Americans: Marry anyone but an atheist

When Americans think of their future in-laws, they approve of nearly every type of person -- except for atheists.

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center aimed to examine political polarization. It asked Americans whether they would be disappointed if a close family member married someone of a different race, country, political party or someone who doesn't believe in God.

Less than 20% of Americans said they would be unhappy if a close family member married someone from the opposite political party and only 11% said they would be upset if that person was of a different race.

But 49% of Americans said they would be disappointed if their family member married an atheist, making nonbelievers by far the most stigmatized group in the survey.

Conservatives overwhelmingly held reservations about secular Americans, with 73% saying they would be less than thrilled if a family member tied the knot with a nonbeliever.

Somewhat surprisingly, liberals also said they were uncomfortable with such a union. Nearly a quarter of Americans who call themselves “consistently liberal” and 41% of “mostly liberal” respondents said they wouldn’t want an atheist to marry into their family.

The poll is the latest evidence of the hard road atheists travel in the United States.

According to separate studies, atheists are more likely to face job discrimination, political pushback and general distrust.

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Discrimination against atheists is “rampant,” said Dave Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, an advocacy organization that fights for the separation of government and religion.

“There is a stigma against atheism because there is so much misinformation about atheists,” Muscato said in an e-mail. “Atheists don't hate your god, we aren't evil, and we're nor immoral; we are simply not convinced that your god exists.”

One of the most common stereotypes about atheists is they are angry white guys, said Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in California who has studied secularism.

The reasons for this animosity toward atheists are multifaceted, he said.

For one, religion has been a major part of American culture since the country was founded, and many Americans continue to associate nonreligiosity with immorality.

Further, thanks to practices such as the Pledge of Allegiance, many Americans associate God and religion with patriotic values and atheism with being un-American.

“There’s a stigma for being anti-black, there’s a stigma for being anti-Jewish, there’s a stigma for being anti-gay,” Zuckerman said. “There has never been a stigma for being anti-atheist.”

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Zuckerman and Muscato said that atheists need to come out of the shadows to gain more mainstream acceptance.

“Pretty much everyone knows at least one person who's an atheist,” Muscato said. “They just may not know it, because the prejudice is so strong that atheists have reasons for not talking about their atheism.”

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