Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bible Belt Blasphemer

If you're a Southern freethinker, this post is probably going to resonate with you. If you're not a US Southerner or from the US at all, strap in. This post is not an attempt to complain and ask for pity, but to draw attention to the dire need for support from other freethinkers.

I'm North Carolinian. I wasn't born here, but it's been my home for 17 of my nearly 22 years. North Carolina is in the heart of the Bible Belt, a term associated with the American South. The Bible Belt is comprised largely of Protestants, with some exceptions. There's churches everywhere you look, frequent disputes over separation of church and state (especially in public schools), and a high concentration of anti-gay, anti-abortion nut-jobs that justify their hatred with the Bible. Our science scores continue to suffer some of the worst rates in the country. I'm not saying that you can't find situations or people like this anywhere else, but the South is the unofficial headquarters of United States religious bigotry.

Unsurprisingly, the Bible Belt is the area least receptive to freethinkers here in the United States. When I first came out as an atheist in my teens, a few of my peers were convinced I had a black heart that belonged to the devil. I'd have laughed if they didn't take what they said so seriously. Dislike of atheists and other secular individuals is common due to ignorance, and here, outright hatred of atheists is acceptable and sometimes encouraged. 

Secular Southerners are often discriminated against at the legal level. Take North Carolina's State Constitution, for example. The Preamble is "We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings to us and our posterity, do, for the more certain security thereof and for the better government of this State, ordain and establish this Constitution." How can the constitution be all-inclusive if it deliberately leaves freethinkers out? Not all North Carolinians are grateful to the "Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations."

Article VI, Section 8 clearly states that "The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God," even though people being sworn into office are allowed to swear an oath OR the secular equivalent, an affirmation. Most of the other states with constitutions discriminating against freethinkers are Southern, such as Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

The presence of so much religious bigotry here calls for extra reinforcements. There are plenty of freethinkers here in the South, but many of us feel outnumbered and alone. 
We can't put up an atheist billboard without it being vandalized within a couple days, much to the delight of other local residents. Our complaints typically go ignored by our peers and state officials. No one wants to help "those atheists." When even our leaders won't help us, it's hard to feel like we have any power. I encourage my fellow Southern secularists and secularists everywhere to speak out against the injustices that occur here. We need it desperately. 

The South has never been known to be a leader in social progress; it's known for being the most resistant to comply. Using religion to subjugate others was unacceptable when we held slaves, it's unacceptable when it's used to deny rights to women and the LGBT community, and it's unacceptable when it's used to deny rights to anyone who isn't Christian. 

I'm a Freethinking Female, a Secular Southerner, a Bible Belt Blasphemer - and proud. Let's fight these injustices, together.