Michigan Governor Criticizes Atheists (Jan/Feb 1995)

Michigan Governor John Engler, who proclaimed a week in late November as “Christian Heritage Week,” gave an interview in conjunction with it to Michigan’s Foundation for Traditional Values in which he said those with “no faith in God” have no reason to “act in a decent, charitable manner.”

Hugh McDiarmid, a political columnist with the Detroit Free Press, exposed the interview in a column on November 26, 1994. McDiarmid revealed that it amounted to an “evangelical and liturgical [sermon] . . . drafted by gubernatorial aides, but, we’re assured, edited and approved by the guv himself.”

Added McDiarmid, “To outsiders, at least, it sounded more like fundamentalist sermonizing from the 1950s than the words of a worldly, successful, 1990s politician and executive.”

In the interview, Engler explained why he proclaimed a Christian Heritage Week urging Michigan citizens to “acknowledge their many blessings and . . . recognize the importance of Christian beliefs and values to the life and culture of our state and nation.”

The entire quote bashing atheism reads:

“So much discourse today is strident and banal. I believe it was T.S. Eliot who said that the quality of our relationships with one another depends on our morals, and our morals depend on our faith. But if we have no faith in God–who will judge us in the next life based on our thoughts and actions in this life–then what will make us try to act in a decent, charitable manner?”

Engler credited virtually every social good, from democracy to respect for individual rights, to Christianity. The Catholic governor went on to brag of going to church every Sunday. “I pray every day and seek God’s counsel. My faith . . . has certainly been my strength and refuge throughout my public life and especially as governor. But most of all it has filled me with gratitude. I have been wonderfully blessed. The triplets God has given to Michelle and me are the greatest blessing yet.”

He also implicitly blamed virtually all sociological problems on atheism: “The center of gravity of American culture, traditionally, has been the worship of God. Until the late 1960’s, we were overwhelmingly a nation of believers. . . . until the 1960s, our nation experienced dramatically lower illegitimacy rates, fewer STDs, better performance in our public schools, fewer teen suicides, less violence, and less anxiety and moral drift,” Engler generalized.

Jim Fitzgerald, another Detroit Free Press columnist, condemned Engler’s “vicious swing” at freethinkers in a column on November 30, 1994. Fitzgerald eulogized an atheist friend, Ralph.

“There are many people like Ralph, who don’t believe, or simply aren’t sure. There have been periods of my life when agnosticism prevailed, and some of you could probably say the same. But most of the doubters and nonbelievers–like Ralph–don’t automatically condemn Christians, Muslims, Jews and other God believers to a selfish, indecent life.

“But that’s what Gov. Engler does when he says that to be a good person, you must believe in God . . .

“It is this bigoted attitude that put the biggest scare in Engler’s perceived attempt to allow some sort of organized religious observance in public schools.”

Both columnists took a lot of flak for criticizing the Governor’s anti-atheist remarks.

McDiarmid wrote: “. . . I suspect most of us would say to hell with the proclamations, etc. We’d prefer the Engler who insisted, in front of applauding Republican governors in Virginia on Sunday, that there are more important things than school prayer.

” ‘If we don’t deal with the economic issues, we’ll need more than prayer to solve our problems,’ he said.”

If you’d care to write an educational letter objecting to the conflict of interest involved when a public official uses his office to proclaim “Christian Heritage Week,” contact Gov. John Engler, Olds Plaza, 111 S. Capitol, Lansing MI 48953. The Detroit Free Press is at 321 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit MI 48231.

Freedom From Religion Foundation