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Feb 21 2013

Dear Mister Minister (re: DEAR MR ATHEIST)

Dear Mister Minister

I read your little letter—and I disagree, I fear—
Since you don’t allow for comments there, I’ll have to comment here:
It’s written very clearly, and it isn’t very long,
But your letter has a fatal flaw: its premises are wrong!
You paint us a position, which you eagerly refute
But the rights you say we fight against are nothing we dispute!
You can put religious symbols up, in prominent display;
In the schools and in the courthouse, you have every right to pray;
You have built yourself a strawman as the target of your rant—
You may practice your religion… it’s the government that can’t.

In your houses, in your churches, in the windows of your store,
You can spraypaint “Merry Christmas” till your fingertips are sore
In a restaurant, as in your home, feel free to say your grace,
It’s your personal behavior, though it’s in a public place.
It’s the government’s behavior that’s restricted by our laws,
So the government’s the target of that first amendment clause
Our founders had their different faiths, and with those faiths as guides
They determined that our government should not be taking sides
So if one faith is promoted, in the courthouse or the schools,
Then the other faiths are second-class… and that’s against the rules.

You can see how this arrangement’s in the interest of the church
And it wouldn’t take you very long, if you should care to search,
To collect a load of cases where a church has been protected
From the power of a different church the government selected.
Should a town begin its meetings with a public “let us pray…”
But a handful of their citizens praise God a different way
Or are Muslims, Jews, or Hindus (but who live there nonetheless)
They can use the first amendment as the answer to this mess
It’s protection of religion at the center of the fights
As we teach each local government our first amendment rights

So the “Apprising Ministries” blog doesn’t allow comments, but pastor-teacher Ken Silva wrote an open letter to a “Mr. Atheist”:

This nation in which we live was—beyond question—founded by religious people. Now, I’m not saying Christian—but certainly people of deeply held religious convictions. There’s no way around that.

So, exactly what makes your perceived right not to have to view religious symbols in public places and hear people pray in public, trump my actual right to display such symbols and to pray in public?

There’s a neat trick there–did you catch it?

I’m purposely avoiding the red herring about Christianity here as the founders considered “these truths self-evident,” that men are created, which presupposes the Creator Who endows them with rights.

He tells us he’s avoiding that red herring… but then goes on to present the real red herring, his second paragraph. No atheist I am aware of (even those who find such practices annoying, though I’ll admit there are a few of those) wants to deny pastor Ken his right to view religious symbols or pray in public. Not in the slightest. He can put them in his lawn, on the lawn of his church, in the front window of his store, or anywhere where the property owners have given him permission to dos so. Mind you, he can’t put them in my yard, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. He can pray in my yard, if he happens to stop by there while walking his dog. I can’t stop him from that.

But if he is acting as a representative of the government–as mayor, councilperson, public school teacher, or judge, for instance, then he cannot, while acting on behalf of the government, favor one religion over another. He’ll have to wait until he’s on his own time.

Pastor Ken is right–our founding fathers were religious. They held different faiths, and saw what happens when one, but not others, of those faiths are chosen as the official faith of the government. For the protection of religious groups themselves, they chose to prohibit the government from taking sides.

Looks to me like the government likes to talk about selected views of America’s founding fathers while conveniently ignoring the fact that the religious should prevail in such things, not the atheists.

Pastor Ken, your fight against atheists is a very recent thing. The first amendment establishment clause was meant to protect your faith against other faiths (and vice versa). Even today, for instance in Jackson, OH, one of the plaintiffs is a Christian. That person’s Christian views are at odds with the Christian views held by the school board. Now, those school board members have every right to practice their religion. But when they are acting as school board members (a minority of their time, and under very specific circumstances) they are the government, and the government has no right to treat this Christian plaintiff like a second-class citizen because of his or her religious beliefs.

I should hope you would be in favor of protecting this plaintiff’s rights. But it’s tough, when you are in the privileged position of an overwhelming religious majority, to recognize that the giving up of some of your privilege is not the same as an infringement on your rights.

Atheists are not fighting against your rights. We actually fight for them. But rights belong to everyone; if you want special treatment (say, the ability to have the government support your view exclusively), that is not a right, that’s a privilege.

So, back to your question:

So, exactly what makes your perceived right not to have to view religious symbols in public places and hear people pray in public, trump my actual right to display such symbols and to pray in public?

Let me fix that, because it’s just not true.

What makes your perceived right to have government support for your religion, trump everyone else’s actual right to be free from government intrusion into their religion?

15 comments

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  1. 1
    hexidecima

    Always love to see a minister try to pretend he isn’t trying to claim that that the US was founded by religious people just like *him*. Lying seems to come so easy to these people.

  2. 2
    Becca Stareyes

    So if one of my neopagan friends tells him that she’s sick of hearing about public officials talking about their god while wearing their ‘official’ hats and having their commandments and holy symbols unchallenged as part of public displays, and passing laws based on their interpretations of their holy books, do you think he’d listen? (Hell, I could probably get some liberal Christians to join in.) Because it’s not just atheists saying STFU, as you note.

    Granted, it should be enough that atheists aren’t included: It’s our country too. But I call ‘bullshit’ on his stance, and suspect he’s banking on most people in his neighborhood being some manner of Christian (or possibly a few Jews) so most of the state-sanctioned activity is for religions he’s comfortable with.

  3. 3
    shellity

    I actually said “Oh, you are GORGEOUS!” out loud while reading this.

  4. 4
    Cuttlefish

    ***BLUSH***

  5. 5
    jaytheostrich

    How much do you think their thinking would be if Christianity wasn’t such an overwhelming majority of faith in your country? Do you think the problems with their arguments being so Christ-specific be a little clearer to them, or do you think they’d still miss the ball as much?

  6. 6
    otrame

    This was a great one. I think I’ll save this one for next year when Facebook lights up with the war on christmas again.

    I often wonder how many really don’t get the difference between government and private property. I suspect that the ones who cause all the trouble understand it very well, if only because, like Mr. Mininster, they act as if it is only atheists who complain about government support of a religion. Many of the guy on the street types seem to actually not get it. Personally I LIKE nativity scenes, if they aren’t too horrifically plastic.. Yeah, I don’t believe it ever happened, but so what? and while it is true that in recent years people in my neighborhood seem to think that “more is better” in the Christas lights department, to such an extent that you can read the fine print at midnight in some areas, I still like Christmas lights. On private property. Why is that so hard to understand?

  7. 7
    otrame

    Oh, and this:

    Our founders had their different faiths, and with those faiths as guides
    They determined that our government should not be taking sides

    Is the whole damned thing in a nutshell. Just perfect. And it rhymes!

  8. 8
    hexidecima

    ah, I’ve sent a comment to Mr. Silva calling him out on his lies and false witnessing and got a response! Always good to see that even the “professionals” come up with the good ol’ no true scotsman fallacy, more lies, etc. He’s quite a lovely TrueChristian(tm) who is sure that his god hates everyone he does.

  9. 9
    a miasma of incandescent plasma

    I read the “Dear Mr Atheist” (and was the “Mr.” really necessary?) letter first to get the full context, and it got me fired up and wanting to write a point by point reply. It’s a good thing I read yours first cause you saved me having to do all that work. I appreciate the kind gesture.

    This is absolute perfection.

  10. 10
    Cuttlefish

    Hexidecima– I’d never ask anyone to divulge contents of an email, but I am glad you were able to get in touch!

  11. 11
    Margaret

    Bookmarked! I wish I had read this before a public school teacher of my acquaintance shrugged off the rape threats against Jessica Ahlquist and then went on to express outrage over the prayer being removed. I was too flabbergasted to have any sensible reply to her. It’s too late to send her this excellent reply since I don’t really consider her a friend anymore. :(

  12. 12
    Cuttlefish

    I hope you never have to use it, Margaret, but I hope you remember it if you do need to. The problem with being a little-known blog is that the odds against someone actually knowing of this verse to bring it to the table are remote.

  13. 13
    Margaret

    Cuttlefish, your blog deserves to be much better known. There is more of a civics lesson in this verse of yours than most Americans have ever had in school.

  14. 14
    Cuttlefish

    Margaret, I thank you–that is pretty much what I dream about for anything I write, but I so rarely have anyone agree with me! Feel free to share it–and if any of you know a place I should submit it for publication, send me the details!

  15. 15
    Margaret

    Cuttlefish, I don’t know how to get you more widely published, but I will happily read any more civics lessons you want to post. I enjoy posts that are mostly pointing and laughing (we *need* those so as not to cry), but a post like this is much more than that since it gives me the words to express the proper logical and factual argument against such things. I have never had a civics class or anybody IRL who cared about such stuff, so reading something like this is a joy for me. Keep it up.

  1. 16
    “Christmas and the Religion of Atheism” » The Digital Cuttlefish

    […] cards!) Note the “Santa Monica” parenthetic; we’ll revisit it later. Also, note the twist on “public displays”; a church’s yard is a perfect place for a nativity scene, and it is very public. My […]

  2. 17
    On Taking Sides, And Town Meeting Prayers » The Digital Cuttlefish

    […] couplet, excerpted from this earlier verse, is the crux of the matter in Greece, NY. In the most recent must-read piece, SCOTUSblog, and […]

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