Atheists Crying Wolf, Part 1

A while back I took on charges of anti-atheist bigotry leveled against an Illinois lawmaker by atheist blogger Alonzo Fyfe. Beyond that, Fyfe claims a whole host of things amount to prejudice against poor, innocent atheists:

(1) A sitting president said that atheists are not fit to be judges – and the statement can still be found on the
White House’s own web site.”[W]e need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench.”

(2) We have atheists who stand and feign support for a Pledge of Allegiance that says, “As far as this government is concerned, atheists (those not ‘under god’) are the moral equivalent of those who would commit themselves to rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all.”

(3) We have a national motto on our money and going up in more and more places in this country that says, “If you do not trust in God, you are not one of us.”

(4) Atheists are routinely blamed for everything from terrorist attacks to school shootings to hurricanes to the Holocaust.

(5) On this latter point, there is a movie that will officially debut around the country on April 18th that is making a blatant attempt to link atheism to the Holocaust.

I intend to show that these victim-centric interpretations are wrong, and that, when not distorted by atheist activists, none of them constitute bigotry against those who don’t believe in God. My case will be divided into three posts: this one on atheism and the judiciary, a second on ceremonial references to God & religious symbolism, and a third on atheism and violence.

(1) “[W]e need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God.” President Bush is right, and if a statement like this is enough to send Fyfe flying off the handle, methinks he needs to re-read the Declaration of Independence, brush up on American history, and take a couple deep breaths.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” So says the Declaration of Independence, the guiding light of American governance. Examples of the Founding Fathers echoing and elaborating upon this sentiment are abundant. John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government assumes men to be “the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker.” The concept that our rights come from God was a sharp departure from prior conceptions that rights originated either from government or from cultural lineage. Its implications are powerful: it divorces human rights from intellectual, physical, or racial superiority, or from bloodline. All individuals deserve equal treatment simply because they are human beings. Accordingly, under this conception of God-given rights, government becomes a servant of the people, rather than the master.

If one believes in judicial originalism, that the purpose of judges is to faithfully glean and apply the original meaning and intentions of a law, then why wouldn’t it be legitimate to consider a potential judge’s understanding of the Framers’ conception of rights? A judge who sees our rights as God-given understands that he doesn’t have the authority to thwart them by judicial fiat, no matter how much he might think his personal views on any given case might be better. I, for one, think that sort of humility is highly desirable in a public figure, especially one wielding the power of an unelected, unaccountable, lifetime position.

Granted, the Constitution
prohibits faith-based legal disqualifications from public office, and Bush didn’t propose any. But that isn’t the same as the individual in charge of choosing a candidate—the executive making his appointments or the voter casting his ballot—having a preference for the type of ideas which he or she believes can best serve the office. Unlike skin color or sex, religion and atheism are ideas (or the absence of particular ideas) with implications relevant to society. Therefore, it’s reasonable for people to use them as criteria when judging potential public officials. Surely many atheists think believing Christians are less-than ideal officeholders, as is their prerogative. I’d passionately disagree, of course, but it’s not bigotry to take religion, or lack thereof, into consideration. Then again, perhaps the actual goal isn’t tolerance, but rather to insulate one’s worldview, via intimidation if necessary, from critical evaluation by the people.
By all means, atheists like Alonzo Fyfe should have equal opportunity to seek public office. But that doesn’t mean they get to pretend the philosophical foundations of the nation never existed, or to exempt their ideas from public consideration.

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