America’s Top Two Atheists

Quick question: Who are America’s top two atheists?

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The correct answer is… Rob Sherman and Michael Newdow.

You know how I know that?

Because Rob Sherman said so. (Modest one, no? :) )

The two guys are suing over the Capitol Visitor Center fiasco (they’re engraving “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance with “Under God” into the CVC).

While they’re right in theory, this lawsuit won’t work for the same reason “In God We Trust” is still on our money: It’s considered our national motto and not a promotion of religion. There’s a reason no major atheist (or church-state) organization is taking up this case — if you’re not going to win, you don’t want to waste resources. And a losing lawsuit just sets further precedent and hurts us in the future when we may actually have a solid case in the works.

Surely, Newdow and Sherman know this. They’re both lawyers. It sounds like they’re more concerned with getting their names in the news than being realistic about this case.

  • benjdm

    It’s considered our National Motto because of a law passed by Congres (P.L. 84-140, I believe.) Passing a law making “In God We Trust” our National Motto is a pretty blatant example of ‘passing a law respecting an establishment of religion.’

    Kudos to Ron Paul as the only Republican to vote against it. Also voting ‘no’ were Pete Stark, John Conyers, Donna Edwards, Mazie Hirono, Michael Honda, James McDermott, and Robert Scott.

  • Richard Wade

    What the heck makes somebody “America’s top atheist”? Does he lack a belief in gods more than the rest of us? Is his zero belief more zero than my zero belief? His pomposity is both comical and a little embarrassing. He might be America’s top self-aggrandizing atheist, or America’s top windmill-tilting atheist, but we’d need to have a Great Debate between all American atheists to see who can defeat the others while making the same argument. The Battle of Agreement!!

    Nah, sounds like a really boring debate. Forget I suggested it.

  • Rest

    Richard, I think you need to contact Simon Cowell about your ideas. There’s a TV show in there somewhere. :)

  • Devysciple

    It sounds like they’re more concerned with getting their names in the news[...]

    And you happily oblige?! ;-)

  • Ziggy

    Somehow Michael Shermer sems to have wnadered into your blog post. I’m sure he can find his way out.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Somehow Michael Shermer sems to have wnadered into your blog post. I’m sure he can find his way out.

    Yes he did, and yes he can :)

    Thanks for letting me know!

  • http://www.babyfight.com garth

    I gotta say, that’s a disappointing stance to take. The “In God We Trust” junk seems like a blatant church/state issue that’s (as noted in benjdm’s comment) clearly unconstitutional. While it may be a long hard fight, it’s a fight worth starting.

    And fighting for what’s right is never a “waste”.

  • Miko

    You never know until you try; the NRA refused to take the Heller case for the same reasons. Besides, each time we lose that case, we get a few more public remarks by incautious officials demonstrating that it really is a display of religion, which helps us the next time we challenge it.

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William Brinkman

    Those two can take up the case, and the other atheist organizations can work on more pressing issues.

  • http://wanderingink.net Kris Bradburn

    When I saw the headline I immediately thought of Michael Shermer and Sam Harris. How disappointed I was to see otherwise…

  • http://brian.carnell.com/ Brian Carnell

    BenJDM wrote:

    “It’s considered our National Motto because of a law passed by Congres (P.L. 84-140, I believe.) Passing a law making “In God We Trust” our National Motto is a pretty blatant example of ‘passing a law respecting an establishment of religion.’”

    1. In God We Trust was officially made the motto of the United States in 1956. The law you are referring to is probably one of the occasional re-authorization bills covering national ceremonies, etc.

    2. Courts have consistently held that the motto does not “respect an establishment of religion” because it is clearly patriotic/ceremonial in nature.

    Personally, I’d like to see the motto go, but this is a fairly minor issue given all the other things that need to be tackled. Though it does give Newdow the media attention he apparently craves.

  • Heidi

    And fighting for what’s right is never a “waste”.

    This. Seriously. Doesn’t really matter if the guys fighting are blowhards. Maybe they can open some eyes to the kind of illegal bias that goes on in this country.

  • Matt D

    At what point does it become obvious that the “motto” fails to be represetative of the broader community. Surely at some point that has to change. Every time you fight the fight I suspect you get step closer.

  • http://brian.carnell.com/ Brian Carnell

    “At what point does it become obvious that the “motto” fails to be representative of the broader community. Surely at some point that has to change. Every time you fight the fight I suspect you get step closer.”

    I completely disagree. In fact, by bringing these lawsuits when clearly they have no chance of winning, the only thing Newdow does is a) generate lots of publicity for himself and b) create yet more case law of courts ruling in favor of “In God We Trust” being entirely ceremonial.

    And the publicity is largely overwhelmingly negative to people not already in agreement with their view. Offending people is fine when it is for an important cause. But when people hear “they want to take In God We Trust” off the money it reinforces the same mentality of organized atheists that leads many to believe the nonsensical “the atheists want to ban religious programming on over-the-air TV” claims.

  • benjdm

    @ Brian Carnell:

    P.L. 84-140 was the law passed by the 84th Congress. I’m pretty sure that was the Congress in 1956 – we’re on the 110th or 111th now.

    I know of at least one court case where they ruled as you described (Aronow v. United States.) Any news search for the phrase “In God We Trust” shows that the phrase is very much in earnest, not meaningless, and the Court was wrong.

    To me, it is not a minor issue. An official motto that declares me as ‘them’ instead of ‘we’? Completely unacceptable. I marked it off my money when I was in high school, stopped for a long time, and have begun marking it off again the last few years.

  • GreyTheory

    re: Matt D – “Every time you fight the fight I suspect you get step closer.”

    it has the opposite effect. the “shrill, elitest atheist” stereotype only gets reinforced. this isn’t a fight we can win, and even a victory would prove hollow.