Note to The Blaze: The Freedom From Religion Foundation is Not a ‘Separatist’ Group

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Separatists”?

Something militant? Something evil? Though it technically refers to a group seeking independence (from their country, for example), we usually only hear the term in violent contexts (like in the image below, with the destruction caused by a “separatist” group).

Take a look at examples of the word in print:

The government-run Xinhua News Agency described the Kunming train station assault as a “premeditated violent terrorist attack” and identified the perpetrators as separatists from China’s restive Xinjiang region.

ETA, formed in 1959 during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco to fight for Basque self-determination, said in 2011 it would collaborate with the international group of monitors led by Ram Manikkalingam, a former advisor to the Sri Lankan government on negotiations with the Tamil Tiger separatist militants.

Mr. King’s video showed the Russian separatists hurling bricks and fireworks at a small number of participants in the anti-war rally, before breaking through police lines to beat the unarmed demonstrators.

At least 11 people, mostly soldiers, were killed and several injured in an attack allegedly carried out by separatist militants on a military facility in the southern Lahij province, security sources said.

Like I said: This is a word that often describes violent groups — people willing to injure or kill in order to achieve their goals.

So why is Glenn Beck‘s website “The Blaze” using the word to describe the Freedom From Religion Foundation?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a church-state separatist group, sent a letter to Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper this week, complaining over his involvement in a Christian ministry called Prayer Force United — and taking aim at sectarian prayers that the group claims are a part of staff meetings and events.

The Greater Sacramento Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a church-state separatist group, will post billboards in Sacramento on Monday, carrying messages like, “I worship nothing and question everything,” “Studying the Bible made me an atheist” and “Reason. Equality. Doing Good — all without gods.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a church-state separatist organization, first wrote letters to local leaders last year telling them that a lawsuit would result if the crosses remained on government property, The Herald-Star reported.

Starnes reports that it was the Freedom of Religion Foundation (FFRF), a church-state separatist group, that sent a letter to officials. It’s unclear if two separate letters were sent by the ACLU and the FFRF, but this would not be the first time that the two groups have intervened simultaneously on a First Amendment issue.

As far as I can tell, that leaves us with two possibilities:

The generous one is that editor Billy Hallowell is using the words “separation” and “separatist” as synonyms.

The conspiratorial one is that Hallowell knows the difference and also knows that his readers probably don’t — so it’s a way of linking FFRF, a group right-wingers already don’t like, to a kind of group that right-wingers would actively hate.

Either way, the word portrays FFRF as even more of a bogeyman than usual (rather than as defenders of the Constitution). Considering the number of threats the folks at FFRF get on a regular basis, it’s not just a rhetorical flourish; it’s downright irresponsible to be doing it.

I’ve urged Hallowell via email to change his word usage, assuming he’s treating it as a synonym for “separation.”

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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