This story was spread around a few days ago and got digged. It really is a bit of a non-story though, since it’s based on a Time magazine story that’s dated 7th December 1970. It concerns a case in which a pair of parents in the United States, one an atheist and the other a pantheist, was denied the right to adopt a baby because a judge ruled that since the parents did not believe in a Supreme Being, it would be tantamount to unduly influencing the child and depriving her of the freedom to worship as she sees fit. In any case, as far as I can tell, that ruling was overturned in 1971 in which the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to deny adoption solely on the basis of lack of belief in any religion.
Still, raising this old story did serve to raise public consciousness for a few days about atheists’ rights as the story made the rounds on the internet and on public radio talk shows in the US. Personally, I’ve long found that religious people tend not to accord atheists the same personal belief space that they automatically give to believers of other religions. For example, a Christian instinctively knows that it would be rude to even so much as utter a praise to Jesus in the presence of a Muslim or a Buddhist, but no such consideration is ever afforded to atheists. Yet as a recent special report in The Economist noted, if atheism were considered a religion, it would be the fourth largest religion worldwide.
This is of course because religious people tend to believe that atheists don’t really take their atheism seriously and so are ripe for conversion. This might be true for many atheists and, perhaps even truer for self-proclaimed agnostics, but at the same time, from my observations, many of the religious don’t take their own religious belief particularly seriously either, being religious only as a form of social networking or as taking the path of least resistance.
But for me at least and for others I hope, atheism is a conscious, rational and carefully thought out choice and I dare say that I have spent more time and effort on researching the basis of my beliefs than many religious have spent on theirs. That I think is something that ought to be respected. So if you religiously inclined yourself, keep that in mind the next time you hear someone profess to be an atheist.