Can First Amendment
Stifle Expressions Of God?
I just learned of your Web site yesterday.
I have seriously considered the atheist's position (though some atheists seem to think that if you haven't become an atheist you haven't seriously considered it. That argument can be turned around: If you haven't come to the conclusion that there is a God, you have seriously considered that position), though, for reasons, I have come to the conclusion that there is a God. And, again for reasons, I have come to certain other conclusions. But I fully respect the right of the atheist to his or her position. In fact, an atheist and I have a university level Adult Education course entitled, "The Conflicting Worldviews of Theism and Atheism." The course material can also be found on the Internet, www.pages.cc/godyesno.
In reading some of your material, it seems that you are arguing the First Amendment. I certainly respect that. But how, under the First Amendment, can those who hold there is a God be stifled from expressing that in public places, such as schools? In my view, that is no different from stifling the atheist from expressing his or her views.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Bill Brouwers"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: October 26, 2001 6:35 AM
No private citizen can be stifled from expressing their religion anywhere they want to. However, the freedom to express one's religion does not give anybody the right or privilege to break laws: the Constitution has never meant that (until the recent peyote case, which later prompted some zoning violations for which religious groups alone are exempted from prosecution). Thus, kids in school may pray if they want to or even tell their classmates that they practice an evil and wicked religion and had better repent and join the right faith or they'll burn in Hell. All this is allowed and has always been allowed since the inception of public schools in the early part of the twentieth century.
However, for a teacher to lead the class in prayer is against the law. For the faculty to distribute the literature of a single sect (or group of sects), such as the Gideon Bible or the Pocket New Testament, is against the law. Just as a religious group is not allowed to sacrifice virgins in the name of Religious Liberty (Numbers 31:40), the Constitution does not protect the "Liberty" of anybody who wishes to engage in any illegal practice under the guise of "religious freedom."
The teacher can cry "religious freedom" all she wants, but she has violated the Religious Liberty of her students if she leads the class in prayer; in so doing, she has broken the law. For a school to allow a student or a teacher to use a public address system to lead students in religious ritual is likewise against the law. The school may not post the religious tenets or message of a single faith or set of faiths, but must show diversity or remain silent: that the Ten Commandments are used by three different religions is not enough (especially since the wording and even the numbering of the Ten Commandments differs from Hebrew, Protestant, and Roman Catholic).
Some people think this is not good enough: they are the same people who want to have it all. It is not enough for them that everybody gets treated fairly. They want the right not only to practice their specific religious ritual any time they want to, without regard to who gets harmed, they also want to force others to watch if not participate. Not only that, they also want to retain the power to prevent those with whom they disagree from practicing their religious rituals.
For example, George W. Bush not only wants our tax dollars to pay the salary of an Evangelical Christian chaplain at the military base, he also wants the bases to forbid Wiccans from being allowed to practice their religion on base even at their own expense! Another example: During the campaign, both Bush and his opponent, Al Gore, wanted our tax dollars to support a Christian's or Jew's worship services and proselytizing efforts if those acts were somehow connected to charity, but both men vocally denied the fact that atheists have the Constitutional right to freedom from religion, we specifically don't have the right to freedom from government-inflicted religion, according to these men. Since the Day of Atrocity, the "emergency status" has been thoroughly exploited to make this dream of Bush's a reality: there is now no hiding from Bush's attacks on our freedom from government-inflicted religion.
Bush's positions in this regard are most un-American!
These attitudes make the Christian religion appear to thrive on pure greed. I, for one, am very glad that our children are protected from being exposed to this Christian concept of "morality" in our public schools: if you want to teach that to your children, fine; just don't let my kids get a whiff of it!
The United States was founded upon the concept of individual Liberty. The concept of Liberty has never been divorced from personal responsibility, and this union was always either emphasized or simply taken for granted in the writings of the Founding Fathers who spoke of Liberty: Religious Liberty is not Liberty if it takes away the Religious Liberty of another citizen. Perhaps this is why the "Christian Nation" revisionists are so prone to using the term religious freedom instead of Religious Liberty: the word freedom seems to connote the privilege to do whatever one wants without regard to who gets hurt by one's actions. Freedom always means "freedom from" some restriction. Liberty has never meant this at all, and our nation was founded upon Liberty, not this "freedom" that I keep hearing about from the "Christian Nation" revisionists.
So, when I hear somebody sniveling about how they want to have the "freedom" to do something that will harm another or will infringe in the rights of another, I know better than to think that I am listening to somebody who knows or cares much about America's founding principles.
In my view, that is no different from stifling the atheist from expressing his or her views.
If, by atheism you mean the simple absence of theism, then you are speaking about the default human position when it comes to religious views. Everybody starts out as an atheist and then most of us later learn a religious dogma and convert to theism. In this case, I don't know what you would do: that would be not unlike requiring everybody to be heterosexual, when not everybody even has a sexual orientation! Some of us just are and don't even think along those lines! I don't know how you would enforce a law which forbade "atheism" but then defined atheism as the simple absence of a god belief.
However, I think everybody would agree that it would be just as wrong for a teacher to instruct her students that no gods exist as it would be for that same teacher to instruct her students that Jesus is Lord. If that is what you mean by atheism, the dogma that no gods exist, then I would agree that the First Amendment would protect religious students from receiving instruction built around this tenet.
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Dear Cliff Walker:
Thank you for replying to my 10/25 e-mail.
First of all, to clarify any misunderstanding. I make a great difference between religion and whether there actually is a God or not. If God is just the result of what people believe, I would have stayed in the business world where I once was. The issue is whether there actually is a God, whether or not people believe it. I have come to the conclusion, for reasons, that there is a God, a God that makes a difference.
You say that "no private citizen can be stifled from expressing their religion anywhere they want to." 1) The State of Kansas decision that reversed a decision made a year or two ago regarding evolution (which was erroneously reported in most of the media) certainly stifled those who claim there is a God to be taken into account. There was no allowance for that position. 2) In Baylor University a professor who claimed there is a God was shunned by the scientific community there. 3) More recently a group who wanted to talk about God to those interested in a public school in New York had to take their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to do so. The Supreme Court allowed them to do so but there was much opposition to that freedom. 4) Creationism (and I am not defending the Creationists. The issue is God and creationists argue that there is a God) has, by Supreme Court decision, been put out of the public schools. I fail to see the freedom you say exists in this country.
Regarding the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it reads in part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." With all the religious groups in this country, I fail to see any chance of the U.S. government, or any state or local government, establishing a religion. The First Amendment continues, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." I can very much see that threatened.
You say that the freedoms you mention have been allowed since the early part of the twentieth century. Actually, there were a lot more freedoms for religious folk in this country from its beginning than there are now.
You state that a "school may not post the religious tenets or message of a single faith or set of faiths, but must show diversity or remain silent." You then seem to disallow the display of the Ten Commands. In light of your willingness to allow for diversity, would you allow for the Ten Commands and other religious views to be displayed? Also, what if the great majority of a community says there actually is a God who matters. But within that community are some who say there is no God. Do those who say there is no God have precedence over those who say there is? How can that be in a Democracy? Yet, in my view, that is exactly what is happening in many places. Even those who "believe" there is a God side with those who say there is no God many times so that there really is no God in many areas of our society. I find it very interesting since Sept 11 that now God is everywhere.
What I just said does not mean that I want to stifle the atheists. Not at all! But neither do I want those who claim there is a God to be stifled. Nor am I defending anyone there. In my view, if anyone claims there is a God then my next questions are, What is this God really like (of all the different religious views), and, how does one know (not just believe)? I just don't want anyone to be stifled.
You say that you do not want any religious views forced on you. I would be the first to agree with that. But the alternative for many, it seems, is to leave God out which, in my view, is similar to atheism, and with which I cannot agree. How to solve the dilemma?
You talk about the Founding Principles of this country. I am not ready, for reasons, to defend that it was founded on "Christian Principles" but certainly everyone involved held that there is a God. And if there really is a God, that, it seems to me, is pretty important and it was to them.
Atheism, as I understand it, says that there is no God. Of course, the term "God" needs to be defined. Some say, for instance, that God is the most important thing in your life, for which you live, and since everyone has something that is most important for which they live no one is an atheist. The atheist (with whom I have a university class on the subject of God) and I agree that the God we are talking about is an Intelligent Being who created the universe. He says there is no such God and I disagree.
Thanks again for writing.
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
To: "Bill Brouwers"
Subject: Re: Your 10/25 e-mail
Date: November 01, 2001 8:17 PM
You seem to be defining religion as something different from what you do, as if your god-claim is different from other god-claims. I will not accept this distinction in a discussion of the word religion as it appears in the United States Constitution.
Atheism, as I understand it, says that there is no God.
Your "understanding" of this is unique to a handful of religious sects, including the Roman Catholic Church, plus a few others, such as the "strong" agnostics. This "understanding" has never gained very stong acceptance amongst atheists or nonbelievers. To most of us who think about it at all (our self-definition), an atheist is a person who lacks a god belief for whatever reason. Only a small fraction of atheists will assert that no gods exist. George H. Smith wrote a history and etymology of the word atheism called "Defining Atheism."
Hopefully this will clear this matter up, as I think it's patently unfair for people to hold me accountable for having insisted that no gods exist just for calling myself an atheist. It is in the Roman Catholic Church's interest, if their goal is to refute atheism before the popular mind set, to define atheism in terms that are easy to refute before the popular mind set. They could not have been more effective than to have popularized this definition, using their clout to influence the publishers of reference works and more. However, I think your friend will agree that nobody can empirically disprove an existential claim: you cannot disprove my claim that Santa Claus exists. You can argue that it is most unlikely, but you cannot disprove it empirically.
You seem to have forgotten what I said in my first paragraph:
No private citizen can be stifled from expressing their religion anywhere they want to. However, the freedom to express one's religion does not give anybody the right or privilege to break laws
Some things that some call "religious expression" are against the law, as I showed in my last response.
1) The State of Kansas decision that reversed a decision made a year or two ago regarding evolution (which was erroneously reported in most of the media) certainly stifled those who claim there is a God to be taken into account. There was no allowance for that position.
All this did was require that the state teach science in the science class and leave religion to the humanities departments. Nobody would disagree that when you ask science what happened, science will tell you that evolution happened.
How could this possibly be the stifling of somebody's religious views, considering that when you take on a career such as teaching in the public schools you agree to forfeit the right to bring your personal religious views into the picture in the first place (just as when you run for President you agree to forfeit the right to bring your personal religious views into the picture).
For the President to exploit his office for the purpose of sales pitching religion to his constituents or to order his constituents to practice rituals commonly practiced in his religious sect is illegal. (Hear that, George?) Likewise, it is illegal to teach religion as science in the public school. It's okay to teach religion as religion, as long as one single religious view does not dominate but rather a fair sampling is provided. But to do what Kansas did two years ago was illegal and they had to change this in order to bring themselves back under the United States Constitution.
If they put too tight a lid on the concept of theistic evolution, perhaps this needs to be adjusted: I have not examined the rules all that closely to be able to opine on that particular question. However, if those who defend the teaching of science in science class put some extra protections in, even if they got a little reactionary, one can hardly blame them after what Kansas did two years ago. The rules still would need to be adjusted if there is no room to mention the possibility of theistic evolution, but still one can hardly blame them for wanting to protect the integrity of science in the face of the greedier expressions of Christian fundamentalism.
2) In Baylor University a professor who claimed there is a God was shunned by the scientific community there.
Send me the articles about this that were published by the mainstream press. Baylor is a religious university with one of the best state-church studies units in the world.
If this did happen as you describe, that is, if this professor's religious expression is truly being stifled and he is not simply being brought either under law or back under the contract that he signed when he was hired on, I will join you in protest. However, I'm not going to go flying off my nut just because someone wrote to me about it in an e-mail (unless you're an established correspondent, which you are not).
Liberty always implies responsibility. There are certain things that I could post on my web site or print in my magazine that are illegal. This does not infringe my liberty of speech or press, it just ensures that I use these Liberties responsibly and that if I don't, the victims have at least some consistent form of redress.
3) More recently a group who wanted to talk about God to those interested in a public school in New York had to take their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to do so. The Supreme Court allowed them to do so but there was much opposition to that freedom.
I am not familiar with this case. Please send me coverage of it from the mainstream press or the ACLU write-up of it. I would not allow the schools to allow outsiders or faculty to proselytize on school grounds during school hours. The only ones who have that right are the students themselves, on a one-on-one basis. If it came down the way you describe, and I don't remember this one -- and I follow the Supreme Court! -- I would bet that it caused quite an uproar among civil libertarians (if it is as you describe here, which I doubt).
4) Creationism (and I am not defending the Creationists. The issue is God and creationists argue that there is a God) has, by Supreme Court decision, been put out of the public schools. I fail to see the freedom you say exists in this country.
The laws say that you cannot proselytize for a religious sect in the public school. Thus, when you become a teacher, you agree to set aside this right for the privilege of teaching in the public schools. If your zeal to proselytize your faith is so utterly important to you, then you don't have to become a teacher. It's that simple. Nobody is being stifled.
If you were allowed to proselytize in the public schools, most of your students' Religious Liberties would be stifled each school day.
Our country, during the Kennedy administration, decided that science is extremely important to teach in the public schools, so we teach it. Science class is about teaching Liberal Scientific Method (a specific technique for discovering truth and ferreting out falsehood). Science class is not where religion gets taught. At all. Science class is where they teach science. If you ask the question about the origin of species, science (all of science) will answer with one word: evolution. The vast majority of scientists who are religious (who are Christian) will give you this same answer: evolution. For us to allow schools to teach, in science class, an answer other than what science itself will give would infringe more than just the Religious Liberties of the entire scientific community, because our state would be teaching as science something that is not science.
If you want to teach religion, you don't sign up as the science teacher. I'm sorry, but science class is not where religion gets taught. If you didn't know this before, you know it now: stay away from the science department if teaching the Genesis Flood is what you want to do: science has tested this claim and has thoroughly refuted it: there is absolutely no reason to think that science endorses this one! If you want to teach in the science department, science is what you need to teach. If you don't do this, you have violated your contract and your trust with the people. Religious Liberty does not protect your "right" to do these things.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." With all the religious groups in this country, I fail to see any chance of the U.S. government, or any state or local government, establishing a religion.
If all this were talking about was a state religion, you might have been right. But that's only a small part of what it's talking about. Study your Supreme Court rulings as regards to the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Read the view of those who ratified the First Amendment.
The First Amendment continues, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." I can very much see that threatened.
America not only has more and greater Religious Liberty than anywhere else, we have more and greater Religious Liberty than we've ever had before. This is because for once, we've been able to put religious anarchy in check so that all citizens have a fair crack at the system and the process and to practice (or refrain from practicing) the religious views of their choice.
Like I said, Religious Liberty does not give you license to break laws that nonreligious people can be busted for breaking. Again, please study what Religious Liberty is and is not. Please do not listen to a Christian preacher talk about "religious freedom" (whatever that is) and think you have become knowledgeable about Religious Liberty. Liberty has always implied personal responsibility and is not, in any sense, a license for anarchy and lawlessness.
Actually, there were a lot more freedoms for religious folk in this country from its beginning than there are now.
What you (and many Christians today) call "religious freedom" is actually religious anarchy, the practice of inflicting my religious views on unwilling participants, the practice of forcing others to live up to my religious tenets (such as the "Sunday Laws"), and the practice of giving my religious sect advantage over other sects. If this is "religious freedom," then not only does the Constitution not give you this license, I would not endorse a move to allow you to have this "religious freedom" (if that is what "religious freedom" is). What has happened over the past century is that religious anarchy has, for the most part, been placed in check. They are not allowed to force my children to recite Bible passages and pray in class. Atheists are no longer barred from radio or television. These are good things because they promote Religious Liberty as provided for in the United States Constitution.
I'm starting to sound like a broken record, so I will stop right here and will not read any further. I recommend that you study Religious Liberty as provided in the United States Constitution and that you beware of those who liberally use the term "religious freedom," as I suspect this to be the buzz-word for those who wish to make their own religious sect supreme. In order to pull this off, they're going to have to tell some pretty slick lies to the public, and this phrase is readily seen in the writings of those I have detected to be working in this direction. I have listened to their case, and still see the United States Constitution as being superior to anything they have proposed.
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
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