Every time atheism gets attacked, it makes me wonder just how insecure some folks must be with their beliefs. Atheists, as a stigmatized group, are an easy target for that insecurity, and William J. Kelly, Republican candidate for Illinois comptroller, is very insecure.
Because I haven’t covered this issue before, here’s some background.
The Illinois State Capitol allows religious displays during holidays. In response to the presence of a nativity scene, the Freedom from Religion Foundation has put up a sign for the past two years that says:
At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
This was in addition to a Christmas tree, a Soldiers’ Angels wreath, an ACLU tabletop display defending religious freedom, a Hanukkah menorah, and even a Festivus pole.
And back in December, William J. Kelly was not happy with the sign, calling it “hate speech,” and wanted to remove it. When he attempted to turn it over, he was escorted out by Capitol police.
Now it seems that Mr. Kelly has officially filed a lawsuit against Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White for approving the sign. Here again, CBS2 News:
Kelly’s attorney filed a lawsuit for declatory relief and permanent injunction Thursday morning, stating the Freedom from Religion’s sign violates the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
Yes. You read that right. Kelly thinks that the one display that actually disavows all religion is the one in violation of the Establishment Clause. It’s not clear exactly how, aside from that it “mocks” religion. There’s a lot more detail in the WorldNetDaily version of the story, but it’s also much fishier. Take a look at this description and the very awkward way the quote “ends.”
“The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, in conjunction with the 14th Amendment, forbids state action that has the effect of disapproving, inhibiting or evincing hostility toward religion,” the lawsuit, filed in the Northern District in Illinois, said, “The United States Supreme Court has specifically held, for instance, that the Constitution affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any …”
Towards any WHAT? I bet it says “person,” but just sounds so much juicier as an ellipsis. And wait a second! Accommodation?? I’d love to see that substantiated. Maybe he thinks the Establishment Clause is supposed to establish something?
Kelly’s hostility toward atheists is remarkable. Here are some more comments, courtesy the WND story:
“We need to stop the hate speech against Christians and all religious people,” Kelly said in a statement released along with the announcement about the lawsuit. “It is this attitude of hate that has enabled the stripping of religion, tradition, and history from our holidays, our history books, and our culture in general. Perhaps the atheists need some sensitivity training.”
Dude, we’re just stating facts. There’s no hate. There’s no threatening. Heck, if anything, the sign implies fear of religion. I’m afraid of cutting my hand or fingers off, but that doesn’t mean I hate electric saws; it just means I don’t use them.
Now, back when Kelly was saying that the sign “mocked” religion; that was a fair claim, and the co-president of FFRF agreed:
As to Kelly’s claims that the sign mocks religion, foundation co-President Dan Barker said: “He’s kind of right, because the last couple of sentences do criticize religion, and of course, the beginning is a celebration of the winter solstice. But that kind of speech is protected as well – speech that is critical and speech that is supportive.”
The foundation does not approve of the nativity scene, Barker said.
“We atheists believe that the nativity scene is mocking humanity,” by suggesting that those who do not believe in Jesus will go to hell, Barker said. “But notice that we are not defacing or stealing nativity scenes because we disagree with their speech.”
(The second half of that quote was omitted on the WND article.) But no, Kelly does not just see this as a disagreement (nor does he concede there might be anything out of place by the other symbols on display):
“The totality of the language of the sign is hostile and inflammatory to all religions, including but not limited to Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and others that worship God and/or believe in the concepts heaven and hell,” the case claims.
Really? We’re not just expressing hate, but hostility too?
This is what I mean by insecurity. Kelly believes something. The sign calls his beliefs bunk. Kelly FLIPS OUT.
This is religious privilege at its most obvious. Whenever I’m told that I should “respect beliefs” the same way I expect my own point of view to be respected, I remember that too often my point of view is not respected. There is no room for a healthy debate. I have facts and understanding to substantiate what I don’t believe, and when I state them, believers either disregard them or retaliate against them. That’s not mutual respect.
And you know what? I don’t respect beliefs. They are myth and superstition. But that doesn’t make me a hater. That makes me an atheist. But believers are so insecure, they can’t see the difference. Any minute challenge to what they believe is considered an attack, and our society has to learn to stop humoring that attitude. That’s where the hostility is coming from.