The words atheist and secular can be easy to confuse, but they have subtly different meanings. An atheist is one who does not believe in a god, and therefore an atheist institution (for example) is one that openly holds the position that there is no god. Richard Dawkins is an atheist, and the "Out Campaign" is an atheist institution.

Someone who is secular, by contrast, does not display any belief or religion, regardless of their actual views. A secular institution is one that does not allow religion of any form. The French and American public school systems are secular.

Atheism is protected by the First Amendment as freedom of expression. However, secularism prevents freedom of expression, and can therefore be said to be contrary to the First Amendment.

Note that many but not all secularists are atheists, and vice versa.


  • School prayer: If someone chooses not to participate in school prayer, they might be an atheist. If someone outlaws school prayer for all, they are secular.
  • A librarian who does not read the Bible may be an atheist. A librarian who refuses to stock a copy of the Bible is likely secular.
  • One who disagrees with Christian thought on the internet is an atheist. One who attempts to suppress it is secular.

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