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Column: Atheists, Agnostics Unfairly Represented

This story was written by Wes Hunt, Independent Florida Alligator


The legacy of America is a legacy of progress, and it is time to look toward the next fight. One of the most important concepts to have come from the Enlightenment is the belief in the elimination of prejudicial assumption and the support of rational conclusions rather than blind faith.

Rational thought has led us to greater advances in the last 250 years than in the previous 2,000 years of assumptions. One of the most important advances during this time was the idea of equality among people.

Sadly, there are still populations where oppression and denial of rights are still accepted. Gays, lesbians and transgender Americans are still fighting for their rights, and the socioeconomic gap between whites, blacks and Hispanics is still the status quo.

Those with the greatest amount of prejudice to overcome, though, are atheists and agnostics. There are more secular Americans than Jewish Americans, but seculars are significantly underrepresented in government and persecuted. Scholar Richard Dawkins, an atheist, proposes one possible reason could be that seculars do not have an organization to fight on their behalf. They simply cannot be made to agree, en masse, on anything. Seculars are too fiercely independent.

In a USA Today/Gallup Poll taken in February 2007, 53 percent of those polled said they would not vote for an atheist president. In comparison, 43 percent said they would not vote for a homosexual president, 24 percent would not vote for a Mormon president, and 5 percent said they would not vote for a black president.

In 2006, Katherine Harris, the mastermind behind the 2000 Florida election, was running for Sen. Bill Nelsons Senate seat. In an interview about faith and politics, Harris said that if you do not elect Christians, in essence, you are going to legislate sin. She also said God chooses rulers, not voters. Divine right of kings, anyone? Harris obviously lost the election, but there was little media attention paid to her belief that rights should be denied to the 16 percent of the nation unaffiliated with any religion.

One of the most common, ridiculous assaults on atheists and agnostics accuses them of having no morals because of a lack of religious belief. If this were true, then prisons should be overflowing with seculars, or at least atheists should be overrepresented in prison populations. A Federal Bureau of Prisons study estimates that atheists and agnostics comprise less than 1 percent of prison populations.

Another misconception is that seculars do not care about anything and, thus, have no respect for life. On the contrary, secularism has tremendous respect for the importance of life. If you believe there is only one chance to live and to experience everything there is, you have enormous respect for the importance and rarity of that opportunity. Seculars believe everyone should be given the fortune of learning, experiencing and enjoying what the world has to offer.

The most infuriating notion is that the U.S. was founded by Christians on Christian ideals. Nearly all serious studies of the religious preferences of the Founding Fathers conclude that they were fiercely secular. Most were deists or influenced by deists, who were equated with atheism and barbarism by most Christians at the time.

Our country was founded by secular thinkers to be a nation of religious tolerance and personal religious freedom. It has since been hijacked by Christians as another JudeoChristian nation while the rest of the Western world turns increasingly secular.

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