Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pointless Attack on Nativity Scene

As an atheist, I strongly support challenging serious religious attempts to intrude into areas where they don't belong, such as efforts to teach creationism in school. But sometimes certain atheists or atheist organizations attack religion when it is completely unnecessary and counterproductive. In such cases, the only result is to make atheists look like anti-religious bigots, determined to root out even innocuous religious tradition and display, and to make atheists an even more hated minority than we are already. 

For sixty-three years, there has been a privately maintained nativity scene erected on a public road median in Warren, Michigan. Last the year the Freedom From Religion Foundation protested the scene and had it removed. This year the owners of the scene were denied permission to set it up, as the township adopted the FFRF's contention that it violated constitutional separation of church and state. Now the Thomas More Law Center is suing the township claiming that the nativity scene owners' first amendment rights have been violated.

The FFRF does some good work. Here is a list of some accomplishments from its website:

Winning the first federal lawsuit challenging direct funding by the government of a faith-based agency
Overturning a state Good Friday holiday 
Winning a lawsuit barring direct taxpayer subsidy of religious schools
Removing Ten Commandments monuments and crosses from public land
Halting the Post Office from issuing religious cancellations
Ending 51 years of illegal bible instruction in public schools

What do most of those things have in common? They were attempts by government to directly support religion, violating the establishment clause. In contrast, this case, and some of the other monument removal cases, rely on an extremist interpretation of the establishment clause, which basically holds that the government can't have anything whatsoever to do with religion -- even indirectly. The government of Warren, Michigan didn't set up a nativity scene on public land, it merely granted permission for private individuals to continue a long-standing tradition. It harms no one, and the idea that it violates church/state separation is ridiculous. It would be different if Warren had rejected other religious displays, and was only allowing the Christian one. Then the township would clearly be promoting Christianity to the exclusion of other religions. But there are no allegations in the FFRF's letter that indicate such was the case.

By attacking such traditional displays the FFRF is doing no good and much harm, making atheists look petty & extremist. Such frivolous actions undermine their work on serious church/state issues. If I were donating to the FFRF, I would be angered to know that my money was being wasted on such nonsense.


  1. Actually I don't mind a Good Friday holiday. I don't believe a bit of it and even when I was a kid in a very fundamentalist church we didn't believe in Good Friday. But then the warp and woof of America IS Christian and absent the hectoring and bullying I think we're better off for it.

    Also I think it was Chesterton who said that if people quit believing in God they'll believe in anything; this seems to be like power hating a vacuum. As long I am not expected to bow my head and mumble (and I'm not), I really don't mind.

    I'll go so far as to say that a city which appeals to me is Salt Lake. Mormons are polite and know how to run things fairly well. It's clean.

    But yes, why harangue about a creche?

  2. I have no problem with a Good Friday holiday either, or Christmas and Easter for that matter. Various Christian holidays have long been established as secular holidays in the U.S.

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  4. As an atheist I sometimes feel an urge to create a large Winter Solstice Science project and ask my current government court house to display it next to their nativity scene put up by a church organization. Of course, I don't have much left over time in my days to create such a large project, but if I did I would be sure to write things such as the universe was not created by god, rather it was created xxxxx way and so on. Of course I can't imagine the court house would think this is cool to allow permission to erect, and then I'd have a solid case to take down that darn nativity scene I have to stare at from Dec. 1st to Jan. 1st everytime I have to stop at the red light at the intersection right in front of the courthouse in order to get home.

  5. I fail to understand the antipathy to evolution. No one makes your computer; it was made by people using a computer, which was designed by a computer, which was designed by a computer...

    Were I a Supreme Being (which I think exists but is not knowable and therefore not worth worshiping), I'd use the best tools.

    And evolution is a damned good tool.