encounter after they tell family and friends of their views.
A general consensus can be found in the words of one man: "People have believed that I don't have a sense of morality because I don't believe in God."
Respondents feel mistrusted and, in many cases, feel compelled to hide their unbelief. They are your plumber, the nurse who checks your blood pressure, the mechanic who fixes your car, the soldier fighting in Iraq and the pilot who lands your plane.
The stigma rears its head everywhere in America. In one woman's words: "I was asked by a religious acquaintance about my church-going habits. When I told her about my atheism she was shocked and angry. She started to berate me about the importance of church and the fact that I was condemning my children to Hell."
Preliminary data also show that professing one's nonbeliefs in the public realm is potentially harmful. Some states have laws that ban atheists from public office, as survey takers pointed out, while others expressed fear that sharing their views would damage their livelihood.
Atheists represent the last social or religious group where stigmatization is accepted. Unlike stereotypical attacks on women, minorities and homosexuals, it seems that very few public figures stand up for the rights of the nonreligious.
In his Inauguration address, President Barack Obama made specific mention that this is also a nation of "nonbelievers," a sign that everyone should have a seat at the table of public discourse where ideas can be freely exchanged without fear of hostility or hatred.
As one of those "nonbelievers," this inclusion afforded me some hope for a United States where someday atheists will be free from stigma.
My survey is imperfect, and more research must be done. The goal of the "Coming Out as an Atheist" study is to add to the ongoing national conversation about religion and its role in our society.
Just as three decades ago people may have said, "I don't know any gay people," because most were in the closet, many Americans now believe that they don't know any atheists when indeed the person sitting next to them on the bus -- or, maybe, in the pew -- does not believe in God.
The writer teaches in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Elon University. He also directs Project Pericles at Elon, an initiative that aims to "instill in students an abiding and active sense of social responsibility and civic concern."