Someone posted the following video to the Atheist Nexus "Comedy" group page; I thought that you might be interested in it, as there's a bit about religious paintings toward the end.
Welcome to Atheist Nexus with its 9000+ good friends and discussion groups.
Among the groups, may I suggest trying the busy group “ORIGINS: Universe, Life, Humans, Evolution, Religion.....” with its 135 commonsense topics whose discussions rebuff religious nonsense. You will be welcome.
One discussion is "Proud to be Atheist" (74 posts) seeing that atheists and humanists hold the intellectual high ground [even if you are obliged to be secret about it] compared with the pathetic superstitions of the god followers.
Terry Meaden (English scientist and archaeologist; Oxford; 60+; founder of “Origins”)
I'm surprised that I forgot the famous anti-trinitarian Giordano Bruno, executed for his (dis)belief. Hey, I'm curious, what inspired you to paint a series of atheist martyrs? And where will you display the paintings?
It's a long list. Let's see, the last person to die for atheism in Britain was Thomas Aikenhead ("Aikenhead the atheist," as he was called). He was hanged for blasphemy in 1697 in Scotland.
While not "atheists" in the modern sense, many went to the scaffold for varying shades of "unbelief"--which included the rejection of Christianity. The historian David Wootton points out that in 1574, "Geoffroy [sic] Vallee was executed for denying God" (Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, 13). Although Vallee denied that he was an atheist, "he was hostile to all religions that inculcated fear," and in his book "he attacked in turn Catholicism, Protestantism, [and] Anabaptism" (ibid.). Wootton also notes that "[i]n 1682 Noel Journet was burnt in Metz: two manuscripts went up in flames with him. In one he had exposed the inconsistencies in the Bible narrative and dismissed the whole Bible as a fable.... Earlier still, in 1550, Jacques Gruet was burnt, again in the company of his manuscript, in Geneva. He may well have been a true atheist, for he denied that the world had been created" (29).
Giulo Cesar Vanini was put to death for atheism in 1619. He was 34. Ferrante Pallavacino was executed for unbelief in 1644. (On the last two figures, see Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, 73-74, 79).
There are surely many others, and I'll send their names along when I recall them or come across them in my research. Don't forget the other "martyrs," though, who did not quite suffer the ultimate punishment. Protagorus, for example, was exiled for his agnosticism, and millions have kept their views to themselves because they feared the penalty for expressing their beliefs.
And remember not to become a martyr, even in a metaphorical sense, yourself!
It's a scary and frustrating situation to be in. Some religious people are far more tolerant of atheism than one would expect, and others are just as intolerant as one fears they will be. I remember when I wanted to order David Berman's Atheism in Britain for the University of Nebraska library, the librarian looked at me as if I had insulted his mother; he whisked me into his office, closed the door, and told me that "that kind of thing has a bad odor here." Our "philosophy" program was basically a ritual indoctrination in Roman Catholicism, as all of the professors were devout Roman Catholics.
In such circumstances, it's tough to know who will be on your side and who will demonize you--to quote MLK, Jr., one is "living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next." After a religion professor at the University of Kansas, Paul Mirecki, was beaten for wanting to teach a course on Intelligent Design as myth and for making a few less than sensitive remarks about "fundies," I decided to teach a graduate course on religious skepticism, and it went very well. But being an atheist was a liability the whole time I was there. You might decide that after a few years of trying to enlighten your neighbors, you've done enough missionary work. You might decide to move to another part of the country--that's what I did.
As you note, I'm still a bit worried about my atheism where I teach now, even though the university claims to welcome those of any religion and those "with no religious affiliation." I just don't know how far to trust that.
Please do continue to share any difficulties or conflicts that you face at school--I'd be more than happy to discuss them. There are few things worse than feeling isolated.
Lead prayer? Wow--you have my sincere sympathy. I taught in central Nebraska for two years, and while my colleagues were lovely, the religious culture that permeated much of the school proved intolerable at times.