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Whiny Cowards?

January 29, 2012

The other day I came across this post on a website called Catholic Lane.

I read through the summary of the case and indeed, the  plaintiffs alleged that they were “injured because they feel excluded, or made unwelcome when …. ask[ed] … to engage in a religious observance that is contrary to their own principles.” The court ruled that “hurt feelings differ from legal injury” and the plaintiffs were not injured in respect of time or money. No one was being forced to pray nor being abused or selected against for choosing not to pray. It was a battle which had been fought and lost already against Obama’s national day of prayer, and was bound to be lost again.

But does that make the plaintiffs “whiny, sniveling, little, pusillanimous cowards?” The writer, Mary Kochan, takes the reason stated in court at face value as the reason the case was brought in the first place. The atheists had their feelings hurt and couldn’t bear to have to hear about a praying majority. Further, she writes, “You are a pitiful joke. Trembling over the mere mention of God. Running like babies to court because of your brittle feelings. “Oh, but judge, but judge, I saw a cross and I just can’t stand it.”  “I heard someone say ‘Merry Christmas’ and it hurt my feelings.”  “I just can’t sleep knowing there is a manger scene at the courthouse.”  “The sight of the Ten Commandments makes me wet my pants.”

Let’s pause a moment. In most court cases, what is the plaintiff’s objective? To win his point, yes? To gain whatever it is he has come to fight for. To that end, he will say not the bare bones truth of what he feels, but what his lawyer advises him will be the most effective thing to say to win the case. It seems naive to assume anything but that the lawyers of the Freedom From Religion Foundation advised them to plead feeling excluded as the thing that might give them the best chance of winning. Given that, let’s consider what might be the real motivation of any person or organization fighting to keep religion out of government, out of courthouses, out of schools. Just to be clear, to my knowledge these cases are only ever against religion in state organizations. No one is crying to a judge because they saw a cross or heard God mentioned in a non-state setting.

As the statement of this case reminds us, the First Amendment establishes that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” We are certainly not at a point at which any law might come up directly violating that and actually attempting to establish a state religion. But that’s not how these things happen, is it? They happen by degrees, with little things that are hard to argue against. Hitler didn’t come out of nowhere and start deporting Jews. All sorts of small things laid the groundwork in the preceding decade, notions of genetic supremacy, increasingly aggressive anti-Jewish humor, even a board game called ‘Juden Raus’ (Jews out) in which one played at hunting down and arresting gross caricatures of Jews. Just a game, right? Nobody gets hurt. But they get desensitized for when the time comes for the real thing. (story)

So when atheists see religious statements displayed in courts and schools, or informing law, we become alarmed, and it has nothing to do with our tender little feelings. In fact, Christians and all other believers should be just as alarmed. Do any of us really want a particular religious creed enforced by government? Do we want laws dictated by a particular moral code? Even if you happen to agree with most of it, what about the bits you might not agree with? Do you want to be threatened with arrest if you don’t go to church every Sunday? And not the church of your choosing, but the governmentally approved one, the only one left standing. How exactly would this differ from living under the Taliban? Yes, I’m leaping to extremes, but all extreme outcomes start somewhere, often innocently. We should all be anxious to preserve the separation of church and state if we want to maintain freedom of belief, freedom of non-belief, any freedom at all.

On a side note, I’m intrigued by Mary Kochan’s assertions regarding Jefferson’s religiousness, having just read Dawkins’ passage in which he suggests exactly the opposite, that Jefferson may even have been an atheist. I don’t think it’s either here nor there when it comes to the importance of separation of church and state or the Constitution’s clarity on the subject, but I’m curious. I haven’t read Jefferson since college and would like to go through some if his writings to see what my conclusion is about his beliefs.


From → Civil Rights

  1. Kiah permalink

    Finally! The last few paragraphs are something I’ve wondered about myself- never quite to the extreme you took it, but I was glad to read that extreme, nonetheless- finally someone else seems to have that viewpoint! I was starting to think I was alone here.

    I would also like to thank you for this blog. I’m 16, so nowhere near having a kid, but I do plan to raise it Atheist until it’s old enough to reach its own conclusions and, I have to say, you are quite an inspiration 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for commenting, Kiah! You know, I’d never heard anyone say this either, but since writing this post got to a part in Dawkins’ book where he mentions the phrase ‘The American Taliban’, which apparently has been coined to refer to just this sort of thing – the extreme fundamentalist Christians who want to make the US into a Christian state. Here are a couple sites: This one just has quotes from some of the looneys:
    and here’s a book which I think I need to get:

    I’m impressed that you’re thinking about the politics of religion at 16 – I’m pretty sure I wasn’t at your age! Were you brought up as an atheist?

    Thanks for reading and for inspiring me to keep writing!

  3. Kiah permalink

    No, I was actually raised Southern Baptist Christian (which I’ve since learned broke off from the Baptist Church just to keep their slaves- ironic.) I even have two uncles who are preachers. I’m the only atheist in my family and it was quite a shock when I “came out of the closet” about it. Thankfully, my parents are more supportive than some and will debate religion with me and accept that I have different views.

    I’ve actually been wanting to read “The God Delusion” for a while now but haven’t gotten to it.

    • Then you are brave indeed, and very fortunate to have accepting parents. I’ve heard so many horror stories of religious parents rejecting their children who have chosen not to believe.

      The God Delusion is worth reading, especially if you’re relatively new to atheism. It’s not without its problems, largely, I think, stemming from Dawkins’ need to push his agenda sometimes at the expense of a more full and honest examination of issues, but it makes very important points.

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