Disgruntledpatriot's Blog

December 31, 2009

Freedom From Religion or Just Another Closed Minded Group of Idiots?

I know I am a little late on this one, I saw it on the news and meant to say something about it here, but I forgot.  So last week, in Springfield Illinois we had a group come to the state capitol and place a sign that said:

“At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

So, what’s my problem with this?  Well the winter solstice is a very holy holiday for some, it’s called Yule.  It celebrates the earth goddess going to sleep for the winter.  The holiday is marked by things you would recognize, such as the christmas tree, carols, holly, mistletoe, and a whole plethora of others.  What this group is promoting is not only false, but in my opinion is actionable.  They are misrepresenting a valid religious holiday for their own ends, and they might want to be careful who they offend.

The other problem I have with this is here we have another group that is misrepresenting our Constitution.  It would surprise a lot of people to know that the words ‘separation of church and state’ doesn’t exist in the Constitution.  I have discussed this before, and I have a link for you to check it out.  It has just grown so pervasive today that you can almost anyone and they will tell you that they firmly believe that those words are actually in our laws somewhere.  This group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is like the ACLU, quick to bring suit against anyone that does anything that violates their mythical law.  It’s kinda funny actually, they rant and rile against people who want to spread their religious views to others, by spreading their anti-religious views.  Pot meet kettle anyone?

I wrote them an email asking them to stop using the holiday of Yule for their own anti-religion agenda, we will see what they say.  I believe their misrepresenting of that holiday may continue to promote ignorance and hate, and if I am not mistaken it could even be actionable if they continue the practice.

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10 Comments »

  1. The phrase “separation of church and state” is but a metaphor to describe the underlying principle of the First Amendment and the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution. The absence of the phrase in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, only to those who may have once labored under the misimpression the words appeared there and later learned of their mistake. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to describe one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. That letter, though, played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Indeed, the Court mentioned it only in passing after stating its conclusion based on a lengthy and detailed discussion (encompassing many pages and many footnotes) of the historical context in which the First Amendment was developed. The metaphor “separation of church and state” was but a handy catch phrase to describe the upshot of its conclusion. The Court’s reading of the First Amendment in this regard was unanimous; all nine Justices agreed on that much, but split 5-4 on whether the Amendment precludes states from paying for transportation of students to religious schools.

    Perhaps even more than Thomas Jefferson, James Madison influenced the Court’s view. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that old habits die hard and that tendencies of citizens and politicians could and sometimes did lead them to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    The First Amendment embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to transform our secular government into some form of religion-government partnership should be resisted by every patriot.

    Comment by Doug Indeap — December 31, 2009 @ 11:23 am | Reply

  2. While I pretty much agree with what you say, there are people out there that push ‘separation of church and state’ too far in my opinion. The spirit of the first amendment was to protect people from religious persecution, and from being forced to worship one way or another. It was not intended to be used to erase religion from America all together. It also does not say that government buildings, and public land must be religious free zones. In almost every example, it is not the state promoting a religion, but allowing people to practice it, and being inclusive in the process. For instance the placement of the sign in the state capitol in Illinois. Not only was the sign out of place, but it was put there for no other reason that to irritate people. It misrepresents a real, and recognized religion by using the winter solstice as an example of anti-religion. The fight between atheists and people of faith is an ignorant one anyway. The sign placed in the capitol was just as out of place as a McDonalds advertisement would have been. Atheists do not believe in a higher power, they don’t have a religious holiday, and therefore their inclusion in a display of religious holidays was unnecessary.

    The problem with the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is that it is so broad that it has allowed many groups to infringe on the rights of those that are supposed to be protected by the first amendment. The thing that people also forget is that the constitution doesn’t protect a citizen from being offended. Do the people that place that sign actively avoid churches? Do they stay away from anyplace that plays christmas music? If the state of Illinois wasn’t promoting anyone one religion, or condemning any then they weren’t violating any law, and the sign of ‘protest’ must have been placed there only to get attention or to irritate.

    As a patriot I support the freedom of religion, and the spirit of the first amendment. As a non-christian I also realize that our broad acceptance of what the first amendment means is empowering people that would like nothing better than to erase our history and culture as it pertains to religion and our nation’s past. Political correctness is ruining this country because it has gone too far. No longer is it, treat others as you want to be treated, but it’s going out of your way, even if it means infringing on the rights of others, to make sure no one is offended by anything. What’s to happen to those of us who celebrate Yule, when the anti-religious movement gets it into their heads that the Christmas tree comes from that faith’s practices? Holly, mistletoe, yule logs, christmas carols, and many other icons of the season are pagan traditions, and are held today by modern pagans. Will we eventually lose those as well so that others aren’t offended?

    Comment by disgruntledpatriot — December 31, 2009 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

  3. You are right to note that the principle of separation of church and state gets stretched. Both people who champion it and people who oppose it do that.

    Many, for instance, fail to distinguish between the “public square” and “government.” The principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

    The sign you mention brings up a related principle. When the government allows people to use government property as a platform for speaking their minds, such as displaying religious symbols or messages, generally it must do so in a nondiscriminatory manner, meaning basically all comers get equal treatment. So if a government allows some people to use city hall to offer a religious (e.g., Christmas) message, it must allow others to use city hall to offer their religious messages as well. (Note this is different than the government speaking for itself; under the establishment clause, the government has no business offering its own religious message.)

    You raise an interesting question about people being offended. We’re not talking about the freedom of individuals to say or do something others find offensive; individuals plainly have that freedom. We’re talking about the government’s actions either to promote religion or to unequally allow others to use government resources to promote religion. Under our Constitution, our government has no business doing that–regardless of whether anyone is offended. While the First Amendment thus constrains government from promoting religion without regard to whether anyone is offended, a court may address the issue only in a suit by someone with “standing” (sufficient personal stake in a matter) to bring suit; in order to show such standing, a litigant may allege he is offended or otherwise harmed by the government’s failure to follow the law; the question whether someone has standing to sue is entirely separate from the question whether the government has violated the Constitution.

    Comment by Doug Indeap — December 31, 2009 @ 2:58 pm | Reply

  4. Ah, but half the article, and most of the point is about the sign. The state capitol, as far as I know, was being inclusive. The sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not fit the definition of a religious message about the holidays. Atheists do not have a religion, as they claim, so how can they demand to be included in something that they have no stake in. The other part of the article deals with their misrepresentation of an actual religious holiday. To use the Winter Solstice, known to some of us as Yule, to promote their anti-religious agenda is offensive, and while I don’t have any constitutional protection from that I have certainly asked them to stop. I don’t see an issue with people expressing their religious beliefs on public/government property if, like you said, it’s all inclusive. What I have a problem with is someone else coming in and wanting to disparage the whole thing with something that doesn’t fit. Like I mentioned, the sign was as relevant as a McDonalds advertisement would have been. If they don’t believe in God, and don’t like religion then that’s their thing, but to go out of their way to point it out in the presence of people that just want to celebrate is ignorant.

    Comment by disgruntledpatriot — December 31, 2009 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  5. I think you are right that the state was endeavoring not to discriminate by allowing various groups to display their signs and that’s how the FFRF’s sign came to be there. That seems to comport with the Supreme Court’s ruling (I can’t remember the name of the case) that the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment embraces not only theism, but atheism and other nontheistic world views.

    Note that atheism may be considered a “religion” for such purposes even if it is not a religion in other contexts. To the extent atheism is defined merely as the lack of any belief in god(s), it doesn’t seem to qualify as a religion in the sense of a philosophical world view any more than the absence of any belief in all sorts of other things, e.g., unicorns. Those lacking a belief in god(s), though, generally have other beliefs, e.g., materialism (the philosophical sort, not the consumer sort) or paganism, that together may be regarded a religion. Whether atheism is the right label for any such religion is debatable.

    I can see how FFRF’s sign may well be offensive to some. To that extent, even though FFRF may be within its rights to say these things, doing so perhaps does not serve its PR purposes very well. But as you note, all of us are free to say things others may find offensive.

    Comment by Doug Indeap — December 31, 2009 @ 7:10 pm | Reply

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