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(Hemant’s note: This is a guest post by JulietEcho. She was the fantastic admin for the Friendly Atheist forums for three years until stepping down recently to make time for law school.)

Whenever there’s a post here on Friendly Atheist about gay rights, free speech, or some other issue not directly related to atheism, there’s a good chance that at least one reader will complain.

“What’s an atheist blog doing discussing this off-topic stuff?” they’ll ask. While this content isn’t always about atheists or atheism, I think it’s important that atheists consider how to logically view situations and issues that fall into the same categories as atheism in society.

We have a thread right now on the forum about whether being an atheist can shape your values. Does a “non-belief” affect your beliefs? I think there are two different aspects of being an atheist when you live in a religious society. Firstly, there’s the necessary lack of belief in god(s). Secondly, there’s the belief that you have the right to be treated equally, as an atheist, instead of enduring discrimination, slander, or threats.

Why should atheists be treated equally? We’re harmless. We aren’t amoral, we don’t eat babies (Hemant’s frequent pictures notwithstanding), and we don’t try to force our lack of belief on others in ways that infringe on their rights.

This second aspect of being an atheist is shared by other groups: those that are stigmatized, discriminated against, and hated for a difference that is harmless. An obvious group in this category is the GLBT population, which is why it’s mentioned so often on the blog. The same bad arguments people use to discriminate against atheists are often used to justify banning gay marriage or adoption. If you, as an atheist, believe that those who do no harm to others or society should not be disenfranchised, then it doesn’t make sense not to extend that philosophy to other harmless groups.

There are, of course, disagreements over what constitutes “harmless.” There are atheists who are pro-choice and atheists who see abortion as unethical and wrong. There are atheists who will defend the right of Muslims to speak freely and build mosques and atheists who see all of Islam as a violent, threatening force. Some issues are less clear-cut than others.

Let me suggest ten hypothetical rights below. (Note that these examples should all be considered consensual, adult situations.)

Some of them are already widely supported and acknowledged as rights, while others are not.

  1. The right to marry members of your own gender.
  2. The right to adopt children, whether you’re gay or straight, and whether you’re single or not.
  3. The right to smoke marijuana (with certain restrictions similar to those on alcohol and cigarettes).
  4. The right to choose euthanasia.
  5. The right to change sex or gender, whether through surgery, hormones, cross-dressing, or some combination.
  6. The right to marry multiple people.
  7. The right to have an elective abortion in the first or second trimester.
  8. The right to have an elective abortion in the third trimester.
  9. The right to engage in incest.
  10. The right to express belief in any religion or philosophy.

Is each right harmless to others or not? Should atheists (or at least introspective, involved atheists) logically support them? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

I’m also curious what other examples like this you can come up with — would you classify them as “harmless” or not?