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Home News Community letters Ridgel: Favoring atheism violates the Constitution

Ridgel: Favoring atheism violates the Constitution

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To be clear at the outset, I’m not a Christian – close but not quite. However, I’m comfortable around people who advocate goodness and mercy.

Also I’ve known, liked, and admired Jews and Buddhists. I don’t know much about ordinary Muslims since I’ve never known any closely; the ones I read about seem crazy and dangerous, but I don’t trust all I read in the national media.

I neither agree nor disagree with agnostics since they agree or disagree with nothing. However, I recently listened to a reputed atheist leader discussing Christmas. He reminded me of a small, nasty boy who enjoys pulling the wings off butterflies.

To justify arguments such as those to remove nativity scenes from public property atheists say the Constitution requires “separation of church and state” a trite expression they manufactured.

The Constitution requires nothing of the sort. The First Amendment simply states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...” The Constitution prohibits government from favoring a particular faith, not the other way around.

A Christ child, a Menorah, or a statuette of Buddha in a park doesn’t require the government to establish a religion, but does “prohibit the free exercise thereof” if the government interferes with such exhibits.

I was born at the beginning of the Great Depression to lovable but irresponsible parents in the poorest part of the country. Ragged, cold and hungry, I dreaded winters. But the pure joy of each and every Christmas is clear in my mind three quarters of a century later. Why would people want to ruin that for kids?

The irony in all this is the strong faith of atheists. The belief in something without evidence, or contrary to obvious evidence, is a faith. It takes enormous faith to gaze at the incredible spectacle of the wheeling starry galaxies and the most infinitesimal particles in an atom, all obeying the same laws, and still firmly believe there is no creator higher than you.

That means atheists have faith in nothing. They want other symbols of faith removed from public property and replaced with … nothing.

If the government enforces the removal of Christian symbols and replaces them with nothing, then they are favoring the atheist faith over all others. That would be “establishing a religion,” the same religion established and required by the Soviet Union: Atheism.

That would violate the Constitution.

Randy Ridgel lives in Kelseyville, Calif.

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Comments (9)Add Comment
@ Ryan
written by ca215, December 15, 2012
Yes, many people find the display of pentagrams and swastikas objectionable.
But: If "occasional residents" of a privately-owned home..."Summer people" who arrive after the rains stop or at least slow down and stay until October gets colder...make part of their occupying their home the raising of a Confederate flag, an instant reaction of a neighbor may be to confront the flag-raiser and say that the Civil War is over and to please move the flag to some place where the flag cannot be seen by the objector.

Then another thought might occur to the flag objector: "Hey at least if that thing is in plain view, at least I/we know who is right next door. Better to know that than to be "in the dark" about the neighbor who might or might not attempt to terrorize people his flag proclaims he doesn't approve of for some dumb-A** reason.

So. What to do about the flag-waving neighbor? Mostly, ignore him/her. Keep contact civil...sorry for the last word there which is vastly different from the war called civil; bit of a change there, isn't it?...and surface: "How are you doing? We're fine, thanks. Excuse me, I have to get back to work on the garden."

But if some incident occurs involving that accursed flag or the displayer OF it at least the neighbor who disapproves of the display of the flag might know where "the incident" began or at least know someone who might be involved in whatever happened.

It's a way to "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer," i.e., "Know the political attitude of that irritating person."
Read It Again. It is Clear.
written by RyanCole, December 14, 2012
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" is pretty damn clear. It is not the establishment of a religion, but the establishment of religion in general. That religion would include Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, etc. Any law passed allowing propping up religious symbols in public spaces is a reasonable argument of some type of religious establishment. "Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" is also very clear. So the government cannot forbid you from practicing any religion you want. Ben Franklin did take it one step further when he succinctly summarized it as a "separation of church and state," but he seemed to know how it would play out.

That part of the constitution only speaks of congress... not individual states, counties, etc. Without further direction, it finds its way to the courts, which could only try to apply the intent of this law. With any decision congress could make being that spelled out, the courts had no choice to extend this reasoning further down the pipe and clarify its intent, especially as congress could act in no other way that it states. I am sure Franklin understood this very well.

Now congress could amend the constitution and really make this a christian nation, but with 20-27% of the population not Christian, and many Christians understanding of that freedom, there is little chance of it.

Now atheism is generally not considered a religion, but it has certain religious foundations. It being the belief in nothing at all is inaccurate. It is based on the belief (aka faith) that there is not a deity. A religion based on atheism is indeed possible. Some atheist movements only lack the regular formalities of a religion, but are otherwise religious in their own right by having structured belief systems--though informally prescribed (scientific method, big bang, evolution, etc). It is not the same as indifference, and indifference is essentially the stance the US courts try to take.

Think about this: If I wore a cross, you would think I was christian. If I had a swastika tattoo, you would be convinced I was a n**i. If I maintained a pentagram carved into my lawn, there is a good chance you would think I practiced black magic.

Would consider hiring a guy who said "Oh, yeah this Swastika on my forehead, its of no consequence. I am great with ovens. Did I tell you I am a people person?"

So a public building is pretty much the same. If it has a cross, swastika, or pentagram on it, it says a lot. Now you might be thinking, well, swastika and pentagrams are objectionable, Yes, but pentagrams at least are a religious symbol, and for the state to promote any religion, then your back to the fact "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Saying nothing is the only elegant solution. Unless you are indifferent or very accepting of indifference, you probably won't appreciate the court's viewpoint.

Coexist. Or, as Jesus said a bit more deeply "Love thy neighbor as yourself."

Expressions of faith.....
written by a guest, December 11, 2012
...ought to be private. Or our public spaces will end up looking as kooky as my neighbor's lawn!
Missed point...
written by a guest, December 11, 2012
Maybe I am intrepreting Mr. Ridgel's letter differently...but I understand it to say that all expressons of religious faith should be allowed and that it is unfair to remove all of them because one group..atheists... don't like them. I believe that in order to observe true freedom of religion that all faiths should be allowed public expression. These public areas are indeed owned by all of us. The public. If you would say that all public displays of religion should be removed because some people find them offensive (farcical, infantile, etc.) ....then where does that thought process end? Should any demonstrations of affection between gay or lesbian couples then be outlawed because some people find them offensive? How about certain types of music? I can't stand country music, so should I be allowed to insist no one play it in a public park because I personally don't like it? I have heard the same people who declare the burning of our US flag to be a constitionally protected from of expression demand that Nativity Scenes, Menorahs...ect....are SO offensive they should not be allowed. Really? As long as it is not abusive or obscene....expressions of anything else....should not be banned. Just my two cents.
written by ca215, December 11, 2012
I didn't know atheism is a faith.

I thought it was a mind-set.
written by a guest, December 11, 2012
The expression "establishment of religion" refers not to government "establishing" but to an "establishment". In other words; any sort of religious "organization" or belief.

That the government shall not "establish" a religion (as England did) I hope is obvious.

To remove religious symbolism from every place would be unconstitutional - but from publicly owned space, it is favorable to the intention of the constitution. There may be cultural or historic value in some of these symbolism but we must also accept they can give the appearance to some of our government's "respecting" of that symbolism, perhaps at the disrespect of another.

Perhaps it is necessary to recognize that belief in things without evidence may be called Faith but might just as well be considered delusion by one of a different faith or one without faith. If our government allows extensive display of one untenable belief system over another it is either "respecting" that faith or allowing persecution by a majority. Both are fundamentally Un-American.

But as a humanist once said: "As a Humanist I believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that at base, humans are good. Now that's Faith!"

It is the season of love and sharing, as it was in North Europe for ages before the birth of Christ. That is probably why His birthday was moved to the time of these existing festivities (I believe historic and scientific accounts put his birthday in what is now June)

Christ's message (some say the 11th Commandment) is to love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, in His name or any other and such disputes as these would never again stretch our tiny intellects to such useless fervor.

Love and peace - to us all.
Randy, you don’t understand what atheism means at all.
written by a guest, December 11, 2012
The person you listened to was not an “atheist leader”, because atheism is not a religion nor an organized group and thus is not “lead” by anyone. Atheism is the belief that god does not exist. That’s ALL it is. Anything beyond that is a set of personal values which varies by individuals. The person you listened to no more represents me – an atheist – than Jerry Falwell represents all Christians, or Osama Bin Laden represented all Muslims.

As for gazing at the incredible spectacle…… and believing there is no creator higher than you, I’d ask you this: Which is a greater “miracle”, that such a thing as our universe was created by an omnipotent god for whom such an action required no more effort than you exert in drawing breath, or that such a spectacle could happen on it’s own?
Hmmm.....If the Government....
written by a guest, December 11, 2012
...does nothing, then it favors nothing. Atheists want freedom from religion. We don't want to see posters of Zeus, Batman, or Spiderman in our parks, either. Comic books are for children. Read the dogma of any expects you to suspend your thinking and believe things that are plainly fictional....After all we call the religion of the ancient Greeks & Romans 'mythology', when much of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism is 'borrowed from it, as well as Zoroastrianism, and ancient Egyptian mythology. Folks just don't seem to be able to accept the mystery of life as a mystery. There are things we are not intelligent enough to know...yet. Heck, even Pat Buchanan now say the Earth is older than the Creationists would have us believe (6,000 years). Some folks can read a geological record for what it is. And rocks don't lie; people do.

Religion is like a hallucinatory fungus growing on human thought: Wishes and fantasies become a substitute for facts, encouraging unreasonable thought. We Americans all laugh at 'Jihadis' who think 72 virgins are waiting in Heaven for their exploded corpse. What makes us think a 'virgin' birth is any less fantastic?...

Is religion a moral compass? Ask a pedophile priest. Study the Inquisition or the Crusades. Read about how German Catholics turned a blind eye on the plight of their Jewish neighbors. Religion is plainly not necessary to a moral life. Rather the opposite.

Many of these Christian 'traditions' are pagan rituals, co-opted by Christianity as religion of State in ages past. From Wikipedia: "...The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians." This is borrowed stuff on our lawns and in our houses.... A nativity scene is 'idolatry', as defined by the very Bible the Fundamentalists are thumping. Graven images anyone?

How you decorate your own home for the season(s) is your affair. I spent all weekend stringing lights, just for the fun of it. All an Atheist is asking for is freedom from farcical thought, publicly projected wishes, and infantile dreams. Keep that stuff in comic shops and churches. The 'State' should be smarter that that.
Some Of My Best Nurses Were Muslims
written by futhark, December 11, 2012
While I was being treated for cancer two years ago in a San Francisco hospital two of my kindest, most diligent, and compassionate nurses were Muslims. I'm sorry that Mr. Ridgel has not had wider experience seems to still embrace an attitude of non-acceptance of others based on their belief systems rather than their personalities or actions.

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