‘Church and State’ Category Archives


The War on Christmas – Santa Monica Edition

by PinPonPun in Atheism, Church and State

Some folks are in a FOX-fueled frenzy already, focusing on a situation in Santa Monica, California. The City Council there has elected to not allow any religious or holiday displays in a park that has hosted a fourteen-part nativity scene for over fifty years, citing the resources necessary to maintain and secure the site (as well as environmental concerns). A religious non-profit organization has attempted to reverse the City Council’s decision but was recently dealt a blow when a Federal judge refused to block the nativity ban.

Many Christians are, of course, livid about this situation and casting the blame on the evil atheists that wish to destroy America. This very vitriolic post, “10 Reasons Atheists Can Go to Hell Over Holiday Decorations Fight,”  published on The Stir by its Managing Editor, Cynthia Dermody epitomizes the typical American-Christian misunderstanding of the situation and of atheism in general.

Here are her ten reasons and my responses:

1. You aren’t going to make Christmas or Hanukkah go away. (Bah your separation of church and state argument — we know that’s what the real intention is here.) But it’s never. gonna. happen. NEVER. So deal with it.

First, a straw-man where Dermody claims that the separation of church and state argument is just a front for the “real intention” of atheists; of course this is a completely fallacious statement — most atheists are not trying to make Christmas or Hanukkah go away, we simply want to ensure that the government is adhering to the First Amendment by either a) allowing ALL religious viewpoints equal voice on government-owned property or (more preferably) b) not allowing ANY religious viewpoint to be espoused from government-owned property. On church land or your own private property? Go crazy, have a thousand nativity scenes and giant crosses and menorahs. Just not on public land.

2. You are coming off looking shallow, mean, and spiteful, like the spoiled neighborhood brat who always got pissy when everyone voted to play kickball when they really wanted to play tag. No one ever liked playing with that kid.

Ah yes, anad hominem attack on atheists. Because titling an article, even a rant, “10 Reasons Atheists Can go to Hell” is not mean, spiteful, or pissy.

3. The displays aren’t going to convince someone who isn’t religious to suddenly convert or defect from your ranks. There’s no priest hiding behind the manger with a portable baptismal font ready to christen you unawares. It doesn’t work that way. But if you did decide to join, we would forgive, forget, and accept you with open arms. We’re good like that.

Clearly Dermody doesn’t understand atheism, but this sort of ties back to the straw-man erected in her first point. This is not about some fear that atheists will lose members to the Church and the issue of the religious displays is not some us-versus-them one. Again, it’s about whether or not the government should be sponsoring religious scenes on public property. Period.

4. Many of the past nativity scenes from area churches represented historical scenes from the Bible, such as Joseph and Mary (on a donkey) riding into Bethlehem, or a scene from Herod’s court. Whether you believe Jesus was the messiah or not, many of these events are recorded history.

The veracity of the bible as a historical document is up for debate, at least from an academic point of view, so this point may be moot. Even still, assuming that some of the nativity story’s scenes are completely and wholly factual and accurate, the point has not changed; they being utilized to espouse a particular religious belief and the state should not be involved in such actions.

5. You’re just jealous we get presents and you don’t. Yeah, it sucks to be you this time of year.

You’re right, no atheist ever gets presents, and especially not a Christmas-time. Nor do we ever give presents. Or celebrate Christmas. Come December 25th we hide in our caves, reading our Dawkins and Hitchens, fearful that festive carolers may come and accidentally convert us to Christianity.

6. Your kids might actually enjoy them. Like it or not, your little atheists will probably attend school with other children who are being raised in a faith, whether it’s Jewish or Hindu or Muslim or whatever, and they are going to have questions. This is a very non-threatening way to teach them about this stuff. They need to get used to it sooner or later.

Following this argument along this lines, would you mind if I tell your kids about some of the other well-documented and “historically accurate” creation myths out there? They may rather enjoy some of the Persian stories of creation, or the Native American myths. Hell, they may even find the Quran to be a wonderful and beautiful tale.

7. You’re winning anyway! Atheism is the only “religious category” that’s actually on the rise in the United States — almost all other religions are in decline or staying the same. You know how the coach taught you not to celebrate the goal when you’re already pummelling the other team 10-1? Yeah, like that.

Ah, the poor persecuted Christian angle; yes, atheists are “winning” in that we are showing growth, on whole. But we are still one of the least-trusted minorities in this country and represent  small portion of the population. Let’s spin this a different way: Christians represent the vast majority of the country, so you’re really the ones “pummelling” (sic) the other team. Religious believers have churches and temples and mosques throughout this great land and in great numbers, and religion permeates everything from our government policy to our currency. Why do you need to celebrate with displays on public land? Yellowpages.com shows over 1200 churches listed in Santa Monica — can’t one of them display your nativity scene?

 8. You don’t have to walk through or drive past this portion of the park. You have the freedom to travel any which way you want so you don’t have to look at anything you don’t want to. Isn’t this country great?

Again, missing the point; it’s not that atheists are some sort of vampiric creatures that cringe at the site religious idolatry. Public land should be hosting religious messaging. You needn’t walk or drive through this portion of the park to see your nativity scene when you can easily put it on private property somewhere, no?

9. People are going to continue to put up displays in their yards. I would if I lived next door to you in Santa Monica. A big old honking one with lights and sounds. And I’d leave it up ’til Easter.

Awesome! Go for it! We fully endorse this plan. On your property, on your land, on your church’s land, put up whatever you like and all the more power to you. We actually have suggested this, on more than one occasion.

10. You are waging this war in Santa Monica, ironically. “Santa” translates to SAINT, by the way. That’s a Christian term in case you didn’t know. I guess that’s next on your list. You better get going, you’ve got a long way to go.

And New York represents a relationship with York in the UK that no longer exists; your point? Besides, we’re not “waging [a] war” we’re simply supporting the United States Constitution instead of a holy text written thousands of years ago. You should try it sometime.

Oh, and for the record, atheists did not ban the nativity scene this year, nor did atheists request that the City Council remove the display. Atheists were not involved in the lawsuit(s) around the ban, and atheists did not vandalize any of the displays in prior years. Just, you know, for the record.




Meacham: Jesus started church-state separation

by PinPonPun in Church and State, Politics

Jon Meacham, Newsweek’s Editor and author of several tomes on American history, had a column in this week’s issue of the news magazine that took a look at the National Day of Prayer decision. He argues, like AU’s Rev. Barry W. Lyn, that there is a religious case and basis for the separation of church and state:

The idea of separation began, in fact, with Jesus. Once, when the crowds were with him and wanted to make him a king, he withdrew and hid. Before Pilate, Jesus was explicit: “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said. Later in the New Testament, Paul argues that God shows no partiality among nations or peoples, meaning nations cannot claim blessed status, and says that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” which means the Lord God of Hosts is concerned with larger matters than whether one is an American or a Norwegian. A Christian nation, then, is a theological impossibility, and faith coerced is no faith at all, only tyranny. If God himself gave human beings free will—the choice to love him or not, to obey him or not—then no believer should try to force another to confess a faith.

Meacham also quotes from the Treaty of Tripoli, mentioned earlier here.


Nation Day of Prayer: Unconstitutional

by PinPonPun in Church and State, Politics

Little late in posting this to the blog, but on April 15th U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the federal law mandating a National Day of Prayer was a violation of the US Constitution.

You can read the full ruling here, hosted at the Americans United for Separation of Church and State website.

Ironically most of the people upset by this are the same folks that argue for small government; they don’t want the government interfering in our day-to-day lives, arguing that things like universal health care represent unwarranted governmental interference in our lives.

But a federal law mandating that one day a year we set aside time to pray to a mythical being that only some members of the population believe in? A very literal endorsement of religion?

This they find fine and think the decision to rule it unconstitutional is abhorrent.

Abhorrent? Seriously? People have the right, have the freedom, to pray whenever and wherever they want. This IS in the Constitution and is one of our most important rights. The government not endorsing that prayer takes no freedom from you, takes no rights from you while simultaneously not imposing a belief system on those that disagree or do not believe.

Americans United has a create page detailing why this is good for the country; in fact, they believe that it’s essential for the country — especially if you value your right to pray and worship as you choose.

And for those who haven’t already seen it, AU’s Executive Director Rev. Barry Lynn taking on Fox’s Megyn Kelly:


America: A Christian Nation?

by PinPonPun in Church and State, Politics

In short, no. Period. Keith Olbermann sums it up:

Our founding fathers deliberating excluded any reference to a god or gods or creator in our Constitution, the law of our land. They were heavily inspired by John Locke and his Two Treatises on Government who argued that an effective government must remove the supposed divine-appointed roles of most popular monarchies at the time. (His theories on structuring the government into three primary branches — judicial, legislative, and executive — as well as his belief that humans all have the right to life, liberty, and property may also sound familiar to anyone who as studied American government.)

For some reason, people forget this. Perhaps it is not explicit enough. What about the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President John Adams in 1797?

Article 11 of the treaty reads:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Despite what the Sarah Palins of the world may say to rouse the crowd, the simple fact is that this country was founded on a basis of freedom for all, all faiths and non-faiths.

The references are numerous to support this, and nothing I’ve written here is new. So please. can we stop? Just stop the inane and insane repetition of falsehoods and misrepresented history?


Praying for a Bailout

by PinPonPun in Atheism, Church and State, Politics, Ponderings

The automotive industry is in trouble and it appears that a bailout plan may be decided upon by the end of today.

Surely the Rev. Charles Ellis at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple will believe that his actions yesterday were directly responsible for it as the congregation at one of Detroit’s largest choices gathered to ask God to have Congress deliver such a bailout. They actually had SUVs at the alter, as described in the Reuters article “SUVs at altar, Detroit church prays for a bailout” –

Local car dealerships donated three hybrid SUVs to be displayed during the service, one from each of the Big Three. A Ford Escape, Chevy Tahoe from GM and a Chrysler Aspen were parked just in front of the choir and behind the pulpit.

Ellis said he and other Detroit ministers would pray and fast until Congress voted on a bailout for Detroit’s embattled automakers. He urged his congregation to do the same.

How would praying and fasting accomplish help turn a Congressional vote, you might wonder? Well, apparently:

“It’s all about hope. You can’t dictate how people will think, how they will respond, how they will vote,” Ellis said after the service. “But you can look to God. We believe he can change the minds and hearts of men and women in power, and that’s what we tried to do today.”

I’m sure that, were there a God, he’d have better things to do than to monitor the United States’ Congressional decisions on the state of the automotive industry. Just a guess.

It amazes me sometimes what people think prayer can accomplish and the role they figure God will play directly in their lives.

UPDATE: The New York Times has an article as well, complete with photographs of the SUVs, adding this quote:

“We have done all that we can do in this union, so I turn it over to the Lord,” General Holiefield, a U.A.W. vice president for Chrysler, told the crowd. A vice president for the parts suppliers, James Settles Jr., asked those present “to continue your prayers, so we can see a miracle next week.”

Obviously we are a Christian nation if our Congress can create miracles! I wonder how Pete Stark feels about that?