Religion in America: Atheists claim discrimination
The owner of a coffee shop near Birmingham, Ala., has banned members of a secular group for atheists, agnostics, and other questioners from meeting in her cafe. The Universist Movement is claiming Christian persecution, while Cool Beans owner Amy Anderson says she's only trying to maintain order in her business.
In an increasingly religious America, the nonreligious have begun painting themselves as a persecuted minority.
"It's not OK to discriminate on the basis of race or sexual orientation anymore, but it's perfectly valid for someone to say I would never vote for an atheist for president," says Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association.
The problem arose, says Universist Movement founder Ford Vox, when he met with Anderson to discuss holding a gathering at Cool Beans. After she asked what the group believed in, he claims, Anderson said she was not comfortable with it meeting in her cafe because she is Christian.
When asked if she had banned the Universists from meeting because of their non-Christian beliefs, Anderson replied, "That's not exactly true." Later, she called backwith her lawyer presentto explain that store policy is to review any group of 10 or more who want to meet in her cafe, which seats 30. She says she removed the Universists' fliers because she objected to a quote on the flier from a New York Times article that characterized the Universists as "especially feisty and shrewd."
"My first thought was that this is a potential red flagthis group could be disruptive if they met," says Anderson. "Also, the sheer number could be disruptive, regardless of whether they are courteous and good patrons or not."
For their part, the Universists are charging that owner Anderson has changed her story to avoid a discrimination lawsuit and is in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They are organizing a boycott of the coffee shop and are also considering a lunch-counter protest reminiscent of the civil rights era.
"It is dismaying that in 21st-century America, a business owner feels entirely comfortable discriminating against the faithless," says Vox. "We should not be tolerant of people who exercise such intolerance."