In a government of the people and for the people, a number of groups have done quite well in getting the majority to accept that they are indeed people worthy of participating in the political process.
No more do black citizens fear the night riders with guns and torches should they dare to show up at City Hall with a petition. LGBT folks are getting elected in greater numbers, and there are no laws barring them from holding public office. Certainly, these groups still face challenges in achieving equality in the political and other arenas in U.S. life.
However, despite the fact that our Constitution states “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” seven states ban atheists from holding office. And while Alabama is not one of the places that have these unconstitutional provisions as law, bigots are hiding behind false e-mail accounts to drive out those who they believe are unworthy to participate in government.
Amanda Scott, 21, is a student at Faulkner State Community College. On June 19, she testified before her local county commission against a resolution to display a plaque reading “In God We Trust” at the Mobile Government Plaza. When the commission voted 2-1 to approve the plaque, Amanda testified once more. This time, she spoke up to support a proposal that would allow other individuals and groups to put up their own plaques. Scott, along with the Mobile atheist community, suggested an “In Reason We Trust” plaque to accompany the pro-religion sign piece. Once again, the commission voted against the requests of the non-religious constituents.
When the largest local TV station requested an interview after her second testimony, Scott accepted. This news station, rather than focusing on the presence of the plaque, asked its audience what it thought about Amanda speaking up for her rights.
Viewers hurled a barrage of abuse at Scott. She endured death threats and was told she was un-American and that she should leave the country. In addition, the anonymous harassers attacked her character and her appearance.
When a different news outlet ran the story about the hate mail and threats Scott received, more people joined in to further pile abuse onto the college student. These new attackers told Scott that she deserved every bit of the treatment she’d received, and some even accused her of lying about receiving threats in the first place.
Scott’s case makes it clear why so many people who identify as atheist don’t come out openly to say so. And it’s just as easy to see why these folks don’t seek to represent themselves and their communities in the political arena as atheists.
It’s a tired and largely untrue stereotype that young Americans are apathetic, dispassionate and uninterested in political affairs. Yet, this young woman has chosen to stand up for the very principles espoused by the Founders of this great nation, only to find that those in her own community wish her harm. Scott says that she will go on fighting for equality in her community, in spite of the hatred and harassment that have been directed towards her, and that she will continue to standing up for her fellow secular citizens in Mobile.
It’s sadly too obvious that even in 2014 there remains much work to be done to insure threats aren’t used to stifle the voice of a minority group.
The Openly Secular coalition works specifically on this issue. This organization fights not only for the separation of church and state, but more importantly, it fights to uphold the rights of secular Americans to participate fully in their communities and their government. It should also be noted that Amanda Scott has gotten support and encouragement from the Secular Student Alliance, which seeks to help atheists in high school and post-secondary school to be present and active in their communities as “out” non-theists, and to ensure that atheists in schools are not attacked simply for existing.
The people who are threatening this young college student need to brush up on their holy book, but more important, they should take a primer on their Constitution.