Yesterday, PZ and Amanda both argued that a model for the acceptance of atheists should be the suffragist movement. I think that’s the wrong model: the appropriate model is the mainstreaming of Jews into American society.
Overall, despite an incident in Delaware, Jews have entered mainstream society quite well: if polls are to be believed, we are less likely to be discriminated against electorally than evangelicals (although maybe that’s just a respect for our innate business acumen). But around sixty to seventy years ago, that wasn’t the case. Jews were routinely discriminated against, and it was legal. Anti-Semitic housing covenants were routine, as well as redlining. There were quotas at most universities that allowed only a certain percentage (usually, quite small) of Jews to be admitted. And there was plenty of informal discrimination to boot. So, from a historical perspective, atheists are farther along the curve (this is a good thing–I don’t believe in discrimination).
But here’s some advice about what worked for us Jews; I offer this as someone who really does want atheists to be accepted in U.S. society:
1) Form political organizations to defend atheists. Maybe the Atheist Defense League… nope, that acronym is taken. How about the Atheist Civil Liberties Union….erm. Joking aside, form the organizations, fund them, and when necessary, seek legal redress.
2) Economic integration. Since atheists are disproportionately college-educated, that one is taken care off.
3)Find geographic regions where you will be openly accepted. Once there are regions where being an atheist is accepted (e.g., doesn’t affect your ability to run for office), acceptance will spread.
4) Demand equality, but do so politely. Yes, the Mad Biologist is saying that. And it does contradict what PZ and Amanda are saying. If one demands equality, people will like that. If one tells people how stupid their religious beliefs are, one is feeding into existing prejudices. Does anyone think that Jews weren’t furious when they were told they couldn’t buy a house in a certain neighborhood? Or crudely slandered? Of course we were. Don’t get angry, just sue and work the political system.
For the last thirty years or so, fundamentalists have been telling other people how non-fundamentalists are not good people, and now they are less popular than Jews, and deservedly so, because when you tell people they’re immoral and foolish based on their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), they tend not to like you. Also, keep in mind that the theopolitical conservatives will always oppose you because they hate everybody. Don’t use them as a guidepost of acceptance; you’ll never win them over (their issues have as much to do with authoritarianism as dogma).
Anyway, I offer this with sincerity: my freedom is threatened when atheists are discriminated against and not fully accepted into society.