Let's be clear. It's not like it's easy to be an atheist anywhere in the U.S. Atheists are the most distrusted and disliked of all minority groups -- more than Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, and gays and lesbians -- and polls show that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist than they are for a person in any other minority or marginalized category. And this hostility can have serious consequences, in the form of harassment, bullying, ostracism, vandalism, alienation from family, loss of jobs, and more.
But to be honest, there are parts of the country where being an atheist really isn't all that awful. Heck, I live in one of them. There's some bigotry, some discrimination, a fair amount of misunderstanding and even hostility... but all things considered, it's pretty okay. And then, there are some parts of the country where being an atheist sucks.
Let's talk about a few of those, shall we?
Now, to a great extent, how badly it sucks to be an atheist may not depend on the state you live in. It's sort of like the red-state/ blue state myth: cultural differences in the United States break down more along urban/ rural lines than they do along state lines. Is it easier to be an atheist in New York than in Texas? Maybe... but it may also be easier if you're in Austin, Texas than if you're in rural upstate New York.
Many atheist and secularist leaders I spoke to stressed this point. According to Fred Edwords, National Director of the United Coalition of Reason (the organization responsible for many of the atheist billboard campaigns), "As for the worst states to be an atheist, it doesn't generally work that way. It depends on what part of a state you are in." In fact, he's not even sure that this difference always breaks down along urban/ rural lines. "Is the key idea that the more rural areas give us the most trouble?" he asked. "Maybe. But we had bus ads vandalized in Detroit, too." And he added that in Kentucky, "we had no problem in Louisville, but I still can't get a billboard company to run our ads in supposedly more liberal Lexington." And according to the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State "No state is really safe for non-believers. You find creationist ideas in schools from Louisiana to New Jersey. You find efforts to send secular tax dollars to religious schools in Indiana and Florida. And, finally, you find polls done of all Americans demonstrating that plenty of families don't want their sons or daughters marrying atheists. There are many sad states of affairs."
So the point here isn't to show that some states suck for atheists worse than others. The point is to show that anti-atheist bigotry is real. The point is to show that it has real-world consequences. And the point is to let you know what some of those consequences are.
So with all that being said -- let's get on with the list! If you're finishing your degree in secular studies and are trying to decide where in the country you want to plant your godless stakes... here are some places you might want to avoid.
Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 10 Scariest States to Be an Atheist. To find out... well, which are the ten scariest states to be an atheist -- and no, they're not all in the deep South -- read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!