By Evan McMurry|AlterNet
After decades in the doghouse, non-believers may finally be enjoying a resurgence. A new PEW poll found the number of Americans identifying as atheists has more than doubled in the past few years, while those describing themselves as religiously unaffiliated are expected to grow to a quarter of the U.S. population by 2050. All this is matched by a decline in Americans, especially young ones, identifying as Christians.
With a bit more strength in numbers, non-believers are more boldly challenging conservative Christianity’s encroachment on U.S. law. And organized religion has handed them a weapon: Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, recently made infamous by Indiana and Arkansas. The acts are intended to protect Christians from serving gay couples and other potential nightmares, but conservative lawmakers may have overplayed their hand, passing laws that enshrine access to atheists, Satanists, Wiccans and others.
As one Wiccan leader recently said, “I think these bills are horrible, but if they are going to open up this can of worms, we are going to shove it right in their face.” Atheists (and Satanists and Wiccans) across the country are doing just that.
Michael Newdow, who unsuccessfully sued in 2005 to have “under god” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance at his daughter’s school, got new inspiration from the recent rash of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. RFRAs prohibit the government from substantially burdening religion without a compelling interest, which supporters see as protecting pious Christians against substantially burdensome homosexual wedding cakes.
But Newdow argues it applies just as much to atheists, who are forced to handle money bearing “In God We Trust, “ which they certainly don’t.
“Imagine if Christians had to carry on their body something they disagree with religiously, like ‘Jesus is a lie’ — how long do you think that would stand?” Newdow told ThinkProgress. “But atheists are so denigrated in this society that people accept this without a second thought.”
“Under god” and “In god we trust” were both added during the midcentury red scare to ward off godless communists who apparently were thought to have a vampire/garlic relationship with deistic invocations. (“In god we trust” has actually existed on money since the Civil War, but became the nation’s motto in 1956.) Until now, challenges to the two phrases were made under the Establishment Clause; the arguments haven’t impressed judges, who don’t find the inclusion of “god” to be establishing a particular religion.