Some atheists get it right
Elsewhere in the UU blogosphere, I've recently been critical of two ill-conceived publicity initiatives by groups of atheists or humanists, which seem to me more of a public attempt to express passive aggression toward the Christian majority at a sensitive time of year than to actually reach out to embrace new prospective recruits and grow the movement.
In contrast to those dubious efforts, the striving of a different group of atheists deserves hearty applause:
Atheists sue to take God out of state's terrorism law
By John Cheves
Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader
Tue, Dec. 02, 2008
An atheists-rights group is suing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security because state law requires the agency to stress "dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth."
American Atheists of Parsippany, N.J., and 10 non-religious Kentuckians are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, set to be filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court.
Edwin Kagin, a Boone County lawyer and the national legal director of American Atheists, said he was appalled to read in the Herald-Leader last week that state law establishes praising God — and installing a plaque in God's honor — as the first duty of the Homeland Security Office.
The state and federal constitutions both prohibit government from getting involved in religion, Kagin said Monday.
"This is one of the most outrageous things I've seen in 35 years of practicing law. It's breathtakingly unconstitutional," Kagin said.
Gov. Steve Beshear's office had not seen the suit and therefore had no comment, spokesman Jay Blanton said.
The requirement to credit God for Kentucky's protection was tucked into 2006 homeland security legislation by state Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a Southern Baptist minister.
"This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky," Riner said last week.
Riner said he expects Homeland Security to include language recognizing God's benevolent protection in its official reports and other materials — sometimes the agency does, and sometimes it doesn't — and to maintain a plaque with that message at the state's Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort.
In the suit, American Atheists argues that Homeland Security should focus on public-safety threats rather than promote religion. The suit notes that the federal and state homeland security agencies were created as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Muslim fundamentalists, and it refers to those attacks as "a faith-based initiative."
The plaintiffs ask for the homeland security law to be stripped of its references to God. They also ask for monetary damages, claiming to have suffered sleeping disorders and "mental pain and anguish."
"Plaintiffs also suffer anxiety from the belief that the existence of these unconstitutional laws suggest that their very safety as residents of Kentucky may be in the hands of fanatics, traitors or fools," according to the suit.
© 2008 Kentucky.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kentucky.com
Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty with Tripoli declared in part that "the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion...". One of our own Famous UUs executed it on behalf of the United States, adding beneath his signature, "Now, be it known, that I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said treaty, do, by and within the consent of the Senate, accept, ratify and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof." Adams was of course no atheist himself, and at the time his native Massachusetts had not yet even thrown off the last vestiges of its historic theocracy, but it was gestures like his that put some of the final nails in the coffin. The hyperbole in the last couple of paragraphs of the news report may raise an eyebrow or two, but bravo to the American Atheists for preserving American freedoms from the renewed encroachment of latter-day theocrats.