In the news recently was a press release from American Atheists announcing they had appealed a court case to the US Supreme Court. The case, American Atheists, Inc. v. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, is against a Kentucky law that would require state training materials to proclaim a reliance on God for protection of the state. One response I read about the appeal on an e-mail list I’m on wondered why American Atheists would waste time on such a case that was, in their view, giving lip service to believers. Unfortunately, many believers live for such lip service so those of us who want to protect the separation of church and state have to file law suits against what on the surface looks like minor offenses.
Here is some detail on the case American Atheists, Inc. v. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security:
Everyday in Kentucky, due to a 2008 homeland security law, atheists and agnostics are potentially forced to assert that the public safety of their state is dependent on “Almighty God” or face criminal charges, including up to 12 months in jail.
On August 17, 2012, the Kentucky Supreme Court refused to hear a motion for discretionary review, brought by American Atheists and local plaintiffs, to a state law that makes it mandatory that the Commonwealth and its citizens give credit to Almighty God for its safety and security. This request was denied in a single line that said that the “…Petition for Discretionary Review is denied.” Signed, Chief Justice, Kentucky Supreme Court. The law states, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including AbrahamLincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, presidential proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'”
The US Supreme Court hasn’t decided yet to hear the appeal.
One reaction I read from someone on an e-mail list I read said to the effect that resources were being wasted going after symbolic inclusion of God in state law and since courts usually allow ceremonial deism, the person didn’t see the point in the American Atheist lawsuit. She said why take the time complaining about such lip service to believers when we need to fight “real” church and state violations like school vouchers and bans on teaching evolution.
The reason we need to complain about all violations of church and state even ones that look symbolic is because many believers, including the people who create these stupid laws, think symbolism is important. That’s why they create the laws in the first place. Every symbol left in place is a silent affirmation to the religionist that the state is cheerleading for their particular sect.
Symbols that aren’t challenged are also used as “proof” that there is no issue with such symbols and we can see that bleed into the “actual” crossing of the line the person complaining about the case talks about.
To give you an example of the power of symbolism to the religionist, look at the reaction to the recent Thanksgiving Proclamation by President Obama:
The following is a selection of headlines from conservative websites posted on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving:
Fox: “Obama’s God-Less Thanksgiving”
Breitbart.com: “FOR FOURTH STRAIGHT YEAR, OBAMA’S THANKSGIVING MESSAGE DOESN’T THANK GOD”
Gateway Pundit: “Obama Releases Thanksgiving Message – Forgets to Mention God & Asks Americans to Unite Behind Him”
The Daily Caller: “Obama Thanksgiving address: Calls to unite behind WH, doesn’t thank God”
However, the headlines are a bit misleading, and the outrage appears to be manufactured. The fact is Obama did express thanks to God not once but twice in his 2012 Thanksgiving proclamation.
Just because the President didn’t specifically say “Thanks to God” religious conservatives went nuts.
To them if the government doesn’t acknowledge or affirm their religion they then claim God removed some kind of special protection to the United States or God allowed a Hurricane to hit us.
But one has to wonder if God really cared about what our government did or didn’t do why didn’t He wipe us out during the Native American genocide or the slavery era?
I’ve always believed that any religion, so insecure they need the government to cheerlead for it constantly, may not be a good religion for people to follow.
This is why I don’t see American Atheists, Inc. v. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security as a waste of time or something that takes away from fighting other more concrete violations of the separation of church and state.