(RNS) A new coalition of secular organizations hopes to combat prejudice and discrimination against atheists, humanists and other nonbelievers.

Called “Openly Secular,” the coalition wants to draw attention to incidents of anti-atheist discrimination in hopes of making such bias socially unacceptable.

“Our goal is a world where there are no social costs for being secular, where people do not have to risk losing relationships, jobs and elections when they are open about their nonreligious beliefs,” said Todd Stiefel, chair of Openly Secular.

“By getting more people to be open about who they are, we will reduce the misunderstandings that lead to fear and distrust of secular people.”

Openly Secular is a project of four secular heavy-hitting organizations: the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, the Secular Student Alliance and the Secular Coalition for America. An additional 20 organizations have signed on as supporters.

Stiefel, whose foundation has funded a number of atheist projects, described Openly Secular as “the next step” of the Dawkins Foundation’s “Out Campaign,” an effort to encourage nonbelievers to “come out” that was started in 2007.

“We are broadening and expanding the (Out) campaign to make it easier for people to become open with fewer social consequences,” Stiefel said. “We are also expanding the open strategy beyond atheists by reaching out to agnostics, humanists and even the spiritual but not religious.”

They will also enlist religious and civil rights organizations in the effort, Stiefel said.

Openly Secular’s first project is to gather stories from nonbelievers who say they have faced discrimination. One of the first contributors is Jessica Ahlquist, the Rhode Island teenager whose battle to remove a prayer banner from her public high school brought her national attention in 2012.

RNS photo by Kellie Kotraba/Columbia Faith and Values

Jessica Ahlquist speaks at Skepticon, a national skeptics convention, in Springfield, Mo., in 2012. RNS photo by Kellie Moore/Columbia Faith and Values

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“After I spoke openly about being an atheist, I lost many friends and was threatened with rape and death,” Ahlquist said in testimony for Openly Secular. “My own (state) representative publicly called me an ‘evil little thing.’ All of this, simply because I did not believe in God.”

Polls back up the assertion that nonbelievers, as a group, are disliked. A 2012 Gallup poll found Americans were least likely to vote for an atheist for president, behind a gay, lesbian, Muslim or Mormon candidate. A 2011 Canadian poll found that atheists are as mistrusted as rapists, and a recent Saudi Arabian law classified atheists as terrorists.

Reaction to the new group has been mixed, even within the world of secular activism. Writing on his Friendly Atheist blog, activist Hemant Mehta said he thinks most cases of anti-atheist discrimination receive widespread media attention.

“The big question is this,” Mehta wrote. “Are there atheists who haven’t reported (possible) instances of discrimination against them . . . but they’ll report them now with this new coalition in place? I’m not sure, but I hope I’m wrong.”



  1. Thanks Kimberly for your excellent reporting on this story. You captured both sides of the issue very well.

    Very grateful to RNS!

    We often hear how Christianity is benign, harmless and generally good for society. But when a Christian realizes that they no longer believe that God is real, there is a lot of pain put upon them by other Christians – as if the mob cannot handle the possibility that God is not real so they must cut out the non-believer to reassure themselves.

    The Atheist is someone who, upon discovering that god is delusional, has decided to extinguish all fear of Hell. To make one’s feelings public is to overcome the additional fear of being an outcast.

    But it has to be done – and it requires a tough skin.
    But fear is conquerable.

    Once you have accomplished it, everything about God and Demons vanishes into thin air. And you see people for who they really are.

  2. Never should anyone be threatened with rape and harm because of their religious position. I agree that discrimination on the grounds of religious or philosophical beliefs should have no place in our pluralistic society as any other.

    Our culture is diverse and is pluralistic. The question is how shall we live together. Will we use legal means, and if that fails bullying and intimidation, to force our views on others. Will we continue to foster a culture that encourages the elimination of difference (whether the insistence to impose religion on others or the insistence to strip away things like prayer banners so I don’t have to see them) or can we build a society where everyone is able to be fully present in who they are and be respected even if they are different.

    I wish for the day when an atheist, a evangelical, a liberal Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, an agnostic, a humanist etc… can share a space and not fight about that their shared space must be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, sanitized of religion etc… but rather that space becomes a place of understanding and conversation not so I can be changed but so I can learn to appreciate you more as the full person that you are.

    • @John,

      Guess which one of these philosophies
      would most likely to lead to the peaceful world you dream of:

      “Bring to me my enemies and EXECUTE THEM in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
      “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But….what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on Earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
– Jesus (Luke 12:49-51)

      JUDAISM: “Kill all believers of other religions.” (Deut. 13:7-12). “Only you are the chosen.”

      ISLAM: “Slay them wherever you find them…as Allah’s religion reigns supreme.” (Surah 2:190-)

      “Religion is completely irrelevant. God probably does not exist.
      I have no godly reason to hate anyone – Let us build a peaceful world regardless of religion.”

      We must find a way to abandon religion.

      • You forgot about your most prominent atheists – the Communists who, using their “scientific” minds, decided to kill 100 million people. Because it was better for mankind, don’t you know.
        So up against a few isolated quotes from the bible, ripped from context, we have the actual deeds of atheists – 100 million dead, the Gulags, forced abortions, famines, forcing people into lives with no freedom of thought – virtual slavery.
        But we are supposed to forget about all that. What is their laughable excuse? Oh, that was because the Soviets actually were a religion when they were practicing atheism! It’s too funny that those “scientific” people use such a bald, crappy rationalization as that. What nerve. What lack of thinking powers.

        • And lests anyone believe a thing Max says , here is the entire text of Luke 19, so you can see that Jesus never told anyone to kill, in Luke 19 Jesus is telling a story about a King who tells someone to kill.
          See how atheists lie all the time? They are Goebbels on steroids:

          “11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.[a] ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

          14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

          15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

          16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

          17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

          18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

          19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

          20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

          22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

          24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

          25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

          26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

          • In Luke 19, Jesus tells the above story about a King entering his Kingdom just before he himself enters Jerusalem in a triumphal entry. The very next verse is:

            ***28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. ****
            (and then the whole triumphal, glorious entry is described.).

            It’s obvious to anyone reading Luke 19 that Jesus tells this parable to describe his coming kingdom, and that he himself is specifically that King. Thus, Atheist Max has properly described what Jesus is saying here – “kill those who reject my rule”. In other words, Jesus is saying to kill those who refuse to become Christians.

            Secondly- the fact that some mass killers have done so for reasons other than Christianity is hardly relevant. Stalin and Mao killed for their communist ideology, not “because they were atheists”. Saying that atheism is somehow to blame for those killings is like a worshipper of Zeus blaming Christianity for the killings of Stalin, since Stalin was a non-Zeusist, just as Christians are non-Zeusists.

          • Its interesting you bring up Goebbels.

            Using your argument, I take it Christians like yourself are going to take credit for the Holocaust, every sectarian war since the Protestant Reformation and every act of genocide associated with colonialism from Columbus onward. Unlike Stalin and Mao, those acts were done with tacit approval of authority besides their own.

          • @bergontin,

            Religion is a numb brain wash.
            A credulous population, fully surrendering to higher authority unseen and unresponsive – is perfectly prepared to be taken over by the dictator:

            Pol Pot

            Relentless surrender to faith in each case.
            Religion is the preparer, the brain number.

            “Execute them” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

            In a world of nuclear weapons we must abandon this ancient barbaric nonsense and apply thought and reason instead.

        • bergontin, state communism is in fact a religion. However many people pretend otherwise because it isn’t a form of theism. In other words it doesn’t include belief in a god. Instead of making it “not religion,” this makes it more like some forms of confucianism and buddhism, which also have no gods.
          In all other ways, state communism is a religion. It has sacred texts. It makes grandiose promises about the future. It has a small group of “insiders” who spend their lives promoting it. It has grand hypocrisy by those insiders. It cares more for the way it appears than for the effect it has on those it controls (much as christian clerics suppressed prosecution of clerical pedophiles). It has cults of personality. It uses propaganda and psychological terror to promote itself. And last but not least, it has heretics and schisms. Just as in religion, the divides are along geographic, political and class lines, but everybody pretends that they aren’t. I could go on and on.
          I hereby present you with the KGB/Holy Inquisition/Islamic Mutawa Golden Waterboard. It’s for people who don’t see the resemblance between these three organizations

  3. I truly hope that this project succeeds. Once a critical mass is achieved, the progress will move on rapidly. We just need enough people to come out as atheist. We can all do our part by declaring our ideas and thoughts openly and by doing so helping other people to ‘come out’ as well.

    • You’d do a lot better if being a jerk was not thought to be a fine example of being an atheist. Dawkins and his “Mock them, ridicule them ” statement shows that this type of atheism is just a new attempt at justifying being a jerk.

      • Good point, bergontin. You are absolutely right. We Atheists need to avoid being jerks. It can be hard after some of the treatment many of us have received – but that in no way excuses being a jerk. It’s also true that some can think that a person pointing out problems or harm caused by religion is “being a jerk” – but that need not be the case with a careful choice of words. Feel free to let me know if you think I’m being a jerk, and I’ll promise to try to avoid being a jerk.

    • Mark, Mark, Mark. Don’t you get it? Reality is not important. it is the lying that matters. How are atheists going to become respected unless they whimper a lot and complain that everyone is against them. Sure, in reality no one much cares if you are an atheist. That’s your business. But you have to pretend that you are being radically victimized, then you can get sympathy, and pretend that all those mean Christians are persecuting you. It’s all politics, man.

      • And thank you for displaying to everyone what anti-atheist bigotry entails. You accuse them all of being liars.

        Nobody really cares if you are an atheist unless you are in a room full of people who insist that their religious beliefs must be shared by others. Preferably by compulsion. It happens often enough, and by people abusing public positions, that your denial is just so much dishonesty for the Lord.

    • Yep, Mark, there is a huge difference depending on where you are. Trying being a loud mouthed Atheist in many parts of the United States, especially the South, and your experience will be quite different. It’s good to hear that your area of Canada is more civilized than much of the United States.

  4. We have an historic opportunity handed to us by the invention of the Internet to break the social isolation that religion long ago evolved to keep its opponents at bay. We have long been vilified as “weird,” “inhuman,””isolated,””stupid,” and “dangerous.” The very language we use demonstrates this. “Atheist” was long ago vilified in popular thinking, and “agnostic” is right on the edge, surviving mostly because many religious people think it means “convert on the hoof.” I suspect that “Brights” may go the way of “atheist” if we’re not careful. We should prefer that it goes the way of “gay,” once vilified and now a term of pride.

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