Two Decisions Reported
On Austin Cline's Web Site
Gary Poore

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
Subject: Re: Positive Court Decisions
Date: March 02, 2002 12:04 PM


I fail to see a connection between the Supreme Court's role and public opinion: the Court's job, in part, is to interpret and enforce the Constitution, which is designed, among other things, to protect the minority from a tyrranny of the majority. In an ideal situation (fair polling, not "polls" conducted at a special-interested web site), you're likely to have the majority going against the court in numerous controversial cases. (In noncontroversial cases, of course, the people are likely to agree with the court!)

However, for some reason known only to those who erect commercial web sites, it is considered verboten to offer a news article without also erecting either a "chat" about that news article or a "poll" asking readers of (usually a special-interest organ) what they think about the news article. Unless and until I see a connection, I won't go along with it. Maybe if I ever become "commercial" ("A cold day in Hell" "When Hell freezes over" etc), I'll "see the light, in this respect," but that has not happened yet, so I won't put a poll out unless that's the whole point of what I'm doing: collecting opinions for our Forum section! Your opinions are as close as I come to seeing something as "sacred," and I will not cheapen them by placing a "poll" or a "chat" at every corner. For this reason, our Forum differs from all the other online forums I've seen: I just don't buy it!

Secondly, as much as I respect Austin's work and as much as I have supported it in the past, the best I could do to generate "hits" for him today would be on our e-list. Our list is amazingly large (I humbly shudder to think that I created something that grew to this size, a list that's larger than the e-lists of several organizations whose names would be recognized by most who log onto our web site, even though their supporters likely wouldn't know about us!). However, as large as our list happens to be, my experience with it is that the most I could do for Austin, were I to use this list to bring "hits" to his page, would be to double the figures you mentioned. The best we've done, ever, was when I spoofed the BeliefNet Religious Affiliation Quiz, claiming that I didn't think it was possible for anybody to force this thing call you an "atheist." I think we got over a hundred responses to that one, twice what we'd do on a good day when we're on a roll. Saturday is the worst day of the week to do anything with this list: I've sent out perfectly compelling questions and gotten zero responses! The reason? Saturday! That's it!

I'd much rather support Austin by reprinting some of his fine, fine writing! And I will support him now, by posting this little explanation which further details how my pea-shaped little brain works in these matters, which itself ought to generate as many "hits" for Austin as the list, because the readership for our Forum section is, I believe, more than it is for the list.

This is a classic, cut-and-dried case of the Court protecting the minority from the tyrranny of the majority. As wild as our growth has been this past decade, rendering us the third-largest "religious sect" in America, we're still quite the minority because the bottom line is theists versus atheists, and with that comparison, it's all the other sects versus us. If things such as Religious Liberty were rightly left in the hands of the voters (instead of the Court and the Constitution), the Roman Catholics would probably place their version of the Ten Commandments in the school, and our kids would probably have to endure, from the corners of their eyes, images of statues of Mary watching them do their schoolwork. This is because they are the largest sect. The Protestants keep forgetting this when they want the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments in the schools. So, any attempt to place religion into public (government) life is systematically squelched by the Court any time the issue comes up.

They just don't learn, and think they can wear down the Court or the Constitution. Reactionary Presidents keep appointing Justices who lean to the right of Atilla the Hun, but something happens when a man or woman dons that robe: She or he feels the impact of the gravity of this responsibility, and studies, once again, the heritage of our Constitution. With a couple of exceptions throughout the Court's entire history (Rehnquist, Scalia, one or two others), the Justice just hasn't seemed to "get it." The rest of them prove only to become "disappointments" to their appointing President because the heritage of our Constitution, with it roots thoroughly grounded in humanism and thus appealing to the bottom-line humanity of the individual Justice, is extremely powerful. As George Eliot remarked,

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Fatally powerful as religious systems have been, human nature is stronger and wider, and though dogmas may hamper they cannot absolutely repress its growth.

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This, I think, partly explains the "Liberalization," if you will, of several of the Reagan and Bush appointees over the years -- and rapid was that "Liberalization," indeed! Humans often allow themselves to become conduits of an agenda, particularly if they can argue to themselves that their own humanity means little more than that. But place a grave responsibility such as Supreme Court Justice into the lap of a human "agenda conduit" and that agenda tends to pale in importance to the gravity of the responsibility now before the human. This, I think, is human nature and is, I think, part of what Ms. Eliot was talking about in the passage above.

This seems, at first glance, to be the opposite of the tendency I mentioned above, protecting the minority from the tyrranny of the majority, but when you remove the "Jehovah's Witnesses" angle and replace it with the "religious groups" angle, this is easier to see for what it is. If all religious groups sold their dogma like Avon and Fuller Brush products, we might not get even this much cooperation from our courts (though I'd think we'd still get it from our Supreme Court).

This is a classic case of religious groups trying to receive special treatment because they are religions. No, that's not how it works. We protect their right to practice their religion, but we don't give them special rights which go above and beyond the rights that anybody would have. In this town, people have the right to go door-to-door, but must register with the city, conceivably so we can keep tabs on who is knocking on doors (to keep a lid on criminals "casing the joint," etc.) and also to ensure that canvassers know the rules of the game (i.e., don't knock on doors marked "No Solicitors" even if what you're doing is not techically called "soliciting" because what you're selling is not sold for money but for some other commodity, such as loyalty, etc.).

We, the citizens, have a right to expect at least somewhat consistent behavior from our government, and I'd hope we can expect it from the business communities (including churches who market their dogma using the same techniques as the businesses). Thus, if the city requires canvassers to register, and what the Jehovah's Witnesses do is called "canvassing" ("If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck..."), then it's only fair that they follow the rules that the rest of us who make our living (or get our kicks) by canvassing must follow.

Now, if only we could get the faith healers to follow the rules set down for the rest of the medical communities, I think we'd really get somewhere!

Meanwhile, anybody is welcome to write in here and tell us what you think of these or any stories. When commenting on stories, please refresh our memories by giving us a brief synopisis in your own words and then, for my reference only, include the article. But do not assume that the article will get posted -- it won't -- so if your letter cannot be understood without the article, that is, if you don't include a brief run-down of the gist of the article, your letter won't get posted.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six-and-a-half years of service
    to people with no reason to believe

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