How Does One Answer this Canard?

Freedom of Religion
Means
Freedom from Religion?

Liz Grube

From: “Liz Grube”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Sent: September 01, 2004

Dear Positive Atheism:

Hello! I just have a quick comment after listening to Elizabeth Dole’s speech at the Republican National Convention last night. Did anyone else find it scary when she said that the Constitution provides “freedom of religion” but not “freedom from religion”? I certainly did! She was presenting a justification for keeping God in the Pledge of Allegiance and on US money, but her comment has much broader implications. The Bush administration and other right-wingers will continue to force their brand of Christianity down everyone’s throat as long as it’s gaining them support from their base. I want US law to protect me from that.

Well, just had to get that off my chest. Thanks for listening!

Sincerely,
Liz Grube

  

From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Liz Grube”
Date: September 02, 2004

Well, for starters, they can say and do just about anything they want to, unless and until they start doing it from the auspices of a government office. Once they enter that office, they have (ostensibly) sworn first to uphold the Constitution (US Law, including We, The People’s protection from the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Secondly, they have (ostensibly) sworn to represent all citizens, not just those who put them in office.

One thing you forfeit when you enter office is the “right” to use your office to give your religious sect free advertising at the expense of the taxpayers (that is, you can’t do it on official time).

This canard was a conspicuous part of the rhetoric of Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate four years ago. George W Bush likewise made a big gains promising a public already saturated with antiathiest hatred that he would uphold this destructive lie as the law of the land.

Al Gore said it, too. A lot. Even Bill Clinton said it at least once or twice, though for the most part his head was screwed on much tighter when it came to separationist matters (not entirely, but for the most part). The only one of the major candidates that I didn’t hear spewing this particular rhetoric was Bush’s running mate, Dick Cheney (although this doesn’t mean he didn’t say it).

  

The easiest, most vivid way to show how wrong-headed this thinking happens to be is to exchange the word religion for the word sex:

  

We have freedom of sex,
     but not freedom from sex.

  

Uhh — you mean I must put up with pornography sent to my mailbox, sexual advances at the workplace, public sex acts with impunity, etc? Are you telling me that I must fund the production and endorsement of sexually explicit films and similar works of entertainment and self-expression?

  

Back to reality:

  

We have freedom of religion,
     but not freedom from religion.

  

You mean I must endure religious material sent to my mailbox, religious proselytizing at the workplace, public displays of religious ritual such as prayer, etc? Are you telling me that I must fund the propagation of religious propaganda disguised as entertainment and self-expression? that I must endorse religion by using money that has religious advertisements on it, that I must imply to public schoolchildren that this country has a religious government?

  

Our library of historical works contains classic writings that have been hand converted by myself and a few others because they have meant a lot to us and we want to share them with those who visit PAM. One of the thickest works there (meaning it provided the biggest influence upon me using the smallest number of words) is a chapter section by Maurice Cranston, called “The Meaning of Freedom: Words.”

In it he discusses the freedom in the context of the concept of religious freedom (which I prefer to call “Religious Liberty”). Cranston makes a virtually irrefutable case that freedom, in this sense, can only be seen as freedom from constraint of some sort.

For example, suppose a man walks up to you and joyously exclaims, “I’m free!” What is your immediate reaction?

Although some might ask, “So!?” I think most of us would at least think to ask, “Free from what?” Even if I’m not in the mood to relate to strangers, this question would probably go through my mind.

If a swimmer announced that she was free to swim the English Channel, I would conjure mental imagery of legal prohibitions, a doctors’ orders, and the like.

In almost every case, you can frame the response in terms of being free from something! free from a constraint of some sort.

In this sense, I think, religious freedom would mean freedom from the constraint of government to determine or control my religious opinions and behavior. This is the broadest sense in which I can think to apply it.

  

Thanks for this!

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine
Entering our 10th year of service
     to people with no reason to believe

  

From: “Liz Grube”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Sent: September 02, 2004
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section

Hi, Cliff.

Thanks for your note.

The Republican National Convention is really making me feel out of touch with a lot of people in this country who are comfortable mixing religion and government. I also hate the way people conflate religion and morality, as if the only reason to act morally is fear of eternal damnation. I heard a great interview between Bill Moyers and Susan Jacoby (author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism) a few months ago. She said that someone once approached her after a lecture and asked her what was stopping her from stealing and killing if she didn’t believe in God. She replied, “I just don’t want to.” (She told the story better than that, but you get the point.)

This period of worldwide fundamentalism can’t last forever. Eventually the pendulum will swing back to a saner place. I just hope we haven’t all blown each other up by then.

Keep fighting the good fight!

Liz

  

From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Liz Grube”
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: September 25, 2004 13:41

I have responded by asking, in return, “What would stop you from ‘raping and pillaging’* if you were to discover that this god-claim you now believe was just a cruel hoax?”

They sputter: “Umm — uhh — er — !” This is the basic gist of the most common response on our Forum!

Often I will follow-up by explaining, in very simple terms, what little we do know about evolutionary morality: The human spends a larger percentage of its life in a state of complete helplessness and nurturing than any other species, because that’s what’s needed in order to prepare our brains for adulthood.

Stephen Pinker’s How The Mind Works is a great summary of what we have thus far learned about the human mind (up to a few years ago, when the book was published). Coming from the standpoint of a strong evolutionst, it contains a storehouse of information that can help us deal decisively with some of our country’s busier detractors.

Thanks!

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine
Entering our 10th year of service
     to people with no reason to believe

*Note: When Evangelical Christians ask this rhetorically while writing to our Forum, they use the two terms “raping” and “pillaging” together far more often than all other combinations put together. Ignoring their view of us having insatiable appetites for sexual self-indulgence to the point of violence (even atheistic women), this begs the question of where they are all coming up with this language! “Pillaging”!? When was the last time you heard that word in modern speech? Pillaging? Sounds like something a mythological hero from Hebrew legend would do! (Ahem!)