Atheist News by Edwin Kagin

KENTUCKY ATHEISTS NEWS & NOTES Date: January 24, 2009

Kentucky Atheists, P.O. Box 666, Union, KY 41091; Email: [email protected]

Phone: (859) 384-7000; Fax: (859) 384-7324; Web: http://www.atheists.org/ky/

Editor’s personal web site: www.edwinkagin.com

Editor’s personal blog: http://edwinkagin.blogspot.com

Edited by:

Edwin Kagin, Kentucky State Director, American Atheists, Inc.

(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)

What Is An ATHEIST?

“ANOTHER THINKING HUMAN ENGAGED IN SEEKING TRUTH”
(Edwin Kagin, 2008)

To Unidentified Recipients:

American Atheists: Congratulations and Thanks, Mr. President

For Immediate Release

(Cranford, NJ). Americans throughout the nation’s history have included millions of Atheists and others who could be labeled as “non-believers,” in every walk of life, in military foxholes and high government offices, among the elites and among the downtrodden. Every American politician, every elected leader should routinely acknowledge us as the good, patriotic, taxpaying, and contributing citizens we have always been. Before today that routine acknowledgement has rarely been offered. As our own president, Dr. Ed Buckner, noted, “We should be able to take for granted that we will be considered as full and honorable citizens of this nation, but we usually have not been so recognized. In his Inaugural Address today, President Barack Obama finally did what many before him should have done, rightly citing the great diversity of Americans as part of the nation’s great strength—and including ‘non-believers’ in that mix. His mother would have been proud, and so are we. Congratulations and best wishes on your presidency, Mr. Obama. And thanks for including us all, right from the start.”

American Atheists Communications Director David Silverman added, “While President Obama’s words were very encouraging, we are hopeful that his actions will justify our optimism. We look forward to working with a president who understands that true religious freedom relies on true separation of religion and government.”

*** *** ***

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

American Atheists, Inc. P. O. Box 158, Cranford, NJ 07016
Tel: (908) 276-7300 Fax: (908) 276-7402

American Atheists, Inc. For more information, please contact:
http://www.atheists.org Ed Buckner, President (770) 803-5353 or (908) 499-9200
http://www.americanatheist.org Dave Silverman, Communications Director (732) 648-9333

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http://news.aol.com/main/obama-presidency/article/obamas-nonbeliever-nod-during/316339
Obama’s Nonbeliever Nod Unsettles Some
By MELINDA HENNENBERGER
AOL

(Jan. 23) – Not everyone was happy with President Barack Obama’s nod to nonbelievers and non-Christians in his inaugural address. And some of the stiff criticism about Obama’s religious inclusiveness is coming from African-American Christians who maintain that no, all faiths were actually not created equal.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” the new president said. “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth,” he also said. Nothing too controversial, proclaiming that America’s strength lies in its diversity.
But between those two statements, the new president got specific: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.”

By mentioning, for the first time in an inaugural address, the 16.1 percent of Americans who check “no”’ when asked about religion, Obama turned it into the most controversial line in his speech — praised by The New York Times editorial board and cited by some Christians as evidence that he is a heretic, and in his well-spoken way, a serious threat.

With that one line, the president “seems to be trying to redefine American culture, which is distinctively Christian,” said’ Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va. “The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he seems to be trying to redefine who we are.’”

Earlier this week, Jackson was a guest on the popular conservative Christian radio show ‘Janet Parshall’s America,’ where a succession of callers, many of whom identified themselves as African-American, said they shared the concern, and were perplexed and put off by the president’s shout-out to nonbelievers.

Parshall noted that atheists were celebrating the unexpected mention, and indeed they were: “In his inaugural address … President Barack Obama did what many before him should have done, rightly citing the great diversity of America as part of the nation’s great strength, and including ‘nonbelievers’’ in that mix,’” said Ed Buckner of American Atheists.

“His mother would have been proud,”’ Buckner said, referring to the fact that Obama’s mother was not a church-goer. “And so are we.”

Jackson said he and others have no problem acknowledging that “this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want.’” Yet Obama crossed the line, in his view, in suggesting that all faiths (and none) were different roads to the same destination: “He made similar remarks in the campaign, and said, ‘We are no longer a Christian nation, if we ever were. We are a Jewish, Hindu and non-believing nation.'”

Not so, Jackson says: “Obviously, Jewish heritage is very much a part of Christianity; the Jewish Bible is part of our Bible. But Hindu, Muslim, and nonbelievers? I don’t think so. We are not a Muslim nation or a nonbelieving nation.”’

With all the focus on Obama as the first African-American president, the succession of black callers to Janet Parshall’s show was a reminder that the “community”’ is not a monolith, and that many socially conservative black Americans are at odds with Obama’s views, particularly on abortion and gay rights. Nor do they all define civil rights in the same way.

The Rev. Cecil Blye, pastor of More Grace Ministries Church in Louisville, Ky., said the president’s reference to nonbelievers also set off major alarm bells for him. “It’s important to understand the heritage of our country, and it’s a Judeo-Christian tradition,”’ period.

American Atheists: Well Deserved Promotion for Blair Scott
For Immediate Release

(Cranford, NJ). American Atheists, Inc., announced today that Blair Scott of Huntsville, Alabama, has been named National Affiliates Director for the group. According to AA President Ed Buckner, “Blair Scott has been working long and very effectively in this arena on our behalf as our National Outreach Director for Affiliates. He richly deserves the enhanced visibility that goes with his new, broader title.” Dave Kong of California, National Director of State Operations and Board Secretary for American Atheists, added that Scott “has earned his spurs and the respect of Atheists across the nation with his work. We expect his success, like his hard work, to continue.” (Kong has overall responsibility for state directors and thus for our relationships with state and local groups.)

Blair Scott, who already holds the title of State Director for Alabama, has succeeded in recent years in convincing dozens of local groups to adopt the “affiliates” category with the national organization. Affiliates are loosely connected to the national group, without formal or legal ties but with mutual promises of friendship and support.
http://www.atheists.org
American Atheists, Inc.
For more information, please contact:
Ed Buckner, President (770) 803-5353 or (908) 499-9200
Dave Silverman, Communications Director, (732) 648-9333
Blair Scott, Affiliates Director, (256) 701-6265
Dave Kong, Director of State Operations, (510) 836-6336 *** *** ***

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.
American Atheists, Inc. P. O. Box 158, Cranford, NJ 07016

================================================================================

American Atheists

From the Office of Blair Scott

National Affiliate Outreach Director &

Alabama State Director, American Atheists, Inc.

PO Box 41, Ryland, AL 35767-2000

Office: (256) 701-6265 Cell: (256) 503-1123

[email protected] www.atheists.org/al/

ACTION ALERT: MISSISSIPPI

Proposed Mississippi legislation will put “just a theory” stickers in biology textbooks.

Representative Gary Chism from District 37 in Mississippi, has sponsored legislation to amend the state’s constitution in order to place “just a theory” stickers in Mississippi biology textbooks. The legislation, HB25, has been referred to the Education and Judiciary A committees for review and has a good chance of passing the committee for a House review.

You can read the entire proposed legislation, which will enact a constitutional amendment, online at:

http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2009/pdf/HB/0001-0099/HB0025IN.pdf

The proposed constitutional amendment includes different definitions of the word theory instead of the scientific one.

It describes evolution as a “controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things.” It goes on to state that, “No one was around when life first appeared; therefore statements about life’s origins should be considered a theory.

It then makes the statement that, “Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random undirected forces produced living things.” It then goes on to list a creationist manifesto of “problems with evolution” such as the Cambrian Explosion, “lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record,” “lack of transitional forms,” and the “complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body” (read as Irreducible Complexity).

The proposed legislation, while unconstitutional in and of itself, is full of scientific misunderstanding, a misrepresentation of scientific theory, false statements about evolutionary biology, and a gross ignorance of the Theory of Evolution.

What can you do about it? You can contact Rep. Gary Chism and the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the Education and Judiciary A committee and ask them to vote against this bill and keep it from being forwarded to the floor for a vote.

You can contact Gary Chism via email at [email protected], by phone at (662) 327-0777, or via USPS at PO Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215. His online biography is located at: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/members/house/chism.xml

The Chairman of the Education Committee is Cecil Brown ([email protected] or (601) 359-3330). The Vice-Chairman of the Education Committee is Sara Thomas ([email protected]).

The Chairman of the Judiciary A Committee is Edward Blackmon, Jr. ([email protected] or (601) 859-1576). The Vice-Chairman of the Judiciary A Committee is Angel Cockerham ([email protected] or (601) 783-6600).

Make sure you reference HB25 in any email, letter, or phone call. Do not insult the Representatives or use derogatory language. Please keep letters and phone calls polite and professional.

For legal purposes, you can reference the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf) and Selmer v. Cobb County Schools (http://alt.cimedia.com/ajc/pdf/evolution.pdf).

You can also contribute funds to American Atheists, Inc. to help fight legal battles just like this. You can designate your contributions to the “Legal Action Fund” and your donation will be spent exclusively on legal action against those that would infringe upon the Separation of Church and State. Please visit http://atheists.org/contribute to donate.

Thanks to Micah C. for bringing this legislation to our attention. It is the work of volunteers that help catch SOCAS violations and report them. Without the diligence of local volunteers many more violations would go unreported and unchallenged than already do.

Traditional Family Values Department:

http://www.comcast.net/articles/news-general/20090124/REL.Haggard.New.allegations/

Disgraced pastor faces more gay sex accusations

DENVER — Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard’s former church disclosed Friday that the gay sex scandal that caused his downfall extends to a young male church volunteer who reported having a sexual relationship with Haggard — a revelation that comes as Haggard tries to repair his public image.

Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press that the man came forward to church officials in late 2006 shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard.

Boyd said an “overwhelming pool of evidence” pointed to an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time … it wasn’t a one-time act.” Boyd said the man was in his early 20s at the time. He said he was certain the man was of legal age when it began.

Reached Friday night, Haggard declined to comment and said all interviews would have to be arranged through a publicist for HBO, which is airing a documentary about him this month.

Boyd said the church reached a legal settlement to pay the man for counseling and college tuition, with one condition being that none of the parties involved discuss the matter publicly.

Boyd said a Colorado Springs TV station reached him Thursday to say the young man was planning to provide a detailed report of his relationship with Haggard to the station. Boyd said the church preferred to keep the matter private, but it was the man’s decision to go public.

The disclosure comes as Haggard, 52, is about to give a series of high-profile interviews to promote the cable documentary about his time in exile. He is scheduled to appear on CNN’s Larry King Live on Thursday, the date of the documentary’s premiere, and already has taped “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

In early 2007, New Life Church disclosed that an investigation uncovered new evidence that Haggard engaged in “sordid conversation” and “improper relationships” — but didn’t go into detail. Earlier, a church board member had said there was no evidence that Haggard had sexual relations with anyone but Mike Jones, the former male prostitute.

Haggard confessed to undisclosed “sexual immorality” after Jones’ allegations and resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and from New Life Church, where he faced being fired.

Anticipating criticism of the settlement with the former church volunteer, Boyd said Friday that it was in the best interests of all involved. He would not name the volunteer or the settlement amount.

“It wasn’t at all a settlement to make him be quiet or not tell his story,” Boyd said. “Our desire was to help him. Here was a young man who wanted to get on with his life. We considered it more compassionate assistance — certainly not hush money. I know what’s what everyone will want to say because that’s the most salacious thing to say, but that’s not at all what it was.”

He said that “secondarily, it’s not great for our church either” that the story be told. Boyd said Haggard knew about the settlement two years ago.

In a letter e-mailed Friday to New Life Church members, Boyd said of the settlement and agreement not to talk: “This decision was made not as an attempt to conceal wrongdoings, but to protect him from those who would seek to exploit him. His actions now suggest that he has changed his mind.”

The letter said the church “received reports of a number of incidents of inappropriate behavior” after Haggard’s fall. “In each case, we have tried our very best to do the right thing each time, including disciplinary action when appropriate.”

Boyd said the “inappropriate behavior” referred to the man who was the volunteer involved with Haggard. After Haggard’s fall, another church staff member resigned after admitting to what was described as “sexual misconduct.”

Boyd said the church will not take action against the man if he tells his story in the press.

“We have legal standing to do that, but not the desire to,” he said.

Boyd said he had spoken to the man once and came away with the impression that he was speaking out because of the documentary. “I think what caused this young man to be a bit aggravated was Ted being seen as a victim, when he himself had experienced a great deal of hurt,” Boyd said. “I seriously doubt this man would have come forward if the documentary had not been made.”

A spokeswoman for the documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” declined to comment Friday.

David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — which has largely focused on the Catholic sexual abuse scandal but also speaks out on cases involving Protestant clergy — said the new disclosures about Haggard are more disturbing because they involves a church volunteer.

“Technically, legally, they were both adults,” Clohessy said. “Psychologically and emotionally, Haggard was dramatically more powerful. … By definition, any sexual contact between a congregant and minister is inherently abusive and manipulative.”

In an AP interview this month before an appearance in front of TV critics in California, Haggard described his sexuality as complex and something that can’t be put into “stereotypical boxes.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Inauguration

We had seen sights, but this mocked our imaginations

We had used words, but this defied our metaphors

We had once been, our heritage proclaimed,

“One Nation Indivisible,” and “Out of Many, One”

Until smallness of soul began to smother dreams.

Then, suddenly, sorely profaned, and wounded, soon to die

Our nation did an unimagined thing

We rolled away the stone

We shook the heels of history upon retreating wrongs

We watched as hope, long dormant, bloomed

And, through eyes blurred with tears,

We went outside and raised the flag.

Edwin Kagin

January 20, 2009

Inauguration by Edwin Kagin

Inauguration

We had seen sights, but this mocked our imaginations

We had used words, but this defied our metaphors

We had once been, our heritage proclaimed,

“One Nation Indivisible,” and “Out of Many, One”

Until smallness of soul began to smother dreams.

Then, suddenly, sorely profaned, and wounded, soon to die

Our nation did an unimagined thing

We rolled away the stone

We shook the heels of history upon retreating wrongs

We watched as hope, long dormant, bloomed

And, through eyes blurred with tears,

We went outside and raised the flag.

Edwin Kagin

January 20, 2009

On the Legal Philosophy of American Atheists by Edwin Kagin

On the Legal Philosophy of American Atheists

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. observed, the law “is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky…” Understanding this basic truth can prevent much confusion in thinking about the law.

Most people would not be so uninformed, or so foolish, as to think they know more than their doctor if told they need to have heart surgery or die. Yet the same people will, without skipping a beat, presume that they know what the law is, how the law works, and what a proper legal judgment should be. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the law, and if one’s grocer unlawfully provides legal advice, the average person is likely to give that view some undeserved merit. A few years ago, a young counselor at Camp Quest informed me, with proud conviction, that “possession is 90% of the law.” I told him that this was a testable hypothesis. All he needed to do was to take someone’s car without their permission, drive it around until he was stopped by the police, and then argue that the car was his by right of possession. He is now a fine young lawyer who does not now issue those kinds of incorrect generalities. Be assured that almost everything you think you know “for certain” about the law is almost certainly wrong.

It has fallen my lot in history, and it is my honor, as National Legal Director for American Atheists, to set forth the current legal philosophy for the organization. An understanding and acceptance of this will answer many questions, and hopefully prevent any hard feelings, in that the national office receives daily requests for legal advice and requests for help on issues involving matters of church state separation, only a fraction of which can be addressed. A process is required to aid in deciding with which cases American Atheists should become involved. This is not to say that a perceived problem is without merit. Most claims sent in do have merit. The problem is that there is not world enough or time or money available to deal with any but a few of them. The assaults on our First Amendment freedoms must be triaged.

What is “the law” anyhow? Even that is not a simple answer. For openers, it consists of written statutes and local ordinances, both federal and state. We have a system of United States Courts, created by the Constitution of the United States, that deals with matters of federal law. The judges are appointed by the President of the United States, to serve “during good behavior,” or essentially for life. Each state has its own laws, courts, and court rules—occasionally wildly at variance one with another. Behavior lawful in one state can get you thrown in the slammer in another. The judges are usually elected or appointed, or a combination of both, for a fixed term of years. Additionally, individual counties and cities can make their own laws, or ordinances, provided a grant of authority has been given by the state or federal government to do so. There are methods of appeal from the ruling of judges to higher courts. Each state has its own appellant system; the courts of the United States have another, both ending at the United States Supreme Court. One does not, despite their bravado, “take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.” No one “takes” a case to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). One petitions SCOTUS to hear a case, and the odds are several thousand to one against a given case being granted review. If the high court does take a care, and makes a ruling, whether the case comes up through the federal or state system, the holdings of the court make legal rulings that become “precedents” that are binding in every court of the United States. A ruling of SCOTUS may not be correct, but it is final.

In addition to the written laws, the concept of “the law” also encompasses the “common law” as it has developed over centuries. This is the body of law, the corpus juris, as decided in actual justicible cases by courts of record, and the law requires that such rulings are to be followed until changed by a higher court. And the rulings of appeal courts do change. One day “separate but equal schools” may be constitutional and, upon a different ruling of SCOTUS, the law is changed, and separate but equal schools is an unlawful concept. One day abortion may be unlawful, while the next ruling might permit abortion, and SCOTUS has the power to reverse that ruling at any time.

The scope of a given court ruling depends on the “jurisdiction” of the court, or the area over which that court has power. A city court ruling might only affect the city in which it is made, and a state court holding, or a federal opinion, affects only the area served by that court. The appeal courts have a wider net. The Supreme Court of a state can make precedents that bind all courts of that state. A federal court usually covers a specific geographical portion of a state. A United States Court of Appeal covers several states. If, by way of example, a bad decision is made in a federal court in Louisville, Kentucky, it only has binding application in about half of the state of Kentucky. If that horribly bad holding is appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers all of the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, and that bad ruling should be affirmed, the party taking the appeal has thereby managed to expand a horror story from their own back yard into bad law for four states. If SCOTUS should take the case, and affirm the bad ruling, then a major legal disaster has occurred that affects the way the law will be decided in the future throughout the entire United States and in every court therein. If one has any concern for the future of our freedoms, one should proceed with caution. This is not a suitable sport for amateurs.

Bad facts make bad law. It should be considered an act of legal negligence for one to take a case to a higher court where it is completely predestined that the court will rule against a meritorious cause, and thereby make bad law not only in that case, in that region of the country, but, depending on which appellate court is chosen, make bad law for a much wider area, where the bad ruling will be the law until the case in question is ultimately, if ever, overruled. By building on bad precedents, in time the very concept of separation of religion and government could be destroyed. The religious right understands this. We would be well advised to understand it as well.

The elected legislative bodies, both nationally, and in each state, create the written statutory law. Judges, who are required to be fair minded and objective, rule on the interpretation of the laws passed by these legislative bodies and state, in appropriate cases, whether or not a given law is or is not unconstitutional. The Constitution of the United States, and its Amendments, is the supreme law of our land, followed by Treaties between nations, and then by statutory laws. An independent judiciary decides if a given law is constitutional and, if so, how it is to be interpreted. The Legislative and Judicial branches of government are both created by the Constitution, as is the third branch of government, the Executive, consisting of the elected President of the United States, or the Governor of a state or commonwealth. Neither the Congress of the United States, nor the legislative body of any state, may lawfully pass legislation that is contrary to the Constitution of the United States, nor may the Executive branch lawfully enforce such laws.

If all of this is not confusing enough, consider the fact that the prejudices, beliefs, politics, religion, etc. of the judges on a court determine in large measure how they will view a given legal question. They may or may not be conscious of these factors, but they are there nevertheless. It has something to do with being human. Thus judges with liberal backgrounds are likely to decide an issue one way and judges who are proudly conservative will decide the same issue another way. And there are many highly emotionally charged, and controversial, issues around these days, issues for which there is no plain and clear answer, like “gay marriage.” In such cases, only the personal architecture of the individual judges deciding the questions will form the basis for decision. The Constitution could not predict, and give answers for, every fact situation that might arise in our nation’s history. This is where mature, well grounded, legal judgment is needed. There can be law quoted to support any kind of idea, noble or base, that anyone might ever present to a court. Go to a law library and look at the rows of stacks of law books containing written decisions. Someone lost every one of those cases.

It is the philosophy of American Atheists to win cases and to create favorable law. This is a change from the policy of the organization in the past. That philosophy was to file the case, no matter how unlikely a court victory might seem, to make the point urged. If something was wrong, it was felt that action should be taken, regardless of the immediate outcome. That philosophy had merit when different people were on the higher courts of our land. In the 1960s, a lawyer could bring a case of civil rights violation before the courts, be quite sloppy in pleading practice and, in the interests of substantial justice, the courts might well carve out an opinion that granted relief and that comported with basic due process of law considerations and with the guarantees of our Bill of Rights. This was a golden age of civil rights litigation. And the religious right hated every moment of it.

Things have changed. The persons of high vision on our highest court have gone to honored places in the history of the law. Justices Black, Douglass, Warren, Marshall and many other great defenders of freedom are no more. By virtue of the philosophy of their appointers, persons of less noble character and less shining intellect, have taken their places. The past few years have seen an erosion of civil liberties, and a battering against the Wall of Separation between Church and State that is without equal in our history. Irreparable damage to the First Amendment has been done that may not be repaired within the life span of our republic. The forces that would establish a theocracy in our free land are not only beating on the gates of freedom, they are trying to pull down the wall of separation from within. Mean spirited people are in positions of power, and those who would destroy us are able to vote and to sit on juries. Sadly, many are able to rule on legal cases and to create binding precedent.

The Constitution is not a suicide pact. We do not have to take every wrong to court and thereby give some theocrat the right to say that the wrongful behavior is lawful and to let that vile ruling become part of the body of the law that future judges are required to follow. This is both the glory and the danger of the legal doctrine of stare decisis, which means to “stand on the decisions” that have gone before. Brilliant, bold, freedom friendly rulings of prior courts are being systematically swept away by courts that are rendering disastrous rulings in cases with poor facts that provide them with seemingly rational reasons to rule in abominable ways.

American Atheists declines to give those theocrats now in power the ability to destroy the dream of our founders that citizens of our nation would enjoy the right to not be religious.

We will respectfully decline to do battle on any issues other than those where the facts and the law will compel a favorable ruling, no matter how biased the court against us. And thus we will, brick by brick, rebuild the Wall.

For every case presented to us, we must ask, “Is this a hill worth dying on?”

Litigation is expensive. We do not need to waste thousands of dollars on lawsuits that, given the facts at issue, the state of the law at this time, and the disposition of a given court, are doomed to certain failure. And in losing such actions, we do not need to be in the position of creating even more bad law for our descendents to clean up. We cannot make good law and ensure freedom within our nation by litigating bad, or even marginal, facts. And we will not gain credibility by losing cases and thereby permitting the other side to mock our efforts and to laugh at us. “There go those Atheists again. They will lose like they always lose. When will they learn to sit down and shut up?” We must not give them that ammunition.

There are plenty of civil liberties abuses against Atheists around these days. Far more than we can handle. Many abuses are better addressed by protests, letter writing, political action, interviews, debates, oratory and by using all of the free speech options still left to us, rather than by reflexively resorting to legal actions.

We can afford to be picky and wait for those fact situations that fit clearly into the entire body of both written law and common law. In short, we should wait for cases that we can win based on the present state of the law. Then we can make some positive changes. We can cause even the most blinded-by-heavenly-light jurists to see that the actions complained of in our lawsuits are unlawful and are not to be permitted in a free nation that, in its founding document, prohibited its government from engaging in making laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

There of course may be certain exceptions to this policy. We will litigate, regardless of consequences, if a situation should arise that is so egregious we cannot let it pass unchallenged. We will litigate if the perceived consequences of not litigating would be worse than the possible adverse consequences of litigating. This will have to be based on sound legal judgment and decided on a case by case basis.

There are in fact some hills worth dying on.

And the word will get out to those bent on imposing their religion upon us that, if American Atheists threatens a lawsuit, they had best pay attention. Because they will know from our record that American Atheists will probably win.

Because American Atheists has a history of winning.

And that is a lot more powerful than having a history of losing.

Edwin Kagin
National Legal Director
American Atheists.

January 01, 2009

.

On the Legal Philosophy of American Atheists by Edwin Kagin

On the Legal Philosophy of American Atheists

On the Legal Philosophy of American Atheists

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. observed, the law “is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky…” Understanding this basic truth can prevent much confusion in thinking about the law.

Most people would not be so uninformed, or so foolish, as to think they know more than their doctor if told they need to have heart surgery or die. Yet the same people will, without skipping a beat, presume that they know what the law is, how the law works, and what a proper legal judgment should be. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the law, and if one’s grocer unlawfully provides legal advice, the average person is likely to give that view some undeserved merit. A few years ago, a young counselor at Camp Quest informed me, with proud conviction, that “possession is 90% of the law.” I told him that this was a testable hypothesis. All he needed to do was to take someone’s car without their permission, drive it around until he was stopped by the police, and then argue that the car was his by right of possession. He is now a fine young lawyer who does not now issue those kinds of incorrect generalities. Be assured that almost everything you think you know “for certain” about the law is almost certainly wrong.

It has fallen my lot in history, and it is my honor, as National Legal Director for American Atheists, to set forth the current legal philosophy for the organization. An understanding and acceptance of this will answer many questions, and hopefully prevent any hard feelings, in that the national office receives daily requests for legal advice and requests for help on issues involving matters of church state separation, only a fraction of which can be addressed. A process is required to aid in deciding with which cases American Atheists should become involved. This is not to say that a perceived problem is without merit. Most claims sent in do have merit. The problem is that there is not world enough or time or money available to deal with any but a few of them. The assaults on our First Amendment freedoms must be triaged.

What is “the law” anyhow? Even that is not a simple answer. For openers, it consists of written statutes and local ordinances, both federal and state. We have a system of United States Courts, created by the Constitution of the United States, that deals with matters of federal law. The judges are appointed by the President of the United States, to serve “during good behavior,” or essentially for life. Each state has its own laws, courts, and court rules—occasionally wildly at variance one with another. Behavior lawful in one state can get you thrown in the slammer in another. The judges are usually elected or appointed, or a combination of both, for a fixed term of years. Additionally, individual counties and cities can make their own laws, or ordinances, provided a grant of authority has been given by the state or federal government to do so. There are methods of appeal from the ruling of judges to higher courts. Each state has its own appellant system; the courts of the United States have another, both ending at the United States Supreme Court. One does not, despite their bravado, “take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.” No one “takes” a case to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). One petitions SCOTUS to hear a case, and the odds are several thousand to one against a given case being granted review. If the high court does take a care, and makes a ruling, whether the case comes up through the federal or state system, the holdings of the court make legal rulings that become “precedents” that are binding in every court of the United States. A ruling of SCOTUS may not be correct, but it is final.

In addition to the written laws, the concept of “the law” also encompasses the “common law” as it has developed over centuries. This is the body of law, the corpus juris, as decided in actual justicible cases by courts of record, and the law requires that such rulings are to be followed until changed by a higher court. And the rulings of appeal courts do change. One day “separate but equal schools” may be constitutional and, upon a different ruling of SCOTUS, the law is changed, and separate but equal schools is an unlawful concept. One day abortion may be unlawful, while the next ruling might permit abortion, and SCOTUS has the power to reverse that ruling at any time.

The scope of a given court ruling depends on the “jurisdiction” of the court, or the area over which that court has power. A city court ruling might only affect the city in which it is made, and a state court holding, or a federal opinion, affects only the area served by that court. The appeal courts have a wider net. The Supreme Court of a state can make precedents that bind all courts of that state. A federal court usually covers a specific geographical portion of a state. A United States Court of Appeal covers several states. If, by way of example, a bad decision is made in a federal court in Louisville, Kentucky, it only has binding application in about half of the state of Kentucky. If that horribly bad holding is appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers all of the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, and that bad ruling should be affirmed, the party taking the appeal has thereby managed to expand a horror story from their own back yard into bad law for four states. If SCOTUS should take the case, and affirm the bad ruling, then a major legal disaster has occurred that affects the way the law will be decided in the future throughout the entire United States and in every court therein. If one has any concern for the future of our freedoms, one should proceed with caution. This is not a suitable sport for amateurs.

Bad facts make bad law. It should be considered an act of legal negligence for one to take a case to a higher court where it is completely predestined that the court will rule against a meritorious cause, and thereby make bad law not only in that case, in that region of the country, but, depending on which appellant court is chosen, make bad law for a much wider area, where the bad ruling will be the law until the case in question is ultimately, if ever, overruled. By building on bad precedents, in time the very concept of separation of religion and government could be destroyed. The religious right understands this. We would be well advised to understand it as well.

The elected legislative bodies, both nationally, and in each state, create the written statutory law. Judges, who are required to be fair minded and objective, rule on the interpretation of the laws passed by these legislative bodies and state, in appropriate cases, whether or not a given law is or is not unconstitutional. The Constitution of the United States, and its Amendments, is the supreme law of our land, followed by Treaties between nations, and then by statutory laws. An independent judiciary decides if a given law is constitutional and, if so, how it is to be interpreted. The Legislative and Judicial branches of government are both created by the Constitution, as is the third branch of government, the Executive, consisting of the elected President of the United States, or the Governor of a state or commonwealth. Neither the Congress of the United States, nor the legislative body of any state, may lawfully pass legislation that is contrary to the Constitution of the United States, nor may the Executive branch lawfully enforce such laws.

If all of this is not confusing enough, consider the fact that the prejudices, beliefs, politics, religion, etc. of the judges on a court determine in large measure how they will view a given legal question. They may or may not be conscious of these factors, but they are there nevertheless. It has something to do with being human. Thus judges with liberal backgrounds are likely to decide an issue one way and judges who are proudly conservative will decide the same issue another way. And there are many highly emotionally charged, and controversial, issues around these days, issues for which there is no plain and clear answer, like “gay marriage.” In such cases, only the personal architecture of the individual judges deciding the questions will form the basis for decision. The Constitution could not predict, and give answers for, every fact situation that might arise in our nation’s history. This is where mature, well grounded, legal judgment is needed. There can be law quoted to support any kind of idea, noble or base, that anyone might ever present to a court. Go to a law library and look at the rows of stacks of law books containing written decisions. Someone lost every one of those cases.

It is the philosophy of American Atheists to win cases and to create favorable law. This is a change from the policy of the organization in the past. That philosophy was to file the case, no matter how unlikely a court victory might seem, to make the point urged. If something was wrong, it was felt that action should be taken, regardless of the immediate outcome. That philosophy had merit when different people were on the higher courts of our land. In the 1960s, a lawyer could bring a case of civil rights violation before the courts, be quite sloppy in pleading practice and, in the interests of substantial justice, the courts might well carve out an opinion that granted relief and that comported with basis due process of law considerations and with the guarantees of our Bill of Rights. This was a golden age of civil rights litigation. And the religious right hated every moment of it.

Things have changed. The persons of high vision on our highest court have gone to honored places in the history of the law. Justices Black, Douglass, Warren, Marshall and many other great defenders of freedom are no more. By virtue of the philosophy of their appointers, persons of less noble character and less shining intellect, have taken their places. The past few years have seen an erosion of civil liberties, and a battering against the Wall of Separation between Church and State that is without equal in our history. Irreparable damage to the First Amendment has been done that may not be repaired within the life span of our republic. The forces that would establish a theocracy in our free land are not only beating on the gates of freedom, they are trying to pull down the wall of separation from within. Mean spirited people are in positions of power, and those who would destroy us are able to vote and to sit on juries. Sadly, many are able to rule on legal cases and to create binding precedent.

The Constitution is not a suicide pact. We do not have to take every wrong to court and thereby give some theocrat the right to say that the wrongful behavior is lawful and to let that vile ruling become part of the body of the law that future judges are required to follow. This is both the glory and the danger of the legal doctrine of stare decisis, which means to “stand on the decisions” that have gone before. Brilliant, bold, freedom friendly rulings of prior courts are being systematically swept away by courts that are rendering disastrous rulings in cases with poor facts that provide them with seemingly rational reasons to rule in abominable ways.

American Atheists declines to give those theocrats now in power the ability to destroy the dream of our founders that citizens of our nation would enjoy the right to not be religious.

We will respectfully decline to do battle on any issues other than those where the facts and the law will compel a favorable ruling, no matter how biased the court against us. And thus we will, brick by brick, rebuild the Wall.

For every case presented to us, we must ask, “Is this a hill worth dying on?”

Litigation is expensive. We do not need to waste thousands of dollars on lawsuits that, given the facts at issue, the state of the law at this time, and the disposition of a given court, are doomed to certain failure. And in losing such actions, we do not need to be in the position of creating even more bad law for our descendents to clean up. We cannot make good law and ensure freedom within our nation by litigating bad, or even marginal, facts. And we will not gain credibility by losing cases and thereby permitting the other side to mock our efforts and to laugh at us. “There go those Atheists again. They will lose like they always lose. When will they learn to sit down and shut up?” We must not give them that ammunition.

There are plenty of civil liberties abuses against Atheists around these days. Far more than we can handle. Many abuses are better addressed by protests, letter writing, political action, interviews, debates, oratory and by using all of the free speech options still left to us, rather than by reflexively resorting to legal actions.

We can afford to be picky and wait for those fact situations that fit clearly into the entire body of both written law and common law. In short, we should wait for cases that we can win based on the present state of the law. Then we can make some positive changes. We can cause even the most blinded-by-heavenly-light jurists to see that the actions complained of in our lawsuits are unlawful and are not to be permitted in a free nation that, in its founding document, prohibited its government from engaging in making laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

There of course may be certain exceptions to this policy. We will litigate, regardless of consequences, if a situation should arise that is so egregious we cannot let it pass unchallenged. We will litigate if the perceived consequences of not litigating would be worse than the possible adverse consequences of litigating. This will have to be based on sound legal judgment and decided on a case by case basis.

There are in fact some hills worth dying on.

And the word will get out to those bent on imposing their religion upon us that, if American Atheists threatens a lawsuit, they had best pay attention. Because they will know from our record that American Atheists will probably win.

Because American Atheists has a history of winning.

And that is a lot more powerful than having a history of losing.

Edwin Kagin
National Legal Director
American Atheists.

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