By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) – Back home, they erase their Internet histories, look over their shoulders before cracking jokes and nod politely when co-workers talk about church.
But in a hotel ballroom here on a recent weekend, more than 220 atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers let it all hang out.
The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” and it was part celebration of skepticism and part strategy session about surviving in the country’s most religious region.
They sang songs about the futility of faith, shared stories about “coming out” as nonbelievers and bought books about the Bible – critical ones, of course.
“Isn’t it great to be in a room where you can say whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of anyone criticizing you for being unorthodox?” asked Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as he opened the two-day convention.
The Wisconsin-based foundation co-sponsored the event with the Triangle Freethought Society, which draws its members from this state’s tech-heavy Research Triangle.
The nonbelievers came from as far afield as Ireland and France, but most described themselves as refugees from the heart of the South - atheist anomalies amid fiercely devout friends, family and neighbors.
We wanted to know what it’s like to be a nonbeliever in the Bible Belt, so over the course of the weekend we asked some of the folks here to share their secrets.
They had a lot to say, and some of their advice overlapped, but we came away with eight top tips. Some said they wished they’d had something like this list when they began their foray into religious infidelity.
So, without further ado, here’s a “survival guide” to being an atheist in the Bible Belt:
By Joe Sutton, CNN
(CNN) - A federal judge ruled that North Carolina's new "Choose Life" license plates are unconstitutional because the state does not offer a pro-choice alternative.
"The State's offering a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice alternative constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment," U.S. District Court Judge James Fox wrote in the ruling Friday.
The ruling was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a lawsuit in 2011 to stop the specialty plates.
By Ismael Estrada, CNN
Maiden, North Carolina (CNN) – Just about everyone here is talking about the local pastor who made national headlines this week after a video that features him telling congregants how to “get rid of” gays went viral.
Neighbors of the Providence Road Baptist Church – where a sign advertises “old time religion” - say Pastor Charles Worley is known for being over the top, with one neighbor describing him as “fire and brimstone” whose views are out of sync with much of the surrounding community.
"I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn't get it past the Congress,” Worley told his church on May 13, in a video that has been seen half a million times on YouTube.
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – Video of a North Carolina pastor preaching that gays and lesbians should be rounded up inside an electric fence is going viral on the Internet, two weeks after North Carolina passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and President Barack Obama voiced personal support for legalizing such marriages.
"I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn't get it past the Congress," Pastor Charles L. Worley can be seen telling his Providence Road Baptist Church congregation in the video, which had more than 250,000 YouTube views by Tuesday.
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Greensboro, North Carolina (CNN) —The truck-stop hooker is no Julia Roberts, the trucker in the cab with her no Richard Gere, and this truck stop off the highway could not be any farther from Beverly Hills, the staging ground for “Pretty Woman.”
The woman sports baggy shorts, a white T-shirt and frizzy hair. Her fat middle-aged pimp sits in a beat up red Honda, watching as his “lot lizard” moves from truck to truck, in broad daylight. If this pimp has a cane it is for substance, not style.
She moves through the parking lot, occasionally opening a cab’s passenger-side door and climbing in.
The trucker and hooker disappear in the back for 10 minutes.
Danielle Mitchell watches from the other end of the parking lot and shakes her head.
By Elizabeth Johnson, CNN
Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) - With 12 minutes left in the game, the Charlotte Eagles are losing 2-0. The North Carolina humidity hangs thick in the evening air. The home crowd becomes restless as the opposing team's goalie blocks kick after kick.
But the team gets a big break in the 78th minute and scores twice in two minutes against the Rochester Rhinos. This men’s soccer match ends in a tie.
Did God bless the Eagles with those goals?
“I don’t think God cares if we win or lose,” Eagles captain Josh Rife says, shrugging.
Coach Mark Steffens agrees: “Our No. 1 goal is not winning games. Our goal is to bring glory to God.”
(CNN) – Evangelist Billy Graham was at home Sunday after being discharged from an Asheville, North Carolina, hospital where he was treated for pneumonia, the hospital said.
The 92-year old minister was admitted to the Mission Hospital early on Wednesday and returned to his home in the nearby town of Montreat, North Carolina, Sunday afternoon. His physicians said Graham's response to treatment has been good, but stressed his recovery will be slow.
"He has responded very well to treatment, with progressive improvement since his admission," said Lucian Rice, Graham's primary care physician. "We expect continuing recuperation at home with very gradual recovery, returning to normal activities over several weeks. I'm delighted that he has come back this fast."
Read the full story here.
(CNN) - Evangelist Billy Graham, 92, was admitted Wednesday for treatment of pneumonia following a health episode overnight, according to Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.
Initial pulmonary testing suggested pneumonia, and further tests showed Graham's heart was normal, the hospital said in a statement.
Believe it or not, there are Duke University students who were fired up Friday morning, even though their Blue Devils lost to Arizona Thursday night in the NCAA basketball tournament.
They may be a minority, but these students feel like the same passion that goes into cheering on the basketball team should go into worshipping the Lord.
They've been holding outdoor worship services on campus all week and are sponsoring an afternoon-long Christian music concert on Saturday. Think of it as faith-based March Madness, though officially the events are part of Blue Flame Worship Explosion 2011.
"While our whole school is seemingly captivated by basketball, we are proposing an alternative to bring more peace to March," said Regine Jean-Baptiste, one of the organizers of the Duke Christian events, wrote in an e-mail message.
“Often times everyone in life gets wrapped up in something … more than they should,” she wrote.
From CNN Raleigh, North Carolina affiliate WRAL:
Belk Inc. has agreed to settle a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that alleged the chain's Crabtree Valley Mall department store fired a woman because of her religious beliefs.
The lawsuit alleges that Myra Jones-Abid was working as a gift wrapper at Belk's in November 2008 when store managers ordered her to wear a Santa hat and Christmas-themed apron during the holiday season.
Jones-Abid is a Jehovah's Witness, and her religious practices prohibit her from celebrating holidays like Christmas, according to the lawsuit.
Read the full story about the lawsuit at WRAL.com
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.