This false spin serves as a very effective frame device for radicalizing a base of atheists into an ever more militant "us versus them" rhetoric, an interpretation that is used to justify sophomoric and polarizing attacks on religious Americans.
Indeed, "atheism is a civil rights issue" is a familiar catchphrase that comes up in the feeding frenzy of complaints and insults that typify the echo chamber of the Atheist Net Roots, including several of the sites here at Scienceblogs.com. (See this discussion here.)
Yet is atheism really a civil rights issue? The answer is a resounding "No." In a column at Free Inquiry magazine, DJ Grothe, vice president for public outreach at the Center for Inquiry, lays out the case against atheism as a civil rights issue, and argues as I do, that atheists don't face a civil rights battle but rather a public image problem. (To Grothe's argument, I would add that this image problem is only made worse by the Dawkins/Hitchens PR campaign.)