Church-State Separation

Paul Fidalgo's picture

"Under God" and Compulsory Unity

Radley Balko at the Agitator and Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty wonder at the wisdom of Michael Newdow and other atheists' attempts to strike "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Their beef? Per Balko:

Seems to me that the real problem here—whether you’re atheist, agnostic, or devout—is the idea that we’re forcing school kids to take a loyalty oath to a swatch of cloth. If the argument is that they’re pledging allegiance to the country the cloth represents, that’s pretty creepy, too.

And from Kuznicki's response:

Maybe the most remarkable aspect of my fellow citizens’ pledge to exclude me is the sheer fact that they mostly wouldn’t do it of their own prompting. But pass a law, and look at the difference! They all line up to ostracize, even the ones who, ordinarily, are better than this. Stanley Milgram would be proud. Or ashamed. Or both, I guess. [ . . . ]

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Redefining The Divine

Robert V. Thompson, the Chicago Examiner "Spirituality Examiner", is sympathetic to the "New Atheist" movement, specifically the Bus campaign in England. Frankly it is refreshing to have someone who claims to be sympathetic to atheists. But then he throws out the old canard about how he doesn't believe in the God we don't believe in either:

[link] I am grateful for the atheist bus campaign because the world sorely needs a larger and deeper conversation about what we mean when we speak of God. When my atheist friends tell me they don’t believe in God I ask them what they mean by the word 'God'. They usually say they don’t believe in a separate supreme being with a large ego.

Neither do I.

He then goes on to redefine this "god" thing into - well - anything. I mean, literally anything at all:

(Continued after the fold...)

Paul Fidalgo's picture

New Hampshire Paper: Scrap the Inaugural Prayer

The Concord Monitor comes out against Rick Warren at Barack Obama's inauguration. . .but not only does the Monitor oppose Warren because of his anti-gay views, the paper (once named by Time Magazine as one of America's best newspapers) comes to the conclusion that inaugural prayers ought to be done away with entirely:

Do we need an inaugural prayer? Somehow, in a country that has become more and more diverse, a country that includes not only Protestants, but also Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and nonbelievers, the tradition seems an anachronism that future presidents would do well to scrap.

Formal prayers by Christian ministers have been associated with presidential inaugurations from the get-go, but they're surely no requirement. And while you might assume such prayers would be of the tepid, generic, non-denominational variety, a quick look back at recent overtly religious invocations will surely give many Americans, regardless of their personal religious affiliations, pause.

Paul Fidalgo's picture

A One-Two Punch of Anti-Atheist Ignorance

This morning brings with it two examples of really bad arguments against Michael Newdow's suit to un-God-ify the presidential inauguration. I'll deal with the weaker of the two first, by Dan McDowell who writes a Boston College Democrats column for I consider it weaker because the piece is peppered with such phrases as "come on" and "what is this?", which I suppose are meant to be informal and familiar, but really only make the author seem, well, twelve.

McDowell doesn't seem to really know where he stands on the issue, as he insists:

I am a strong supporter of the separation of church and state. It is to the benefit of both that the institutions do not get mixed up with one another.

And then tells us (emphasis mine):

Going after the word God appearing anywhere in the public sphere, including our government, is ridiculous.

Jim Downey's picture

Court rejects "imposed second-class status" of atheists.

So, gay? Atheist? Just in favor of the separation of Church and State?

Then have a smile:

Conservatives on 9th Circuit Can't Rescue Boy Scouts From Establishment Clause Claim

Conservatives on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals couldn't muster enough votes to rescue the Boy Scouts from the riptide of an Establishment Clause claim.

The court denied en banc review Tuesday to a San Diego-based Boy Scouts group in a case that raises tough church-and-state questions (pdf). The appeal drew a wide range of amici: the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and a group of states -- including Texas and South Dakota -- sided with the Scouts, while California filed for the plaintiffs.

Jim Downey's picture

Open-source morality.

In a discussion about the over-influence of religion in British government on MetaFilter, the predictable give & take about activist atheism got going. I read these threads because they provide another snapshot into the current "temperature" of the debate, but once in a while I come across something either insightful or well stated that I like to share. Two such, this time:

Why is it that people complain about atheists evangelizing, but don't complain about the much more ubiquitous evangelism from the religious?

Because atheists are a threat to religion in a way that religion isn't to atheism.

It's like they have open-sourced morality and are undermining the business model of religion.
posted by srboisvert at 4:34 AM on December 28 [24 favorites]

I really like that idea: atheism is an open-source system, versus an entrenched and closed-source authority.

And then there's this:

Paul Fidalgo's picture

Unaffiliated, Underrepresented

The Pew Forum reports on the religious affiliations of Members of Congress. Not surprisingly, there are some curious inequities in representation.

First some background. Atheists are indeed a tiny minority in the United States: Pew's national survey shows atheists make up 1.6% of the population, though secularists generally tend to prefer citing the 16.1% of Americans who are of no religion or unaffiliated.

For a little perspective on that 1.6 number, compare that to the national percentage of Jews (1.7%) and Mormons (also 1.7%). Doesn't look as tiny as it once did, does it?

Now let's look at Congress. According to Pew, Jews make up 8.4% of the legislative branch (almost 5 times the percentage of Jews in the general population), and Mormons make up 2.4% (twice the percentage of the general population).

Jim Downey's picture

Talk about a breath of fresh air...

From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way: leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process.

Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States – and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.

That's President-elect Obama, in his weekly radio address this morning, announcing his top science advisors.

Compare that to the mindset we've put up with from the Bush administration, the latest round of which was announced yesterday:

Jim Downey's picture

Move over, Elvis.

Atheist seeks same access to altar as fake Liberaces, Elvises

LAS VEGAS - In a city launched by shotgun weddings and quickie divorces, which offers the chance to be wed by faux Liberaces, King Tuts and Grim Reapers, there remains at least one nuptial taboo: you can't be married by an atheist.

Michael Jacobson, a 64-year-old retiree who calls himself a lifelong atheist, tried this year to get a license to perform weddings. Clark County rejected his application because he had no ties to a congregation, as state law requires. So Jacobson and attorneys from two national secular groups — the American Humanist Association and the Center for Inquiry — are trying to change things. If they can't persuade the state Legislature to rework the law, they plan to sue.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Footprints On The Beach

Beliefnet columnist Rob Dreher is of the "what's the big deal?" and shrug your shoulders-variety of Christian conservative who believes that all of us folks that are concerned with the separation of church and state, and the civil rights inherent in the first amendment, should quit getting our panties in a wad.

[Rob Dreher] You might be able to say that the goal of secularism is to separate Christianity, particularly fundamentalist Christianity, from governance--but you'd have to prove, first, that fundamentalist Christianity is unduly entangled with governance. Aside from the matter of a few attempts to get either Intelligent Design or Creationism into government schools, though, or at least to remind students that the theory of evolution does not in any way prove the non-existence of God no matter how many times, or in how many ways, this is claimed, it's hard to see just where the excessive entanglement between Christianity and government might lie.

Putting aside the absolutely loopy insinuation that "secularists" make the claim that evolution somehow "proves the non-existence of God" (it doesn't - evolution says exactly ZERO about the Christian God), I would like to address Rob's paragraph here:

There is no logical secular reason to oppose the death penalty, for one example, after all; a true secularist could just as easily see such an act as a necessary operation to remove an unsatisfactory and destructive collection of self-aware human tissue from the body politic before the cancer of his lethiferous actions spreads to other self-aware tissue collections. But the new secular morality is taking some of its shape from the old Christian one, while rejecting other aspects of it--which means that it is not Christian morality in toto being rejected, just those elements of it which interfere with the secular vision.

There is no such animal as a "true secularist". Any more than there is a "True Christian(tm)". I call strawman.

And also, a "self-aware tissue collection"? Seriously? Does Dreher *truly* believe that these mythical "True Secularists(tm)" think of their fellow human beings in this way?

Now he's just being silly.

Because the right thing, in the new secular morality, will always be that thing which elevates the atomized individual and his choices in the sexual, biologically-manipulable, life and death arenas over any other thing. The manifesto was written, and it reads: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." (Planned Parenthood vs. Casey).

That is the foundational truth upon which the new secular morality upon which the laws of our new national reality, devoid of "religion," will be based. And the reason the old Christian morality has to go is that it has rejected that insanely relativistic notion and the path to the nihilistic darkness to which it leads.

Gosh, it sure is fun to make up a parody of an entire group of people, then attribute wild and crazy motivations to them, thus making it easier to paint them as soulless freaks who are trying demoniacally to lead America down the "path to nihilistic darkness".

I mean, it's ever so much more interesting than, say, the truth. It certainly makes for a more interesting Beliefnet column - that is, if you can swallow the premise of a ravaging sub-human horde of baby-eating atheist liberals bent of the destruction of America.

So, what is the truth? The truth is that most folks are good people. They love their families and their friends. They celebrate Christmas. They give to charity. They consume, and in doing so, keep our capitalist economy chugging along. They vote for the guy they think will do the best job. They babysit their neighbor's kids, and carpool to work. They are concerned about the environment, but love their big V-8s and their ATVs. They hunt. They fish. They go to work, and bring home a paycheck for the family.

People are people. There are extremes, of course, but the vast middle-ground is filled with basically decent, friendly, good people. They are made up of all colors, and all political parties.

There is no sinister secular plot to supplant the "traditional Christian morality". Christian morality isn't "dissolving". That's just hogwash. Our HUMAN morality has developed and changed and - yes - evolved, throughout the history of our species. It will continue to evolve to meet the unique and changing conditions and needs of our societies. One does not "supplant" the other. "Morality" is all one big, homogeneous, changing, fluid set of guidelines that - through trial and error over hundreds of thousands of years, us humans have agreed-upon in order to make our societies work better.

Some "moral" things are almost always there; Don't murder. Don't rape. Protect women and children, etc. Other things come and go as needed by the species to better survive; Take more than one wife. Cannibalism is OK. Incest is OK if there aren't any other people around. Human sacrifice pleases the gods. Etc. All of these "sometimes" things have been "moral" at some point in our history. That fact that we generally don't consider them to be "moral" actually supports the idea that morality evolves and changes over time, according to it's "environment" (human society).

Please note that trying to stop this change, this evolution of morality, is akin to trying to stop the waves from washing away your footprints on the beach. Futile and childish.

Morality is an expression of our species-level human survival. It is not about a god, gods, God, godlet, goddess, or no-god.

So, Rob Dreher, great column and all - it was fun to read, and to pick apart. But ultimately it's nothing more than sound and fury, signifying nothing more that your own petulant denial of the nature of reality.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

It's A Free Country - Except For Those Dirty Atheists

Manitowoc County, Wisconsin County Board supervisor in charge of approving or disapproving requests for displays on county land, has settled the hoary old "separation of church and state" issue for good.

Apparently, us atheists don't exist, so we don't get equal time in Manitowoc County.

Screw the Constitution - County Board Supervisor Norbet Vogt has SPOKEN!

Norbert Vogt is a County Board supervisor on the Public Works Committee, which reviews requests to place items on county land. A sketch of the proposed display must accompany the written request.

He said he wouldn't have a problem with other faith communities — such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhism — seeking to have a religious display at the courthouse. "It's a free country," Vogt said.

However, he would have a problem with atheists putting up a sign declaring, "There is no god."

Vogt said everybody realizes there is a Supreme Being, and it would be unacceptable to have a sign denying that reality.

Ziegelbauer said he thinks the Nativity scene "looks wonderful," though he is not involved in the approval process.

He said non-Christians, including atheists, could request display space, but said, after checking with Public Works Director Jeff Beyer, that none have.

Frackin' know-nothing, petty tinpot dictators. Local government seems to attract the type. Here's his contact page at the Manitowoc County website - you know, in case you'd like to express your opinion about his bigotry towards atheists.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Quod Erat Demonstratum

Crazy Morning Radio DJ™ Ichabod Caine - the radio guy who received the stolen atheist sign in Washington state - attempts to defend against it's statement that religion "...hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

However, all he manages to do is demonstrate his own hardened heart, and enslaved mind.

[link] "What struck me ... (about the sign) is that Christianity somehow 'hardens hearts and enslaves minds.' Really? I don't remember, 25 years ago, when I accepted the Lord, that it hardened my heart and it didn't enslave me," Caine said. "And so I thought, how could negative speech like that be allowed?"

Wow. In that one short paragraph, he actually managed to shoot himself in foot, while it was in his mouth. Impressive.

It's funny, Ichabod my main man, but I don't remember the part in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that says, "Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech - except if it's negative speech as defined by a Crazy Morning Radio DJ™."

Brent Rasmussen's picture

See? It's Not Really That Hard To Understand

[Gov. Chris Gregoire] "In the state of Washington, we really fundamentally respect the rights of people to express their free speech. I happen to be a Christian, and I don't agree with the display that is up there. But that doesn't mean that as governor, I have the right to deny their ability to express their free speech."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Put a sock in it Bill O'Reilly, you wannabee theocrat.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

A Pig In A Poke

A Christian blogger is pretty upset that us godless atheists want - *gasp* - equal rights.

[link] We all know that Judeo-Christian values have been the core of our nation’s military since the Revolutionary War and that soldiers, for centuries, have relied on The Almighty for protection during peacetime and wartime. This is just another attempt by godless leftists to chip away at the very foundation of what makes America the land of the free: God. These people must be chomping at the bit for Barack Obama to take office so that they finally have a sympathetic ear - someone who shares their affinity for a godless America.

Any time I see the words “We all know…”, I check my wallet because someone is trying to sell me a pig in a poke.

I noticed that she filed this post under “Our Enemies”. Does she truly consider her fellow American citizens - who just happen to be godless - as her “enemies”?


If so, why? What the heck did we ever do to her? I mean, we are indeed trying to get her to follow the law and the Constitution - to respect our civil right not to be *forced* to attend a prayer function that we do not believe in. But other than that, what’s the problem? Don’t we have that right under the law and the Constitution’s Bill of Rights?

Doesn't she want to follow the law and the Constitution? Does she want to be an outlaw instead? Take over the government and force all of us uppity godless atheists into re-education camps? Have mandatory prayers, oh say five times a day? Blasphemy laws? Prison for “admitted atheists”? A return to McCarthyism? Purges? Theocracy? With her own personal flavor of theological lunacy at the helm?

What *exactly* is she getting at here?

Please forgive me, and everyone else in America who does not share her religion, if we say “no thanks”.

Let’s just stick to the Constitution, shall we? She is not “more equal” than anyone else. She needs to get over it.

Jim Downey's picture

You better watch out,*

You better watch out,
You better all cry,
You better all pout,
AFA is telling you why:
The evil gays are coming to town.

AFA's making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice.
The evil gays are coming to town.

They'll get you when you're sleeping.
Or even when you're awake.
Evil gays are bad, not good,
So be good for God's own sake!

You better watch out,
You better all cry,
You better all pout,
AFA is telling you why:
The evil gays are coming to town.
The evil gays are coming to town!

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Giving Up on God

Giving Up on God

As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

I'm bathing in holy water as I type.

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

OK, she still makes a bow in the direction of the alter, saying that private belief still makes people and society better. But the main thrust of her column is that religion has poisoned politics, particularly Republican politics, for the last generation.

Scott Mange's picture

One for the Win Column

I have some good news to report. As you may or may not know, I'm a member of the Abimelech Society. You can read more about them here. We are dedicated to the legal removal of religious materials from the public sphere. In other words, if someone offers us a tract, we ask how many we can have, take them all and then round-file them. Those Gideon bibles at hotels; gone! Prayer meeting announcements on the grocery store pin-board; removed. Etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum because it always comes back.

Until yesterday......

wantobe's picture

Where would you draw the line?

Christian Trejbal is a columnist for my local paper, The Roanoke Times, and he recently wrote an editorial on "Where we vote affects how we vote". In short, he thinks voting should not take place in churches. It's not a bad column, and he brings up some good points, but I disagreed with one aspect of it. He wrote that, along with believers in other faiths, Atheists will feel uncomfortable voting in a church because of the crosses, the messages they see, etc.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Indonesian Schoolchildren Hate You

My daughter-in-law is from Indonesia, so this is interesting to me. To put this into proper context, atheism is a crime in Indonesia. Their national ideological statement is called "Pancasila" ( a sanskrit word meaning "Five Principles"). Its number one principle is, "Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa", or "Belief in the one and only God". This principle is also enshrined in the 1945 Indonesian constitution.

Governor of North Sumatra, Syamsul Arifin, said on 8th October at an occasion marking Pancasila Day that all elements of the nation must continually fight against and eradicate atheist beliefs among the people.

Atheism, which seeks to erase Pancasila and which once threatened the nation in the guise of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), and still does, has to be guarded against, particularly because it still finds support among sections of the poor.

Syamsul said children should be taught from primary school through to university to hate atheism, so that the creed could as far as possible be obliterated.

Yikes! Looks like us humans have a long, long way to go before we grow up and become adults.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Second Atheist Soldier Files Suit

The MRFF helps another atheist soldier file a suit against the Defense Department:

[link] Spc. Dustin Chalker, who has served in Korea and Iraq, is the second soldier at the northeast Kansas post to file such a lawsuit. The New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation joined Chalker as a plaintiff in his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.

Here's the PDF of the "Complaint For Injunctive Relief".

I wonder how long it will be before he receives his first drunken death threat from his fellow "good Christian" soldiers?

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