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article imageCA mayor snubs atheists, blocks invocation, free speech Special

By Megan Hamilton     Aug 13, 2014 in World
Chico - For some time now, atheists in Chico, California have been wanting to do an invocation at City Hall, ever since the Supreme Court recently sanctioned prayers before meetings of the town board in Greece, New York.
The court rejected arguments which contended that Christian prayers violated the First Amendment, which prevents the government from establishing an official religion. It also rejected the argument that overwhelmingly Christian prayers give preference to one faith, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The decision was handed down by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the 5-4 ruling. Kennedy placed special emphasis on the importance of inclusion and held the town to a policy which permits "...a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist," to give the invocation, per WSJ.
While this was perceived to be a blow to nonbelievers, some have welcomed this as an opportunity and atheists are speaking all around the country.
Except in Chico, California, where mayor Scott Gruendl, is ignoring a local atheist organization's right to give an invocation in a public place, The Raw Story reports.
George Gold, President of the Butte County Coalition of Reason, said he's repeatedly asked Gruendl to allow a member of his atheist organization to give an invocation before a city council meeting.
"Non-believers make up 20 percent of the population; that's 16,000 people in the City of Chico," he said, according to Raw Story. "We're a part of this community."
Chico is not the only place where this has happened.
Al Bedrosian, a Roanoke County, Virginia Supervisor, has said he will not allow sectarian invocations.
"The freedom of religion doesn't mean that every religion has to be heard," he said. "If we allow everything, where do you draw the line?" This would seem to be in contradiction to what Justice Kennedy wrote.
After the high court ruling, Bedrosian said that he would not vote to allow non-Christians to deliver invocations.
A few years ago, he wrote an editorial published in the Roanoke Times, where he claimed that freedom of religion is a "hoax" and wrote that "...the global warming crowd worships the environment as god, the abortionist has the death of unborn babies as their god, and the homosexuals have sexual freedom as their god."
It doesn’t matter what Bedrosian personally believes, said Dave Muscato, public relations director of American Atheists, in an email interview with Digital Journal. “When acting in his official capacity, he represents the government of the United States. We have a secular government in this country that must treat everyone equally. If the supervisor is not capable of leaving his faith out of his work, he needs to find a new job.”
As these two links show, atheists are widely discriminated against, and when the Supreme Court issued its decision, some--such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group, swung into action. They sent letters out to alert municipalities across the country about the Court’s decision, WSJ reports.
In the case that brought the Supreme Court ruling, Greece v. Galloway, the court tried to justify sectarian prayers by insisting that they had nothing to do with proselytizing religion but that such prayers were unifying and were simply "intended to place town board members in a solemn and deliberative frame of mind," philosophy professor Dan Fincke told Digital Journal. He noted that this is far from unifying.
"They argued that it was not divisive to have sectarian prayers because way back in the 1770's a sectarian prayer was greeted as a unifying experience for members of otherwise bitterly divided Christian denominations," he said. "But this sort of behavior that we see in California and around the country whereby humanists are denied participation in the practice of creating a "solemn and deliberative frame of mind prove that the Supreme Court was wrong."
While the Supreme Court's decision may seem inclusive, there are many atheists, including Fincke, who beg to differ.
"This is not about unity. It's about Christian hegemony," he said. "It's not about inclusion, it's about exclusion. When the Court acted as though it is religiously neutral to treat sectarian religious prayers as inherently solemn matters, it prioritized religion as an inherently solemn thing, in violation of the consciences of millions of atheists who find sectarian religion to be an intellectually offensive and socially destructive thing."
In the US, where 40 percent of Americans believe in creationism, atheists have to navigate rough seas.
"Atheists are not respected in this country, and in many places around the world, as we should be," Muscato said in an email interview with Digital Journal. "We are moral, upstanding citizens with equal rights and we deserve exactly equal representation in every public sphere. We are not asking for special treatment and it is unreasonable for anyone to deny us basic equal representation."
Indeed this infographic published by the Huffington Post and prepared by the American Humanist Association backs up Muscato’s assertion.
In the United States  atheists face discrimination in their daily lives.
In the United States, atheists face discrimination in their daily lives.
American Humanist Association
“When it comes to being an atheist in America, the difficulty varies,” said Fincke, who writes the blog "Camels with Hammers." “It’s fairly easy to be an atheist in academia, or in New York City, unless you live as part of one of many particularly religious communities, in which case it can be very hard. But in any number of places in the country it can mean not getting work, it can mean excruciatingly strained relationships with believing family members who will be grieve over your atheism and/or ostracize you. Or judge you and say terrible things about you, about how you cannot be moral, you must lead a meaningless life, etc.”
A 2011 study showed that atheists are one of society’s most distrusted groups, and ranked with rapists in certain circumstances, psychologists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon found, USA Today reports.
In the study, conducted among 350 American adults and 420 Canadian college students, the participants were asked to decide the following: If a fictional driver damaged a parked car and left the scene, then found a wallet and took the money, was the driver more likely to be a teacher, an atheist teacher, or a rapist teacher?
The participants, who came from religious and non-religious backgrounds most often picked the atheist teacher, per USA Today.
The study was part of an attempt to understand the needs that religion fulfills in people, and one of the conclusions was that it provided a sense of trust in others.
“People find atheists very suspect,” said Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a coauthor of the study, which appeared in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, per USA Today. “They don’t fear God so we should distrust them; they do not have the same moral obligations of others. This is a common refrain against atheists. People fear them as a group.”
Sometimes this fear turns to outright hate.
In response to a question posed on a Facebook page maintained by Alabama television station WKRG that asked for opinions on a proposal for a privately-funded atheist display, self-identified Christians apparently forgot that God is supposed to be love and went off the charts in the comment section, spewing vitriol and hatred for the woman who spoke for a Mobile atheist group, according to Hemant Mehta in his blog The Friendly Atheist.
Instead of focusing the question on the display, the station asked: “What are your thoughts on a local woman who wants to see an Atheist motto placed next to the words ‘In God We Trust’ at Government Plaza?”
Here is an example of the loving words uttered by the faithful:
Examples of  loving  Christians reacting to an atheist organization s request to put up a placard ne...
Examples of "loving" Christians reacting to an atheist organization's request to put up a placard next to a "God is love" sign.
...and some more loving words.
...and some more loving words.
Atheists have a long way to go before they are ever accepted into the mainstream, but there is hope.
“The number one thing that atheists can do to fight the prejudices we face is to come out of the closet. Too many Americans believe that they don’t know any atheists,” Finke says, “And they’re wrong. Everyone knows atheists. Just many atheists are keeping quiet, either out of fear of rejection or out of an overabundance of deference to religious feelings. As much as atheists get accused of being loudmouthed bullies, most atheists spend their lives tip-toeing around religious sensibilities trying not to offend them. And by never coming out, they remain invisible to those same religious people who will then turn around and stigmatize and demonize atheists as immoral people.”
Fincke, who left university teaching last year and now teaches via his own online business, also said that atheists should organize as humanists to focus on the positive side of atheism and the values that we promote, rather than just the beliefs we do not accept.
“The more that people get accustomed to seeing Humanism as just another option on the menu of values systems and communities that people can belong to, their irrational fear of the unmoored lone wolf atheist will diminish and they’ll be less inclined to be offended by the very existence of atheists,” he said. “Humanism is a positive approach to the world so it is harder for people to defensively take it as a mean-spirited rejection of their own views as many reflexively feel atheism to be.”
Hopefully, Gruendl, Bedrosian, and others like them will start paying attention.
More about Atheists, Atheism, the raw story, the wall street journal, hemant mehta
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