Students attending parochial schools in Flintshire County, Wales may want to head to the local church to get a note from the pastor “proving” their religion. Without it or a baptismal certificate, they may be banned from using the free bus service provided by the school. The county council has said that “they will no longer provide free denominational transport for pupils whose admission is not based on faith grounds” (secularism.org).
School districts throughout England and Wales have recently cut back on free services in order to save money, but this new mandate specifically targets non-religious students. Stephen Evans, a member of the National Secular Society, compares the bus situation to racism:
“This kind of apartheid home to school transport arrangement is completely unacceptable. It will result in children who live next door to each other, and travel to the same school–being treated unequally, purely on the basis of their parents’ religious beliefs” (secularism.org).
Worldwide discrimination against atheists
This is another example of growing discrimination against non-religious, atheists and agnostic people. Americans have been especially vocal about perceived discrimination against non-religious people and have instigated lawsuits relating to the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.
The organization of the Boy Scouts of America, along with drawing negative press for its anti-gay philosophy, has also come under fire for not allowing atheists as members. This requirement for membership led to the Boy Scouts being removed from public schools and other government-funded entities in 2005.
Blatant discrimination against atheists can also be found in the constitutions of seven states. Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all ban atheists from holding public office.
In some countries, such as Iran, atheists are not recognized as having legal status. In Algeria, atheist or agnostic men cannot marry Muslim women.
How to support equal rights for atheists
How can you support equal rights for atheists, agnostics, and non-religious people? First, know their rights. It’s illegal to make atheists swear religious oaths when testifying in court, and to prevent students in public schools from viewing atheist and agnostic websites. If an act would be discriminatory if it was done to a Christian, it’s discriminatory to do it to an atheist (alternet.org).
There are many foundations and organizations, including the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and National Center for Science Education, that fight against discrimination. Joining them or identifying ways to address the issue directly in your community is the best way to ensure that atheists have as much right to their beliefs as anyone who goes to church every Sunday.