This report shows that atheists, humanists and other nonreligious people are discriminated against by governments across the world. There are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.
Some governments outlaw the very existence of atheists. But since, as England’s Queen Elizabeth realized back in the 16th century, “we cannot open windows into men’s souls”, people cannot be prosecuted for their atheist thoughts unless and until they manifest them. Atheists and other freethinkers may manifest their irreligious thoughts by speaking out, or by rejecting religious requirements, or by publicly seeking to identify as non-religious.
Many countries criminalize manifestations of atheist convictions or skeptical thoughts. In prosecuting these “crimes” it may not be necessary to accuse the person of atheism. Many states prosecute people who express their religious doubts or dissent regardless of whether those dissenters identify as atheist. More commonly, secular people experience discrimination when they manifest their conscience by acting against the dictates of the religion of their family, community or country.
At least seven states–Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas–have in place constitutional provisions that bar atheists from holding public office. One state (Arkansas) even has a law that bars an atheist from testifying as a witness at a trial. The Supreme Court effectively struck down these kind of provisions as unconstitutional in 1961. However, their continued existence is a reminder of the pervasiveness of the idea that atheists are untrustworthy, and perhaps even not truly American.
Of course, when an atheist stands up against such unconstitutional treatment, they are often harassed, belittled and shunned. Ironically, during this phase, many Christians will shout about how they’re being discriminated against, simply because atheists don’t want to have the Christian (or any other) religion shoved down their throat.