Mississippi Rep. Palazzo Rejects Church-State Separation

English: Official portrait of Steven Palazzo
Official portrait of Steven Palazzo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Among the ways in which we atheists, humanists, skeptics, and secular individuals need to change Mississippi, one of the most obvious might be strengthening the separation of church and state. We deserve nothing less than a truly secular government (i.e., a government that remains neutral on matters of religion). It is bad enough that we are surrounded by the evangelical fundamentalist Christianity that pervades our culture; we cannot permit our government to promote it.

The gap between the situation we desire and where we are currently was recently illustrated in dramatic fashion by Rep. Steven Palazzo's (R-MS) poor decision to send a Christian bible to every member of Congress along with a letter in which he suggested it would "help guide you in your decision-making."

Perhaps this was little more than pandering. Rep. Palazzo likely knew that the media would pay attention, spreading news of his poor judgment to his Southern Baptist constituents. He certainly knew that many of them would be thrilled with this action. Bending - or even breaking - laws to expand one's political power is not exactly new. In some ways, it may even be better than the alternative explanation.


Facilitating Secular Activism in Mississippi

New Orleans Mardi Gras night in the tourist se...
New Orleans Mardi Gras night in the tourist section of Bourbon Street: Fundamentalist Christian protesters carry signs and shout damnations in crowd of more secular revelers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is easy to talk about the need to change certain aspects of Mississippi's culture; it is much harder to put together specific examples of how we might go about doing that. In this post, I am going to offer one suggestion for something I believe we should put in place to fuel secular activism in Mississippi now and in the future.

I cannot count the number of times that some sort of church-state violation or other overreach by the fundamentalist Christian majority has taken place in our state without many of us knowing about it until it was too late to do anything. In many of these cases, I suspect that we might have been able to make a difference through organized secular activism (e.g., spreading the word through social media, launching online petitions, contacting elected officials to complain, writing letters to the editor of our local newspapers, alerting national secular organizations that might take an interest, picketing). But we can't do any of these things when we are unaware of the need for them in the first place. We need a centralized, statewide system for distributing relevant action alerts.


Changing Mississippi

St. Paul, Minnesota May 6, 2010 Humanists, ath...
St. Paul, Minnesota May 6, 2010 Humanists, atheists and agnostics held this event in support of the separation of church and state. and as a protest to the government endorsed National Day of Prayer. Fibonacci Blue 2010-05-06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here in Mississippi, it often seems that we are surrounded by church-state violations. And yet, many of us are reluctant to engage in secular activism. We are constantly bombarded with unwelcome proselytizing from evangelical fundamentalist Christians, but we rarely speak out against it. Our environment is so thoroughly saturated with Christian privilege that it often feels as oppressive as the humidity in late July; however, most of us have invested little if any effort in changing this toxic aspect of our culture.

It is perfectly understandable that we would be reluctant to speak out and to work toward change; this is risky. We worry that engaging in secular activism, identifying ourselves as atheists, or working to change Christian privilege would bring unwelcome consequences. We might lose our jobs, or friends, or even our families. Sadly, these concerns are not as exaggerated as they might appear. After all, this is Mississippi we're talking about.


Mississippi Has Highest Rate of Vaccination

Peacock flower

We may not have much in Mississippi that we can take pride in when we compare ourselves to the rest of the U.S. We are used to scoring at or near the bottom on all sorts of measures of positive indicators (e.g., education) and at or near the top on many of the bad ones (e.g., poverty, infant mortality, obesity). But we do have something in which we should take pride and be prepared to defend against those who would threaten it.

According to Newsweek,
Today, Mississippi has the highest rate of vaccination in the U.S., with 99.9 percent of kindergartners receiving their MMR.


Hide Your Atheism From Potential Employers

Resume Design
Resume Design (Photo credit: CharlotWest)
A recent study published in Social Currents by Wallace, Wright, and Hyde (2014) explored the relationship of religious affiliation and hiring discrimination in the South. The researches sent fake resumes to employers who had posted job ads in the South. The resumes were identical except for the expressed religious identity, which the researchers varied. They found that resumes expressing any religious identity were 26% less likely to receive a response and that identifying oneself as a Muslim, atheist, or pagan brought the least positive responses.

The study was a fascinating read, particularly the researchers' use of many theories to interpret their results. But for atheists applying for work in the South, the take-home message is simple: do not put anything on your resume that could lead to you being identified as an atheist.

Your work with the Secular Student Alliance in college? Don't include it. The volunteer work you did with the local humanist group? Make sure it isn't on your resume. Such indicators are likely to do more harm than good.
Atheists also faced considerable discrimination from employers...They received 49% fewer e-mails and 43% fewer phone calls than the controls.
Employment discrimination against atheists, as well as others who are not Evangelical Protestants or Jews, appears to be part of our reality.

H/T to The Jewish Daily Forward

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