Mar 232011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

As an American white male in my late 20s, I am a member of the most privileged demographic possible. I can’t say that I’ve ever faced anything that could be considered real discrimination, and for that I feel very fortunate.

However, since I don’t identify with any particular religious group, I’m also a member of the most under-represented minority in the U.S. today.

According to Pew research, “the greatest disparity between the religious makeup of Congress and the people it represents is in the percentage of the unaffiliated –– those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular.’”

This is based on the fact that not a single member of Congress identifies as non-religious, unaffiliated, agnostic or atheist.

While the exact number of “atheists, agnostics, non-religious, secular unaffiliated and religious unaffiliated” people in the U.S. is difficult to accurately gauge, most estimates suggest that roughly one in six Americans, or about 16 percent of the population, falls under this category.

This means that one in six Americans have absolutely zero representation from their government. I might not be so inclined to care if religion wasn’t such a dominant factor in the public discourse.
Colorado is actually much higher in this regard, with about 25 percent of the population self-identifying as non-religious or unaffiliated. This “religious group” by the way, just so happens to be the fastest-growing group in America today.

I’m willing to bet that many of the so-called “agnostics” and “unaffiliated” are actually closeted atheists scared to use the term. In certain situations, I prefer to use the euphemism “Secular Humanist” as opposed to dealing with the potential pitfalls of labeling myself an atheist.

There are countless misperceptions that exist concerning the non-religious that illustrate why a lot of us prefer to avoid the term.

According to research conducted by the University of Minnesota, atheists “are more distrusted and despised than any other minority and an atheist is the least likely person that Americans would vote for in a presidential election.”

Seriously? That kind of hurts my feelings, America.

Wait, though. It gets worse. Their research also found that “atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.”


It’s not getting any better, either. “Our analysis shows that attitudes about atheists have not followed the same historical pattern as that for previously marginalized religious groups,” said Penny Edgell, head researcher for the University of Minnesota study. “Every group except atheists is being shown much greater tolerance and acceptance than 30 years ago.”

Obviously, discrimination against any minority is a major problem that should be addressed. I just can’t help but wonder where all of this fear, hatred and mistrust of the non-religious comes from.
Many of the participants in the University of Minnesota’s research associated atheism with illegal behaviors such as drug use and prostitution and “immoral people who threaten respectable community from the lower end of the social hierarchy.”

Atheists are not only remarkably under-represented in politics, but ironically, they’re also lagging far behind in the makeup of the prison population.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the most recent data shows that only two-tenths of one percent of inmates are atheists. When you consider that more than 39 percent of inmates are Catholic, 35 percent Protestant and seven percent Muslim, the atheists appear downright saintly by comparison.

The common argument is that without the fear of God’s reprisal in the afterlife, there’s no incentive to be a moral, law-abiding person during one’s life.

To counter this line of reasoning, I’ll leave you with the words of Plato: “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”

Joe Vajgrt is a junior journalism major who wonders where he’s going and why he’s in this hand basket. His column appears every Thursday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

 Posted by at 2:36 pm

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