A story circulated the web the other day regarding some comments made by Ken Reid, a supervisor representing the Leesburg district (in Virginia). He said, in regard to people who have issues with the local holiday displays on taxpayer property:
It’s strictly this group of terrorists. They’re fanatics who basically want to stamp out religion in all public life and property.
We’re terrorists now!
I wondered though, what it means to be an atheist terrorist. So I consulted the internet.
According to people across the web, here’s how to be an atheist terrorist:
1. Oppose the use of taxpayer funded property for the promotion or advancement of religion, including the opposition of exclusively religious holiday imagery placed in taxpayer-funded spaces in an attempt to defend the constitution.
2. Oppose a cross erected atop a water tower because you believe it violates the first amendment.
If you can’t find actual violent acts committed by atheists, make some up:
3. Atheists bomb a building containing creationist books.
Or take the actions of a single psychopath atheist and label them as terrorist actions.
Terrorism is a very manipulated and ill-defined word, and when people accuse atheists of being “terrorists” for opposing public displays of religion and the like, they devalue the word into a meaningless pejorative. James Lee comes close, but even a Fox News editorial argued that James Lee wasn’t a terrorist:
Terrorists are evil warriors willing to risk their lives in acts of war designed to topple a government or achieve their well-thought-out and usually intellectually consistent, if horribly misguided, vision of cultural or religious or economic change.
Mentally ill, violent people (and most mentally ill people obviously are not) often express bizarre, delusional beliefs, not infrequently of a religious nature. These delusions can be fueled by schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and other conditions, and complicated by substance abuse.
I’m not so sure the presence of mental illness means a violent act wasn’t a terrorist act. I think a terrorist act is a terrorist act, even if the actors have a mental illness.
Even the U.S. Department of defense defines terrorism in a way which is open for interpretation:
The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Within this definition, there are three key elements—violence, fear, and intimidation—and each element produces terror in its victims. The FBI uses this: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The U.S. Department of State defines “terrorism” to be “premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
However, according to a couple of government officials, you don’t have to be violent or unlawful at all to be a terrorist: just oppose the use of public land for religious imagery.