American Atheists Spokesperson Has a Rough Time Explaining Kentucky Lawsuit

What I feared has come to pass.

Americans Atheists filed a lawsuit (PDF) against the state of Kentucky because the state’s office of “Homeland Security is ordered to publicize God’s benevolent protection in its reports” — essentially, God is the first priority for those protecting us from terrorists. It’s a blatant violation of separation of church and state and an illegal endorsement of religion.

However, in their lawsuit, American Atheists said this:

The plaintiffs, and each of them, have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to suffer, damages, both physical and emotional, from the existence of the challenged laws. Named plaintiffs have suffered somatic discomforts, and mental pain and anguish, from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who share the belief in a god that is required by the challenged statutes. Plaintiffs also suffer anxiety from the belief that the existence of these unconstitutional laws suggest that their very safety as residents of Kentucky may be in the hands of fanatics, traitors, or fools.

I didn’t buy the “mental pain and anguish” bit. That seemed to be quite a stretch and an unbelievable one at that. I wrote this a couple days ago:

I find that hard to believe. This wasn’t even news until a few days ago — did anyone report this story before then? The law has been in the books since 2006. What were these plaintiffs doing during the past two years? Biding their time until this news received more attention?

It seems foolish to ask for monetary damages for something like that. Hell, we’ve had President Bush at the helm for the past eight years — that’s much more of a cause for sleeplessness and anguish than God.

Earlier today, American Atheists’ Communications Director David Silverman appeared on MSNBC to discuss the lawsuit.

While he tries to explain why the “mental anguish” bit is in the lawsuit, the subtext shrieks that they just made up that part so the case could legally be heard in court. Whether it’s true or not, it’s clear that even he doesn’t take that bit seriously. And if he doesn’t, why should anyone else?

I’m not blaming him — I don’t think anyone else could really defend that statement either.

Even host David Shuster seems to want to be on Silverman’s side, but he’s having a hard time doing so because of the anguish clause.

I want to have higher hopes for this lawsuit, but I’m not optimistic about it.

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  • Aj

    While he tries to explain why the “mental anguish” bit is in the lawsuit, the subtext shrieks that they just made up that part so the case could legally be heard in court. Whether it’s true or not, it’s clear that even he doesn’t take that bit seriously. And if he doesn’t, why should anyone else?

    He explained it perfectly well, more times than he should have had to, it is there because it has to me. I’m not a lawyer, but this was my understanding. It’s not a new concept, it’s not a big deal that other groups have to answer for.

  • I think he handled it well, under the circumstances, although Silverman did seem to brush off Shuster’s question about whether anyone is actually suffering from sleep disorders, mental anguish etc. The necessity of claiming damages when bringing suit against the state notwithstanding, who are these “disturbed” people? Any constitutional lawyers want to chime in?

  • Michael

    I believe, with the law, no one actually has to have any sort of mental anguish in order for them to win. It was required for a lawsuit that would otherwise stand on its own merit otherwise.

  • The end of the lawsuit reads: “plaintiffs pray and demand” – *gasp* I’m shocked I tell you! Shocked! Since when do Atheists pray? /snark

  • mikespeir

    Dang. Back into the closet for a while.

  • I don’t see how this is hard to explain. I am not so much disturbed that my safety might be in the hands of fanatics, traitors, or fools, but I am disturbed that they seem to be passing on responsibilities that governments have to a God who didn’t seem to protect anyone from Katrina (for example). We can’t rely on God, even if he did exist. We should be able to rely on our elected officials and the soundness of our law, however.

  • Matt

    Sometimes, I think Christians are infiltrating the ranks of atheist organizations and doing ridiculous and stupid things in order to portray real atheists as stupid and irrational. That’s not paranoid is it?

  • Scott LIchtenstein

    “mental pain and anguish” is common legalese included in almost every civil complaint seeking non-economic damages (ie, pain and suffering). Guy’s lawyer probably just had it in his computer and included it for good measure.

  • Thank you Hemant for writing this piece.

    Last year, the FFRF lost a case because it was determined by the Supreme Court that the plaintiffs did not have standing as mere taxpaying citizens. The result is that in order to sue to the government for breaking Church/State law, damages MUST be claimed.

    I agree, it’s ridiculous, but not nearly so much as the fact that the Division of Homeland Security is responsible for publicizing that it cannot protect its citizenry without God’s help (mind you, God in particular, and not Allah).

    “Our god can beat up your god” is the last thing they say before war begins or escalates.

    We’ll do what we have to, and settle VERY reasonably if the phrase and the responsibility is removed.