In a discussion in comments, I was directed to Atheist Exposed, a blog by S. Setterbo, a woman in Texas who was "coming out" as an atheist to her coworkers and others in her life. Setterbo lives in a highly Christian environment and felt it was a Big Thing to reveal this part of herself. Her stated goal: "to give these Christians the knowledge, that they know an Atheist, and she's not a bad person."
Setterbo's fears were used as evidence of a lack of religious freedom in the US - and I find myself in the odd position of actually defending the US. Go figure.
Try as I might, I can't see this woman as a victim of religious intolerance. There's no freedom from discomfort at being a minority, no guarantee of personal acceptance by those around you, nor should there be.
I must clarify that Setterbo doesn't present herself as a persecuted victim at all. This is in response to others' comments about her, not her own words. I read elsewhere that she was afraid of losing her job, but I didn't see anything about that (although I might have missed it). In reality she lost neither her job nor her friends.
Setterbo is obviously intelligent, compassionate and kind. I can sympathize with her for feeling out of place. Many of her conservative Christian co-workers would feel dreadfully out of place in New York City. But they wouldn't be denied religious freedom, and neither is she.
I think Setterbo's central issue is the closet. Whenever we keep our true selves hidden, we feel discomfort. The longer we stay in a closet - of any kind - the harder it becomes to reveal our true self. Setterbo describes herself as a "30 year closet atheist". If you're in the closet for 30 years, it's going to be a big deal when you finally come out. The reality may be better than you imagined, which is what she found.
In many of her posts, I read Setterbo's desire for acceptance and understanding by her co-workers. This may also be the source of her discomfort. If we feel it's necessary for our co-workers to understand us, and we don't work in an environment of like-minded people, it's going to chafe. I know I was more comfortable and more "out" about my own life when I worked in a non-profit alternative school for teenagers, than when I was a secretary in a corporate law firm. As a secretary, I often felt alienated and out of place. I could decide, the benefits of working here are too good, I will put up with the alienation. Or I could feel, I need to work in a more nurturing environment, and look for other employment. Either way, I wasn't being denied my rights.
Separation of church and state is an important part of a free society, and the US is moving farther and farther away from it every day. The creeping theocracy is one of the reasons I'm leaving. But that's not the same as freedom of religion. Of course I realize that under an actual theocracy there would be no religious freedom, but as bad as it is, we're not there yet.
Thanks to Atheist Exposed for (unknowingly) allowing me to use her blog to make a point. Her blog is well written and illuminating, and worth a visit.