Serve a Paper and Sue Me

I wasn’t planning to post about the the suit American Atheists has filed to prevent a cross-shaped piece of the World Trade Center from being displayed at the eventual memorial.  After reading a host of conflicting articles and commentaries, I still don’t think I have a good enough grasp of the facts of the case (or the law) to guess where the merits of the case lie.

And (I’ll admit it) I was mostly keeping quiet in an effort not to prolong the story’s coverage in the news cycle.  Whether or not the American Atheists had the right of it, I had trouble believing this was really the suit most deserving of their time and money.  Surely, even if the law was technically being broken, we could come back and mop up after we dealt with the several states that ban atheists from holding public office or testifying in court.

But a friend called me out in a facebook post and asked where I stood, so I could duck the question no longer.  I basically said the above, and added that I was pretty disturbed by the the long list of death threats to atheists that appeared in the comments of the Fox story.  Here’s a sampling:

Part of my privilege as a city-dweller is that I can read those posts and not feel any particular sense of danger.  Others aren’t so lucky.  When I added this link to the discussion, a Christian friend responded:

First, none of that hate represents actual Christian feeling or teaching. It is reprehensible, and no Christian with any sense would condone it. Second, although I acknowledge that those comments are hateful, none of them would have been spurred on without the idiotic remarks of that militant Atheist. Finally, animosity cuts both ways — I’m sure you heard some of the riot-worthy remarks from Atheists on Gov. Perry’s totally justified prayer rally in Texas.

My hackles went up.  Even though I found the suit to be, at the very least, a criminally stupid PR move, the death threats were an horrifyingly disproportionate response.  Imagine there were no merit in the case, but the atheists prevailed.  Can anyone really argue that the harm done by not placing an emotionally resonant pair of girders in a memorial was so great that it could only be avenged by bloodshed?  Frustrations or eye-rolling seems like the strongest possible emotion it should be possible to muster in response.

I still suspect the American Atheists of taking the suit primarily for the purpose of acting as agent provacateur – I assume the violent threats will be used as a fundraising ploy — but now I’m primarily aggrieved by the way they’ve handled the case rhetorically, not with the decision to file in the first place.

Holding the line on laws related to religious freedom and state endorsement means taking on cases that are tasteless and offensive (cf the ACLU defense of the Skokie neo-Nazis).  It also means taking on cases that are ambiguous or just don’t look slam-dunk winnable.  Trying to enforce the law only when it is most egregiously and flagrantly broken erodes its statutory authority.  There’s little harm in letting the case go to court and be decided on its merits.

I’m now imagining the American Atheists in the role of a slightly seedy, more than a little personally unpleasant defence lawyer.  I may not like their oily tactics, and I won’t hesitate to say so, but, on net, I’m glad they’re balancing out the legal landscape.

Unrelated, but, while I was working on a post title and looking at the lyrics of “Sue Me” from Guys and Dolls, I was terribly disappointed by the number of lyrics websites that transcribed “All right already it’s true, so nu” as “so new.” What a shanda.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07592851515207841008 Christina

    Yes, those death threats are disturbing, but really? That's your reply? As someone who's been on the web for more than 5 minutes you know that there are countless crazy people out there willing to fling insults and threats at the drop of a hat – and it doesn't matter what hat. The defense of "well the atheists may be right and now the evil Christians are threatening them!" is an emotional appeal to shut down debate – based on trolls.It doesn't address the legality – or lack – of their argument that allowing something that was significant to a portion of those present at 9/11 should not be left there because of some extra-constitutional "wall between church and state". If you don't want to address a topic logic, then just say so and be done with it, don't resort to empty emotional appeals.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Ok, serves me right for covering two topics and putting the meatier one second. Let me try to make the main point cleared. The threats don't provide cover for the American Atheists group if the AA is behaving badly. My main point came at the end: I'm not sure where the merits of the case lie, and I think it's entirely reasonable for the question to be decided in court. Ambiguous court cases aren't decided by popular opinion or conflicting reporting. They're decided by a judge. I don't have the background to decide whether the case has merit, and I've seen conflicting conclusions from folks who know a good deal more than I do, so I'm glad the case is going to court where it can be decided more dispassionately. I'm also glad that activist groups are contesting cases that are ambiguous, since, if there is a dispute, it ought to be settled in the legal system. People ought not be threatened for working peacefully within the system to resolve a constitutional question.Hope this is clearer

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07592851515207841008 Christina

    So…topic 1: there are mean people on the net who will throw threats like monkey throwing poo. This is not the main point so we'll drop it.topic 2: the courts will dispassionately inform us of what's right and wrong, because they are smarter than us and thus are the arbiters of truth. An interesting position to hold. Can the courts ever be wrong?

  • Ben L

    Sure they can, but I see Leah's point. If I am unclear about cosmology, I ask a cosmologist. In this case, I don't know whether the Atheists have a case or not, so I'll see what a judge says. But I do think the decision to sue was a poor choice.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *topic 2: the courts will dispassionately inform us of what's right and wrong*No, just what's legal and illegal. The two things are not coextant.*because they are smarter than us and thus are the arbiters of truth*Truth? No, again: Just rights and duties (y'know, LAW).*Can the courts ever be wrong?*Sure. That's why we have appellate courts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17467675780212523820 Brandon Jaloway

    So, I still fail to understand if you are more worried about the law or the morality. This is a point that raises a huge question. If the law is immoral and evil, where do you stand? If you cannot appeal to any authority higher than the law, which is written by men, why should you obey the law? Fear? And, if a real injustice is ever committed, but you rely on a non-spiritual calculation, you have nothing to fall back on to demand justice. In the end might make right even if the might comes from having a majority.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *Even though I found the suit to be, at the very least, a criminally stupid PR move…*Interesting. Can you cite one PR campaign ever waged by any atheist in the history of the world anywhere ever that was NOT met with hissing and spitting? If they're like me, American Atheists have lost all faith in "PR". I'm past that. I don't care about the good will or lack thereof of Christians and Muslims and Jews because I have never yet been proved wrong in thinking it will never be forthcoming. So I'll settle for A.) having my rights legally upheld and B.) not having my money spent on faithshit like this. (Which is why I will not be voting for Obama, who failed to dissolve the constitutional felony that is the Office of Faith-Based Programs.)If that takes a "rude" or "unseemly" court action, then PR be damned.Off to make a donation to American Atheists. BBFN!

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *So, I still fail to understand if you are more worried about the law or the morality.*Honestly, I don't think too hard about either one.*This is a point that raises a huge question.*Not really: I don't think about it. I don't confront cosmic moral crises every day and, in terms of the law, other than a little surreptitious file-sharing and exceeding-of-speed-limits, I don't find myself coming into contact with that very often either. *If the law is immoral and evil, where do you stand?*Care to give me an example? I generally just refuse flatly to reason in abstract terms: It tends to bore me.*If you cannot appeal to any authority higher than the law, which is written by men, why should you obey the law?*Why would I appeal to an authority higher than law when I agree with the law? And when I don't agree with the law, I try and change the law. Seems pretty straightforward.*And, if a real injustice is ever committed, but you rely on a non-spiritual calculation, you have nothing to fall back on to demand justice.*And yet, I DO demand justice on the grounds of nonspiritual calculations. Amazing I know. Need a trowel to scoop up the splatters of your exploded head?*In the end might make right even if the might comes from having a majority.*Huhwutnow? I can't say I really understand the significance of this sentence, but let me try to answer what I *think* you just said. The Constitution–and full-functioning democracies in general–operate not just on the principle of "majority rules". They also robustly protect minority rights. To this end, civil society–represented in this case by American Atheists–are granted access to courts, a free press, etc.–to pursue their rights.It doesn't particularly matter what points of "morality" is at stake. Morality is not at all essential to the functioning of the Constitution or democracy generally: This is all a matter of pragmatism. Making men good was not the concern of the founders–if it were, America would not have ever gotten started, since programmes of man-goodening tend to go quickly and disastrously awry.But no, pragmatism: Systems where minorities get a semi-imperfect-but-still-present-veto on majority rule work better than not. Ignoring this–which is what conservatives do–is why conservative/Christian/Muslim nation-building projects like Iraq/Afghanistan/El Salvador/etc. go badly wrong: By failing to anticipate that minorities of type or opinion granted no other roles than 'shut up' or 'die' in a majoritarian society would not accept either choice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12714581082612893449 Colin

    Idiots. The people who posted that stuff on Facebook are retarded. Seriously. I know it's juvenile, but my first thoughts on seeing Mike, Scott, Cindy, and Chris was disgust mixed with an intense desire to let them know exactly how retarded they are in clear terms. Next, irony. Chris's comment, particularly. Sometimes there really isn't anything else to say. You can't argue with it (it's not an argument), you shouldn't ignore it, you need to be blunt ("Dude. You are retarded").

  • Anonymous

    Remember the ideological Turing test? Just because someone posts on the Internet that they believein Christ, doesn't mean they do. Some of those quotes struck me as poorly-executed satire.None of that justifies what was said, but it can make it irrelevant to any discussion about that cross.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Adam Lee

    "Yes, those death threats are disturbing, but really? That's your reply? As someone who's been on the web for more than 5 minutes you know that there are countless crazy people out there willing to fling insults and threats at the drop of a hat – and it doesn't matter what hat."This is a pretty cavalier attitude to take toward threats of murder, don't you think? If it were a mob of atheists saying that Catholics should be hunted down, raped, shot and crucified, would you dismiss them as just those typical crazy loons on the internet, they'll say anything dontcha know, just ignore them and they'll go away?"some extra-constitutional "wall between church and state"."I think our first (and so far only) Catholic president said it better:"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him….For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim–but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril."You ought to be grateful that the First Amendment separates church and state, Christina. It's only by reminding the people of this fact that a Catholic candidate for the highest office in the land was able to overcome the then-rampant bigotry which treated all Catholics as mindless foot soldiers of the Vatican.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12714581082612893449 Colin

    "If it were a mob of atheists saying that Catholics should be hunted down, raped, shot and crucified, would you dismiss them as just those typical crazy loons on the internet, they'll say anything dontcha know, just ignore them and they'll go away?"Well, yeah, actually. That doesn't mean they aren't idiots, but I'm not going to cry about it. I'm sure I can find comments calling for the extermination of religion and/or it's adherents.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    "Sindy" seems to be a tasteless joke, her facebook page being "/hopeyougetraped". But some of these disgusting comments are bound to be serious. There is no excuse for such behavior and it is indeed vastly disproportional to the provocation.Still I think it is worthwhile to consider where that kind of rage comes from. If the atheists won this suit my instinctive reaction wouldn't be just frustrations or eye-rolling it would be anger. That is something I probably should pray about and it definitly wouldn't excuse me if I then went on to make death threaths. But it is, I think, the natural emotional reaction.That is so, because suits like this one aren't about any material Atheist interest. No Atheist can seriously feel intimidated by this cross. Nor does letting it stand present any remotely concievable slippery slope to an actual establishment of religion.The real point is that law beyond its regulatory aspect is also a value judgement of the body politic. For example, Leah is rightfully annoyed by laws "that ban atheists from holding public office or testifying in court", even though they have been unenforcable for decades. There is still injustice in the mere condemnation. An expansive interpretation of the negative freedom of religion basically does for Atheists what these statutes do for Christians. The state is not banned from endorsing any ideology not calling itself a religion. It can, for example, openly advertise for teenage abortions. Basically these kind of suits are all about using the dignity of the courts to single one class of opinion (and not its opposite) out as so evil it can't be allowed to compete with other opinions on an equal footing. In other words this suit has no purpose even remotely plausible other then hurting Christians. And that will naturally make them angry. I have a hunch both the plaintiffs and Facebook trolls are submitting to the same sinful impulse here: revenge. The Atheists are probably scarred by some real grievences and like the opportunity to really show the Christians. And the Facebook trolls react with as excessive a retribution as they can lash out without leaving the house.While everyone needs to break out of that cycle I should, again, admit that this time these particular Christians are clearly the worse offenders

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Adam Lee

    "In other words this suit has no purpose even remotely plausible other then hurting Christians."If you really believe this is true, Gilbert, I invite you to explain what legal theory or principle the American Atheists lawsuit is based on. Are you saying that there's a law which allows people to sue each other for no reason other than malicious revenge? That would be bizarre, if so. What is that law? How did it get passed? Who voted for it? When? Please help me understand the world you claim we're all living in that allows such a suit to proceed.

  • Patrick

    Gilbert wrote,"In other words this suit has no purpose even remotely plausible other then hurting Christians."The quoted article wrote,"David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said the suit’s goal was either the removal of the cross or what he called “equal representation.”“They can allow every religious position to put in a symbol of equal size and stature, or they can take it all out, but they don’t get to pick and choose,” Mr. Silverman said."It is, of course, ever the prerogative of the dominant social group to claim as persecution the inability to use the mechanisms of government to maintain and demonstrate that dominance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    @Adam Lee Huh?There is no necessary identity between stated and actual reasons for any action. In this case the stated reason for the suit is, presumably, establishment of religion. The real reason is, quite obviously, hurting Christians.If you mean legal rather then moral plausibility there are of course precedents for counting Christian imagery as establishment. They even apply to cases where the Atheists had moral arguments to stand on. Posting the 10 commandments at a courthouse might, for example, actually be uncomfortable for someone who has buisiness before the court and doesn't believe in them. The court will, of course, have to look into the arguments for this case being similar. But that doesn't change the plaintiffs obvious motive. I'll give you an analogous case: Suppose you live in a community where property borders aren't fenced. You park your car in your front yard but it turns out that half an inch of it is technically on your neighbors property. Not noticing that you go on a vacation. Upon returning you find out that he had your car towed, alledging trespass. Experience and neighbors tell you he did it to stick it to the Atheist. The case ends up in court. Point being: The question before the court will not be your Atheism but his (alleged) right to have the car towed. Perhaps his actual reason is even a groung on which he can be precluded from exercising his (alleged) right. But even then there would be a trial to establish that reason. Now I don't know who would win, but I do know that a trial taking place doesn't prove him to have acted for any other reason then hurting the Atheist.Same here: There probably is a legal fight to have but the reason to have that fight is obviously hurting Christians.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12714581082612893449 Colin

    @Kogo"…in terms of the law, other than a little surreptitious file-sharing and exceeding-of-speed-limits, I don't find myself coming into contact with that very often either."The negative aspects of the law are those which are both the most common and the least noticed. You come into contact with the law everyday, when you are not robbed, murdered, or defrauded. "*If you cannot appeal to any authority higher than the law, which is written by men, why should you obey the law?*Why would I appeal to an authority higher than law when I agree with the law? And when I don't agree with the law, I try and change the law. Seems pretty straightforward."Except for when you don't, right? I think his point is that you have no reason to obey the law, except for when the benefits you receive outweigh the actual or possible penalties you are subject to. For instance, when you desire music, and you determine the chance of being caught illegally obtaining the music to be slight, there is no reason for you to refrain from obtaining the music (as you have already demonstrated). What if this standard was applied everywhere and always?"Morality is not at all essential to the functioning of the Constitution or democracy generally: This is all a matter of pragmatism."I would note that this is contrary to both the documented thought of the Founding Fathers and common sense. I can entertain the notion that a democratic republic like ours does not depend upon the existence of religion, recognization of God, or anything transcendental at all, but to say that morality in general is not in the least bit necessary for the proper functioning of a democracy is flat out wrong. Any society at all, let alone a democratic republic, needs a system of morality to function properly. Indeed, without a system of morality, it is impossible to determine what is meant by "functioning properly.""Making men good was not the concern of the founders…"In many ways, the Founders presupposed the existence of good men.

  • Anonymous

    Gilbert, do you believe that those acting on behalf of the AA organisation set out with the intention of "hurting Christians"?Their website suggests they have other more practical priorities on their agenda, such as the comparitively dry topic of the rule of law.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17467675780212523820 Brandon Jaloway

    Sorry Kogo, I was not talking to you. I was addressing Leah. Sorry for the confusion.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Adam Lee

    @Gilbert: So, by your reasoning – when Christians put up Ten Commandments monuments in courthouses, teach creationism in science classes, institute sectarian prayer at school graduations and government meetings, establish faith-based programs with tax dollars, and so on – can we say that their purpose in doing all these things is to hurt atheists and other non-Christians?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    Gilbert, do you believe that those acting on behalf of the AA organisation set out with the intention of "hurting Christians"?That is actually exactly what I believed when I wrote those two comments yesterday night. Having cooled down a bit I'll partially but not totally go back on it. I still believe that is the emotional dynamic and actual motivating force behind it. What I didn't sufficiently consider is people's ability to rationalize. So to modifiy my towing neighbor analogy:On the cognitive level the neighbor actually believes he is just defending his property rights. "If property rights went unenforced in edge cases", he reasons, "they might soon be eroded. That would be the end of civilization as we know it. If the atheist gets away with this, perhaps next he'll herd goats in my backyard. At some point you really have to draw a line in the sand!"Still, if it was a Christian's car he wouldn't have this toughts, wouldn't have the car towed and actually wouldn't even notice part of it protruding on his property. Same here. There is actually no offence to be taken with this particular cross unless you really want to be offended. But if someone is already, so to speak, "at war", i.e. cought up in the cycle of hate and revenge, then they actually just might have a grim desire to feel offended. And then they will find a reason why lashing out here is essential to the freedom of religion. Still, the driving force is the desire to lash out. And it is this driving force that the other side sees – always much clearer in the enemy then in themselves – and that makes them angry. @Adam Lee I don't see how that necessarily follows from my reasoning. As to if it is true: sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.By the way, I have allowed myself a maximum of two more comments on this thread for a total of five. This discussion isn't productive, but since I actually started it I shouldn't cop out without any pre-announcement. So I'm compromising in limiting the time-loss to two more comments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    @Gilbert: Same here. There is actually no offence to be taken with this particular cross unless you really want to be offended.It's not about being offended, it's about Christianity being given special privilege within society using secular tax dollars.The cross, as I understand it, was removed from Ground Zero, placed in a church where people said magic words over it claimed it was a religious symbol of hope and now want it relocated to the non-religious 9/11 memorial centre.If the centre was private, if there were no public funds, then there would be no legal case and, like now, no offence.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    You can look at it as the application of the Broken Windows Theory [look it up if you don't know] to separation-of-church-and-state-issues: By zealously going after minor issues (i.e. display of religious symbols in public buildings or during public ceremonies) we (atheists) thereby put religious people 'on notice' that more-extreme (or simply 'real') forms of theocracy will not be tolerated. So, by filing suit about lots of minor issues, we thereby 'head off', say, the holding of an auto-da-fe on the National Mall, witch-burning, requirement that science teaching be 'congruent' to this or that scripture, etc.

  • http://www.io9.com Kogo

    Oh and something else: For a small minority like atheists/nonbelievers*, it is essentially vital that we make our presence known more or less continually. And yeah, to some extent this does require that we engage in 'dick moves' like suing for removal of crosses and Ten Commandments**.Because if we don't, then in very short order, it becomes common 'knowledge' that there are 'no' atheists anymore and that 'everyone' believes in Jesus or at least some sort of god and so there's no point talking about belief.Here, we're bootstrapping from the invaluable lessons taught to us by the gay and lesbian movement (and which they, in turn, borrowed from such earlier groups as Jews) that we need to be 'out' and to let it be broadly known that, no, we are not 'basically all alike'. Some of us are different and one-size-fits-all rhetoric, symbolism and, in some cases, policy will not always serve. *Although there are always those Pew Forum surveys that come out from time to time that, depending on how you interpret what terms like 'no affiliation' mean, show that, in aggregate, there are more American nonbelievers than there are Jews, Muslims, Mormons, members of the United Church of Christ, etc . . .**Although I like Gregg Easterbook's "Hang Six" compromise suggestion: Display the 6 commandments that Christ actually mentioned and which, coincidentally, atheists can probably all agree to: the ones dealing with moral behavior (theft, adultery, murder, respecting ones' parents, lying, covetousness)–and leave out the 4 having to do with judaic observance (sabbath, idol worship, swearing, monotheism), which Christ never mentions.

  • http://www.io9.com Kogo

    *…and so there's no point talking about belief.*Sorry: should have been *un*belief.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    Well, to be blunt that all strikes me as exactly the kind of rationalizations I was talking about. Not much more to say here, I guess.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ Benjamin Baxter

    So the news is that the Internet gives everyone hyperbole and balls of brass? Or is it that human beings are capable of cruel, evil statements? Or is it that conviction magnifies?More banal news fodder, I think.http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    I agree with Kogo and March Hare on this. Whether or not the suite is fueled by anger–it probably is in part–there's a point to it. There could be ways to compromise, of course: you could call it a work of art (in this artistic climate, it could be) and put out a call for other people to contribute similar works of art that might reference other traditions of thought (taking atheism here as a "tradition of thought"). This is not quite putting up imagery from every religious community, but it would allow for other voices. That is an absolute necessity with secular tax dollars.In point of fact, much social justice work has been fueled by anger. Women, for instance, have a lot to be angry about. So do people who identify somewhere on the queer spectrum. So do aboriginal people. So do religious minorities. So do people who are anatomically atypical. So do non-Caucasians generally, with different hot spots in different locations. If we were to censure all voices and acts that were marked with anger, we would guarantee injustice.But Kogo, just a word of caution: the Broken Windows Theory, in it's original application (New York) was probably not that effective in the eradication of crime. Incentives don't work like that.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *But Kogo, just a word of caution: the Broken Windows Theory, in it's original application (New York) was probably not that effective in the eradication of crime. Incentives don't work like that.*The evidence is that it worked extremely well. It's not about incentives: It's a "communication" that 'someone is watching'–that is, an operationalization of Jane Jacob's 'eyes on the street'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    The "Broken Windows" theory has also been shown to be true for litter – people are much more willing to discard their litter on an already littered street than a pristine one. Whether it was a major contributor to NYC's improvements is hard to tease out since other cities also saw a decline in crime without such draconian policing, albeit from a lower level.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    "Whether it was a major contributor to NYC's improvements is hard to tease out since other cities also saw a decline in crime without such draconian policing, albeit from a lower level."This and the fact that crime began to decrease prior to the policy's implimentation are what I was refering to. I likely overstated, but nonetheless the evidence is far from clear that it was responsible for the decrease in crime.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    At least to me, the main point Christian H. presents is, of course, himself. If a Christian can see the Atheists side of this it is presumably seeable without emotional attachment to the Atheist camp. I don't see this argument as strictly conclusive. Seeing the point to an action and even agreeing with someone else undetaking it is still different from actually undertaking it. For comparison, I do see the point (freedom of assembly and speech) in Northern Irish Unionists suits for the right to march through Nationalist neighborhoods. And I know some good people who, unlike me, even see their point as correct and therefore their suits as justified. But I know the traditional purpose of these marches is intimidation and the purpose of the suits is continuance of that intimidation. In other words I believe the people who believe the Unionists but I don't believe the Unionists themselves.Still, the argument is very strong and actually does unsettle me. For now the only reaction I can honestly offer is: I will have to think about it. I'm confused and that confusion is unlikely to settle in the timeframe of a discussion in a blog combox. Yes, it's a cop-out. No, I can't presently say anything else in good concience.That much for the meta-question. On the chance that the Atheists may be justified in suing I shall offer some reasons why they still should loose in the other thread.That leaves Christian H.'s point of fact: It's true but irrelevant. Yes, much social progress was fueled by anger. But there is an enormous difference between the anger over one's own suffering and the anger over someone else not suffering. The later is a variant of hate and, as such, immoral. It also has a dangerous tendency to reproduce itself in its target.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    OK, I was wrong. Contrary to my prior assertion it is possible for someone to honestly have a mindset under which first hearing accurate reports of the presence of the 9/11 cross at the planned memorial spontaneously registers as an establishment of religion and to act on that belief without even subconsciously being driven by any desire to lash out against Christians. This goes slightly beyond the point proven by Christian H's existence in the "spontaneously" part, that distinction being the straw I had clung to in my comment of almost a month ago.Also, I still heavily suspect the American Atheists of being driven by such a desire and think their rhetoric is good evidence of it. But I had denied the possibility in principle and there I was clearly wrong.Furthermore, I still think the mindset necessary to react in that way delusional (and a lot more so than atheism in itself), but then so was mine in thinking that position not honestly believable.Beyond being mistaken my position was also unjust to those who might have the mindset I thought not honestly holdable, which makes it a moral fault in addition to a factual one.I'm sorry.(Also, I'm technically breaking my self-imposed limit on comments in this thread. I think I'm justified in self-releasing me from that commitment, because the actual discussion has been over for a month anyway and the duty to admit to my sins weights a lot heavier.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare
  • http://www.facebook.com/lindaf3 Linda Fox

    First – keep in mind that there is no fool-proof way to know the ideological/religious/partisan affiliations of trolls. The over-the-top viciousness of the response leads me to wonder whether some mischievous folks with nothing better to do than stir up trouble were the responders. I’ve seen that on my own blog, as well as those of others.

    Like many Americans, I DON’T want the case to go to the courts. You think of the courts as dispassionate, impartial judges of the law. I, and many other Christians, perceive the courts as advocates for a secular humanist/atheist position. In other words, the cards are stacked – likely, the Christians will lose, and NOT for the reason that the law is on the other side. Rather, the fix is in – once it hits the courts, Christians (although, perhaps not surprisingly, NOT other religions) always lose.

    Now that followers of Islam have begun to take the lawsuit approach, it’s clear that the ONLY group that always loses in the courts is the Christians. Wearing a cross? Bad. Wearing a hijab or niqab? Perfectly fine expression of your faith. Wanting a religiously-based education in a charter school? For Christians, HORRIBLE, for Muslims, we don’t see the problem.

    Teaching about the religious traditions in our public schools? Look at the MANY ways Thanksgiving and Christmas have been blocked from being celebrated with religious inclusion. Want to teach about Islam, including taking children to a mosque, and having them participate in a religious ceremony, separating the genders, mandating children “role-play”, including stating the words that officially make them a Muslim? Why, that’s just peachy, according to the courts.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for contributing, Linda. In my experience, both sides tend to think they’re getting the short end of the stick in court, so it helps to use citations. I’m not familiar with any American cases that ban students from wearing crosses to school, so maybe you could supply some links.

      It would be very difficult to prove that, as you said, the fix is in for atheists. I’m not trying to convince you that the legal system is perfect or that judges systematically discriminate against atheists, but maybe the link below will be a useful counterexample to the idea that courts tend to be biased in favor of atheists.

      From Andrew Sullivan’s precis of Eugene Volokh’s law article:

      Atheist fathers and mothers are routinely discriminated against in child custody cases. He cites over 70 recent cases across the country – and these were only the ones which were appealed, so they probably represent a fraction of the actual cases. Volokh recalls how Percy Byshe Shelley was the first father to be denied custody because of his atheism – but his dilemma doesn’t belong to a different time and place:

      “That time and place, it turns out, is 2005 Michigan, where a modern Shelley might be denied custody based partly on his ‘not regularly attend[ing] church and present[ing] no evidence demonstrating any willingness or capacity to attend to religion with [his children],’ or having a ‘lack of religious observation.’ It’s 1992 South Dakota, where Shelley might have been given custody but only on condition that he ‘will agree to present a plan to the Court of how [he] is going to commence providing some sort of spiritual opportunity for the [children] to learn about God while in [his] custody.’ It’s 2005 Arkansas, 2002 Georgia, 2005 Louisiana, 2004 Minnesota, 2005 Mississippi, 1992 New York, 2005 North Carolina, 1996 Pennsylvania, 2004 South Carolina, 1997 Tennessee, 2000 Texas, and, going back to the 1970s and 1980s, Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Montana, and Nebraska. In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a mother to take her child to church each week, reasoning that ‘it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training’

      I’m sure you’d feel victimized if a court instructed you to give your child religious education you did not believe to be true.


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