US Supreme Court Declines to Hear American Atheists vs. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by American Atheists in American Atheists vs. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security which effectively leaves Kentucky’s bizarre faith based security measure in place.

The law empowering Kentucky’s state Office of Homeland Security includes a provision that,

(2) The executive director shall:

(a) Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3);

KRS 39A.285(3) in turns reads,

The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, Presidential Proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'”

This lawsuit goes back to 2008. American Atheists won a ruling in its favor at the Circuit Court level, but that decision was overturned by the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

In an October 2011 ruling, the Appeals Court held that the publication of the text in question was simply a recognition of the the role of religion in American life rather than an unconstitutional attempt to compel religious belief. The Appeals court argued that the law was similar to an Ohio’s designation of “With God all things are possible” as the state motto which in 2001 was held not to violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Cause.
The Kentucky State Supreme Court, like the US Supreme Court, refused to hear an appeal by American Atheists.

Just How Vital Is God to Homeland Security?

The American Atheists are suing the state of Kentucky over a provision that a fundamentalist Christian legislator managed to slip into the state’s law governing the state Office of Homeland Security,

(2) The executive director shall:
(a) Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3);

In this case I think the American Atheists’ lawsuit is fully warranted (and a slam dunk at that), but please can’t they find someone to write press releases that don’t sound like rants,

Can’t we let this alone?

No, we can’t.  It is our patriotic duty to protect our Constitution from threats.  The injection of religion into government offices, if left alone, would set a precedent and lead to more infringements, which would then become precedents themselves.  We have seen, first hand and in this case alone, that religion can never be satisfied — they will always want more.  The  [sic] Seaparation of Church and state is a doctrine we proudly and unapologetically defend.

Beyond that, the whole concept that the state and the country is powerless against other religious zealots without this specific god to help us screams of the same religious zealotry that got us into this war in the first place. “my god can beat up your god” is what they say before a war begins — or escalates.

Really? See, I’d have taken a different tack. If Homeland Security is dependent on ‘Almighty God’, I want to know where the hell he/she/it was on September 11, 2001? Taking a day off? (Come one, we already took God out of public schools — he can’t have much else left to do, can he?) Too busy downing some donuts to stop a few planes?

Along with the lawsuit, perhaps we should subpoena this Almighty God character and find out exactly what its role in terrorism is. If Almighty God is truly the lynchpin of anti-terrorism, it sounds like we might have grounds for a class action lawsuit here.

American Atheists on Barack Obama

The last few weeks have been a bit amusing as Barak Obama seems to have gone from “Change You Can Believe In” to “Policies the Establishment Will Be Comfortable With.”

After all, it wasn’t too long ago when Samantha Power drew criticism for saying that Obama’s 18-month withdrawal plan was a “best case scenario.” Now, Obama himself is clearly distancing himself from his own promise of a quick withdrawal from Iraq (and Obama, after all, is the Senator who said the withdrawal should have begun in 2007).

Similarly, Obama says he’s going to vote for the bipartisan FISA bill which will provide immunity for the telcommunication companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping of Americans.

But, Obama really jumped the shark with his promise to not only continue but expand George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives. For once, I agreed with the American Atheists’ analysis,

“This makes it official – the Democrats are trying to outdo their Republican colleagues in using religion and the lure of more taxpayer money to turn houses of worship into voting blocks,” said Zindler. “Obama wants to continue the discriminatory policy of taxing millions of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists and other Americans who profess no religious beliefs, and give that money to organized religion. That’s unfair, that’s discriminatory, and it endangers our First Amendment freedom.”

Dave Silverman, Communications Director for American Atheists, said that the Obama pledge to continue Bush’s programs is a risky economic and social experiment. “The faith-based initiative allows religious groups to use our money in programs that are poorly monitored, have little or no accountability, and drain resources for their more effective secular counterparts,” said Silverman. “This is pandering to religious groups, and offers the lure of free government cash in exchange for political support.

Apparently either a McCain or Obama presidency will resemble a 3rd Bush term a lot more than people are willing to admit at this point.

Another Michael Newdow Lawsuit Rejected

I somehow missed that Michael Newdow’s lawsuit to remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. coinage and money got smacked down back in June by U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell Jr. who noted the 9th Circuit Court had previously ruled that the phrase has “nothing to do with the establishment of religion.”

“In God We Trust” was always something that Madalyn Murray O’Hair and the American Atheists complained and filed lawsuits about.

The article linked to above actually makes some fairly decent points, but the presence of “In God We Trust” on coins is such a minor affair that litigating over it is silly. It is one of those issues that marginalizes organized atheist groups as being unserious.


Judge Rejects Atheist’s Lawsuit. June 12, 2006.

The New Atheism — Sounds A Lot Like the Old Atheism

Wired’s long story on Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and others, Battle of the New Atheism, certainly garnered a lot of coverage and commentary, but pardon me if the “new atheism” looks a lot like warmed over “old atheism” (and that’s not a compliment).

For an extraordinarily long time, atheism in the United States was identified in the popular imagination with one person — Madalyn Murray O’Hair. For O’Hair and her organization, American Atheists, it was not enough to simply make the philosophical and historical case for atheism while defending the rights of atheists. No, O’Hair had to take the next step and argue that religious belief itself was an unmitigated evil and that pretty much everything wrong with the world was due to religion.

This was an absurd position that caricatured both religion and atheism. On the one hand, it ignored the many contributions that religious systems and thinkers played in the evolution of secular, liberal and humanist thought. This was a view that lumped both the Inquisition and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference together on the same side of an irrational belief in the supernatural.

On the other hand, it ignored the very obvious fact that some of the world’s worst mass murders — those in China, the Soviet Union, and Cambodia — were carried out by avowed atheists. Typically, something like the Inquisition was said to be quintessentially Catholic while the Bolshevik murder of priests had nothing at all to do with their atheism.

The media attention on the American Atheists had already waned in the mid-1980s, and the group pretty much dropped off the radar screen after O’Hair’s tragic murder. Here was an opportunity for a different face on atheism.

Instead, what we get are people like Dawkins. In what I assume was a compliment, Boing! Boing! hit the nail on the head by referring to Dawkins’ “evangelical atheism.” With all due respect, though, the last thing we need is an atheist counterpart to Ted Haggard, especially when some of Dawkins views are so extreme that the only analogy I can think of among the fundamentalist Christian movement are the Westboro Baptist Church nutcases.

For example, Dawkins doesn’t just think that there is no god and that believers are, thus, deluded. He argues that parents who teach their children to believe in god are guilty of child abuse. Here’s what Dawkins wrote in a 1997 article in The Humanist,

Which brings me to my point about mental child abuse. In a 1995 issue of the Independent, one of London’s leading newspapers, there was a photograph of a rather sweet and touching scene. It was Christmas time, and the picture showed three children dressed up as the three wise men for a nativity play. The accompanying story described one child as a Muslim, one as a Hindu, and one as a Christian. The supposedly sweet and touching point of the story was that they were all taking part in this Nativity play.

What is not sweet and touching is that these children were all four years old. How can you possibly describe a child of four as a Muslim or a Christian or a Hindu or a Jew? Would you talk about a four-year-old economic monetarist? Would you talk about a four-year-old neo-isolationist or a four-year-old liberal Republican? There are opinions about the cosmos and the world that children, once grown, will presumably be in a position to evaluate for themselves. Religion is the one field in our culture about which it is absolutely accepted, without question — without even noticing how bizarre it is — that parents have a total and absolute say in what their children are going to be, how their children are going to be raised, what opinions their children are going to have about the cosmos, about life, about existence. Do you see what I mean about mental child abuse?

As an atheist with two children, the only thing bizarre here is Dawkin’s deranged view of how, apparently, the state and/or other actors should interfere with family matters.

In a flawed but still helpful review in Prospect, Andrew Brown points out how this sort of extremist nonsense leads Dawkins to nonsensical conclusions. For example, in The God Delusion, Dawkins blames religious schools for suicide bombings, saying “It children were taught to question and think through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior value of faith without question, it is a good bet there would be no suicide bombers.

Brown cites a study of terrorism which rightly notes that secular Marxist movements have also resorted to suicide bombings, and certainly secular movements from the anarchists to the suffragettes resorted to terrorist tactics to try to advance their political causes.

Brown also nicely demolishes Dawkins’ apologia for the crimes of atheist China and the USSR,

Dawkins is inexhaustibly outraged by the fact that religious opinions lead people to terrible crimes. But what, if there is no God, is so peculiarly shocking about these opinions being specifically religious? The answer he supplies is simple: that when religious people do evil things, they are acting on the promptings of their faith but when atheists do so, it’s nothing to do with their atheism. He devotes pages to a discussion of whether Hitler was a Catholic, concluding that “Stalin was an atheist and Hitler probably wasn’t, but even if he was… the bottom line is very simple. Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism.”

Yet under Stalin almost the entire Orthodox priesthood was exterminated simply for being priests, as were the clergy of other religions and hundreds of thousands of Baptists. The claim that Stalin’s atheism had nothing to do with his actions may be the most disingenuous in the book, but it has competition from a later question, “Why would anyone go to war for the sake of an absence of belief [atheism]?”—as if the armies of the French revolution had marched under icons of the Virgin, or as if a common justification offered for China’s invasion of Tibet had not been the awful priest-ridden backwardness of the Dalai Lama’s regime.

One might argue that a professor of the public understanding of science has no need to concern himself with trivialities outside his field like the French revolution, the Spanish civil war or Stalin’s purges when he knows that history is on his side. “With notable exceptions, such as the Afghan Taliban and the American Christian equivalent, most people play lip service to the same broad liberal consensus of ethical principles.” Really? “The majority of us don’t cause needless suffering; we believe in free speech and protect it even if we disagree with what is being said.” Do the Chinese believe in free speech? Does Dawkins think that pious Catholics or Muslims are allowed to? Does he believe in it himself? He quotes later in the book approvingly and at length a speech by his friend Nicholas Humphrey which argued that, “We should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out.” But of course, it’s not interfering with free speech when atheists do it.

As I’ve said before, if this is the best atheism has to offer, I’ll take my chances with the Christians.

Symbolizing Dead Soldiers

Sgt. Patrick Stewart, 34, was killed in Afghanistan last September when his helicopter came under enemy fire. His widow and family are in a dispute with the Department of Veteran Affairs over the religious symbol on his grave. Specifically, Stewart was a Wiccan and the Department of Veteran Affairs doesn’t have an approved symbol for Wiccans/pagans/neo-pagans/witches/whatever-the-hell-they’re-calling-themselves-this-week.

It is a bit strange that there is no approved Wiccan/whatever symbol given that there are almost 40 other approved religious-oriented symbols. On the other hand, the Wiccans might want to be careful what they wish for. As the Associated Press notes,

The Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetary Adminstration allows only approved emblems of religious beliefs on government headstones. Over the years, it has approved more than 30, including symbols for the Tenrikyo Church, United Morovian Church and Sikhs. There’s also an emblem for atheists — but none for Wiccans.

Sounds good, except the atheist symbol is that piece-of-crap symbol that the American Atheists in the 1960s — a stylized picture of an atom with a capital A in the middle. According to the American Atheist site,

When American Atheists was formed in 1963, a contemporary scientific symbol was chosen; this acknowledges that only through the use of scientific analysis and free, open inquiry can humankind reach out for a better life.

This is a bit like approving a single image of Akhnaton to be used by Jews, Christians, Muslims and other monotheists (and, in case you haven’t noticed, atheists for some reason are litigious-prone — someone’s bound to sue at some point). And the explanation for the symbol makes no sense. Hundreds of years from now, future generations are going to come along and think people buried in those graves were some strange electron worshipping cult or something.

Frankly, I’ve always thought that a better choice for an atheist symbol would be the logical negation symbol: ¬

Then again, I think we should put Cthulhu on the $5 bill, so I may be a bit out of the loop with my fellow atheists.


For Wiccan soldier, death brings fight. Associated Press, May 25, 2006.