Atheists are incarcerated in federal prison at only 1/20th the expected rate, according
to author Tim Covell who obtained the statistics for his new book Born Atheist.  This is
surprising, he says,  because of the common assumption that atheists, who do not
believe in God, are more inclined to commit crimes.  For example, a Pew survey
reveals that the majority of Americans believe you must believe in God to be moral.  
Religious authorities reinforce this perception.  The Pope recently blamed the rise of
Nazism on atheists, and a Catholic Cardinal has labeled atheists “the greatest of
evils.”  Surveys show atheists are ranked less favorably than any other religious
minority in America, in fact, they are ranked 18 points below Muslim Americans.

“If the prejudice against atheists were justified,” Covell says, “you would expect to find
a disproportionately large number of atheists in prison.”  Only 1.6% of the American
population is atheist, he continues, so you would expect to find atheists comprise more
than 1.6% of the federal prison population.  But statistics from the Federal Bureau of
Prisons show that atheists comprise only .08% of the prison population, 1/20th the rate
predicted by their presence in the general population.

Covell says the low incidence of atheists in prison contradicts the prejudice that
atheists are more likely to commit crimes than religious people.  Although he
acknowledges that more study would be required to establish why there are so few
atheists in prison, the fact that they appear in prison at such a significantly lower rate
than expected should encourage people to reexamine their negative  perception of

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