- What is Atheism
- Law & Politics
- Press Information
- Christians Take Over Interfaith Army Chapel in Combat Zone
- Press Kit
- 9/11: 'Never Forget' Must Include All Victims
- Atheists Advocate Separation of Church and State at DNC
- Congressman Pete Stark to Speak at 2013 National Convention
- American Atheists Announces 50th Anniversary Logo Design Contest
- American Atheists Announces Harassment Policy for Conventions and Conferences
- American Atheists Jubilant Over Latest Religion Report
- American Atheists Removes Religious Billboards from Charlotte
- Former Pastor Now American Atheists Public Relations Director
- Former Pastor Teresa MacBain New Public Relations Director
- ITALIAN JUDGE LUIGI TOSTI ACQUITTED!
- American Atheists to Protest Bradford County, FL Decalogue on May 19
Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
Employee Lounge Blasphemy: Tales of a Coffee Cup
The events described in this article took place in 1999.
It is on rare occasion that I drink coffee. I prefer a good cup of hot tea to the often-bitter taste of coffee: especially the burnt taste of a major chain’s coffee. When it came time to choosing a new coffee mug for work (to be used for hot tea, of course), I decided to get a cup that expressed who I am. The mug that I purchased came from EvolveFish.Com. It had a picture of Darwin’s amphibian holding a wrench and the word “Evolve” inside the body of the amphibian. The mug was navy blue and the emblem was copper. (NOTE: EvolveFish.Com no longer sells that mug.)
I did not think I would have a problem with the cup, as it was usually in my hand or on my desk next to my monitor. One would think that after living in the heart of the Bible Belt (for three years at that point) that I would have learned by then that anything portraying a non-Christian attitude would become a problem eventually.As I strolled through the small office of fifty-five employees, I ran across a smorgasbord of Christian paraphernalia: little plaques with prayers, icons in the shape of crosses and the Virgin Mary, ceramic angels and other religious figurines, various items containing the Lord’s Prayer, and plenty of other items. These items do not offend me, but do provide me with the occasional chuckle.
After using my new coffee mug for about three weeks, the manager of the office approached me and asked if she could talk to me in private. It should be noted that I did not work directly for the manager. I contracted to her office through a third-party vendor, so other than being able to put in a nasty word about me to my managers; she had no bearing on my job. Usually when she approached me, it was to ask a question about the contract or about personnel affected by the contract. More often than not, it was a computer-related question, as I was there specifically to replace their old systems with a new system.
On this particular occasion, the question and conversation changed, and our relationship changed with it. Simply put, she told me there had been complaints about my coffee mug and that I should remove it from the office. I felt like a six-year-old child scolded for putting his hand in the cookie jar or breaking one of mommy’s pretties on the coffee table. The situation was embarrassing and humiliating.
It was also infuriating, frustrating, and it made me exceptionally resentful toward the manager. I was resentful toward her because as a manager she should have known better (and known the law). I was resentful toward her because as a Christian she concurred with the employees who complained. This was clearly an issue of religious discrimination and I was worried at the time about getting into a lawsuit that I could not afford.
I agreed to remove my coffee mug on one condition: all other religious paraphernalia had to be removed from the office as well. While the paraphernalia did not offend me, I told her that it did. I told her that angels, prayer papers, and crosses, et al, offended me and that if offensive materials must be removed, then so must all the religious paraphernalia.She stared at me for a bit reflecting on what I just said. After pondering the situation, she reluctantly allowed me to keep the coffee mug. I decided to let incident end there and to not take any administrative or legal action. While the manager’s motivation to allow me to keep the mug was the wrong motivation, she at least arrived at the right conclusion.
The event led me to be more open about my atheism and my promotion of science over superstition and pseudoscience. I purchased the Darwin and Science bumper emblems and placed them on the edge of my monitor instead of my car. I also purchased a plastic Iguana for the top of my monitor and a Darwin mouse pad.The manager (and other employees) looked at me scornfully when walking by my desk, but she never mentioned the incident again. The employees that complained became more openly vocal instead of going behind my back. A few discussions ensued that Christian employees instigated. I was willing to discuss the issue with them, although I asked them to return at lunch and we could discuss it while we were not on company time. Smoke breaks became less about smoking and more about debating religion.
The conversations were usually an attempt by the Christian employee to convert and/or witness. I never gave the conversation a chance to develop in that direction. I asked questions and made statements that kept the Christians on the defensive. It continues to befuddle me how many Christians are taken aback when non-Christians know the Bible and the history of the Bible and Christianity better than they do. To them, intricate knowledge of the Bible is the best reason for being a believer.
A couple of employees approached me, congratulated me, and admitted their agnosticism and atheism to me. They said they wished they could do the same thing but were afraid of the repercussions and consequences. Since the incident occurred, one of those employees has come out of the closet and admitted her atheism to her family and to her coworkers. Her fellow office workers blamed her atheism on me: that I was a bad influence.
My contract ultimately ended and I moved on to another contact and another office. I had always known that religious discrimination was a problem but up until then I had never encountered it personally in the civilian until that incident workplace (I did experience it once in the Navy). I had encountered hatred and discrimination outside the workplace on many occasions, though (and continue to do so).
As I look back on the incident, it is still hard for me to imagine that a little coffee cup created such a stir and could have possibly forced a discrimination lawsuit. Such is life in the heart of the Bible Belt.
by Blair Scott