This was a letter to the editor in today’s San Diego Union. Here is what it says.
Now that the President has called us to prayer ...
Now that Congress has called us to prayer ...
Now that our governor has called us to prayer ...
Now that the San Diego mayor has called us to prayer ...
Now that the liberal media and most other branches of our American society have called us to prayer ...
And now that our churches are assembling in special prayer ...
Would it be OK for children to pray in our schools?
In all fairness this one was also there:
One of the basic foundations of this country is freedom of religion. What’s often missed is that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. Most of the immigrants who came to this country in its infancy did so to escape religious persecution in their homelands: freedom from religion . Now, a number of our people are advocating a much larger role for religion in our society. Which religion? That of the dominant majority? What about all the other religions? What about those of us who get along fine without religion?
To those who say that religion should play a bigger role in our country and government, I say this: If you want to live in a country that is run by religion, move to Afghanistan.
Heather M. Smith
I have never written a letter to the editor before, but I would like to respond to this. Can you help me either compose something or could you or one of your readers write to the San Diego Union?
From: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: I need help in San Diego
Date: September 29, 2001
This poem has been floating around the Internet since at least September 21 (when we received it; we set all our computer clocks to Greenwich Mean Time, seven or eight hours ahead, which is why our copy is time-stamped for the 22nd). We’ve had it up since the 22nd, in a letter from Kris Nielsen called “How Six Wrongs Make A Right.”
[Note: After we wrote this, reader Vince Cardigan told us he had seen the “Can We Pray?” spam as early as September 17.]
This poem, we suggest, is an organized effort to exploit our nation’s tragedy in order to push the antiatheistic (and anti-American) school prayer agenda!
That the Union-Tribune printed an unoriginal poem as an original work, first of all, needs to be dealt with via a retraction on their part. This is crucial on the part of the UT since there could be some copyright problems for them down the road. It is for this reason that we retained the name and eMail address of the writer of our copy and clearly inserted talk of it “floating around the Internet” and the like.
That this is the work of a callused and professional school-prayer activist is so plain to even the most remotely alert reader that the UT ought to have first slipped a few lines of it into a few search engines or even contacted a Separationist organization or two (and even a few “Christian Nation” revisionists, which are not uncommon in Southern California) to see how many different variations of it are already posted. It wouldn’t take much work to track down the original author, I suspect.
My clue would have been that certainly San Diego is home to nobody “creative” enough for this: I would expect San Diegans to have much more of a life than to put out something as smarmy and transparent as this! (I should know, I’m from San Diego!)
A real clue, one that a UT editor should not have had to even think about, would have been to check to see if Governor Gray Davis has actually called his constituents to prayer! I know a little about Gray Davis and can safely predict that he probably would not exploit his office this way. If he did (and I doubt it), we could chalk it up to the stress of the moment: this is not normal behavior that we can expect of Governor Davis. We cannot, however, give President Bush the same benefit of the doubt considering that almost everything he has done since taking office has been along the lines of his call to prayer following the tragedy.
While San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy’s message regarding the tragedies ends in the words “God Bless America,” it does not contain any calls to prayer. If Murphy was given to this (actually) rather rare show of religiosity, you’d think he’d do it here. But here there is nothing about prayer, only the words, “God Bless America.” So, if Murphy did not call his constituents to prayer (and I doubt that he did), here’s another clue to the UT editors that this is probably a plagiarism: it’s more than simply wrong.
So since this is not Governor Davis’s style and since Mayor Murphy’s specific message omitted mention of a call to prayer, these two claims ought not to have escaped the notice of the UT editors.
One final clue that the ultra-conservative Union-Tribune can be expected to have caught is the patently false notion that most media conglomerates are owned and run by Liberals! Hahahahahahaha! — uhh — ahem.
Nielsen first shows the poem for what it is, an echo of the bigoted message from Jerry Falwell. Our tragedy, the poem seems to be saying, is the payback of our increasing secularization and is thus is somehow our fault. To force group prayer in public schools, the poem suggests, would be a first step in preventing further tragedy. (We assume it means group prayer, here, since private and individual prayer is already allowed in schools.)
Although this is not overtly stated by the poem, it is a reasonable conclusion considering that the poem came out probably not a week after the tragedy, right on the heels of the overwhelming criticism of Falwell’s similarly callus message to the
Evangelical Christian world.
Most importantly, Nielsen castigates the poem’s distributors (and re-distributors, since our version indicates a different author than yours) for exploiting a most horrible tragedy just to push the school prayer agenda! Can you believe this? As cautious as PAM has been even criticizing the President’s patently illegal (yet vaguely understandable) religiosity, here comes a little poem in the eMail which “not only counters our very First Amendment, but attempts to trigger guilt by preying upon humankind’s emotional vulnerabilities as well.”
Although a little more time had gone by when the UT printed this as the work of one of their own readers, it was written before the Falwell-Robertson controversy had been resolved with retractions and apologies from both Christian ministers.
(Cliff Walker’s response to a spam that we received on September 21. That spam was later published in the San Diego Union as the work of UT reader Douglas Foight.)
JUST BECAUSE President Bush has abused his authority under the Constitution and violated his oath of office by directing the religious exercises of his constituents;
JUST BECAUSE Congress has made an order regarding an establishment of religion, contrary to the authority granted to them by our Constitution;
JUST BECAUSE some Governor (allegedly) has breached his or her authority under the Constitution to do similarly;
JUST BECAUSE some city Mayor (allegedly) has likewise breached her or his authority under the Constitution;
JUST BECAUSE private entities such as the media and other “branches” of society have done what they have every right to do (even though government does not have this right);
AND JUST BECAUSE the churches have done not only what they have every right to do, but what the Constitution sets aside as their specific domain (even though this behavior is not within the domain of the government);
To all dishonorable perpetrators of this heart-rending, exploitative attempt to use tragedy to further tear apart the founding Liberties of this great nation, I have but a single question:
Would it be okay to set aside your meddling political agenda just for a moment while we grieve this monumental loss of life on our soil and tremble our way into a whole new perspective of reality where we can no longer assume that even citizens are safe from foreign attack? Can we wait? You can c9ontinue with the school prayer discussion after we’ve had time to heal. Okay? Please!?
And may we set your little agenda aside without fear of your side using these breaches as precedent after we have settled down and can think rationally about what we would be doing if (while thinking with our emotions instead of our minds) we instituted further wrong by forcing non-Christian kids to participate in (or even watch) this very Christian religious ritual each morning before they buckle down to their studies?
— Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
(Copyright ©2001 by Cliff Walker. Permission to redistribute this is granted provided that everything from the title, “Six Wrongs Don’t Make A Right,” through this line is included unchanged. Updated on June 17, 2007.)
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