Election Blurring of Church, State Separation Draws Complaints

From:Reuters/RSN

By:Mary Wisniewski, Reuters

Emphasis Mine:

“Political watchdog and secularist groups are asking the U.S. government to investigate whether Catholic bishops and a Christian evangelical group headed by preacher Billy Graham should lose tax breaks for telling followers how to vote in this year’s election.

Under constitutional protections of free speech and separation of church and state, churches are free to speak on any issue. But they risk losing tax breaks worth $145 billion in the past decade if they violate Internal Revenue Service rules by promoting or opposing any particular candidate. Other non-profits also have special tax status.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a political watchdog group, in its complaint to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, cited reports of individual bishops “abusing their positions to advocate against the election of President Barack Obama.”

The group’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, said some bishops went too far by saying a vote for Democrats would mean going to hell. “I don’t think the Catholic bishops should be intimidating parishioners to advocate for any particular candidate,” said Sloan.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation complained to the IRS about possible illegal political campaign intervention by Wisconsin Catholic bishops and the Charlotte, North Carolina-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

IRS spokesman Dean Patterson declined to comment on the complaints or on whether there was any investigation. “Federal law prohibits the IRS from discussing specific taxpayers or situations,” Patterson said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, through its spokeswoman Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said it would not comment on what a bishop says in his diocese.

The Billy Graham group said that its newspaper ads in publications like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today advocated votes for candidates who support “biblical values” but mentioned no candidate or party.

The ads, signed by Graham, asked voters to back candidates who support “the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman” and who protect “the sanctity of life,” an apparent reference to the group’s opposition to abortion.

The conference of bishops waged a campaign this year against the Obama administration’s health care requirement birth control be covered by health insurance.

Church doctrine is opposed to contraception as a means of birth control. Church leaders also spoke out against same-sex marriage but were on the losing side in four states where the issue was on the ballot.

The Power Of The Pulpit

Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Duquesne University who worked for the Catholic diocese of Pittsburgh, said some bishops seemed particularly politically active in this election.

In Cafardi’s opinion, the bishops’ conference did not cross any tax-law lines but some individual bishops may have done so.

“The larger issue is that, irrespective of what the tax code says, churches should be sacred spaces, free of partisan politics,” said Cafardi.

Among those whose political positions created controversy in this campaign season was Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas Paprocki who warned his flock in a letter of “intrinsic evils” in the Democratic platform’s support of abortion and same-sex marriage. A vote for someone who promotes such actions “places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy,” he said.

Peter Breen, executive director of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a law firm focused on Catholic issues, said the complaint against Catholic bishops was meant to frighten people of faith from challenging their political leaders, which religious people have always been called to do.

“That’s not electioneering – it’s merely making statements about public concern,” said Breen of Paprocki’s statement. “He’s not saying vote for Candidate A as opposed to Candidate B.”

Green Bay, Wisconsin, Bishop David Ricken made a statement similar to Paprocki’s in an October 24 letter to parishioners, but later said his comments “should not be misunderstood as an endorsement of any political candidates or parties.”

In an April sermon, Peoria, Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky said Obama, with his “radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path” to that of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and German dictator Adolf Hitler. The homily is posted on the diocese newspaper’s web site.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State urged the IRS in October to investigate a Texas church that advised on its marquee to “Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim!” – a reference to Mormon Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Obama, who is not a Muslim.

Conservatives were not the only ones getting support from the pulpit. According to an October Pew Research Center report, 40 percent of Black Protestants reported hearing about presidential candidates from clergy at church, and the messages overwhelmingly favored Obama.

Americans United also complained in the 2008 election about a North Carolina Baptist group that invited Michelle Obama to speak at an event that they said appeared to be a campaign rally.

The Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said the IRS needs to start vigorously enforcing restrictions against political speech by churches.

This is extraordinarily important – one of the few remaining restrictions on campaign spending,” said Lynn. He warned that if churches are allowed to say anything they want politically and keep their tax benefits, “this would be a gigantic new loophole and would not serve the church’s interest, or the public’s.”

see:http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/14519-election-blurring-of-church-state-separation-draws-complaints

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Ms. Stewart comes to town…

Great anticipation of the big event Wednesday night: a presentation by Katherine Stewart to the local chapters of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy; the Center for Inquiry; and the Cleveland Freethinkers.

As part of food planning, I called Kiedrowski’s World Famous Bakery in Amherst, and ordered a plate of Snoogles for the event in the evening.

I drove over, and picked it up.  Back home, I went over last minute details, and then we went over to Costco‘s, where we picked up the two party plates I had ordered:  sandwiches on one, and shrimp on another, as well as supplies.

Food for thinkers…

I went straight over to Independence – getting there early, and many began appearing to help with set up as well.  The event – a culmination of weeks of planning – exceeded  even my highest expectations!

Some of the crowd, 1 Feb 2012

Americans United, with help and co-operation from ACS, CFI, and CFT, packed the big meeting room to hear Katherine Stewart

(Ms. Stewart at the podium, 1 Feb 2012)

give an excellent, entertaining, and enlightening presentation on her new book:

“The Good News Club”.
which details the efforts of the Christian Evangelical Fellowship
 to surreptitiously slip into public schools and brainwash young, innocent children.  For the book:

She detailed how these fundamentalist Christians deceive young school children into believing that it is the school that is teaching  things like “only those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven.”
In the end, again, the event far exceeded my hopes and wishes, and many thanks to all who helped, although, I drove most of this one myself: planned the work; worked the plan; and enjoyed the result.
Now we must move forward on this momentum…
I made an effort to make this event as easy as possible for Katherine: she was very appreciative of my efforts, and I had no problem with that!  (The Host with the most?)
Afterwards, some of us went to the Winking Lizard for cocktails and conversation…
Celebrating a great event!

10 Ways Right-Wing Christian Groups Will Likely Shove Religion Down Your Throat This Year

From:The following piece comes from Church and State Magazine, published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

By:Simon Brown

“You don’t have to look far or wide to see signs that the Religious Right was resurgent in 2011.

From the halls of Congress, where the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly urged public schools to post “In God We Trust” displays in classrooms, to the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., that was attended by 3,000 fundamentalist Christian activists, the Religious Right’s influence loomed large.

Since 2012 is an election year, we expect the Religious Right to use this growing influence to wage an all-out war to shape the U.S. government into a body that will do its bidding.

With that in mind, here are 10 of the biggest challenges, issues and concerns that Americans United expects to confront in the coming twelve months.

Improper Involvement of Religion in the 2012 Elections

Religion has infiltrated the run-up to the 2012 elections on an unprecedented level. Virtually all of the Republican presidential candidates have spent considerable time courting votes from the Religious Right. Nearly all of the major contenders spoke at the Values Voter Summit, and most of those candidates also appeared at a forum in November focusing on “questions of the soul” that was held at a fundamentalist church in Iowa.

The Religious Right is also making a serious push to pick the Republican candidate for president. The Alliance Defense Fund held its annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in October, an event designed to encourage churches to engage in illegal campaign intervention. Last year’s version featured a record number of participants, and activists assume that even more will join in fray in 2012. The Religious Right is also planning to hold voter turnout drives and distribute “voter guides” that pretend to be unbiased but are not.

Religious Right strategists dream of forging fundamentalist and evangelical churches into a disciplined voting bloc to effectively dominate the democratic process.

Sadly, the presidential campaign has already included expressions of religious bigotry. Influential Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress said in October that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, is a member of a cult and cited his affiliation as a reason not to support his candidacy.

Critics have also questioned President Barack Obama’s status as a Christian, charging falsely that he is a Muslim or at best an opponent of the Christian faith.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution forbids religious tests for public office, and church-state separationists regard attacks such as these as a violation of the spirit of that provision.

School Voucher Onslaught in the States and Congress

The Associated Press reported that 30 states explored voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in 2011, and that number is expected to grow this year. These efforts have been driven by wealthy right-wing organizations, such as the Alliance for School Choice, which advocates for vouchers nationwide and is run by right-wing activist Betsy DeVos. Her organization and its allies provide vast resources and public relations expertise to push for school vouchers in many states.

DeVos has lots of help from the Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy because parochial schools and fundamentalist academies would be the primary beneficiary of “school choice” programs.

There is an especially sneaky attempt at voucher legislation underway in Florida, where a ballot initiative set to be considered in 2012 would allow the state to give taxpayer money to religious organizations.

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, president of the Americans United Board of Trustees, is a plaintiff in a case filed by AU and its allies to get the initiative off the ballot. He and others involved in the litigation say the proposed constitutional amendment misleads voters about its true effects.

Voucher bills may come up on the federal level as well. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) railroaded a voucher program for the District of Columbia through Congress in March, so it’s clear Americans United will have to carefully monitor federal legislation as well in 2012.

The Catholic Bishops’ Crusade for ‘Religious Liberty’

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a formidable new lobbying unit known as the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. The committee claims to be defending religious liberty, but critics say it actually seeks to preserve taxpayer funding for church-affiliated agencies while maintaining overly broad exemptions from various laws.

A representative of this committee testified in October before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution regarding the issue of religious liberty in America and made the case that Catholic-run organizations should be exempt from providing birth control or recognizing same-sex marriages but should still receive government contracts and funds. Republicans on the committee seemed willing to consider this position, but Democrats were very resistant to offering such broad religious exemptions and government money.

The Pew Research Center found that Catholic lobbying organizations are the most powerful among Washington religious lobbies as they comprise 19 percent of all faith lobbying. As a result, the Ad Hoc Committee will certainly be one to watch in 2012.

Improper Religious Proselytizing in Public Schools

Some elements of the Religious Right hate the public school system because it doesn’t allow them to indoctrinate students with their version of Christianity. As a result, they look to add prayer or other religious activities to the school schedule whenever they can.

In Missouri, for example, voters will face a religion amendment on the 2012 ballot that, if passed, would open the door for religious activities on any and all public property, including schools. The proposal is so open-ended that school children might have the right to refuse to do homework on religious grounds.

In Florida, a bill is advancing through the state legislature that would let local school boards allow students to offer prayers at school events. Originally the measure stated that the prayers must be non-sectarian but that language was removed. The legislation has been offered several times before and could pass, although AU’s Florida chapters, the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League all oppose the measure.

Moreover, the Religious Right is always trying to stack public school curriculum and textbooks with religious material and going on creationism crusades, which observers expect will continue in 2012.

‘Faith-Based’ Funding and Hiring Bias

Despite pleas from Americans United and allies, President Obama has yet to act on his campaign promise to make major civil rights and civil liberties improvements to the Bush “faith-based” initiative. Speaking in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2008, he said, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion.”

Americans United has written to Obama asking him to keep his promise, but he has yet to do so. This issue is likely to remain an ongoing concern in 2012.

Related faith-based funding controversies are also likely. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is considering a new rule allowing the use of taxpayer funds for the construction and repair of religious buildings overseas.

AU has submitted comments to USAID urging the agency to withdraw the proposed rule.

Government Promotion of Religious Symbols

In an election year, politicians often look for easy ways to show their religiosity and that has already begun at both the state and federal levels.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution in November that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encouraged its display in public schools and other public buildings. The action came even though, as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) pointed out, no one had suggested that this is not the motto of the United States.

That same month, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), introduced a bill that would order the Secretary of the Interior to add a Franklin Delano Roosevelt prayer to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Roosevelt offered that prayer on D-Day as the United States began the military operation that liberated Europe.

Another religious display issue has arisen in Montana, where a large statue of Jesus erected by the Knights of Columbus sits on national forest land. The U.S. Forest Service had planned to remove the statue, but is facing resistance not only from the Knights but also from U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who wants to save it.

In Georgia, the state legislature will consider a bill that would require all vehicle license plates to be emblazoned with “In God We Trust” unless drivers pay extra to cover up the message.

As election season heats up this year, it is likely these types of efforts will only increase.

Attacks on Religious Minorities

The Religious Right says frequently that America is a Christian nation (despite ample evidence to the contrary), so anyone who doesn’t share that movement’s belief in its special brand of Christianity is often marginalized.

The best example of attempts by the Religious Right to marginalize minorities is anti-sharia legislation. In 2010, Oklahoma passed the so-called “Save Our State Amendment,” which bars enforcement of Islamic law. It received 70 percent of the vote.

Church-state experts note that the U.S. Constitution already bars government support for religion in most cases, so such legislation is unnecessary.

The law has been challenged in court on the grounds that it singles out Muslims for discrimination. Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case in May, and it is now before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While Oklahoma has taken one of the rashest stances in discriminating against Muslims, it is clear that many other elements of the Religious Right would like to see similar laws enforced nationwide and could make a push for that in 2012.

The Marriage War

The Religious Right, along with the Catholic hierarchy and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), are out to fashion state marriage policy so it reflects their doctrinal teachings. They are firmly committed to the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman only, and they are fighting in the courts, in the statehouses and in Congress to make sure the law continues to define marriage according to their theology.

The highest profile case is the challenge to California’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage that is working its way through the federal court system. More than 40 states have already banned same-sex marriage, but the outcome of this case could set a precedent for reversing that trend. The Supreme Court may take up the issue in 2012.

There is also a referendum in the works in North Carolina that could be on the ballot in May and would, if passed, put a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution.

A referendum banning same-sex marriage is also on the November ballot in Minnesota.

‘Personhood’ Amendments Here, There and Everywhere

Multiple states have faced attacks from groups seeking to pass “personhood” amendments, and that trend looks to continue in 2012.

The latest state to consider one of these amendments is Mississippi, which voted it down in November. Had the measure passed, it would have declared fertilized eggs to be people, made abortion illegal in virtually all instances, including cases of rape and incest, and it would have banned some forms of birth control. So broad was the language of the amendment that women who miscarried could have been subjected to criminal investigations.

Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA, which is a sponsor of these amendments, has said that his organization may attempt another shot at a Mississippi ballot initiative and that his organization is pushing for “personhood” amendments on the 2012 ballots in Ohio, Florida, Montana, Oregon, California and Nevada.

Religiously Based Censorship

The Religious Right is always on the lookout for books, movies, artwork and other aspects of culture to ban based on their religious convictions.

In late 2010, Speaker John Boehner and his allies called for the removal of an exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery after they learned that it contains a short video of a crucifix with ants crawling on it, as well as works of art with sexual themes. The museum bent to Boehner’s pressure and removed the video.

In Missouri last summer, a school district banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Fiveand Sarah Oeckler’s Twenty Boy Summer because a local professor complained that the books advocate principles that are contrary to the Bible.

Similar Religious Right ventures are likely in 2012.

* * *

This is only a short summary of some of the issues Americans United faces in the upcoming year.

In summing up the challenges, AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said, “This could be a uniquely challenging year for Americans United, with political candidates claiming God’s endorsement and lawmakers poised to vote on all manner of unconstitutional affronts to the First Amendment.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/153657/10_ways_right-wing_christian_groups_will_likely_shove_religion_down_your_throat_this_year_?page=entire

American Atheists must define themselves, not be defined by the religious

From:Washington Post Social Reader

N.B.: This is why Separation of Church and State is more important than ever!

By: Susan Jacoby

“I am sorry to tell you that this will be my last regular “Spirited Atheist” column, and I want to thank all of you who have followed my essays, including many who have taken the trouble to write me lengthy personal letters on my author Web site. Although I will continue to write occasionally on issues of unusual importance, a weekly column diverts too much time from the research for my next book, to be titled, “Conversions: A Secular History.”

In the new book, I will be examining the full range of historical and personal factors influencing ostensibly religious conversions, from that old favorite, the threat of execution, to marrying a third wife who happens to be a Catholic rather than a Protestant. For the former, see under: Judaism, Christianity and Islam; for the latter, under: Gingrich, Newt.

Looking back on my five years as a contributor to “On Faith,” I see a great paradox in the progress of American secularism: The numbers and visibility of atheists and secularists in the United States have increased but their political and social influence has not.

The large audience for the writings of atheists, most notably Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, has led many American pundits, preachers and politicians to exaggerate the influence of secular thought in the culture as a whole. I only wish they were right. For the warriors of the Christian right, in particular, this exaggeration serves the purpose of presenting themselves as victims in a nation where they in fact wield a power that they do not enjoy anywhere else in the developed world.

For a true measure of the limited influence exerted by atheism on popular culture, one need only turn to the closing bestseller lists for 2011. Leading the “nonfiction” New York Times paperback bestseller list (having been on the list for 56 weeks) is “Heaven Is for Real,” written by the minister-father of a 4-year-old boy who supposedly went to heaven during an emergency appendectomy and saw Jesus (“he had the brightest blue eyes”) and his baby sister, who was actually never born into this world because his mother suffered a miscarriage. This book is also No. 4 on the bestseller list of picture books for small children.

Guess what does not appear on any year-end Times bestseller list? Dawkins’s “The Magic of Reality,” an enchanting work which explains the origins of life to children in a non-didactic way that places religious myth in the context of the long human struggle to understand how we came to be, is nowhere to be found.

The point is that there is a much larger American audience for childish (in this instance, literally so) supernatural fantasies, which should no more be classified as nonfiction than Grimm’s fairy tales, than there is for any book that attempts to present the world as it is to the next generation. That 15 to 20 percent of Americans are no longer affiliated with any church does not replace the default position occupied in American political and cultural life by religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Even more important, the most potent religious influence on American politics is exercised by those on the far religious right, who — while they represent only a minority of all believers — are backed by huge amounts of money and organizational muscle. I have written many times in this column about the organizational and financial shortcomings that make it difficult for the secular movement, and indeed for liberal religious organizations committed to upholding secular government, to translate their values into real social and political influence.

I have also observed that secularists, unlike the religious right, do not always have the same political values. There is a deep split, as demonstrated every week in the comments about my columns, between American secularists descended from the humanism of Thomas Paine and those descended from the social Darwinists of the 19th century and the Ayn Randian “you’re on your own” anti-government ideologues of the 20th century. The problem for the secular right is that politicians who share its anti-government views are also committed to far-right religion. But the split between the humanists and the neo-social Darwinists is a serious problem for the secular movement as a whole, because the two groups find it difficult, if not impossible, to support the same candidates.

But there is another, much more important difficulty in the secular struggle to alter default assumptions about religion. Since the 1980s, the far right, especially the religious right, has been masterful at taking control of public language in a way that always places secularism and secular liberalism on the defensive.

First, the anti-abortion crusaders seized the brilliant label “pro-life” to characterize anyone who supported legal abortion as “anti-life.” The women’s movement adopted “pro-choice” as an alternative but was never entirely successful at marketing the label, as evinced by the current efforts of those fighting abortion restrictions to characterize themselves as “the real pro-lifers.” Once you start trying to appropriate the meaning of your opponents’ already twisted labels, you’re already halfway to losing whatever battle you’re fighting.

Second, the right has made a pejorative out of both intellectualism and liberalism, often equating both with godless secularism.

Now the same people are trying to take control of the term “religious liberty” and redefine it to mean the freedom of religious groups to accept government money but spend it only on providing services that have their particular faith imprimatur..

At an October hearing, titled “Religious Liberty in the United States,” largely ignored by the mainstream media, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, asserted that religious freedom is under attack in America as it has never been in the past.

What Franks actually means by “religious freedom” is the liberty of religion to spend government money as it pleases. He is right, however, that this was never an issue on a national level in the past, because for most of the nation’s existence, the federal government never made the grievous error of giving money for secular purposes to faith-based organizations.

A parade of right-wing evangelical Protestants and representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops testified at the hearings against all attempts by the Obama administration to attach government regulations to taxpayer money. In this view, the administration is waging “war on Christianity” by, for example, mandating that providers with U.S. government contracts offer a “full range of reproductive services” to sex-trafficking victims in the United States and around the world. The church wants to help pregnant girls forced into prostitution by forcing them to have their abusers’ babies.

Bishop William C. Lori, head of the newly formed Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty formed by the bishops’ conference, attacked provisions of the new domestic health care law that impose any government mandates on religious health providers.

Note, again, the use of the term “religious liberty” to mean liberty for religious institutions to impose their values with taxpayer money. In practical terms, what Bishop Lori means is that when a rape victim walks into a government-funded Catholic emergency clinic, the clinic can not only refuse to offer the morning-after pill to protect her against pregnancy but can even fail to tell her about the existence of such a pill or to refer her to a nonsectarian institution that does provide such services.

The belief that religious institutions have the right to feed at the government trough while rejecting any government rules is the glue of the lobbying alliance between the Catholic bishops and right-wing evangelical Protestant leaders — an odd coupling that has never before existed in American history.

The only person at the hearing to point out that this redefinition of religious liberty is actually a demand for “special government blessings for those in favored faiths, and conversely, the treatment of members of other faiths as second-class citizens” was Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Nothing could be further from religious liberty as originally conceived by both the secularists and the people of liberal religion (mainly Baptists, liberal Congregationalists on the road to Unitarianism, and Quakers) who wrote the founding documents for this nation. All of these religious believers would have been horrified at the idea of accepting government money to underwrite their beliefs. That is why they joined with freethinkers like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to pass the the 1786 Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. The first state law to officially draw a line between government and religious institutions was written when religious conservatives in Virginia attempted to tax citizens for Christian teaching in public schools. This act would become the template for the federal Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

What religious liberty has traditionally meant in the United States is the right of all to believe and proselytize as they wish without government interference or favoritism. It also means the right of minority religions and of those who do not believe in any religion to be free from harassment by a state-favored religious majority.

Language distortion bolsters every aspect of religion as the default position. Twenty years ago, I could be reasonably sure, if I opened a fundraising appeal mentioning religious liberty on the envelope, that the notice came from a group like Americans United for Separation of Church and State or the ACLU. Now such appeals come from the likes of Focus on the Family and the Catholic hierarchy. They have no shame, and they want religious liberty only for themselves.

If secularists are to succeed in making any inroads on the default position of religion, they must reclaim the original definition of religious liberty, as exemplified by those who passed Virginia’s 1786 law.

There is another related, equally important task for the secular movement today. We must reclaim the language of passion and emotion from the religious right, which loves to portray atheists as bloodless, “professorial” (the word always applied to Obama) devotees of abstract scientific principles that have nothing to do with real human lives. This misguided but, again, ideologically useful portrait of atheists appeared frequently in the patronizing eulogies for Christopher Hitchens offered by religious believers who had fallen under the spell of his voice and his prose. Ross Douthaut, writing in the Times, argued that “many Christian readers felt that in Hichens’s case there had somehow been a terrible mix-up, and that a writer who loved the King James Bible…surely belonged with them, rather than with the bloodless prophets of a world lit only by Science.”

This is the sort of mindless obeisance to received opinion propagated by the missionaries for religion as the default position. Confronted by an atheist who does not fit their stereotype, their conclusion is not that the stereotype is awry but that the atheist, deep down, must not really be a true atheist. Because everyone knows that atheists are bloodless elitists (never honest Christian folk) who substitute science with a capital “S” for God with a capital “G.”

One reason why believers couldn’t quite dismiss Hitchens was that he did write and speak with the language of passion and emotion, as Robert Green Ingersoll, “the Great Agnostic” did in the 19th century and Thomas Paine in the 18th. I believe that the most crucial task for secularists today is to lay claim to the heritage that unites passion and reason.

I will close this column on the same note that I ended my book “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism,” in which I quoted Lear’s soliloquy when, after raging on the heath, he stumbles onto a place of shelter:

Poor naked wretches, wereso’er you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? Take physic, pomp;

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,

And show the heavens more just.

[Make sure to set this so it appears as poetry.]

Yes, let us talk about showing the heavens more just. This is the essence of humanist secularism and humanist atheism and it must be offered not as a defensive response to the religiously correct but as a robust creed worthy of the world’s first secular government. It is also time to revive the evocative and honorable word “freethinker,” with its insistence that Americans think for themselves instead of relying on default opinion. The combination of “free” and “thought” embodies every ideal that secularists hold out to a nation founded not on dreams of justice in heaven but on the best human hopes for a more just earth.”

Emphasis Mine

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