Saturday, June 25, 2011

Atheists Angry Over a Street Sign?

It appears that the secular militants are at it again.

You have to wonder if these people really have nothing better or more important to do with their time than pick churlish fights against all things even remotely and vaguely religious. Because these atheists also hold to a radical and nonsensical interpretation of the First Amendment that no Founding Father or Framer of the Constitution recognized, they end up wasting their time with petty lawsuits and making themselves look like fools.

This group of New York atheists has made four egregious mistakes.

1. They claim that the sign “Seven in Heaven Way” is a violation of the separation of church and state. It is not. What the First Amendment had in mind by the government not respecting an establishment of religion was not the total oblivion and banishment of all public expressions of religion. Atheists tend to do with the Constitution what they do with the Bible and read it with such literal myopia while ignoring the historical context and meaning framing the author’s words and intent. When the First Amendment referred to government, it was referring to the Federal government specifically, not state governments which had state established religions for many years after the Constitution was ratified. When it referred to not respecting an establishment of religion, it was referring to a specific state sanctioned church or denomination like the Church of England in Britain. The Founders established a functionally secular federal government that operated independently of any specific ecclesiastical power. However, the Founders never established a ceremonially secular government. God and Christianity in general has always been recognized as an integral part of American society by the U.S. government since its founding. If the Founders had intended even general references to Christianity to be removed from civil affairs, there would not have been such references.

In effect, what the Founders and Framers were trying to prevent was a state church and a theocracy, not the suffocation of religious expression from public life. These kind of atheists do not believe in freedom of religion (the constitutional right to believe and practice whatever you wish within the constraints of the law) but believe in freedom from religion (the fabricated, unconstitutional right to be sheltered and protected from religion through government force by silencing the free expression of everyone else in public).

So in order for the atheist to make the case that a street sign referencing heaven is a violation of the Establishment Clause, he or she would have to make the case that it somehow establishes a theocracy, that it measurably hinders the efficacy of our democratic republic, usurps the system of election and representation, and violates the Constitutional rights of others. Unfortunately, this cannot be done while maintaining either sanity or reason.

2. They claim that the use of the term “heaven” is a specifically Christian reference. It is not. Christianity is not the only religion with a concept of heaven or a pleasurable, joyous afterlife. However, I do admit that given the overwhelming Christian population and culture of the United States, any public reference to heaven is most likely referring to the Christian concept of heaven. Even so, this does nothing against the Establishment Clause. Moreover, there are thousands of streets, buildings, cities, and other public, tax-payer funded infrastructure that bear religious names and have existed for many years. Are we to remove or rename all those as well? Do any of these names drastically affect or harm society or even prevent individuals from living their lives as they see fit? No.

3. They forget that even Christians could have an intellectual objection to the sign. The sign itself refers to seven fire-fighters who bravely sacrificed their lives for their fellow citizens. But according to Christian theology there is no deed that grants you salvation, regardless of how virtuous it may be. Salvation is based on faith in Christ and is acquired solely through the grace of God. The sign actually implies that the seven men are in heaven for sacrificing their lives which is contrary to orthodox Christian theology. We can’t be certain, from a Christian standpoint, that all seven of these heroic fire-fighters are in heaven. Yet there is no Christian group that objects to a sign that could technically be considered heretical. Why? Because any decent person knows that it is in poor taste to condemn a symbol meant to honor the dead. And whether these brave souls are in heaven, their sacrifice deserves honor.

4. They had a chance to present their objections to the sign in the planning process which would have been the responsible thing to do. Why did they wait until the sign was posted to voice their concerns? Such behavior suggests the desire to stir up dissension more than a righteous crusade to defend the Constitution.

The atheist has no rational ground to be angry here and I suspect that any lawsuits pursued on this matter will be soundly rejected.