Image via RNS/Reuters/Stephanie Keith

About 40 percent of Americans say atheists “do not at all agree” with their vision of America, according to a new study from sociologists at the University of Minnesota who compared Americans’ perceptions of minority faith and racial groups.

But the study marks a grimmer milestone — Americans’ disapproval of Muslims has jumped to 45.5 percent from just over 26 percent 10 years ago, the last time the question was asked.

And “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation, but may also have spiritual or religious beliefs — are also unpopular. This is significant because nones now make up one-third of the U.S. population.

Photo via REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi / RNS

Then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee, right, after signing Rhode Island’s Marriage Equality Act. Photo via REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi / RNS

Add one more to the table of Democratic contenders for president in 2016. On June 3 Lincoln Chafee, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat who served as both governor and senator of Rhode Island, announced he is in the running. Here are five faith facts about this very dark horse (who used to horseshoe for a living).

1. He’s Episcopalian.

Chafee was raised in the church and his positions on many of the issues largely mirror that of many Episcopalians, one of the more liberal Christian denominations. Chafee supports marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research, and reproductive choice for women, and he opposes the death penalty.

Photo via Tyrone Turner / RNS

Thousands of atheists and unbelievers gather on the National Mall for the 2013 Reason Rally. Photo via Tyrone Turner / RNS

As the 2016 election approaches, atheist, humanist, and other freethinking activists are encouraged. They say their longtime goal of creating a cohesive and formidable secular voting bloc from the diverse and scattered category of the nonreligious has taken new life from the study — and could carry them far if they use the data wisely.

“It is going to translate into a lot of political clout and social acceptance if we manage this correctly,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, photographed at the Neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute. Photo courtesy of AEI/RNS.

A campus appearance by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken Muslim-turned-atheist activist, is being challenged again, this time at Yale University where she is scheduled to speak Sept. 15.

While her previous campus critics have included members of religious groups, especially Muslims, this time the critics include Ali’s fellow ex-Muslims and atheists.

“We do not believe Ayaan Hirsi Ali represents the totality of the ex-Muslim experience,” members of Yale Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics posted on Facebook Sept. 12. “Although we acknowledge the value of her story, we do not endorse her blanket statements on all Muslims and Islam.”

Those statements include calling Islam “the new fascism” and “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” She has called for the closing of Muslim schools in the West, where she settled after immigrating from her native Somalia, and is a vocal advocate for the rights of women and girls in Islam.

New Pew Research Center study had Americans rate religious groups. Image courtesy Bill Webster, via Pew Research Center.

A new Pew Research survey finds U.S. adults feel most warmly about people who share their religion or those they know as family, friends or co-workers.

Americans give their highest scores to Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals on a zero-to-100 “thermometer” featured in the survey, “How Americans Feel about Religious Groups,” released Wednesday. They’re nestled within a few degrees of each other: Jews, 63; Catholics, 62; evangelicals, 61.

In the middle of the chart: Buddhists, 53; Hindus, 50; Mormons, 48. Trending to the chilly negative zone: atheists at 41 and Muslims at 40.

Pew took the thermal reading because “understanding the question of how religious groups view each other is valuable in a country where religion plays an important role in public life,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research.

Joe Kay 03-10-2014
Girl in a bookstore,  LIUSHENGFILM /

Girl in a bookstore, LIUSHENGFILM /

A few years ago, I was browsing a bookstore and wound up in the “Spirituality” section. While scanning the titles, I noticed something that struck me as ironic and funny.

At one end of a shelf was a book by an ardent and dogmatic atheist. At the other end of the same shelf was a book by an ardent and dogmatic fundamentalist.

Two books, same shelf.

And in many significant ways, two peas in the same pod, no?

The atheist and the fundamentalist needed each other as foils to sell their books and make a lot of money. They both had a vision of life that was black-and-white. Both thought they had infallible answers to life’s biggest questions.

Matching bookends indeed.

Don’t most of us live somewhere in-between?

A cross formed from a fallen steel I-beam at the former World Trade Center towers. Photo by John Munson/The Star-Ledger. Via RNS

Atheists are challenging plans to include a 17-foot, cross-shaped beam that became a famous symbol of Ground Zero after 9/11 in a display at the national memorial museum that is scheduled to open this spring.

In arguments before the the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, American Atheists’ lawyer Edwin Kagin said the cross should go back to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where it spent some time on display, not in a museum built with a mix of public and private funds.

Last year, a lower court rejected a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the New Jersey-based American Atheists that said the cross was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

In his appeal, Kagin said his organization is seeking a similar object to be displayed at the museum, something like a plaque that would say “atheists died here, too.”

Ken Chitwood 10-02-2013
Photo courtesy of RNS

Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal preacher, came to be an atheist while still preaching in the pulpit. Photo courtesy of RNS

By definition, skeptics are pretty skeptical. They question what they see as unfounded claims or dubious motivations, whatever the source. Now, they are questioning some of their own leaders.

With the success of organizations such as The Clergy Project — an online community seeking to provide a safe place for clergy members who reject supernatural beliefs — numerous former ministers are joining the ranks of the publicly nontheistic.

Some have risen to the leadership of prominent atheist organizations. Last week, Teresa MacBain was dismissed from her high-profile position at Harvard University’s Humanist Community after it was revealed she inflated her resume. The former United Methodist pastor claimed a degree from Duke Divinity School she did not have.

“Our society needs so much and thriving secular communities could make significant contributions, ” wrote Donald Wright, author and organizer of the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers, on Freethought Blogs. But, he added, “My unsolicited advice is to be skeptical of this new wave of leadership.”

Stephen Mattson 09-26-2013
Religion survey box, alexmillos /

Religion survey box, alexmillos /

There is an old Christian hymn that has the lyrics "They'll know we are Christians by our love." It was written in the late 60s and was inspired by the Bible verse John 13:35, where Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV) 

Really? We're supposed to be able to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians? And the difference is love?! 

In reality, it's not nearly that simple, and the fact is, there’s no visible difference. 

If you were to go to the grocery store, a football game, the gym, a school, or your work, there would be no obvious way of identifying — through actions — who is a Christian and who isn't, and we should be careful not to judge. 

Some of the kindest, nicest, authentic, and wonderful people I know don't believe in Jesus. Contrarily, there are some horrible, mean, and downright disgusting Christians.

A 2013 survey from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Photo

A 2013 survey from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Photo via RNS/Tanenbaum Center.

The American workplace, like the rest of U.S. society, is becoming more religiously diverse and that is raising concerns about employer accommodations for believers — and increasing the odds for uncomfortable moments around the water cooler.

Yet one potential flashpoint among workers does not involve new immigrant faiths but rather two indigenous communities: white evangelicals and unaffiliated Americans who constitute one of the fastest-growing segments of the population.

A major factor contributing to workplace conflict, according to a survey released on Friday, is that evangelicals — whose religious identity is tied to sharing their beliefs — are much more likely to talk about their faith at work than other religious and nonreligious groups.

An international consortium of nonbelievers is planning rallies Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates to demand the release of several Bangladeshi bloggers who were arrested on charges of blasphemy.

The rallies are in support of four Bangladeshi men arrested earlier this month for “hurting religious sentiments,” a crime tied to an 1860 law that can carry up to 10 years in jail.

The four men — all bloggers — staged a sit-in at a public square demanding a ban on the country’s largest Islamic political party; Islam is the official state religion in Bangladesh.

What would an “atheist Lent” look like? A group of young nonbelievers are finding out, observing the Christian practice minus its religious context.

They have given up alcohol, animal products, and various Internet and cellphone interactions. One has vowed to make a daily Lenten practice of telling those he encounters how important they are to him.

But their observance of the 40-day period in which many Christians abstain from worldly desires in a bid to come closer to God has upset some atheists who say borrowing religious traditions is antithetical to nontheism.

The exercise has also illustrated a divide in the nontheist community –  between older atheists who see religion as inherently evil and younger atheists who are more open to interactions with religious belief.

Photo: Marriage license, © MNStudio /

Photo: Marriage license, © MNStudio /

A federal court in Indiana has rejected atheists' requests to preside at wedding ceremonies, saying only clergy or public officials are licensed to solemnize marriages.

A lawsuit filed by the Indiana chapter of the Center for Inquiry argued that an Indiana law that requires marriages to be “solemnized” — made official by signing a marriage license — only by clergy, judges, mayors or local government clerks violates the Constitution.

But Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled on Nov. 30 that marriage has religious roots. Therefore, government regulation of marriage is an act of religious accommodation — not endorsement — and protected by the Constitution.

Sandi Villarreal 10-09-2012
Traditional worship space, Christy Thompson /

Traditional worship space, Christy Thompson /

One-in-five adults in the United States — and a third of adults under 30 — say they have no religious affiliation. The numbers are out in a new report called “’Nones’ on the Rise,” put out by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That 20 percent of the population is up from 15 percent just five years ago.

But while our church membership rolls may be shrinking, “unaffiliated doesn’t necessarily mean wholly secular,” said senior researcher Cary Funk at the Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday. 

In fact, two-thirds of the 46 million Americans self-identifying as having no religion also say they believe in God. And 21 percent of them say they pray every day. A large portion of this group — 37 percent — say they consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”

The increase in disaffiliation goes hand-in-hand with an overall lack of trust in American institutions across the board, from the government to the news media, and now, to our houses of worship.

The “nones” overwhelmingly say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power, and 67 percent say they both focus too much on rules and are too involved in politics. 

Steve Strunsky 08-21-2012
Photo: Steel cross at the 9/11 site. Shawn Kashou /

Photo: Steel cross at the 9/11 site. Shawn Kashou /

A lawsuit that was filed by the group American Atheists to keep a revered cross out of the National September 11 Museum is being challenged by a conservative law firm that defends the public display of religious symbols.

The American Center for Law and Justice filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Monday on behalf of the suit’s two defendants, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site.

“The legal arguments of the atheist organization are both offensive and absurd,” the center’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement. He said 190,000 people had signed a petition opposing the lawsuit.

Losing faith illustration, Stuart Miles /

Losing faith illustration, Stuart Miles /

Religiosity is on the decline in the U.S. and atheism is on the rise, according to a new worldwide poll.

The poll, called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” found that the number of Americans who say they are "religious" dropped from 73 percent in 2005 (the last time the poll was conducted) to 60 percent.

At the same time, the number of Americans who say they are atheists rose, from 1 percent to 5 percent.

The poll was conducted by WIN-Gallup International and is based on interviews with 50,000 people from 57 countries and five continents. Participants were asked, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?”

The seven years between the polls is notable because 2005 saw the publication of The End of Faith by Sam Harris, the first in a wave of best-selling books on atheism by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and other so-called “New Atheists.”

Baseball stadium photo, Margie Hurwich /

Baseball stadium photo, Margie Hurwich /

For one hot August night, the St. Paul Saints, a Minnesota minor league baseball team, will become the “Mr. Paul Aints” in a game sponsored by a local atheist group.

Dubbed “A Night of Unbelievable Fun,” the Aug. 10 game against the Amarillo Sox will include an auction of players’ special “Aints” jerseys, fireworks and a ceremonial first pitch by David Silverman, president of American Atheists.

The letter “S” in all Saints signs and logos around the stadium will be covered, and there are planned references to Big Foot, UFOs, and other targets of the skeptical community, team officials said.

Sexual Harassment definition image, Todd Taulman /

Sexual Harassment definition image, Todd Taulman /

Nontheists — both male and female — have shared stories of unwanted sexual attention at nontheist gatherings, including propositions for sex and unwelcome touching. Chatter has ranged from calls for more women to attend nontheist events to personal attacks on prominent female skeptics for discussing harassment. Meanwhile, two more skeptic/feminist bloggers announced they will not attend TAM.

The debate has had two major impacts — a call for cooler tempers and the immediate implementation of sexual harassment policies by all of the major nontheist organizations, both national and regional.

No one is suggesting that all nontheist events are unsafe for women. But the controversy has members of the nontheist community, which prides itself on its embrace of rational thinking, asking whether they have a sexual harassment problem. And if so, what should be done? 

Al Webb 03-09-2012
London photo, S.Borisov,

London photo, S.Borisov,

LONDON — Christianity is waning in England and could be outnumbered by nonbelievers within 20 years, according to a new study.

The study conducted by the British Parliament showed there were 41 million Christians in Britain, down nearly 8 percent since 2004. Meanwhile, the number of nonbelievers stood at 13.4 million, up 49 percent over the same period.

Researchers at the House of Commons Library concluded that Christianity had declined to 69 percent of the population while those with no religion increased to 22 percent.

"If these populations continue to shrink and grow by the same number of people each year," the study said, "the number of people with no religion will overtake the number of Christians in Great Britain in 20 years."

Annalisa Musarra 02-12-2012
U.S. Dept of the Air Force seal. Image via Wiki Commons,

Seal of the U.S. Dept of the Air Force. Image via Wiki Commons,

Dozens of members of Congress are upset that the Air Force has removed the Latin word for "God" from the logo of an Air Force acquisitions office.

Led by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, 36 lawmakers Monday (Feb. 6) sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz objecting to the removal of "God" from the logo of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO).

The logo was recently removed, according to Forbes, after objections by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.