I’ve made fun of Dan Calabrese, the “editor” of Herman Cain’s website, many times before. What I didn’t know is that he lives right here in Grand Rapids. The Detroit News gave him space to spout some serious nonsense about the recent controversy over a sign in a public park with a Bible verse on it.
Atheists like to call themselves “freethinkers,” which is a curious description for people who absolutely refuse to consider a given possibility just because it’s not readily apparent to them.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first straw man in the very first sentence. I think that’s a new record. Far from refusing to consider the possibility that a god exists, most atheists are, in fact, former believers. The notion that they just don’t want to consider the possibility is simply bullshit, a way of dismissing atheists without actually engaging their reasons for not believing in gods.
A real free thinker would not be threatened by the expressions of others that disagree with his or her own, regardless of who is making the expression or under what circumstances.
And the second strawman in the second sentence. That’s almost impressive. This situation has absolutely nothing to do with being “threatened by the expressions of others.” It has to do with the propriety and legality of the government putting religious declarations on public property.
But we all know that’s not how things work these days, especially when it comes to a recently acclaimed atheist hero by the name of Mitch Kahle. Mr. Kahle has earned himself a mini-modicum of fame for running around West Michigan demanding that things proclaiming the glory of God be removed from the public view, lest someone believe it and expect someone else to believe it, and consequently force someone like Mr. Kahle to actually be challenged in his “free” thought.
Three sentences, three strawman. Mitch is not demanding that such statements be “removed from the public view,” he’s demanding that they be removed from public property. If it was on private property but in “public view” he could not possibly care any less. What is becoming very clear, however, is that Mr. Calabrese is neither capable nor willing to engage someone’s actual position on this subject, so he creates strawman arguments that seem much easier to defeat.
Having realized that, the Ottawa county commission announced yesterday that they too have thought freely and changed their minds. The sign will go back up. The family actually offered to put it somewhere else, so as not to cause trouble, but the county commission said no thanks. There is no reason a sign in a public park cannot proclaim what this sign proclaims.
Anyone wanna take bets on how Calabrese would respond if the sign contained a verse from the Quran about the beauty of God’s creation instead of the Bible? How long would it take him to decide that there’s a very good reason that sign can’t be put in a public park and that the reason would be something rational like “OMG, terrorists!” See, this is the difference between secularists and Christians who oppose separation of church and state. We don’t think any religious statements should be on public property (unless it’s truly a public forum and the statements are thus private speech and not government speech); they think only Christian statements should go on public property.
In doing so, the Ottawa county commission stood up for an important principle of the First Amendment, and stands against a common bastardization of same.
There are two elements of the First Amendment that some people think are in conflict with each other. But they are not. One says Congress shall make no law restricting free speech. Another says Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion. These two elements may seem to come into conflict when a government body wants to express its adoration of God. But they do not.
The establishment clause in the First Amendment was designed to ensure that the United States would never have an official “Church of America,” so established and designated by government as it is under the British crown. This, the Founders reasoned, is good neither for the church nor for the state. And in the 226 years since the Constitution was first ratified, we have never come close to establishing an official Church of America. And we never will.
When a government body allows someone to express that they believe in God, and do so on public property, that is about as far from Congress establishing an official government religion as a thing can be. It is the exercise of free speech, not only by private citizens but also by public officials who are not passing a law imposing anything on anyone.
So. Much. Ignorance. It simply isn’t true that the purpose of the Establishment Clause was merely to prevent the establishment of a national church. If that was all they intended, why didn’t they adopt any of the multiple wordings that would have done only that when they were proposed and rejected? There were at least three proposed wordings that would have prevented only the establishment of a particular religion, sect or denomination as an official church. All were voted down in favor of the much broader wording that was adopted.
James Madison, the man regarded as the Father of the Constitution and the initial author of the Bill of Rights, argued that the Establishment Clause forbid “anything like an establishment of religion,” including declarations of days of thanksgiving and prayer, even if they are advisory only. He even argued that military chaplains violated the Establishment Clause, a position that even the ACLU doesn’t take today.
The principle here is not that complex. If the government puts up a sign on public property endorsing a religious belief, that violates the Establishment Clause. If they allow private citizens to put up a sign on public property endorsing a religious belief, they must then make it a limited public forum and allow all such viewpoints to be expressed. Failure to do so is giving one religion exclusive access to public property and that is also a violation of the Establishment Clause. Calabrese is fine with that because he knows that only Christians will be given that access. The moment any governmental body gave access only to Muslims, his position would flip faster than Mitt Romney looking at a new poll.