Utah did not make a list of the top 10 worst states for atheists, although it did get sort of an honorable mention. Or maybe a dishonorable mention.
In a story on the online news outlet AlterNet, Louisiana was No. 1 on a list of “scariest states to be an atheist,” followed by Mississippi, Texas, Rhode Island, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho and Pennsylvania.
But Mormon-dominated Utah — a frequent contender for the title of most religious state — was dinged for being the place “where, says [former] American Atheists President David Silverman, ‘the [former] state attorney general is trying to have the Roman Cross pronounced secular so it can be placed on public buildings and schools without regard to equal access.’”
That’s an apparent reference to a case involving 12-foot-high crosses erected on public land by the Utah Highway Patrol Association to memorialize state troopers killed in the line of duty. In 2005, American Atheists Inc. sued, arguing that the crosses were religious symbols and their placement was unconstitutional.
Then-Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff argued in favor of keeping the crosses on public land and urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
“With two simple lines the highway crosses remind us of the ultimate sacrifice made by troopers while trying to protect us,” Shurtleff said at the time. “Before now, no other court has ever held that memorial crosses establish a religion. The crosses only establish a trooper died in the line of duty.”
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the UHPA, letting stand a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of American Atheists.
The worst-states-for-atheists list, by AlterNet writer Greta Christina, is far from scientific, as she openly acknowledges.
“I freely admit that this list, and the order I’m presenting it, is subjective,” she wrote. “It’s not based on a careful statistical analysis of rigorously gathered data based on journalistically objective criteria about anti-atheist bigotry. It’s based on stories that happened to get my atheist dander up. It’s based on stories that made me sad — and enraged.”
And, in the case of Utah, it’s based on court case that began in 2005 and ended in 2011.