Ten Commandments Rally Speech
by Margaret Downey
(edited and posted with permission)
I'm pleased to be here today as the United States Supreme Court Justices are hearing oral arguments regarding the display of the Ten Commandments on public grounds and Courthouses.
Just a few years ago, I represented the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia in a lawsuit to have a Ten Commandments plaque removed from the fašade of a courthouse.
We won our case until the Federal Appeals Court ruled that the plaque was "historical" and should stay where it was placed in 1920. Three Appeals Court Justices unanimously concluded that because the plaque is over 80 years old, they were justified in ignoring that placement of the plaque violated two of the three prongs of the famous Lemon Test. The Appeal Justices further concluded that the principle of church-state separation was superceded because nobody formally objected to the plaque for eighty years.
The justices failed to realize that church-state separation plaintiffs are few and far between due to the fact that the minority in America are indeed tyrannized by the majority.
It is well known that church-state separation plaintiffs are subjected to harassment, community shunning, loss of income, and yes -- even death threats.
My life has been a testimony to this type of treatment and I can tell you firsthand that being a plaintiff is not an easy task. What ever the outcome of today's hearing, we must make sure to thank the plaintiffs for their bravery and we must encourage others to follow their example.
I do not consider myself brave or courageous. I do consider myself "principled." My dedication to righting an obvious wrong, my love of the Constitution, my pride in being an American citizen, and my passion to end prejudice against minorities give me the strength that I have needed to be a plaintiff.
Depending on the outcome of the two cases being heard today, we may reopen our Ten Commandments case in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The question we have for the US Supreme Court Justices is whether or not the US Supreme Court will recognize the importance of government neutrality or else bow to America's religious majority.
Many surveys have revealed that America is the most religious nation in the world. With over 85 percent of Americans claiming religious belief, nonreligious people are subjected to negative stereotyping.
Let's face it, even politicians pander to the religious community. They know that paying lip service to religious voters on their side will win elections.
Why bother with the nonreligious when association with them will only loose votes?
As an aside, this brings up another important fact. In this excessively religious environment, nonreligious citizens have no hope of ever being elected to public office.
As a college presenter, and representative of the nontheist community, I can tell you that very little is known about the nonreligious community by the public at large. I see bias against the nontheist community getting worse, not better.
If displays of the Ten Commandments in or on government buildings are considered acceptable, minority citizens will be further persecuted. The religious community will be empowered to demean nontheists and I guarantee that the rights of nonbelievers will be trampled more and more.
The cases being heard today are representative of almost two dozen Ten Commandment cases around the country and I am pleased that finally the highest court in the land will soon put the issue to rest.
I am positive that the United States Constitution protects the minority from the majority, but will the US Supreme Court Justices cater to popular religious sentiments or will the Justices abide by the Constitution?
When this issue is settled, I know that other related church-state separation legal issues will surface. The religious fervor of this nation and the temptation for the Christian majority to claim America as a "Christian Nation" will bring more and more church-state separation to the courts. We must continue to support the courageous social activists who volunteer to be plaintiffs.
If we don't respond and allow apathy to set in, our religious freedom is at risk and this beautiful secular nation of ours will be destroyed. The far-right religious community seeks to impose its doctrine anywhere it can. The popularity of religious belief makes it easy for bible believers to convince politicians to advocate for their cause.
In 1920, the International Reform Bureau distributed Ten Commandment plaques throughout the country. Investigation of the International Reform Bureau disclosed that it was "hell-bent" on claiming the United States of America as a "Christian Nation."
Their purpose and motives back in the early 1900s are much the same as the Religious Far Right's goals of today. Just like the International Reform Bureau, the Religious Far Right seeks the support of elected officials to push their agenda and impose "God's laws" onto the public at large.
They advocated prayer in school and the posting of the Ten Commandments in businesses, schools, courthouses, and as many other public places as possible. If the goal in 1920 was to make nonbelievers feel like second class citizens, they succeeded.
The McCarthy era saw further attempts to make nonbelievers feel unwelcome as full citizens. Just as important as removing public displays of the Ten Commandments, the fight to restore the Pledge of Allegiance to its original secular message must continue. Removal of the words, "under God" will help nonbelievers regain their rightful place as first class patriotic citizens.
And while we are at it, let's demand that the words "In God We Trust" be replaced as a national motto. The original Colonial motto of "Mind Your Business" seems much more appropriate!
There is nothing illegal about running a black marker across the words "In God We Trust" on your paper money. I do it often, thereby sending the message to our government that we nonbelievers are not going to distribute religious tracts on their behalf.
We are fed up with our now-religious "Prayer of Allegiance," our money marred by religious text, and our public buildings emblazoned with religious doctrine. We are tired of all these things making us feel disapproved of, unwelcome, suppressed, and subjugated.
We are tired of the Religious Far Right using those things to justify hatred toward citizens who don't hold religious beliefs.
I founded the Anti-Discrimination Support Network in 1993 to help end negative stereotyping and bigotry against nonbelievers. As president and founder of the Anti-Discrimination Support Network it is my duty to confront all instances of prejudice. I know that what I do will not win many friends these days, but I'm hoping that it will influence people.
I strongly believe that Atheists need their own Anti-Defamation League and I hope you will contact me, should you experience bigotry and prejudice. I am collecting discrimination narratives in an effort to justify religious prejudice concerns to the media and to the United Nations Freedom of Religion and Belief Committee.
Please pick up a form before you leave today. We need your help in addressing all issues of discrimination against Atheists.
Thanks for listening and thanks for attending this rally. Together we can honor the legacy of our Founding Fathers by keeping the United States of America a secular nation that welcomes people of all faiths or none at all.
This is the original script with minor edits made for style.