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Freethought Today · Vol. 23 No. 3 April 2006

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Study: Atheists Most Discriminated Minority

America's increasing acceptance of religious diversity does not extend to atheists, according to a national survey released in late March by the University of Minnesota's department of sociology.

A telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups as not sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry into.

"Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public," said the release

Attitudes toward atheists "offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years," says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study's lead researcher.

Edgell contends today's atheists fill a stereotype that was formerly attributed to Catholics, Jews or communists as a "symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society."

Many respondents in the study associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism. Edgell said many Americans feel atheists do not share "an understanding of right and wrong."

"Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good."

The more educated Americans are, the more they accept atheists, although there was less acceptance by educated Midwesterners.

The study refers to atheists as only three percent of the population, although the definitive American Religious Identification Survey by City University of New York finds the "nonreligious" at a sizeable 14% to be the fastest-growing segment.

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