Geese and Ganders

In my post about Pastor Jones and the Quran burning, I wrote that I’m a First Amendment maximalist, and so defend the right of someone to burn a Quran, but noted also that Jones’ actions were clearly intended as a provocation, and that a smart lawyer could probably convince a court that Jones’ actions fall into the “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment. Jones has a right to express his distaste for Islam and for Muslims, but he hasn’t got a right to inspire a riot, and it isn’t inherently unfair to hold him accountable for the predictable results of his actions. Setting aside those dubious legal arguments, I said, and continue to think, it is appropriate, and indeed necessary, for people who disagree with Jones or with his stunt to make their condemnation clear.

I made that last point because I felt like any criticism of Jones, even criticism unconnected to any argument for legal remedy, was taken as an assault on Jones’ right to speak freely. Which is absurd. He has a right to speak, and I have a right to tell him his speech is stupid and wrong and that he should can it. That’s the essence of how free speech is supposed to work: you create a marketplace of ideas and you attack bad ideas until they bugger off.

I bring this up because today, the New York Times repors: France Enforces Ban on Full-Face Veils in Public:

A French ban outlawing full-face veils in public, the first to be enacted in Europe, came into force on Monday and faced immediate, if low-key, challenges….

According to the French authorities, fewer than 2,000 women in France wear the full-face veil, known as a niqab, but the ban has touched nerves, prompting accusations that it stigmatizes one gender among one religious minority in a land that prides itself on the values enshrined in its national motto of liberty, equality and fraternity.

The ban also applies to foreigners visiting France. The law forbids clothing intended to hide the face in public spaces such as streets, markets, private business, government buildings and public transportation. Violators may be punished with a fine of 150 euros, equivalent to $215….

When the law was approved by the lower house of Parliament last year, there was only one opposing vote, cast by Daniel Garrigue, an opponent of President Sarkozy, who said: “To fight an extremist behavior, we risk slipping toward a totalitarian society.”

That concern seems valid to me. These bans on an item of clothing strike me as far more insidious than public criticism of book burning, and I see no shades of gray here. Banning an item of clothing is wrong, it’s a violation of basic free speech rights, and it’s an attack on the basic principles of liberal democracy that I expect all of the French legislators claimed to be protecting. The fact that, in this case, the ban is meant to single out one particular religious group (and one sex over the other), only compounds the problem.

I haven’t done a systematic survey, but I don’t yet see any of the people who stood up for Terry Jones’s right to burn a Quran standing up for French women’s right to dress as they please, and to use their clothing to express their own views on religiosity. I can defend the rights of women to wear niqab without thinking niqab is a good idea, and I know all those folks can, too.

Before you say that these events are unrelated, I’ll note that part of the reason Afghans rioted after the Quran-burning was that they haven’t got a tradition of free speech, and it’s not hard to imagine that some Afghans might think that the Quran burning must express something bigger than just Terry Jones’s douchecanoery. In a society where free speech has been as restricted as it was under the Taliban and under their repressive predecessors, it’d be easy to think that the US government could have stopped Jones from burning a Quran, and that he wasn’t stopped because the US government wants to attack Islam. The issue apparently reached wide audiences in Afghanistan because of a speech by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who opened with a criticism of NATO bombings of civilians, harassment at checkpoints, and night raids on innocent civilian households, only then mentioning the Quran-burning. Karzai thus wrapped that incident in with official acts of western governments, pushing an image of the west at war with Islam.

In that context, the best we can do is demonstrate our respect for individual liberties, to show how free speech and free societies work, so that other nations can follow our clear and honorable example.

Instead, we (western nations) pass laws like the French law, singling out Muslim women for special legal treatment. And we hold bizarre spectacles like the King hearings, alleging that Muslims are a special threat to American security while ignoring the threat of homegrown terrorists – Christian, right-wing, nativist, lone wolves who have launched far more attacks (successful and unsuccessful) on American soil in recent years.

How can we promote tolerance, free speech, and the values of liberal democracy in places like Afghanistan (where we’ve assumed the responsibility of nation-building) if we can’t consistently practice those values ourselves?

Comments

  1. #1 Ken
    April 11, 2011

    I don’t know enough about French law to speak to the legality of this issue there. I will say that it’s more evidence that other nations don’t hold the concept of free speech (in all its forms) to as high of a standard for legal protection as America does.

    I’d prefer we didn’t follow their lead and ban more speech here.

    In America, the concept of the Heckler’s Veto means that, even if your speech is likely to cause violence, the government can’t ban that speech. You can’t directly call for violence, but a likely violent reaction is not enough to censor speech.

    In America such a ban on such clothing would clearly violate the First Amendment. I’m happy about that even though I’m sad that women anywhere feel the need to hide themselves due to outdated religious superstitions.

  2. #2 Ken
    April 11, 2011

    I do like the part of the French law that makes it a jailable offense to force a woman to wear a veil.

  3. #3 Rturpin.wordpress.com
    April 11, 2011

    I suspect fighting words fall under the Brandenburg exception of “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action.” In this case, the action wasn’t imminent, nor is there any indication that Jones directed his act to that purpose. It seems to me the act is closer to a piece of art, that might be expected to produce opposition, even if that isn’t what the artist desires. By way of analogy, there were violent riots resulting in deaths when Rushdie published Satanic Verses. Yeah, yeah, one is a case of literature written with intelligence, and the other crappy performance art performed by a fundamentalist. Of what relevance is that difference to the law? See the problem?

  4. #4 lumbercartel
    April 11, 2011

    I do like the part of the French law that makes it a jailable offense to force a woman to wear a veil.

    It would be a lot better four words shorter.

  5. #5 Lesley Fellows
    April 12, 2011

    Hi Josh, I agree with everything you have written here. Can I ask you about free speech in the atheist world? My interest has been sparked after the New Atheists were so vitriolic about an atheist receiving the Templeton Prize (I write about it here). It is just that I very much support the New Atheists when they claim that some Muslims suppress free speech via death threats etc… but I found myself feeling that moderate atheists were being bullied into silence too. Hope this isn’t too far off the topic you posted on.

  6. #6 Ender
    April 12, 2011

    “I do like the part of the French law that makes it a jailable offense to force a woman to wear a veil.”

    Agreed. I don’t like the law, but this I can get behind. Especially since the penalty is far harsher.

  7. #7 stripey_cat
    April 12, 2011

    Oh, I hope this can be overturned in the European court of human rights. Of course, there’s a good chance that even if it could be, it won’t (yay for corruption).

    Apart from anything else, if the legislation is really as sloppily drafted as that quote suggests, it’ll include costume masks, veils worn for medical reasons (something I’ve done to avoid sunburn occasionally), maybe even balaclavas.

  8. #8 SoulmanZ
    April 12, 2011

    The law is abbhorent.

    I think the best response I have heard to it is that while it is being sold as “preventing oppression of females” because many are forced to wear the niqab/burka to go outside, the end result will actually be forced imprisonment of females in their homes, as they are no longer allowed by the husbands/fathers to be seen in public (as they would be uncovered)

    So the only human rights justification is a blatant lie, and will make the situation far worse for these women

    The law about jail time for forcing a woman to wear one is totally right though. Why could they not have left it at that? This is gonna blow up on them big time, there is a huge Muslim population in France

  9. #9 Apuleius Platonicus
    April 12, 2011

    Women do not wear the burqa voluntarily. In fact, this is kind of the whole point. Obviously.

  10. #10 Anthony McCarthy
    April 12, 2011

    Can I ask you about free speech in the atheist world? Leslie Fellows

    That’s an interesting question from an historical perspective and a contemporary one. I’m not aware of any country with an officially atheist government in which free speech was allowed. Just yesterday I heard about a mass arrest of Christians in China for the crime of praying in public. I’d like to know of any atheist government, from the one in France after the revolution, up till yesterday which allowed free speech.

    I’m certainly not happy about women forced to cover themselves but I’m also not happy about the government telling women they can’t cover themselves, unless it can be shown to be a legitimate matter of public safety. I’d imagine that France might have women who feel compelled to wear covering but I’d also bet that there are women who live there who want to for their own reasons. For anyone to think they can speak for either side is irrational and offensive.

    I wonder how many women feel compelled to wear absurd high heels, the Western form of foot binding. Maybe the French government could do something about their fashion houses pushing that form of disabling torture of women, often resulting in things far more restricting than a head covering would. And that’s not getting into some of the foundation garments they’ve made women feel they had to wear or to feel social ostracism.

  11. #11 Rturpin.wordpress.com
    April 12, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    That’s an interesting question from an historical perspective and a contemporary one. I’m not aware of any country with an officially atheist government…

    I would be as suspicious of an officially atheist government as I would an officially Muslim government or officially Christian government. Fortunately, I cannot recall ever meeting an American atheist who desired an officially atheist government. Just a secular one, fit to our very secular Constitution. And that is a very different thing.

  12. #12 Anthony McCarthy
    April 12, 2011

    Rturpin, I would think that the campaign to call talking about religion to minors, which a number of new atheists have endorsed, if not signed onto, would more than breech the wall of separation. That wall was put into place by religious believers and retained by them, by the way, it is not the product of atheism. The fact that atheists with absolute power are no more trustworthy than religious sectarians with absolute power would seem to offer evidence that its moral superiority is a sectarian delusion.

  13. #13 Anthony McCarthy
    April 12, 2011

    Make that:

    … the campaign to call talking about religion to minors child abuse , which…

  14. #14 Ender
    April 12, 2011

    “Women do not wear the burqa voluntarily.”

    What a stupid absolute statement. Put like that it only takes one example of a woman wearing the burqa voluntarily to prove you wrong.

  15. #15 Rturpin.wordpress.com
    April 12, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    The fact that atheists with absolute power are no more trustworthy than religious sectarians with absolute power would seem to offer evidence that its moral superiority is a sectarian delusion.

    That’s a strange statement. Atheism isn’t a religion. It doesn’t preach a morality. Atheists will have moral views, of course. But those views vary widely, and aren’t what make them atheist.

  16. #16 Anthony McCarthy
    April 12, 2011

    Rturpin, that’s why I specified my remark as pertaining to new atheists. And I would dispute an assertion that they don’t preach lots of would-be morality.

  17. #17 Taltushtuntude
    April 12, 2011

    The ban doesn’t make sense on logical grounds alone. Presumably a full-body Mickey Mouse costume has not been banned. One can imagine a line of transitional forms between the niqab and the Mickey Mouse costume. At what point does Mickey become illegal?

  18. #18 kermit
    April 12, 2011

    Anthony – a country that was officially atheist would be akin to a country that officially required affirmation of trickle-down economics, or the importance of punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary biology. It would be strange, and by definition it is a country that pretends to judge people by their beliefs(1). This is irrational(2) and oppressive, and would not bode well for other freedoms.

    Such countries may be tolerable, but they are more often most …unpleasant. Stalinist USSR, post-Moorish Spain, etc.

    Countries where the majority of citizens are unchurched, but which has no such oppressive and irrational requirements
    are really rather nice. Sweden, Norway, UK, Denmark, Iceland.

    These observations are reasons to look askance at Tea Party attempts to inject more religion into American law.

    (1) “Belief” as in “Thinking that X is true”, not “embracing a set of values”.
    (2) Beliefs are not something we can change by an act of will. I would need to see persuasive evidence before I could believe in the existence of any gods, for example. I cannot simply *decide to do so.

  19. #19 jane
    April 12, 2011

    Saying that the reaction to burning the Koran is “predictable” seems to acknowledge that Muslims will get violent over a slight that happens half the world away. So is freedom of speech dependent on how extreame people are willing to get to repress it? Holocaust denial is not a crime in the US. If Jews begin to react to it by murdering innocent people in Isreal should we then reconsider it? That seems to be the logic behind people who think Jones transcended freedom of speech/expression. I think it is ridiculous.

  20. #20 Art
    April 12, 2011

    And interesting side note is that the the previous threats to burn a Koran triggered a pretty large reaction from local and state law enforcement. Gainesville is a college town and UF is a football school. Game days the population can almost double. A big game coincided with Jone’s threats. So they laid on the checkpoints and general presence. And presented Jones with a very substantial bill.

    I don’t know for sure but I’ve heard that the church paid the bill.

    One wonders if the Koran burning will/has triggered more police presence and if Jones will be seeing another bill.

    I’m not sure about the legalities, or wisdom, of allowing free speech to trigger more police presence and billing the speakers for their presence. Sounds to me like a way of suppressing expression by essentially charging for free speech.

  21. #21 Ken
    April 12, 2011

    @Art #21, billing Jones would be unconstitutional. Other local governments have tried to charge people extra based upon speech content and have failed. See Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement in which Forsyth County tried to charge extra for a parade permit based upon the possibility of violent reaction to the speech and the added costs of protection.

    Your logic is correct; you can not suppress speech by charging people for that right of expression.

  22. #22 Anthony McCarthy
    April 12, 2011

    a country that was officially atheist would be akin to a country that officially required affirmation of trickle-down economics, or the importance of punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary biology. Kermit

    There have been no countries that mandated a belief in trickle-down economics or punctuated equilibrium. There have been a number governments which have been officially atheist, all of them repressive dictatorships. Your analogies are absurd since there are historical and contemporary examples of one and no examples of others. Since there are no examples, you can’t possibly draw any conclusions to what your theoretical countries would be like, they are entirely imaginary.

    Countries where the majority of citizens are unchurched, but which has no such oppressive and irrational requirements
    are really rather nice. Sweden, Norway, UK, Denmark, Iceland.
    Kermit

    Those countries — whose status as “unchurched”, and often, so claimed as atheist paradises, is often exaggerated, by the way — are not officially atheist, in fact I believe all or most of them have official state religions, and so nothing like those countries that are officially atheist. Their use as an analogy is also nonsensical.

    Your numbered assertions aren’t related to anything I said. I don’t care if someone does or doesn’t believe in anything, I care about how they act.

  23. #23 Riman Butterbur
    April 12, 2011

    These distinctions between “atheist” and “secular are weird. As is conflating a government that refuses to affirm something with one that does affirm something such as trickle-down economics (which the US does affirm, but unofficially).

    I wish you people would get your terms straight so anyone could tell what you’re trying to say. You seem to be using “atheist” as if it meant “anti-theist” or “anti-religion” or something.

    The US is an officially atheist country, has been since the adoption of the constitution with it’s provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or trust”.

    But the US is not (officially) an oppressive society. It would be hard to imagine a government that officially supports any religious belief, that is not oppressive.

    And the framers of the constitution were not, by and large, adherents to the official religions of their states. Most of them were Deists, freethinkers, or religious dissenters of one kind or another.

  24. #24 Ken
    April 12, 2011

    Governments that (try to) officially outlaw the practice of religion by individuals are, by their very definition, going to be repressive. That’s why governments that outlaw or oppress all religions except for an official state religion are repressive dictatorships as well. Governments that outlaw all religions are simply oppressing one additional religion. Not much difference.

    That’s why it’s important to have both freedom of religion as well as limits on the ability of any religion to unduly influence a government, and why secular governments with clear separation from religion tend to be less repressive.

    Secular countries that still have an “official” religion do so only symbolically and the church leaders have no genuine authority over the secular governments. England is a great example of this situation where the Queen is a figurehead of both the Church of England as well as the Monarch of the United Kingdom. She, however, has no ability to interfere with the secular government.

  25. #25 Riman Butterbur
    April 12, 2011

    Back to topic:

    I believe many US states have laws against wearing face masks, for the legitimate secularatheistic purpose of fighting crime. But a prohibition for the purpose of discriminating against a religion would not be reasonable. Neither would denying an exception for medical necessity.

    Which brings up an interesting thought: Since religion is a kind of mental illness… maybe if that Muslim woman who absolutely, positively has to have that veil on her face would get a doctor’s prescription….

  26. #26 Anthony McCarthy
    April 12, 2011

    These distinctions between “atheist” and “secular are weird. Riman

    Only if you don’t care about the meaning of words or an honest discussion.

    The US is an officially atheist country, has been since the adoption of the constitution with it’s provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or trust”. Riman

    The “no religious test” clause was meant to protect the rights of the majority of the people who were religious as well as a small minority of them who weren’t. If it had been the establishment of an atheist United States it would almost certainly not have been adopted. A number of the states, whose governments would have to adopt the constitution had established religions, if the proposed Constitution had favored one over another, it would have ensured that it wasn’t adopted, so the federal constitution was neutral in religious matters. Happily, eventually, states gave up established churches. Officially, at least.

  27. #27 Rturpin.wordpress.com
    April 12, 2011

    Happily, eventually, states gave up established churches.

    That’s not quite the history. What happened is more like this: 1) The Union won the Civil War. 2) The radical Republicans, then the ultra-liberal party, pushed through the post-War amendments, including the 14th, framed by John Bingham, whose purpose was to apply the Bill of Rights to the states. 3) The 19th century Supreme Court ignores this. States still restrain speech, establish religion, etc. 4) The 20th century Supreme Court, in a series of cases spear-headed by the ACLU, starts to take the 14th amendment seriously, and incorporates the Bill or Rights into the “due process” clause. This strikes down a variety of state laws, including by way of example, New York censoring films that are sacrilegious, a variety of states (including Texas) requiring office holders to be theists, and eventually anti-miscegenation laws in the south, and public schools leading prayer. This effort continues. For example, the ACLU is battling a charter public school in Michigan that favors Islam.

    So, no, we don’t owe our liberty to the states “giving up” anything. We owe it to John Bingham, to the other radical Republicans, to the ACLU, and to 20th century justices such as Douglas and Black. Every American should cheer those on that list, that their state cannot ban speech and film, or establish religion.

  28. #28 Anthony McCarthy
    April 13, 2011

    Rturpin, I see your knowledge of history is as bad as your grasp of lexicography.

    I was talking about the official establishment of a designated state church in the states represented at the convention that wrote and approved of the original Constitution. I wasn’t talking about the long struggle for equality that followed and continues.

    Your rash and illogical statement was that The US is an officially atheist country, has been since the adoption of the constitution with it’s provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or trust”

    That this wasn’t true is clear from the history of its adoption and the continuance of established state churches for many decades after that. Disestablishment was, in no small part, due to agitation by members of other churches who didn’t want to have to support another church. I’ve read that the figures for membership in the established Swedish Lutheran Church fell when a law was passed that only official members would be taxed to support it, though 40% of teenagers in Sweden are still choosing to be confirmed in it. So I’d imagine that even members of established churches are ambivalent about paying taxes to support them.

    The United States government isn’t atheistic, it’s a government that has to be neutral in matters of religion, or should be, ideally. I believe the word “secular” hadn’t been invented yet so if you told the founders that they were establishing a “secular government” they’d have to guess about what you meant. In checking to see if I had made a mistake to answer this I came across the fact that all the state constitutions mention a creator, as does Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence which many of the “founders” signed. Which doesn’t support your contention.

    That the United States isn’t an atheistic country is clear from the fact that The People, the real foundation of any legitimate government, are mostly religious believers of some kind. But, then, atheists don’t seem to constitute the majority in any country I’m aware of. Which leads to the constantly grasped onto whine of new atheists that an openly atheist person couldn’t be elected president of the United States. Which could also be truly said about open Buddhists, Jains, Wiccans, or Zoroastrians. I’m confident an open vegetarian couldn’t be elected president. However, it’s only new atheists who have the irrational belief that being rude jerks to the majority of voters is a way to change that.

  29. #29 Rturpin.wordpress.com
    April 13, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I was talking about the official establishment of a designated state church in the states represented at the convention that wrote and approved of the original Constitution. I wasn’t talking about the long struggle for equality that followed and continues.

    When you write that “happily, eventually, states gave up established churches,” that makes it sound as if equal rights came from the bottom up, from the state legislatures deciding they no longer wanted to censor speech, favor religion, etc. Many state legislatures would love nothing more than to re-institute all that! Perhaps I read your comment too sharply, but I thought it important to speak out for the actual history of how states were forced to give that up, by Constitutional revision and through the federal courts, much to the benefit of individual freedom.

    Your rash and illogical statement was that…

    No, that was Riman Butterbur. I think the distinction between atheist and secular is quite clear. I have no desire for an atheist government. I do desire a secular one, and am glad that is what the federal Constitution specifies.

  30. #30 Anthony McCarthy
    April 13, 2011

    Sorry, it’s hard to keep things straight when I’m arguing with three or more people at once.

    If you think that people were happy about having to pay taxes to support a church they didn’t belong to and that their complaining and agitation didn’t have something to do with the eventual disestablishment we must share different experiences and theories of history. It’s my experience that established elites very seldom give up material benefits or power without agitation from outsiders.

    This Wiki article has some information about the dates at which those original states with established churches gave it up, formally and de facto through discontinuing funding.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state_in_the_United_States#Colonies_with_no_established_church

    I’m most familiar with Massachusetts since my state was part of MA, until 1820.

    Note that New Hampshire had a requirement for state office holders to be protestants till the 1870s. A number of officially disestablished states had similar requirements. I don’t think it was the miniscule numbers of atheists who overturned that situation.

  31. #31 Rturpin.wordpress.com
    April 13, 2011

    The issue of church-state separation isn’t just paying a tax that goes to a particular church, but also concerns more serious entanglements, such as state censorship of the sacrilegious, mandating state office holders to believe in a god, banning miscegenation (which laws were defended on a religious basis!), and public schools teaching religion. All those entanglements were struck down by federal courts, and were among the court decisions that spurred social conservatives to complain about “meddling” judges. The last two weren’t struck down until the 1960s.

  32. #32 Rturpin.wordpress.com
    April 13, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Note that New Hampshire had a requirement for state office holders to be protestants till the 1870s. A number of officially disestablished states had similar requirements. I don’t think it was the miniscule numbers of atheists who overturned that situation.

    On this particular issue, it’s worth noting that many states still have such laws on the books. Including Texas. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Supreme Court struck down those laws in Torcaso v. Watkins, pursuant to Maryland turning down an atheist as a notary public. So no, it was not atheists who got those laws undone. (Though give some credit to Torcaso!) It was the federal courts, ruling on the basis of the 14th amendment, and a long series of related case law. If some states such as New Hampshire decided on their own to move into the modern world, others such as Maryland and Texas were dragged kicking and screaming. Thanks to John Bingham, the ACLU, and black-robed Supreme Court justices.

  33. #33 julian
    April 13, 2011

    So not only does Josh Rosenau believe Jones was responsible for the deaths in Afghanistan, he also believes the niqab is a symbol of free speech. Incredible.

  34. #34 Riman Butterbur
    April 13, 2011

    julian #34, If you think that’s incredible, consider that the supreme court thinks the use of monetary power to skew election results is free speech!

  35. #35 Riman Butterbur
    April 13, 2011

    Rturpin #30,

    What distinction do you see between “secular” and “atheist”?

    I’ve consulted four dictionaries including the ODEE, and they all seem to agree that the only sense of “secular” that’s relevant to this discussion is the relatively recent, minor, and vague one of “non-religious”.

  36. #36 Russell
    April 13, 2011

    Riman, the crucial distinction is that “secular” carries no implications about the religious beliefs of the people involved. Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, and Hindus all have secular interests and secular activities, from the Little League team where their children play ball, to the brokerage firm where they keep their retirement investments, to their view of their city’s management of roads, parks, and police. In contrast, to say that an organization is atheist implies that the religious would find some impediment to their participation. “Secular” is neutral on religious issues. “Atheist” is not.

  37. #37 Riman Butterbur
    April 13, 2011

    Russell, you’ve got that backwards. Read the dictionary definitions of “secular”. By it’s nature, it is an ecclesiastical term; a term used by the religious to refer to temporal affairs as opposed to otherworldly affairs.

    A government run by lay members of a religion could be called “secular”, even if they excluded non-believers from participation or penalized non-belief or expressions of “disrespect” for their religion. Just about any establishment of religion, as long as it was inforced by the lay government rather than by church officials, could be described as “secular”.

    It’s true that our government has an official motto, “In God We Trust”, and an official pledge that describes us as “One Nation Under God”, but these secular displays of religiosity are unconstitutional. The constitution nowhere permits our government to be merely secular. “No Establishment of Religion” and the other constitutional provisions pertaining to religion clearly mandate an atheistic government.

    This is also wrong:

    “to say that an organization is atheist implies that the religious would find some impediment to their participation”

    That would depend on the religious. Christian dominionists would, of course, find a society with total religious liberty an impediment to their participation. That’s their fault, not the fault of the liberty they despise.

    By the same token, bigots would find some impediment to their participation in a society that opposed bigotry. Censorious people would find some impediment to their participation in a society that protected freedom of speech. Power-mad status seekers would find some impediment to their participation in an egalitarian society. And so on. you get the picture.

    Where in the world did you get the idea that atheism implies discrimination against theists?

  38. #38 Russell
    April 14, 2011

    Riman Butterbur:

    Russell, you’ve got that backwards. Read the dictionary definitions of “secular”. By it’s nature, it is an ecclesiastical term; a term used by the religious to refer to temporal affairs as opposed to otherworldly affairs.

    While you’re correct that a prince in Saudi Arabia could correctly refer to his state office activities as his secular duties, no one would describe Saudi Arabia as a secular state. The term carries somewhat different meaning when used in that context. More the second definition than the first: “Not specifically relating to religion or to a religious body.”

    Where in the world did you get the idea that atheism implies discrimination against theists?

    I didn’t say it did. Just that, unlike secular, it implies taking a stand on religious issues. As one example, a believer wouldn’t join American Atheists because of that. The truth is that there are few atheist groups, for the simple reason that “atheist” is more about what one isn’t (religious) than what one is.

  39. #39 Riman Butterbur
    April 14, 2011

    Russell #39,

    Uhhh… Huh?

    Why would a believer want to join American Atheists? And what does that have to do with any kind of government?

    “Secular” speaks of non-religious matters from a religious frame of reference. I’m not really familiar enough with Islamic thinking to address whether Saudi Arabia is considered a secular state, but I’m sure a Saudi prince would never speak of his office duties as “atheistic”, even tho they may well be. Just as American judges speak of our government as secular because most of them are religious. They have allowed govt bodies to conduct “non-sectarian” prayers; they allow parents to exercize total control over their children’s religious training; they allow all sorts of religious intrusions into government that the constitution says should be religion-free.

    Any way you choose to interpret this ambiguous word, “secular” is not neutral with respect to religion vs non-religion.

    Atheism does not imply anything but… well, atheism. That is not taking a stand on religious issues. Atheism ignores religious issues. How much more neutral can you get?

  40. #40 Russell
    April 14, 2011

    Riman:

    “Secular” speaks of non-religious matters from a religious frame of reference.

    That is not its only use or meaning.

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