Trying to keep a civil tone to talk of religion

Someone has said, “Opinions are like toilets – everyone has at least one.” The following is a response to the column by Daniel Nash (“Different views are better voiced civilly,” published in the Nov. 4 edition of The Courier-Herald.

Someone has said, “Opinions are like toilets – everyone has at least one.”

Daniel Nash (“Different views are better voiced civilly,” Our Corner, Courier-Herald Nov. 4) calls for “a firm and civil response” to discussions of Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “shock jock” approach to promoting atheism. This is especially poignant since King County has granted FFRF a contract to promote their religion on Metro buses.

Let me attempt such a response by voicing an opinion of my own. The problem is where to begin.

First of all, it is quite clever to say that freedom of religion isn’t in the U.S. Constitution (and add that there is no evidence for it – OMG, there isn’t room to counter that statement). May I point out that neither is the freedom of speech Mr. Nash purports to defend in the Constitution? They are both in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution which the framers required be adopted at the same time as the Constitution. Nice try, but no cigar. I hope that the word “thereof” isn’t cause to miss the “of” for which Mr. Nash seems to lack evidence.

Second, can we puh-leeze stop repeating the ignorant myth that our founding fathers were primarily deists. Mr. Nash adds insult to this preposterous claim by adding another invention that “our country was founded on principles radically secular for that time.” Right. And don’t forget that the moon is made of green cheese – an equally provable statement.

Mr. Nash states that “John Quincy Adams, though publicly a deist (belief in a hands-off God) wrote views of the church…in private letters that seemed quite atheistic.” So let’s hear from Mr. Adams own pen.

“My hopes of a future life are all founded upon the Gospel of Christ and I cannot cavil or quibble away…the whole tenor of His conduct by which He sometimes positively asserted and at others countenances His disciples in asserting that He was God.

“The hope of a Christian is inseparable from his faith. Whoever believes in the Divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures must hope that the religion of Jesus shall prevail throughout the earth. Never since the foundation of the world have the prospects of mankind been more encouraging to that hope than they appear to be at the present time. And may the associated distribution of the Bible proceed and prosper till the Lord shall have made ‘bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God’ [Isaiah 52:10].

“In the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior. The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”

You know, that’s not bad for a deist who is “quite atheistic” in private. I merely named three. A little research would prevent such silly statements. I have whole books full of quotes from the founders testifying to their faith in Jesus Christ, the Bible and claiming Christianity to be their guiding religion. Not every founder claimed to be a Christian, but most did. All one has to do is check source documents – a nearly lost art.

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence 24 held what today would be considered seminary or bible dollege degrees and four were ordained ministers (apparently ministry and politics were not the anomaly they are today). Some started bible and tract societies, etc. This from a group we keep getting told is mostly deists.

Next, the founders used the term “religion” the way we use the term “denomination.” Thus when they argued that one religion should not have dominance over another the context suggests they were thinking that Congregationalists should not have an upper hand over Presbyterians or Baptists. There is little or no support that they had Islam or Buddhism or any other “ism” in mind – let alone atheism.

But to the main argument I ask whatever happened to the distinction between stating what I am or believe versus ridiculing and provoking someone else. Look at the quote from FFRF that Mr. Nash uses.

There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only natural world. (Note: So far, so good – just stating tenets of atheism’s religious beliefs.) Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Whoa. Wait a minute. Can anyone spot a derogatory statement about others and their beliefs in that last part?

This gets to the balance between freedom of speech and limits on potentially damaging speech. Most of us have heard of the SCOTUS example of free speech not allowing someone to yell “fire” in a crowded theater where injury may result. All freedom must be balanced with responsibility.

Now Mr. Nash claims that “the Christian nativity scene is an implicit statement that the Jewish belief in a not-yet-arrived Messiah is wrong.” Can Mr. Nash see any difference in displaying a nativity scene at Christmas from, say, calling Jews “Christ killers.” Is there a distinction from saying I’m white as opposed to using the “N” word on someone who is black?

One is an acceptable statement of who I am and what I believe. The other crosses the line into pejorative and derogatory comments that are not civilized.

Putting up a nativity scene or a menorah is an acceptable form of religious display at certain times of the year. What is not acceptable is FFRF being able to mock and ridicule people of another faith on the sides of buses and in the capital rotunda or any other state property.

Now the final “firm and civil response” I shall attempt (there could be more).

If Mr. Nash were to practice his religion, would he expect King County to allow him to have the 10 Commandments displayed on Metro Buses (or courtrooms or classrooms) the way it is going to let FFRF display the tenets of their faith? (Atheism is a recognized religion.)

If not, why would he defend allowing this one religion to be able to do so?

Would Mr. Nash feel differently about a nativity scene on display in July? Why is FFRF given this bashing privilege at Christmas? Not only is King County granting special status (establishment of religion?) to the religion of atheism, it is doing so at Christmas. This would be akin to us trying to honor Thomas Jefferson on Martin Luther King Day.

Mr. Nash, I have never met you and would probably find you a worthy friend. I would even welcome you to bring a Star of David to place between us as we discuss matters of importance of our day. I’m not threatened by any expression who you are or what you may or may not believe. Let’s just follow your advice and keep it civil. That is something FFRF doesn’t choose to do.

Steve Hammond


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