Bill Maher: Atheism Is “The New Gay Marriage” When It Comes To Civil Rights

MaherNow that gays have gone and gotten their civil rights, the next great social battle of our time is for… atheist equality? That’s what Bill Maher, the popular talk show host and misanthrope, told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman.

Talking about “the Jesus freaks who are the majority of this country,” Maher explained to Waxman that he would never be able to run for political office, due to his disbelief in god, among other things. He noted that there are no open atheists in Congress, adding, “They’re out there. They’re thinking it. They’re just afraid to say it. But that’s changing. It’ll be the new gay marriage.”

Last month, openly gay former politician Barney Frank (D-MA) announced that does not believe in god on Maher’s show. Frank never acknowledged his atheism during his 32 years in Congress, however. The last openly atheistic member of Congress was Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), who was voted out of office in November 2012.

We understand the point that Maher is trying to make here. Atheists, who number at least 15 percent of the population, are grossly underrepresented in government. And while we are sympathetic to any marginalized group, we find Maher’s logic to be flawed.  Queer people are excluded from rights afforded to straight-identified people across all levels of society. Atheists, on the other hand, generally enjoy the same legal rights as religious people — except for in seven southern states that impose unconstitutional limitations on atheists holding office. The fight facing non-believers, for the most part, is one of changing attitudes, not laws..

Before we can talk about the next great civil rights movement of our time, let’s first finish the ones we’ve already started. Bill Maher, a wealthy and powerful straight white man, will have to check his oppression at the door in the meantime.

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  • Thedrdonna

    Hey Bill, feel free to continue on this path once we’ve fixed racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and income inequality. You know who has a lot of trouble running for political office? The poor.

  • sportsguy1983

    This shows what a complete and utter IDIOT he is. Comparing legal recognition of gay marriage to the general public being adverse to voting for an atheist? Really? No one is stopping atheist from running for political office unlike stopping gay people from marrying. He seems to think atheist are entitled to win elections.

  • 2eo

    @sportsguy1983: Actually you are the IDIOT, as well as a cretin.

    We Atheists, the only group it is okay and completely condoned to attack constantly in mainstream and cult media, speaking as a very proud gay man who is also a “New Atheist” I have being attacked more, and openly for being an Atheist than being a homosexual. This is repeated through all western hemisphere countries.

  • jwrappaport

    I am troubled by several misconceptions Bill seems to have:

    1. There is no general constitutional right to hold public office. It is surprising how many people think otherwise, and I defy them to prove me wrong.

    2. I can think of no legal rights that are enjoyed by believers that cannot be enjoyed by non-believers (Editors: Bill, like most of us atheists, is almost certainly not a “disbeliever,” but a “non-believer.” There is a very important distinction.)

    3. Non-believers have a substantial body of law to vindicate their interests and fight religious intrusion: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the entire corpus of valid Establishment Clause cases, just to name two sources.

    Like Bill, I am also weary of the moralizing of the faithful and the constant (and dangerous) intrusion of Bronze Age superstition into our government and our children’s education, but this isn’t the fight for gay rights. In the vast majority of states, we are not only denied basic rights that our straight countrymen enjoy, but also we have literally no existing source of law with which to conclusively challenge those denials. In so many words, play the world’s tiniest effing violin for Bill.

  • MikeE

    Bill Maher not only doesn’t believe in God, he also does not believe in vaccines.
    Yes, this man who SEEMS so rational, is actually a fu**ing moron who promotes NOT vaccinating your kids.

    he’s a great supporter of the anti-vaccine movement.

    So being an atheist doesn’t preclude you also being an idiot, it would seem.

  • sportsguy1983

    I’m playing the world’s smallest violin for you 2eo. I am sure you have never “attacked” a gay republican. I’ve seen your comments. Want someone to respect your beliefs that aren’t held by the vast majority of Americans then don’t be a blatant hypocrite towards those you dislike.

  • GreatGatsby2011

    @sportsguy1983: Granted, he chose a really stupid example.
    But there is real discrimination against atheists. Specifically, about 7 states currently have laws on the books that bar anyone who doesn’t believe in a “supreme being” from holding political office. So even if an atheist could garner the votes necessary to win a congressional seat in, ohhh say, Maryland they would be disqualified, because Article 37 of the Maryland constitution states “That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.”
    So there IS an issue of discrimination against atheists (at least at the state level in some states), just not in the example Mr. Maher used. What Mr. Maher is describing is underrepresentation which is another matter entirely.

  • Badger88

    I find it offensive that Bill Maher is equating an intrinsic, unchangeable trait like homosexuality, with a chosen, changeable belief like atheism (or religion). A little while ago, Maher also said that legalizing marijuana would be the “next gay marriage.”

    His attitude demeans the importance of the marriage equality movement. He acts like it’s just another political issue.

  • Badger88

    @GreatGatsby2011: If these religious tests were ever enforced, and a victorious atheist candidate was denied office, it would be struck down by the Supreme Court, even the conservative one we have now.
    The Constitution clearly says that no religious test can be imposed as a criteria for public office, and under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Constitution is incorporated on the states.
    But since these laws aren’t ever enforced and are just on the books for show, there’s never been a case where the Supreme Court has had a chance to strike them down.

  • Badger88

    @2eo: Based on how you act on Queerty, I’m guessing those people aren’t “attacking” you because you’re an atheist, but because you’re an asshole towards those who aren’t atheists.

  • jwrappaport

    @Badger88: Boom. Beat me to it. Religious tests are unconstitutional.

  • sportsguy1983

    In the early 1960s, Roy Torcaso was appointed by the Governor of Maryland to the position of Notary Public. When the time came for him to actually assume his duties, he was denied his commission and had his appointment rescinded because he refused to declare his belief in God.

    Article 37 of Maryland’s Declaration of Rights stated:

    “[N]o religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God. ”

    Torcaso filed suit in state court because he felt the test unfairly penalized him for not believing in God.

    In a unanimous decision in 1961, the Supreme Court ruled that Maryland’s religious test violated Torcaso’s religious freedom.

    In his majority opinion, Justice Black stated that the need to protect people from taking religious test oaths was what led to the creation of Article 37 of the Constitution:

    “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    This was soon followed by the First Amendment which further guaranteed basic religious liberties:

    “We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”

    The state tried to argue that they did not actually force anyone to profess a particular religious belief because no one was compelled to hold a public office – such positions are entirely voluntary. The Court responded that no citizen should be asked to sacrifice constitutional liberties simply to hold a public office.

    Laws may be on the book, but that doesn’t mean they are enforceable. There is a HUGE difference between government restricting you from winning a political election and the electorate saying they don’t want non-religious or anti-religious people from holding office. The voters can be as “discriminatory” as they want to be.

  • Badger88

    @sportsguy1983: Exactly. Even when the Supreme Court struck down the anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, those laws still stayed on the books; they were just unenforceable. Hell, it took Alabama until 2000 to repeal its constitutional ban on interracial marriage, even though the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage nationwide in 1967.

    In short, just because a discriminatory law is on the books doesn’t mean that somebody is actually being subject to discrimination.

  • andy_d

    @jwrappaport: I concur.

  • blueshirt409

    I’m really disappointed in some of the opinions expressed here. If we had to wait for one civil rights issue to be resolved before taking up another, LGBT civil rights would still be waiting for issues of discrimination based on gender, national origin, race, and religion to be resolved. Oh, and since atheism falls under the umbrella of religion (as a lack thereof), atheism would be taken up first.

    I served in the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I told several of my friends I was gay, but I kept my atheism a closely guarded secret. The one friend whom I told, and who did not bat an eyelash when I came out as gay to him, was astonished, said he’d never met an atheist before, and had a real problem with my lack of faith. Discrimination against atheists is a real problem in our country. Look at the Boy Scouts, for example. They just decided to allow gay scouts to stay in, but they still do not permit atheist scouts. Furthermore, as the article points out, it’s illegal to hold office as an atheist in some states. There’s no law against gay men and lesbians holding office in those states.

    Finally, a discriminatory law on the books is discrimination, even if the law is unenforced or has been declared constitutional. It declares to the public 1) that the legislature believes being a member of the group against whom the law is directed is reprehensible and 2) that the legislature believes the public must be protected against that group.

    All of the things people are saying here about discrimination against atheists has been said about discrimination against LGBT individuals. Just because we live in an age when discrimination against gays and lesbians is decreasing does not mean the work of extending equality to all Americans is finished. We have benefited greatly from the assistance of other groups in the civil rights movement. We owe it to them, ourselves, and those who come after us to help those who helped us and to pay the assistance forward to other groups that are the subject of prejudice and discrimination.

  • miagoodguy

    Yeah Bill Maher, the reason you can’t run for a political office is because you are an atheist. It isn’t at all the fact that you are a total ass who alienates the vast majority of voters and call them stupid.

  • nephilim71

    I have suffered more discrimination due to being an Atheist much more often than I have for being gay.

  • 2eo

    @nephilim71: Same here Nep, lost a position I was working at as a part time volunteer because god doesn’t exist and I have no problem in sticking up for myself, apparently a none religious disability charity is not accepting to none religious people.

    They chose their god bigotry over humanity, like all religious people inevitably do, sadly. Evidently a baptism is more important than an effective disability lobbyist who was helping two companies integrate better facilities for blind people in their software.

    Fortunately that charity is now dead.

  • Polaro

    I love Bill. He is pretty great most of the time. But, he overreached with this one. I’m gay and an atheist. I think the cross section of gays that are atheist is pretty large. I’ve never been attacked for being an atheist. I have for being gay. He has a point only in that we seem to have a common enemy, but equating the issues of homophobia with being an atheist is pretty ludicrous.

  • BigWoody


  • the other Greg

    Bill’s point is cultural, not legal. It’s not that discrimination against atheists is – however unenforceably – the “law” in seven states, or whatever, but that it’s so pervasive and overwhelming in American cultural life. (Note how Bill’s lingo is shocking even in lefty L.A. media circles.) In 99.9% of America it’s socially unacceptable not only to be atheist, but even to say anything halfway nice about non-believers. And any public event of any kind must be suffused with nauseating God Talk.

    Also, you can’t call it “under”-representation when it’s literally NO representation. As the example of Barney Frank (!) of all people should demonstrate, there may be a few non-believers in Congress but they’re too scared to admit it. How depressing is that, if even Barney was afraid to admit it for 30 years?

    Bill Maher is making a comparison to how gay marriage had a certain “snowball effect.” Ten years ago no one predicted that its cultural acceptance would grow so fast. He hopes to generate something similar for non-belief.

    Yes, Bill makes a similar comparison with marijuana legalization, also a major civil rights issue when hundreds of thousands of people are in prison because of the marijuana laws.

  • A.R.D.

    @the other Greg:

    “99.9% of America”

    And yet, nearly 20% of Americans do not identify as being religious. Math clearly isn’t your strong point. Where in America do you even live? Go to almost any college or community college, and tell as many students as you can that you’re an atheist. The response will almost universally be “Me too!”. Among the current generation of teens and 20somethings, atheism is extremely prominent.

    While I do reside in one of the more faithless areas of the country, if what you said was true, atheism would still be restricted to hushed murmurs. And that’s simply not the case; never once have I encountered anybody getting flack for their atheism where I live. People discuss it openly, and are often prideful of it. I have, however, seen religious people mocked.

    It’s true the situation would be entirely reversed in, say, Kentucky. But the South makes up just one part of the U.S. – speaking of which, outside of our country, Atheism is even more widely accepted in Canada, Western Europe, and East Asia. So countering the claim by some idiot above that atheists are oppressed all throughout the world: yeah, that’s bullshit.

    I also agree that there should be more representation. But that applies to so many; Trans, Intersex, Bi/Pan, Asexual/Celibate, Muslims, the lower classes, etc. etc. All of those people are far more persecuted than atheists, and if we’re talking about those who need equality and representation in some sort of order, it’s them who need it more. Being two of those, as well as agnostic, I’ve gotten far more flack for the other two (bi is bad enough, but not wanting sex? That’s even worse; clearly you’re just a freak loser who can’t get laid), and I’ve gotten flack for the agnosticism not from christians, but atheists.

    And if you’re talking about representation in the media – atheists have far more than any of those groups I just mentioned. Unfortunately, this means we have to deal with Seth Macfarlane and his idiocy.

  • 2eo

    @the other Greg: Well said, having suffered repeated attacks for my Atheism and standing up for myself. It is entirely one way too, they have their cake, attack us constantly in the public eye and destroy the careers of those who aren’t of their flock.

    It’s 100% one way, there are no cases the other way at all, because it doesn’t happen.

  • 2eo

    We’re not Atheists because it’s cool, we are Atheists because it’s right and religion is a poison.

  • Chris-MI

    I don’t consider atheism a choice. Show me good evidence for the existence of god or gods, and I’ll turn into a theist overnight.

    I’ll go even further and say that if you think that people should be able to adjust their brains into a state where they can “choose” to disregard evidence because it’s popular or comforting or philosophical to be on the other side, then you can make a good case that people should be able to adjust their brains to “choose” the popular sexual orientation.

    Yes, most people have their brains wired so that they give more weight to social norms and the sort of cognitive quirks that cause us to think that the spontaneous existence of a fantastically complex superman is more plausible than naturalistic evolution. Tough. I couldn’t be those people even if I wanted to be.

  • 2eo

    @Chris-MI: Same here Chris, why would a god tolerate none believers, why would a so called omnipotent being allow such blasphemy without punishment?

    Why would he hide bones in the ground?, why would he personally falsify space reports and satellite readings, draw pictures and glue them to the hubble telescope?

    Why has he in 2000 years gone from lord of all creation to barely being powerful enough to appear on toast?

  • the other Greg

    @A.R.D.: Heh heh. I’m actually not an atheist, I was just using careful, objective language in #22 to see if you were paying attention. I think it’s objectively TRUE that atheists are discriminated against in the US, culturally if not legally. (Though I agree with blueshirt #15 that the anachronistic, unenforceable laws send a discriminatory message.) And I live in Barney Frank’s old district; the nauseating God Talk is pervasive even around here.

    “I’ve gotten flack for the agnosticism not from christians, but atheists.” Yes, as an agnostic I’ve encountered that too. So basically what you’re saying is that atheists are NOT discriminated against (well, no), but maybe they deserve to be discriminated against because they’re so obnoxious? (well, uh, no again).

    Bill Maher will say that the “nicer” ones are reluctant to speak up about it and make waves – outside of college campuses – so those who speak up about it in the real world will tend to be the obnoxious, cranky ones.

    Sticking with Bill’s marriage ANALOGY here: It’s important also to point out Bill’s general antipathy to marriage itself. He sees marriage as an anachronistic institution (and one with religious roots, of course). He certainly makes fun of those against s/s marriage, but he’s admitted that he just doesn’t understand why gay people want to jump aboard that sinking, rat-infested ship!

    It seems that most heteros were only able to begin thinking of gays as potentially “normal” citizens, only AFTER they could envision us as married?

    In this context, Bill wonders why exactly it’s such a taboo in American life even to think that pot smokers might be good citizens, or atheists might be acknowledged at a July 4th function, etc. That’s where he’s going with the analogy.

    FYI, Seth MacFarlane – who is a genius! – has found the sweet spot in American cultural life. You can do literally anything on TV in a cartoon early in the evening, or even in the daytime, and it’s somehow OK because it’s “only a cartoon.” But if you did it as a real person on TV, it would be “controversial” and horrible and probably censored (though of course they wouldn’t use the word “censored”). Matt Groening broke this ground with “The Simpsons” in a less disgusting way.

    @2eo: Thanks. And since Bill Maher is the most famous atheist in America, it’s good that you finally know who he is! :)

  • viveutvivas

    @Badger, the by-now tired argument that rights should be based on the the fact that homosexuality is inborn is a bad argument. If you base gay rights on that argument, then where does that leave bisexuals? They do have a choice, so how would you answer someone who said that bisexual men should not be able to marry a man because they could choose a woman?

    Even if (as in bisexuals) gayness were a choice, as opposed to an inborn orientation, that would not be an argument for making it illegal. Rights should be based on freedom of personal choice and non-interference in the pursuit of happiness.

    More generally, if the only rights we could have were for inborn qualities, we would have hardly any rights at all. Freedom of expression? That can’t be a right, because we could perfectly well choose to be silent. Follow where I am going with this?

  • viveutvivas

    As a gay atheist, I think Maher’s comparison of gay rights with atheist rights is spot-on.

    Lots of posters here are saying that atheists are not discriminated against because they could shut up and pass for theists if they wanted to. If they are so uppity as to speak up about their views, they deserve what’s coming to them.

    I can see all you guys have learned from centuries of oppression is how to oppress. You are even repeating the arguments of your oppressors almost verbatim.

    This is exactly the same argument bigots used to make regarding gays. They used to say that (white) gays didn’t have to undergo discrimination because they could pass, and thus had all the benefits of white male privilege. As long as we stayed in the closet and didn’t flap our wrists too much, we could do anything we wanted. Those who were so uppity as to come out deserved what was coming to them.

  • BJ McFrisky

    For people like Maher, atheism IS a religion unto itself. It’s a movement. Funny how we don’t see people who don’t believe in flying saucers creating a movement out of their disbelief. Why, that would just be nuttier than a scrotum.

    I assure you that you haven’t been attacked for being atheistic more often than you attack your fellow gays and lesbians for not being hyper-liberal (note the comments of Badger88 and sportsguy1983).

  • brent

    @GreatGatsby2011: You’re talking about an outdated law. Bill Maher was complaining he couldn’t win public office. There is no civil rights law that states that voters have to vote for an atheist.

  • GreatGatsby2011

    @brent: Just because a law that is still on the books is outdated and unenforceable, does not mean the law can’t be used to harass those targeted by the outdated law.

    Take, for example, the case of the gay men in Baton Rouge who were arrested in 2013 for violating an anti-sodomy law that was rendered “unenforceable” by the United States Supreme court in 2003. The charges may have been dropped but who knows what effect being arrested had on these men’s lives. So don’t be naïve in thinking that just because a law is “outdated” it can’t be used to harass those individuals the law was intended to target in the first place.

    And if you’ll read my comment more carefully, you’ll see the part where I stated Mr. Maher used a poor example, and how he was discussing underrepresentation and not discrimination, which is an entirely different matter. I never stated what he was referencing was a violation of an atheist’s civil rights. But go ahead and put words in my mouth if it makes you feel better. No skin off my nose.

  • brent

    @GreatGatsby2011: I don’t believe I put words in your mouth. I was just giving my take n the issue.

  • jwrappaport

    @viveutvivas: I respectfully disagree, although I am also an atheist. I also preface this by saying that I only speak from an American perspective – I don’t know firsthand how things are in other countries.

    As I said above, I can’t think of any legal rights that believers enjoy that you or I cannot solely on the basis of our non-belief. Moreover, there is a vast, well-established corpus of law (not to mention the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution) that exists to vindicate discrimination on the basis of belied and non-belief alike. If I lost a job because of my non-belief, I could plausibly sue and prevail. That is manifestly untrue with respect to sexual orientation discrimination.

    I would also say that atheism and sexual orientation are distinguishable in that the former has no volitional component. In so many words, my atheism simply is a general rejection of mysticism and superstition in general. It’s not a way of life, and it doesn’t require me to do anything or undertake any affirmative acts at all. Indeed, non-belief is by definition passive, aside from wonderful, fiery argument with family and friends who haven’t come to terms with godlessness. On the contrary, being gay necessarily entails romantic acts with other men, which are wildly transgressive in many parts of the US and would be perfectly legal grounds for termination in most states. From a practical standpoint, there is no serious question, at least in the US, that my sexual orientation carries more stigma and baggage than my atheism.

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