More than 500 people from throughout Western Washington turned out Sunday at the Capitol steps to protest a sign a group of atheists erected as part of the holiday display inside the building.
The protest — organized late last week by a Federal Way man who said he was offended by the sign installed by Wisconsin’s Freedom From Religion Foundation — drew Christian pastors, at least one state legislator and a handful of counter-protesters.
The rally was accompanied by a wide array of religious expression, including some religious banners, one or two anti-religious banners from members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, speakers on bullhorns calling for sinners to repent, and one sign proclaiming that God loves everyone, including atheists.
Need I point out that the solution is obvious? Simply let the Capitol be a religion-free zone. End of problem.
This is the part I don’t understand. Why is it so important to so many folks that the government display the symbols of their religion? You can put all the nativity scenes you want in front of your homes and churches and private schools and private businesses. About ninety-eight percent of the town you can decorate to your heart’s content. Why must you have the other two percent?
I can only think of one reason. Placing religious displays on government grounds is meant to convey that certain religions are acceptable and certain ones are not.
Typically I get lectured at this point about how I am overreacting, that it’s no big deal, and that I should just go along to get along. The thing is, though, that there are plenty of people on the other side who think it is a very big deal indeed. They are the ones who are not content with, say, placing a nativity scene on the front lawn of every church within walking distance of the Capitol (I’m guessing there are quite a few). That would be entirely uncontroversial, and it would let them get the word out about Christmas very effectively. This is not good enough, it would seem.
So if all these folks on the other side just can’t abide the idea of the government not displaying their symbols then I’m entitled to think there is something more going on than just a desire to place a decoration in the Capitol rotunda. If they are not willing to shrug their shoulders and let it go, then neither am I.
There is a parallel here to the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. By any objective standard that is as insulting and as unconstitutional as it gets. The phrase was inserted into the Pledge at the urging of President Eisenhower, who gave this rationale for doing so:
These words [“under God”] will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.
Sure looks like a government endorsement of religion to me! And even leaving that aside, the idea of indoctrinating little kids with the idea that belief in God is just part and parcel of being a good citizen is something that ought to be offensive to anyone with a conscience.
Anytime an atheist notes these perfectly obvious points, however, he gets the lecture. It’s no big deal. No one takes the Pledge seriously. It’s just ceremonial deism. Of course if it were really no big deal the country would not grind to a halt when a Court declares the phrase unconstitutional. The other side plainly thinks it’s a big deal, and somehow I don’t think ceremonial deism is what is getting them all worked up.
At a more practical level, when it comes to religious displays on government grounds it’s either all or nothing. Either you let the Satan worshippers, Scientiologists, Animists, and Snake Handlers have their displays, or you call the whole thing off. No one wants that, of course. Christian displays are de rigueur since most parts of the country are majority Christian. Jewish displays are okay, because Judaism is at least kind of like Christianity. But once you start straying from the acceptable religions people become a lot less tolerant.
And kindly spare me the nonsense about the protests and hand-wringing being the result of some intemperate words on the atheist display. You could make the most milquetoast atheist sign in the world and the reaction would be no different. You would still have the vast majority of people shrugging their shoulders at it, and a vocal minority of religious opportunists wasting everyone’s time.