Summer Activism

Educate Those Columnists!

June 23, 2004

Summer is an ideal time to sharpen those pencils (or go online) and write offending media about the need to shape up over freethought and state/church separation issues. Targeted for educational letters below are two (of many) syndicated columnists who need to be educated. (Every day there are similar columns published in newspapers around the country, so activist freethinkers have many choices.)

Target 1: Charley Reese, a columnist from Orlando (syndicated by King Syndicated). Reese recently wrote a column which began:

"I have come to believe that one can have a successful Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist society, but not an agnostic or atheistic society that is successful."

Reese added:

"I would rather live in a neighborhood of Islamic fundamentalists than in a neighborhood of atheists and agnostics."

To read his column, scroll down to find it in text form, to go to:

If you're looking for talking points, see the Freedom From Religion Foundation's letter to Reese.

Reese doesn't publicize an e-mail address, so please use your trusty computer's word processor and send him a real letter:

Charley Reese
P.O. Box 2446
Orlando FL 32802

If his column ran in your local newspaper, better yet, send a letter to the editor there.

You can also let King Syndicate know you are unhappy with this putdown of freethinkers by contacting:

King Features
Second Floor
888 7th Ave
New York NY 10019
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Target 2: William Raspberry, columnist for the Washington Post.

Raspberry wrote a column, "Understanding Their Fears," on June 21, following the decision by the Supreme Court to dismiss Michael Newdow's challenge of the Pledge of Allegiance.

While Raspberry says he thinks "the pledge was better without the phrase," he puts down those who believe in a strict separation of church and state, saying there is a "public religion," and asking: "What is Newdow afraid of?" He inexplicably lumps opponents of gay marriage with those who "want to ban manager scenes from public parks," again asking: "What are they afraid of?"

As one of our Foundation members wrote Raspberry: "Why are you afraid to grant the same religious liberties to others that you take for granted for yourselves?"

Scroll down to read the entire article or go to:

Please email or write William Raspberry at:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Washington Post
1150 15th St. NW
Washington DC 20071

You may prefer to respond to other current editorials and columns which demonstrate a lack of understanding about the harm to our First Amendment when Congress inserted "under God" into schoolchildrens' Pledge of Allegiance.

As always, polite, succinct responses including your name and full mailing address are advised. Please do not identify yourself as part of this "action alert" for maximum effectiveness. As always, we appreciate receiving copies of your letters or (blind copy) emails and responses at , Freethought Today, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701. Thanks!


Religion Essential
by Charley Reese

I have come to believe that one can have a successful Christian society, Jewish society, Muslim society, Hindu society or Buddhist society, but not an agnostic or atheistic society that is successful.

George Washington, as he so often did, explained it quite well in his farewell address:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. ... And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Washington was not talking about contentious and doctrinaire people arguing about dogma. He always condemned that. He was referring to the basic underlying morality that all the great religions teach.

The basic thing that protects our persons, our property and our liberty is the morality that individuals possess in their own hearts. The law cannot be a substitute for that. No law can protect you from a dishonest merchant or a thug because the law is always, of necessity, applied after the fact, and then only on a selective basis. Furthermore, as we have seen, the law and the system of justice often degenerate into a tragic farce.

It's interesting to note that the current debate on a constitution for the European Union involves several states that wish the new document to acknowledge Europe's Christian heritage. It indeed has one. Europe was once known as Christendom.

Our own country has a Christian heritage. Despite the fact that there were non-Christian minorities, during the Colonial and early republic days the overwhelming majority of Americans were of the Christian faith. What began happily as tolerance for non-Christians has now degenerated into demands by some non-Christians that all traces of Christianity be driven from the public square.

Again, Washington said, "With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits and political principles." It was that sameness of religion, manners, habits and political principles that united our ancestors. Substituting "diversity" will disunite us. There is no virtue in diversity per se. Experience teaches that the most stable societies are the most homogeneous.

Experience also teaches us that a society without an underlying private morality will degenerate into a corrupt jungle. I surprised some people once by saying that I would rather live in a neighborhood of Islamic fundamentalists than in a neighborhood of atheists and agnostics. That's true. You can count on the morality that Islam teaches; there is no morality for atheists and agnostics, except what they arbitrarily choose.

Some years ago, I inadvertently put this to the test by becoming lost late at night in the slums of Cairo, Egypt. Despite being dressed in an American business suit and far from any law enforcement, I was never accosted or threatened by anyone. I dare say there are American slums where no sensible person would wish to go late at night.

The bottom line is that if we become an immoral people, we will eventually lose both our prosperity and our liberty. A free society cannot exist without trust, and it is morality that cements that trust. We are drifting toward the abyss, and we had all better think seriously about why this is happening.

June 1, 2004


Understanding Their Fears
By William Raspberry
Monday, June 21, 2004; Page A19

What are they afraid of?

It's a question I find myself asking when I see serious-minded people working to impose their will (especially their religious views) on the rest of us. What are committed opponents of gay marriage afraid of? What about the people who devote time and great resources to keep public schools from requiring a "moment of silence"? What are those people who want to ban manger scenes from public parks afraid of?

And what is Michael Newdow afraid of?

At one level, of course, I don't much care about Newdow, the atheist who brought suit to have the phrase that was inserted during the Eisenhower administration, "under God," eliminated from the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow said he was doing it on behalf of his daughter, over whom he is in a custody battle and whose mother is okay with the pledge as is. Indeed it was his lack of standing to bring the suit that led to the Supreme Court's unanimous non-decision to dismiss his challenge last week.

I assume the daughter was pretext, but I also assume he and a few thousand other Americans would like the phrase gone from the pledge. What are they afraid of?

Let me say right off that I think the pledge was better without the phrase, which, in my view, ruined the rhythm while adding no discernible meaning.

But in the 50 years since the change, most Americans have grown used to it, awkwardness and all. Moreover, removing it at this late date would have meaning -- suggesting, as it would, that America no longer chooses to be "under God."

A strong argument can be made that, given the pledge's quasi-official standing, "under God" violates the Constitution. Similarly with Christmas scenes in public spaces, public school prayer and "In God We Trust" on our money. All can be seen as forbidden under the separation doctrine.

As a matter of fact, I tend to see them that way myself, and when the issue is forced -- Are our coins unconstitutional? -- I find myself having to accept the view that government should stay the heck out of religion. Period.

But must the issue always be forced?

The truth is, our government has always been involved in religion. The Declaration of Independence asserts rights that are given to us by the Creator. Our officials are sworn into office, their hands on a Bible and their lips invoking the help of God. Even the Supreme Court, the ultimate defender of the boundary between church and state, opens its sessions with this prayer from the court's marshal: "God save the United States and this honorable court."

Does any of this imply that atheists, pantheists or secular humanists cannot expect fair treatment, either as citizens or as plaintiffs before the court? My guess is that it implies nothing more than that a generalized pro-religion attitude -- what might be described as "public religion" -- is America's default position. We have learned over the years to observe this public religion in inoffensive ways. We might ask the intercession of the "blessed virgin" at a Catholic school graduation, but our prayers are to the generic "Almighty" or "Creator" in our multi-faith public schools. Nor does the failure of a Christian to offer such prayers "through Christ" imply a slackening of his Christianity. It's mostly a matter of courtesy.

The Michael Newdows of this world would say, I suppose, that atheists are harmed by the implication of their difference -- or at the very least that the children of atheists are under unfair pressure to join the religious mainstream.

I'm not so sure. Finding myself in a Muslim country at prayer time does not put me under any pressure whatsoever to subscribe to Islam. Nor, I suspect, is anyone pressured into theism by the words "under God." What is Newdow afraid of?

But it's no trouble at all to think of instances where religion publicly supported can do harm. Is it too much to expect the courts, like the best basketball officials, to take care of the genuinely harmful stuff while avoiding the rampant whistle-blowing that can destroy the rhythm of the game?

Maybe that's what the court tried to do last week by avoiding the core issue and reaching a conclusion based on the relatively innocuous question of standing.

If so, it was a good no-call.


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