Facebook was in an uproar when the Atheist Republic page was deleted without any reason or warning. With 1.6 million members, it was the largest group for atheists on social media to come together and talk about their beliefs.
“I went to check the page in the morning like I usually do, and there was nothing there,” said member Cory Stoll. “I thought, ‘Did I somehow say something offensive to get myself perma-banned?’ I couldn’t figure it out.”
When he hopped on Reddit a few minutes later, he saw the news story: certain religious groups had worked together to brigade the Atheist Republic. After thousands of people reported the AR for having inappropriate content, Facebook unceremoniously auto-deleted the page, much to the chagrin of its users.
Another member, Gina O’Hare, was fuming when we spoke to her earlier in the week. “We just want to talk about our beliefs in peace like most people, religious or not. I don’t go around reporting Duggar fans’ Facebook pages, and they’re the craziest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.”
Loosely quoted Christmas Vacation line aside, her sentiments were shared among the former Atheist Republic members.
“Everybody already hates me. My dad disowned me ten years ago and calls me his ‘godless homoseckshal mistake,’” said Will Armstrong, the only known atheist in the entire state of Missouri. “At least on the AR, I can talk to people without randos telling me I’m going to hell unless I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Without the AR, I’m going to have to move to Scandinavia or something. They’ll make me eat lutfisk. I don’t wanna eat lutfisk. Say what you will about the South, but we have damn good food.”
According to Dr. Henry Cross, a Religious Studies professor at the University of Notre Dame, atheophobia is a global problem. And while Westerners enjoy a greater level of religious freedom than in many other parts of the world, they’re still likely to face discrimination as the second-most disliked religious minority group in the United States, only narrowly beaten out by Muslims.
“I think atheists give a lot of devoutly religious people anxiety, no matter what their denomination,” said Cross. “It’s not surprising that those with… reservations, or those who are taught to believe that a lack of God in one’s heart is the greatest sin, would brigade this page. Atheophobia has always been a big problem, and social media’s not going to make that go away.”
“I live by the philosophy, ‘I’ll stay out of your shit if you stay out of mine,’” said Paige Campbell, an Atheist Republic contributor. “I need the Atheist Republic for when Mike Pence turns the United States into something out of The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Because the group was so big, it got a lot of media attention, and Facebook reinstated it when they realized it had been brigaded. While Atheist Republic members and supporters can breathe a sigh of relief, smaller pro-atheism groups that have been deleted might not be so lucky, since the deletion of a group with only a few thousand members would likely go unnoticed by Facebook and atheist communities at large.
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