Why Is It Okay for an Atheist to Cry “Religious Discrimination”? 28

I don’t debate atheists often, but when I do, I have to ask…

How can you say you are against religion and attack it in so many ways, and then claim atheism as your religion?

For instance, did you know that Richard Dawkins filed a suit for religious discrimination after one of his book signing events was cancelled?

Coming from a man who says one of his aims is to rid the world of religion, his claim to being religiously discriminated against makes no sense to me. Could someone help me to understand this better?


  1. Other than seeing the video and reading this short blog post, it appears to me it is more of a matter of breaking a contract than about religion. There is, however, an important distinction in the wording. ‘Religious viewpoint’. While atheism is not a religion, it is a religious viewpoint in that the views of atheists do not have a religion. If the contract was indeed broken because of Dawkins’ views about religion, then it stands to reason that he would have a case. However, why would the country club have a contract with him in the first place? A quick google search would easily educate one to this fact. He does nothing at all to hide the fact that he is an atheist.

    • Dawkins’ views were certainly well-known by people paying attention to such things. And I think that this is a key issue here, and leads me to a hypothesis of what happened: The Center for Inquiry[1] arranges this gathering and contracts for the hall. The owners would certainly look at their plans and a bit about them: CFI is actively hostile toward religion. They shrugged and accepted the money.
      The O’Reilly interview takes place. This attracts a lot of attention on blogs and such, and inspires something of a letter-writing campaign against this planned presentation.
      The club, under pressure from the community, decides to back out of the contract — and this suit follows.It does seem to me that there is a case here, much as I find Dawkins’ (and CFI’s) approaches to religion distasteful. Here is CFI’s own article about it, and it does seem plausible:


      I think that they do have a point. Had the club venue simply said “we prefer not to have this sort of gathering” that would have been one thing, and probably would have made an end of it. But they took the money, months in advance, and canceled out just a few days before the event. That is unfortunate, and not easily defensible, considering the consistent anti-Christian nature of CFI’s gatherings.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      [1] (This footnote has become sort of a blog post. I’ll move it out of here to avoid clutter.)

  2. I was speaking with someone yesterday about how odd it is that nowadays we have to assume a baseline in politics that is atheistic… So those who say they oppose abortion even in cases of rape are seen as religious nuts. Those who utter the name of our Blessed Lord are discredited as unreasonable. It has been relatively accepted that all should be godless. Then, we all must assume being godless as not a religious viewpoint, which indeed it is, and so much so that it breeds intolerance toward all faiths directed to God. Atheism is a religion that requires belief, just like any other. It should not be automatically accepted as superior or more intellectual than, say, Catholicism. The difference: we Catholics don’t go around being offended and suing everyone who offends us. We are thick-skinned for Jesus!

    • Hi Travis! Yes, there appears to be a double standard regarding tolerance, nowadays. Well, someone has to be think skinned, and based on the current standard, I guess that has to be us. Fortunately, that suits well with the precept of bearing wrongs patiently.

  3. I’m not excited about the notion of defending Dawkins. Five years ago, I wrote of him:

    I enjoy this fellow’s writings.

    I despise this fellow’s writings.

    It depends, entirely, on the topic. He applies rigorous analytical thought to evolutionary science, and does a marvelous job of explaining the marvelous interactions and processes there.

    Then, from time to time, he turns to religion, and acts for all the world like an angry militant fundamentalist atheist out to outlaw all matters of faith and proposing no end of absurd “solutions”.

    As for my own philosophy, I reached tentative conclusions many decades ago and have spent much time thinking about the issues. I’m always seeking new information, but did not arrive where I am lightly. Does Dawkins seriously think that he can, by force of arms and threats of arrest, force the world to convert to atheism?

    He is described, even in Wikipedia, as a “fundamental atheist.” But the issue here is somewhat distinct from Dawkins’ general bad behavior, it seems to me.

    The First Amendment was set up to prevent Congress (and by reasonable extension, the federal government) from discrimination against people based upon what they believe. The first part of it refers to “an establishment of religion” (i.e., a church/temple/mosque/synagogue or other organized group) but the second part is clearly talking about individual practice:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Section 1 of the 14th amendment extended this to states, and it’s been interpreted to apply to all levels of government jurisdiction. And various statutes have, with somewhat dubious authority, extended these restrictions to businesses and individuals.

    So Dawkins is making the claim that he was refused by a business based entirely upon what he believed. Whether or not atheism is a religion, it certainly can be said that he believes things about God and the afterlife and such.

    One problem here is that this seems to fit a bit more squarely in the category of “freedom of speech” … and various authorities have held that private interests are not obliged to honor this completely. For example, in your blog you may edit, censor, or ban persons and it is not considered a violation of their 1A rights as they could go elsewhere to make their speech.

    We go further to protect religious expression, and there are conflicts between these two treatments that have not been entirely resolved, it seems to me. But Dawkins’ situation here seems to be more of a free speech issue, because he is seeking a venue for speech, not religious practice. When the other party is not any form of government, merely a private business, this should be fairly clear-cut.

    But these days, who can tell? The judicial process is becoming rather more political, something that has personally affected me to a very large extent.

    Best wishes!

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • I agree that Dawkins has great things to offer science, but when it comes to religion, or a-religiosity, he’s a bit of a wing-nut. For that matter, it is very ironic that he sues on the basis of religious discrimination. He might have made a better case on the grounds of free speech. So why pursue a law suit on the basis of religious discrimination? It seems he’s trying to force some issue here, like that of hypocrisy (ironically). But I don’t see what grounds he has to stand on by making this claim.

  4. “Religious discrimination” covers much more than what you think.

    “Trinitarianism” isn’t a religion, it’s a tenet of some Christian religions. However, discriminating against someone for being, or NOT being, a trinitarian is still religious discrimination.

    The same is true of other religious tenets, like polytheism.

    And, just like all the others, belief in (one or more) gods is a religious tenet, and discriminating against someone for believing in a god (or NOT believing in a god) is religious discrimination.

    President Obama is well-known as the child of a mixed-race marriage; since he doesn’t have a single “race” in his ancestry, does this mean he would have no recourse if he were the victim of racial discrimination? Using your reasoning, since he isn’t a particular race, he couldn’t be discriminated against on the grounds of race. Hermaphrodites couldn’t sue for discrimination based on sex. People whose ancestors came from different countries couldn’t sue for discrimination based on national origin.

    • Thanks for the comment and sorry for the delay moderating it. First comment falls into the moderation queue by default (it’s a WordPress thing; the other option is to moderate all comments). After I approve the first one the rest go up automatically.

    • Okay, but if the man attacks religion per se as he does here, and then sues on the basis of religious discrimination, is that not hypocritical or is it just merely ironic?

      By the way, the short video on the post I’m linking to starts with a segment of an interview with Ben Stein. Just by pass that part because it is not the part I’m interested in. The part I’m referring to is the part where he says he wants to rid the world of religion. So he wants to rid the world of religion but he’ll sue on the basis of religious discrimination, while he still can. Brilliant!

      • “Okay, but if the man attacks religion per se as he does here, and then sues on the basis of religious discrimination, is that not hypocritical or is it just merely ironic?”

        No. Dawkins thinks religion is incorrect and sometimes harmful, so he argues against it (other people, of course, argue that their religion is right). Everyone is protected against religious discrimination by public accommodations in the US.

        If Dawkins succeeds in convincing everyone, there would (presumably) be no more religious discrimination, but the same is true if everyone became a Christian evangelical, yet I don’t think you’d call an evangelical preacher who sues over religious discrimination a hypocrite if he rented a hall and the owner later cancelled the contract because he didn’t want to deal with evangelicals.

        “So he wants to rid the world of religion but he’ll sue on the basis of religious discrimination, while he still can. Brilliant!”

        Actually the Center For Inquiry, who hired the hall is the party suing, as they paid for it. Dawkins was the guest speaker.

      • Thanks for the follow up. Not sure why your comment got stuck in the moderation queue again, wasn’t supposed to happen that way, but sorry for the inconvenience.

        Well, I still find it ironic. I can see there being a suit being filed over breach of conduct, and I can see there being some infringement of free speech, but I think religious discrimination seems to be taking it a bit too far, IMO. But your points are well taken, and thanks for pointing out my oversight at the end of your comment. Cheers!

  5. On this one, I have to agree with Keith DeHavelle.

    There are two issues:
    1. Breach of contract. Did the Country Club violate its contract. That’s not issue about freedom of religion.
    2. What is the Federal Government got to do with this? When the Federal Government forces people in a private organization to associate with people they want nothing to do with, doesn’t it violate their freedom to choose who they associate with?

    Just because we put a nice sounding label on something doesn’t mean it makes any sense or that we should take it seriously. Imagine you are woman. You want a roommate. A guy sees your ad and demands to move in. You say no. You are looking for a female roommate. Then the clown sues and the ACLU takes up the cause. Absurd. Of course, but make it about homosexual rights, and Socialist Democrats have done it.

    Human interactions are complex. How we get along is up to us. When we fight with each other, we need government to separate us and to protect the troubled from the troublemakers. What we don’t need is government to force us into associations we don’t want. That problem is too complex for government, and any solution of it by government violate our rights.

    • Your analogy sheds a lot of light on the issue, Citizen Tom. Apparently, he was just trying to make a larger issue out of a simple breach of contract, and he comes of looking even sillier in the process. Silly man.

  6. If ever a belief system was built upon the sands of hypcocrisy, it’s atheism. Dawkins is a perpetual fixture here on UK television. Ironically, he is not even popular with a lot of atheists! Thanks for the post highlighting the double-standard. God bless!

    • If the man would just stick to his area of competence, biology, he’d be half alright. But he has to make a scene when he has the chance since his already dubbed himself the champion of “atheist rights” — in the name of freedom of religion no less. I don’t doubt that he also recognizes the double standard, since he is an intelligent man, but that’s the height of his arrogance — he cares more about smearing religion whenever he has the chance than he does for his own integrity.

      • Yes, you just about summed up Prof Dawkins perfectly. I have long argued that egotism is the chief sin of the atheist, and Dawkins sort of proves the point!

  7. Dear Bil†rix,

    You and I, despite some differences in philosophy that I would bet seem larger to you than to me, are both defenders of the First Amendment including the freedom of religion clause. I think that certain modern groups such as the ACLU and “Freedom from Religion” and such take it in directions not intended by the founders, and that this is a mistake. You would agree there, I expect.

    Where we seem to differ, based on how I read this, is that you perceive that the freedom of religion clause should not protect non-religious persons, and that it is hypocritical for them to seek this protection. If this is the case, I certainly disagree: The clause was intended to protect individuals from a state-enforced religion — a situation that the founders and their recent ancestors were all too familiar with. The government can include religious aspects, and does, of course, from the 1792 church services in the Capitol to the 2012 religious references in the US Supreme Court and Congress. But it should not force these things.

    The modern anti-Christian groups say it should not even be allowed to offer them — and I think this is folly.

    But if you and I were to travel to certain Middle Eastern countries, you would be tolerated as one of the “people of the Book” and I would be guilty of a crime punishable by death, merely by dint of my philosophy were I foolish enough to speak it aloud, because they do not have freedom of religion. That clause protects you and I both from suffering harm because we don’t agree with the official state religion.

    (I do travel there from time to time, and I am circumspect indeed about such matters. Tunisia and Turkey, for example, have changed substantially, and not for the better, since I was last in those countries five years ago.)

    I’m not aware of any non-theist who would do away with or weaken the freedom of religion clause, and I consider the ability to believe and speak as my conscience dictates — without fear of government reprisal — to be essential, just as you do.

    It is not hypocritical, it seems to me, for non-theists to want this protection the same as theists.


    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • Thanks Keith. I am limited to what I can say here, with the power down and typing on a phone with a dying battery.

      Your assessment of the freedom of religion clause is very fair and I totally agree. I still find it ironic that Dawkin’s appeals to it, or at least complains of discrimination with regards to the very thing he would like to see done away with.

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