Atheist group for seniors targeted: Atheists Anonymous members say backlash growing

CARLSBAD, Calif. - A group of seniors in Carlsbad say they are being persecuted, targeted and jeered at for their religion, or rather for their lack of religion.

In its promotional video, the La Costa Glen retirement community may look peaceful, but a group of seniors who live there says it is a battlefield.

"They said, 'She is a sinner. She's going to hell and she's going to burn forever,'" said 84-year-old Brigit Smith-Clarke. She said she heard two fellow residents say that about her because she founded Atheists Anonymous.

It is a group for the elderly residents at La Costa Glen who do not believe in God or just want to explore their options. It began with 16 members two years ago. Since then, their membership has grown to almost 100 seniors.

What has also grown is the backlash: the dirty stares, social isolation and the threatening phone calls. Smith-Clarke said people were calling her things such as "anti-Christ" and "Jew-lover."

Atheism is highly unusual in the 65 and older crowd. About 19 percent of Americans claim no affiliation with any religion, which is double the percentage since the 1970s. However, the percentage among seniors remains almost negligible.

10News met with other members of Atheists Anonymous who say there are many more like them but they are afraid of being targeted.

The group keeps putting up flyers and holding meetings, but they say they do not know what to do about the harassment. It is a problem the administration is aware of and the complaints keep coming in.

"I think it's a big place and people do all sorts of things," said activities coordinator Michelle Chaffee. "It's not typical of what we see here normally."

To limit the damage, the management at La Costa Glen says it does not allow most religious or political groups to distribute flyers to non-members or publicize meetings in the calendar.

Chaffee says it is the a-word that is the problem.

"That has turned a lot of people off," she said.

Smith-Clarke says no way. She was raised Christian and now at her age, she is done with pretending, no matter the cost.

"At 84 years old, to feel free to say it... It doesn't mean you're bad," she said.

10News asked La Costa Glen if it felt it was doing enough to protect the seniors. It says it will not tolerate any hateful name-calling in the retirement community but that there have not been any official reports filed.

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