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Fundamentally Aware

 

Bringing America’s Own Religious Extremism to the Forefront

June 10, 2004

Volume 1, Number 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From the publisher

Welcome to issue 13 of Fundamentally Aware. If you’re not yet a subscriber to my complimentary e-newsletter, be sure to sign up. You’ll find details in the lower left column.

 

As we gear up for the upcoming Presidential election—a crucial one that will lead to either a reversal of our dwindling civil liberties or, much as I hate to consider it, a complete loss of democracy as we know it—it’s more critical than ever that the American public be educated on the major movement behind this agenda.

 

To accomplish this, the facts must be available to the public--without cost. Therefore, New Boston Books is donating copies of The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America to public and college libraries. Please visit New Boston Books and share this offer with your library today!

 

I’d also like to acknowledge the great contribution Americans United for Separation of Church and State continues to make toward this cause. The organization selected The Fundamentals of Extremism as one of its membership renewal incentives this year and has gone over very well.

 

If you do not yet have your own copy of The Fundamentals of Extremism, you can find used (and often new) copies at great prices by visiting these direct links at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Abebooks, Alibris, and others.

 

This issue of Fundamentally Aware examines the prejudice held toward the approximate 20% of the American population of non-believers (atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, rationalists, skeptics, etc.) and the discriminatory practices of our government, as well as that of private organizations and the businesses that cater to the religious right.

 

As always, please feel free to share your comments with me.

 

Kimberly Blaker

 

KimberlyBlaker9@sbcglobal.net

 

 

Contents

 

 

  1.  Censorship of Atheists and the Media by the Catholic Right

 

  2. Politically Incorrect

 

  3. The Story Behind Atheist’s Invocation

 

  4.  Discrimination Against America’s Non-religious

 

Censorship of Atheists and the Media by the Catholic Right

 

The following is excerpted and abbreviated from Chapter 1 Introduction: The Perils of Fundamentalism and the Imperilment of Democracy by Kimberly Blaker in The Fundamentals of Extremism.

 

As Barbara M. Jones, author of Libraries, Access, and Intellectual Freedom: Developing Policies for Public and Academic Libraries, points out, “The religious right has become a particularly important interest group in shaping public opinion.” The Christian Right accomplishes this in several ways.

 

In addition to its ownership of many media outlets, Christian organizations and denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights have come to be known for their control of the media. They threaten lawsuits and public embarrassment and participate in letter writing campaigns. In addition, they boycott companies that sponsor programs or publications to which the Christian Right is opposed. Through such actions they are able to silence negative publicity and most programming critical of religion or in direct conflict with their views.

 

I saw the reality of the media control firsthand when I unexpectedly encountered the Catholic League—an organization whose purpose is to prevent and eliminate all criticism of Catholicism and its leadership. On September 20, 2001 , the San Francisco Examiner published a commentary I wrote identifying the similarities between Islamic extremists and their Christian counterparts. I revealed the Catholic League’s use of intimidation to keep opponents and the media in line, as follows:

 

While less violent in nature, The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a contradiction in itself, exists for the purpose of Canon Law 1369, which states: ‘A person is to be punished with a just penalty, who . . . utters blasphemy, or gravely harms public morals, or rails at or excites hatred of or contempt for religion or the Church.’ 

 

Following the publication of my opinion editorial, William Donahue, president of the Catholic League, immediately telephoned Editorial Page Editor Michael Stoll at the Examiner. Donahue charged that I had libeled “millions of Christians.” 

 

According to Donahue’s account, he requested the Examiner “provide [him] with evidence, drawn from criminal records, that the Catholic League is a violent organization.”  Stoll responded that while his criticisms may have been valid, my comment, “while less violent in nature,” was no more than a “rhetorical flourish,” as was obvious, and my own “opinion”  to which I was entitled.

 

Following Donahue’s call, the League issued a news release on its website that later appeared in its print edition of the Catalyst, as well. Both of these are outlets dedicated to the harassment of all who dare speak out publicly against the abuses of the Catholic Church and its political agenda. Those who offend Catholics in any way are candidates for severe censure. Using my words out of context and misleading its own members, the League then persuaded, “We urge members to write to Michael Stoll, San Francisco Examiner . . . and ask why the newspaper still hasn’t dropped Blaker.”

 

Following the posting of the Catholic League’s news release, the Examiner was bombarded with more than a hundred letters coming from states other than California . Nearly all of them demanded I be fired from a publication with which I had never been employed. And, not only had I been elevated to a “staff” member, many of the League’s letter writers took it to higher levels and were “enraged” over the fact I was a “reporter” who had opined in the “news.”

 

That, however, was just the beginning. Most letters to the Examiner had included words like “libel” and “slander.” Many went so far as to hope the League would sue the newspaper. One woman wrote requesting that the Examiner supply her with “proof” the League is a threat to liberty. Stoll responded:

 

I would note that many people of many political and philosophical persuasions consider a wide variety of institutions, people and ways of thinking a ‘threat to liberty.’ It is a statement that is pure opinion, and in my estimation does not require proof. Nor can it be proven or disproven. That is precisely why it appeared on the opinion page.

 

Little did this woman realize her own allies were busy stating my case for me. From Louisiana came a letter calling on the Examiner “to do the right thing” because “the Supreme Court [sic] of the United States has affirmed that the United States is a Christian nation. . . .” While the statement itself is false, this was, in fact, the exact threat in which I described in my opinion editorial—an attempt to create a religiously based government. Additional proof of the League’s threat to liberty came from an Oregonian who requested the Examiner “take a more critical view of such articles and censor [emphasis added] such blatantly biased writers.” It would seem the Catholic League’s membership unknowingly contradicts the League’s stated purpose, which is to defend “religious and civil rights.” Apparently, free speech, at least for the nonreligious, does not fall into that category.

 

A couple of League members even wrote that the Examiner should have automatically turned away my submission because I was “a known atheist.” A Nevada woman also insisted an editor’s note should have appeared underneath the commentary specifying, “that she is a noted atheist,” even though opinions expressed by believers hardly ever have an editorial note identifying the author’s religion.

 

The actions of Donahue and these members of the Catholic League indicate they are defending Catholic religious civil rights, not the religious and civil rights of all. What also became apparent is whether something negative said against Christianity or Catholicism is “libelous” or pure fact is not important. What matters is that public criticism of Catholicism takes place at all. This was evidenced by several League members. A Massachusetts man argued that his relative who is a priest has done good works. Therefore, he reasoned, “What right does she [Blaker] have to criticize people who have given up a comfortable life to do this type of work?” In the eyes of many fundamentalists, Christian or Catholic, any good works should eliminate all criticism.

 

Ironically, in December (2001), a freelance production assistant contacted the Examiner to discuss the fracas. While I was following up with the production assistant a couple of days later, he explained that a video magazine, American Catholic, had been asked to do a segment on Catholic bashing.

 

However, the journalistic investigation quickly took a turn. According to the freelancer, in his attempt to uncover these injustices, he instead unmasked much to the contrary. What he found was the Catholic League wielding its power against anyone who exposed the Church or the League.   It appeared that the program would instead develop into an expose of the intimidation tactics used by the Catholic League in its efforts to keep negative publicity under wraps. As would be expected, the segment never materialized.

 

Read this story in its entirety in The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America.

 

Politically Incorrect

 

City Councilman Gilliard of Charleston , South Carolina , said an atheist giving an invocation is an affront to our troops, who are "fighting for our principles, based on God."

 

Reported in Freethought Today May 2003.

 

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Fundamentally Aware

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The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America

 

 

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The Story Behind Atheist’s Invocation

 

BY HERB SILVERMAN

 

Since the appearance of an article about me in The Post and Courier ( Charleston , SC ) on March 27, titled "Some on city council snub atheist's invocation," readers have deluged me with questions. Why was I invited? Why did I want to give an invocation in the first place? What did I say that was so offensive?

 

The story began when a number of local organizations held a "Meet the Candidates" forum prior to the last Charleston City Council election. Each sponsoring organization was allowed to ask one question of the candidates on the panel.

 

The organization to which I belong, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, asked this: "As you know, the City Council starts meetings with a prayer. Since you will represent all your constituents, not just those who are religious believers, will you consider periodically allowing nonbelievers to give the invocation?" Kwadjo Campbell was the only candidate who agreed. After winning the election, he invited me to give the invocation at the council meeting on March 25.

 

An invocation is usually, but not always, a prayer. So why would an atheist like me want to give an invocation at a City Council meeting? Certainly not because I wanted to offend religious council members -- in fact, I prepared an inclusive invocation that I hoped all would appreciate. I looked forward to the presentation with the hope it would encourage more tolerance toward everyone in the community.

 

As Mayor Riley introduced me, I was startled to see several City Council members leave the room. When I finished the invocation, council members Bleecker, Gallant, George, Gilliard, Lewis, Waring and Campbell (who had arrived late to the meeting) walked back in, just in time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

Two of the councilmen who left, Wendell Gilliard and Robert George, later stated their reasons in the March 27 Post and Courier article. Councilman Gilliard said an atheist giving an invocation is an affront to our troops, who are "fighting for our principles, based on God." I guess Gilliard apparently believes our troops are involved in a holy war. However, we are not the Taliban.

 

Each is free to base his or her principles for going to war or objecting to it on the dictates of personal conscience. The principles of our country, on the other hand, are based on our secular Constitution, which makes no mention of God. That same Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to be represented and not shunned by their elected officials, regardless of the religious beliefs of those officials.

 

Councilman George said he "would not have been comfortable had he stayed." He then gratuitously said about me, "He can worship a chicken if he wants to, but I'm not going to be around when he does it." Perhaps Councilman George does not realize that many of us who stand politely for religious invocations believe that praying to a god makes no more sense than praying to a chicken.

 

In trying to understand the walkout, I contacted some of the council members who had participated. Councilman Gallant gave me a biblical justification from Psalm 14:1, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is not one who does good." He went on to tell me, as did other council members, that the walkout was not personal.

 

I knew the walkout was not personal, because those who left did not know me personally. I knew they could not have left because of the words in my invocation, since they did not stay to hear them. Frankly, I would have been less upset had the walkout been personal.

 

My goal was not so much to be liked by council members as for them to listen to one more segment of the community they represent.

 

In recent years, Charleston has taken steps to become a progressive city that celebrates, rather than fears, its diversity. The walkout, however, vividly shows that we are still engaged in one of the last civil rights struggles in which blatant discrimination is viewed as acceptable behavior. Of course, bigotry exists everywhere, but it is especially lamentable when public acts of intolerance at government functions are later defended in the media by government officials.

 

As one who tries to turn lemons into lemonade, I have noticed some positive results stemming from this incident. The Associated Press distributed the story of the walkout to newspapers around the country. I have heard from Christians in many places, including Charleston County , who repudiated what they called the "unChristian" behavior of the council members. I've made some new friends from such encounters. A Christian Forum Web site posted nearly 200 messages on the walkout.

 

People sent me a number of scriptural passages both for and against the action taken by council members. One argument for the walkout is in II Corinthians 6:14-15. "Believers must not commune with unbelievers. What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, light with darkness, believers with infidels?" I also received citations from Christians opposed to opening the council meetings with a prayer. They sent me this, from Matthew 6:5-6. "When you pray, be not like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. When you pray, enter into the closet, shut the door, and pray to thy Father in secret."

 

Please permit an atheist to give an interpretation of this last biblical passage. I think it distinguishes between vertical and horizontal prayer. Vertical prayer is directed upward and can be done silently. Horizontal prayer must be audible because it is meant to be heard by other humans. May I suggest a way for Charleston City Council (and other city councils across the nation) to become more inclusive without offending anyone? Start each meeting with a moment of silence.

 

Herb Silverman is a College of Charleston professor and president of Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry.

 

Discrimination Against America’s Non-religious

 

The following is just a few examples of the discrimination that is endured by those Americans brave enough to openly profess their lack of religious belief.

 

For many Americans, it is a threat to job security to be an “admitted” atheist.

http://www.sullivan-county.com/bush/citi_settles.htm    

 

The Boy Scouts of America bans not only gays, but atheists as well.

http://www.cnn.com/2002/US/West/10/31/atheist.scout.ap/ 

 

The common myth that “there are no atheists in foxholes” serves to perpetuate the misperception that only the religious hold strong patriotic values and are willing to die for our freedom. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers destroys this unreality.

http://www.maaf.info/  

 

Herb Silverman was the victor in a South Carolina Supreme Court battle to become notary public.  He shares his ordeal in detail in The Fundamentals of Extremism. But here’s the story in brief:

http://www.dslnorthwest.net/~danwilcox/thumper.html

 

 



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