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Department of Education Proposed Data Collection Rules May Put Atheist Students at Risk

Washington, D.C.—Today, in order to avoid an increase in anti-atheist bullying, American Atheists offered improvements to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposal to collect religious bullying data.

According to the proposal, the Trump Administration would force school staff to collect data on the victim’s apparent religion and report the number of incidents of bullying and harassment associated with each religion. However, with this data collection method, schools would routinely consider, investigate, and record students’ religion—endangering student privacy and safety. 

“When a student’s religion or lack thereof is disclosed to other students and school staff, the student may be bullied, harassed, or face discrimination for their worldview,” said Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Vice President for Legal and Policy.

“Sadly many Americans are deeply biased against atheists and religious minorities and likely will not treat them fairly,” she added. “Teachers may discriminate against students with contrasting religious beliefs by grading the students differently, offering less help to the students, or failing to include the students in opportunities and activities.”

Instead of a staff-driven data collection method, American Atheists recommended anonymous student self-reporting to improve reliability and ensure privacy.

“Anonymous self-reporting would be a more workable solution because atheist and religious minority students who are bullied would be better positioned to identify the cause of the bullying than school faculty,” added Gill. “This method of data collection would give bullied students control over their privacy and security and allow them to decide whether or not to report the religious aspect of the bullying.”

In addition to employing anonymous self-reporting, American Atheists suggests creating additional privacy safeguards and providing resources for training to local educational agencies.