I have recently found myself in the public eye, promoting the billboards that have recently gone up across North Carolina for the Fourth of July holiday. It has been interesting and fun talking to the media and the people of North Carolina about what we are doing. As with anything, there are people that love it, people that are indifferent, and people that hate it. I think watching Glenn Beck for so long has made me impervious to the rantings of the ultra-religious and people on the political right.
On Thursday, June 24, I was invited on the Tara Servatius radio show to discuss the billboard that we put up. I had never listened to her show. Hell, I thought she was relegated to the mid-pages of Creative Loafing. I had a few people warn me that she was the local Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Ann Coulter clone and she would be there only to argue. That made me very excited (in a good way), which probably says something about the masochistic nature of my personality.
The interview was what I expected it to be. She asked a lot of questions, changed the subject about 16 times in 10 minutes, then hung up on me in the end before I could thank her for being on her show. None of that bothered me. It actually made me pretty happy that the right-wing media hosts are such a group of clones that you can pretty much predict how any interview they do is going to turn out. What concerned me was the accusation that atheists that are afraid of coming out of the closet are somehow cowards and that since there are laws to protect people who hold certain beliefs (or hold no beliefs), that atheists aren't being discriminated against.
Let me break this down for people. On the first point about closeted atheists being cowards, what is cowardly about people being afraid of losing their families? If someone comes from a religious family or have a religious romantic partner or religious friends, what is so cowardly about fearing the loss of those relationships? The reason that people are afraid to say they are atheists is because the term has been so toxic over time that people automatically associate atheism with the horrors of the world, as if nothing bad has ever been done in the name of religion. When you tell a stranger you are an atheist (which happens in the south because everyone wants to know what church you go to), you either get the “I-will-cry-for-your-soul” look or a rude comment. When you tell friends and family that you are an atheist, you can almost guarantee an argument and the loss of a few relationships.
This is before you get to the work force! There are people that have jobs full of religious people that are allowed to say anything they want about religion. When they are challenged, the work environment becomes very uncomfortable, very fast. The person who challenges the religious could find a new job, but why should they have to? If religious conversation is allowed at work (which it shouldn't be), then an atheist has just as much valuable opinion as the religious people. When the religious make the work environment uncomfortable for the people that don't subscribe to their particular brand of fantasy, then harassment is occurring. Make no mistake, people are fired for their beliefs. When someone comes out as an atheist, then they are put under more scrutiny by those in management that are religious.
This brings me to my second point. Just because there are laws against discrimination doesn't mean it doesn't happen. We have laws against murder, rape, theft and speeding, but it happens every day. The point that Tara Servatius was trying to make about laws protecting beliefs had nothing to do with it actually happening. If someone is harassed at work until they are either forced to quit or are fired, the damage is done. That person no longer has a job. The years of litigation that will ensue aren't going to put food on the table while the case is being settled.
I thought it was interesting when I brought up the case of Cecil Bothwell in Asheville, NC. When I made a point about a case being made against him because he was an atheist and the North Carolina State Constitution says you have to believe in God (thats Yahweh, not just any god), then you can't serve in office. Now, the US Constitution overrides the State Constitution when it comes to issues like this. The fact that the case against Cecil was dropped has nothing to do with the real issue. The case should have never been taken against him because the State Constitution should have never said anything about religion at all! The fact that this language is still in the state constitution is appalling and discriminatory. Imagine if there was language in the State Constitution that said you have to be “White, Male” to serve in public office in North Carolina. It doesn't matter that the US Constitution overrides that State Constitution. What matters is that the language is discriminatory to everyone who is not a white male. You would think that Tara Servatius would be able to understand the danger in that, since she is a woman in a male-dominated field.
Overall, I thought the questions that she asked were extremely juvenile, short-sighted, and bigoted. She said a few times that she didn't care, but she is the one that invited me on the show. If she didn't care, why did it seem to bother her so much? As for the rest of the North Carolina citizens, do a Google News search for our billboard and see how many people care.
The problem that I see with Tara Servatius is that, like most of the right-wing blabber machine, she is uneducated, bigoted, and hateful. She pretends she doesn't care about things that obviously bother the hell out of her. I, as well as the rest of the PR contacts in the North Carolina Secular Association, spent a lot of time preparing and educating ourselves to be able to speak with some degree of intelligence about the issues that the billboard campaign is attempting to raise. I would expect that the people asking the questions would have taken the same amount of care as educating themselves. Most of the press has done this, but when it comes to the WBT noise machine, they simply can't wrap their minds around learning something that is outside of their belief structure, whether its Tara Servatius and her ignorant comments about “victimization” or Keith Larson trying to somehow tie atheism to Socialism, WBT has made themselves clear: they are the station of bigots and liars.
So I would like to say what I was going to say before Tara Servatius hung up on me: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I hope we can do it again one day when you can interview someone without prejudging the subject before you talk to someone, which makes you sound extremely rude and ignorant.