New Atheist Lord Mayor of Belfast Takes Heat for Not Offering Prayer at Installation Ceremony
The city of Belfast, Northern Ireland elected a new Lord Mayor, Nuala McAllister. She is a young mother (age twenty-eight and served on the city council for three years), and ran on a campaign of honesty.
She has a controversy on her hands though: At her installation dinner, no prayer was offered. That is because she is an atheist. (It was not controversial when she said she would not be meeting Donald Trump on the next St. Patrick’s Day when she is in the USA, however.)
There is a fascinating article today about Ms. McAllister at the Irish News. An interesting citation from today’s article (but I encourage you to read the whole thing):
McAllister has already found herself at the centre of press stories about trying to fudge an excuse not to attend President Donald Trump’s next St Patrick’s Day event and for not having grace said at her recent installation dinner because she’s an atheist.
But it’s all water off a duck’s back. Referring to the Trump ‘snub’, she says: “I think it’s funny as I’m genuinely not available, but I will be in Belfast on St Patrick’s Day and the day before and I will be in the US earlier that week.
“I won’t get to meet the president even then; I will be in a room of 50 or so other people and only the taoiseach [Prime Minister of Ireland] would get to meet him anyway.”
Even in very religious Northern Ireland it is much easier for an atheist to be elected than the United States. Past research indicates that atheists are less trusted than rapists, and a significant portion of the populace would not vote for an atheist in any office (pretty much sinking any campaign, even in very liberal areas of the nation).
Hemant Mehta (from the Friendly Atheist blog) goes into Ms. McAllister’s installation in office.
McAllister said she was being true to herself as an atheist, but she knew this was a lose-lose situation no matter what she did.
“It was a storm in a teacup,” she says, but adds that she made a point of speaking with all the leaders of the Christian Churches and Muslim faith that night and that no-one raised it with her.
“Had I stood up and said that there was not going to be grace because the lord mayor is an atheist, it would have been a same situation. You just can’t win.”
“I didn’t want a chaplain as I provide my own guidance and I wouldn’t want to lie. I made it clear that I would not read from scripture during my year but would attend ceremonies or religious institutions as I believe it is expected, and should be, of the lord mayor as I’m representing everyone.”
The Libertarian Party policy magazine Reason addresses the issue of atheists being more distrusted than rapists in the USA from an article written in 2012, citing a number of studies. In the five years since that hasn’t changed much.
reason.com (more at the link):
In fact, a side-by-side comparison of polling data finds that tolerance for theological deviance is evolving slower than acceptable of what used to be called sexual deviance. In 1977 a Harris poll reported that 55 percent respondents thought that gays should not be allowed to be teachers but 80 percent said they could work in factories; now 69 percent say it’s OK for them to be teachers and a later survey finds that 89 percent believe that gays should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities. Atheists as a group lag behind in acceptance when compared to gays; a recent study found that only 33 percent of respondents would hire an atheist as a day care worker, but 65 percent would hire them as a waitress.
It’s no wonder that atheists poll so badly—religious folks believe that the godless are about as trustworthy as rapists, at least according to a recent study. In “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust is central to anti-atheist prejudice”, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in December . The researchers reported that religious participants in the study regarded atheists as being more criminally untrustworthy than rapists.
Pew Research did a study entitled “Ten Facts about Atheists” regarding atheists in the USA. Amongst other things, atheists are overwhelmingly likely to identify as Democrats and liberals (presumably because the GOP has positioned itself as God’s party, thereby alienating atheists, even those who might hold other ideas in line with the Republicans).