The nationally representative 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found that 41% of self-identified atheists reported experiencing discrimination in the last 5 years due to their lack of religious identification.  This mixed-method study explored the forms and frequency of discrimination reported by 796 self-identified atheists living in the United States.  Participants reported experiencing different types of discrimination to varying degrees, including slander; coercion; social ostracism; denial of opportunities, goods, and services; and hate crime.  Similar to other minority groups with concealable stigmatized identities, atheists who more strongly identified with their atheism, who were “out” about their atheism to more people, and who grew up with stricter familial religious expectations reported experiencing more frequent discrimination.  Implications for future research tied to the ongoing religion/spirituality-health debate are discussed.


  • IntroductionRacial/ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities, among other marginalized groups, continue to report experiencing discrimination (Sue & Sue, 2008)

  • Social acceptance of minority groups is often a struggle in U.S culture

  • While our sample was somewhat different than the sample of atheists assessed in the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) in terms of gender (76.3% male in ARIS; 55.8% in our sample), our sample was similar across race (73.4% white in ARIS; 82.9% in our sample), education (13% graduate degree in ARIS; 24% in our sample), income (24.8% earn more than $75,000 per year in ARIS; 33.7% in our sample), region (24.5% live in the Northeast, 18% live in the Midwest, 32.1% in the South, and 25.4% in the West in ARIS; 14.8%, 22.5%, 32.3%, and 24.4% respectively in our sample), and community size (33.3% live in rural areas in ARIS; 29.6% of our sample)

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Racial/ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities, among other marginalized groups, continue to report experiencing discrimination (Sue & Sue, 2008). Differential treatment is the unequal treatment of individuals because of their perceived minority group membership, while disparate impact results when ostensibly equal treatment results in the favoring of members of one group over another (e.g., a nation-wide flat tax rate of 14% applied to working poor and billionaires alike). Sue et al (2008) present a typology of discrimination which includes microassaults (blatant derogation; e.g., racial slurs), microinsults (statements or actions, often unintentional, that demean minority group members; e.g., telling an Asian American man that he “speaks good English”), and microinvalidations (actions that negate the thoughts, feelings, or experiences of minority group members; e.g., assuming all Black individuals were raised in urban areas). Other scholars have further distinguished between overt versus covert discrimination (e.g., Sue et al, 2008); routine discrimination versus discrimination associated with major life events (Essed, 1990, 1991); and discrimination at the individual, institutional, and structural levels (Pincus, 1996)


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