According to a 2012 poll, whether secular Americans faced discrimination had little to do with whether or not they were atheists or agnostics, though, but instead whether they identified as such. About 40 percent of self-identified atheists and agnostics reported being targets of prejudice, compared to only one in five nonreligious Americans—a ratio which almost perfectly mirrors the percentage of believers in the study who reported feeling discriminated against for their beliefs. The poll didn’t give any specific examples, other than to note that most of the discrimination happened in a social or familial context. In fact, apart from this study and the collected anecdotes in “Openly Secular,” I couldn’t find much to document what anti-atheist discrimination looked like on the ground.
In my years as an atheist writer, blogger, and campus leader, I’ve talked to a lot of atheists about their experiences, and it seems that the most common instances of discrimination were for the most part mundane—passive aggressive comments from parents, a rude taxi driver, strained friendships, awkward moments of public prayer, and so on.
Not to minimize the harm these situations cause, but it’s a stretch to see a major breach of civil equality there. For those who’ve faced worse—troubles from school administration, seriously negative responses from family members, the bullying Joni’s children received—there seems to be a relatively narrow set of circumstances in common: ex-Muslim families, the tight religious connection in black communities, rural areas where there’s a church every half-mile, religious colleges, and so on.