I got the following comment from Paul Roe on the recent Ohio thread, and thought the topic raised deserved more attention.
I came to your site as a falconer but you write a lot about politics and science which I also enjoy. I’d love to get your opinion on the attached MP3 file that is a recording of an exchange between outspoken atheist Rob Sherman and Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago).
It’s really atrocious in my opinion and I don’t feel it’s getting the coverage it deserves. If this same proceeding had taken place and Rob Sherman was any other religion other than an atheist than this kind of bigotry would have made headline news.
I just listened to the recording, and it is atrocious. Monique Davis has a meltdown excoriating Sherman over his support of separation of church and state, ending up with telling him to leave his seat at what I presume is a public government meeting. Christians in their private role can remonstrate with atheists as they wish, though Davis’ performance is carrying a message of hate, not a message of Christ. As a representative of the government, though, the Davis rant was beyond the pale. I’m uncertain what the provocation could have been, but there’s no excuse I can come up with for it. I’m a United Methodist, and I am saddened by this incident. It does believers no favors to have bigots like Davis speaking as if on their behalf, and I hope others will step forward to also protest this incident.
I also found the allusion to Lincoln’s religion as a basis for Davis’ antipathy to Sherman to be ignorant. Lincoln’s religious views are not known with certainty, and accounts from several of those people who knew him best ascribe to him variously deistic, “Calvinized deism”, or other views not wholly compatible with the doctrinal stances of trinitarian Christianity I’m assuming Davis seeks to assert. Nor is there evidence to hand that Lincoln would concur in Davis’ expressed wish to keep children ignorant of the fact that some people do choose atheism. Regardless of any of that, the fact is that here and now, it is simply wrong to single out atheism as being something the government has any business labeling as a bad thing, just as the government has no business in supporting any religious doctrine or suppressing any other on the basis of religious content.
I am a strong supporter of keeping the government out of the religion business, for a government strong enough to support my religion and suppress others now could easily be turned to suppressing my religion in years hence. I wonder why many religious people seem to have forgotten this essential point. The history of church-state separation includes plenty of legal cases where religious litigants have argued for the government to butt out of taking sides on religion; many times that was the Southern Baptist Church. That clear-headed past seems to have turned fuzzy for many now that they seem to see a political opportunity to obtain the government imprimatur while they have a popular ascendancy. This is a mistake for any diverse body politic, as centuries of religious warfare scarring the history of Europe attests. We can learn from those mistakes; we don’t have to repeat them for ourselves. And atheists are fully deserving of the respect we hold for anyone who believes something different from ourselves. Our government needs to offer equal protection under the law to all groups, believing or unbelieving. Our founding fathers made good steps toward establishing a system encouraging tolerance of that diversity. Let’s not stumble now.