Discrimination Against Atheist Invocations by Local Legislatures

In their spring ruling in Greece v Galloway the Supreme Court upheld the practice of giving sectarian prayers at the head of legislative meetings as Constitutional. Since reading the Court’s opinion, I have wanted to write about 8 articles about all that was wrong with it.

Then last week Megan Hamilton, a journalist, asked me for my opinions on a few cases where atheists are being discriminated against by being excluded from giving invocations, so I made a start on expressing my objections. She quoted me at length in full thoughts, in full context, which made me quite pleased. Here’s what she used:

In the case that brought the Supreme Court ruling, Greece v. Galloway, the court tried to justify sectarian prayers by insisting that they had nothing to do with proselytizing religion but that such prayers were unifying and were simply “intended to place town board members in a solemn and deliberative frame of mind,” philosophy professor Dan Fincke told Digital Journal. He noted that this is far from unifying.

“They argued that it was not divisive to have sectarian prayers because way back in the 1770′s a sectarian prayer was greeted as a unifying experience for members of otherwise bitterly divided Christian denominations,” he said. “But this sort of behavior that we see in California and around the country whereby humanists are denied participation in the practice of creating a “solemn and deliberative frame of mind prove that the Supreme Court was wrong.”

While the Supreme Court’s decision may seem inclusive, there are many atheists, including Fincke, who beg to differ.

“This is not about unity. It’s about Christian hegemony,” he said. “It’s not about inclusion, it’s about exclusion. When the Court acted as though it is religiously neutral to treat sectarian religious prayers as inherently solemn matters, it prioritized religion as an inherently solemn thing, in violation of the consciences of millions of atheists who find sectarian religion to be an intellectually offensive and socially destructive thing.

“When it comes to being an atheist in America, the difficulty varies,” said Fincke, who writes the blog “Camels with Hammers.” “It’s fairly easy to be an atheist in academia, or in New York City, unless you live as part of one of many particularly religious communities, in which case it can be very hard. But in any number of places in the country it can mean not getting work, it can mean excruciatingly strained relationships with believing family members who will be grieve over your atheism and/or ostracize you. Or judge you and say terrible things about you, about how you cannot be moral, you must lead a meaningless life, etc.”

Atheists have a long way to go before they are ever accepted into the mainstream, but there is hope.

“The number one thing that atheists can do to fight the prejudices we face is to come out of the closet. Too many Americans believe that they don’t know any atheists,” Finke says, “And they’re wrong. Everyone knows atheists. Just many atheists are keeping quiet, either out of fear of rejection or out of an overabundance of deference to religious feelings. As much as atheists get accused of being loudmouthed bullies, most atheists spend their lives tip-toeing around religious sensibilities trying not to offend them. And by never coming out, they remain invisible to those same religious people who will then turn around and stigmatize and demonize atheists as immoral people.”

Fincke, who left university teaching last year and now teaches via his own online business, also said that atheists should organize as humanists to focus on the positive side of atheism and the values that we promote, rather than just the beliefs we do not accept.

“The more that people get accustomed to seeing Humanism as just another option on the menu of values systems and communities that people can belong to, their irrational fear of the unmoored lone wolf atheist will diminish and they’ll be less inclined to be offended by the very existence of atheists,” he said. “Humanism is a positive approach to the world so it is harder for people to defensively take it as a mean-spirited rejection of their own views as many reflexively feel atheism to be.”

Hopefully, Gruendl, Bedrosian, and others like them will start paying attention.

Read the whole story of what’s going on.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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