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Small town fights for right to insult minorities.
October 17, 2001 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Small town fights for right to insult minorities. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports that the small city of Ringgold in northwest Georgia has a new approach to religion in public places. At City Hall, it is putting up a display of the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer -- and a blank plaque for non-believers. Councilman Bill McMillion says he proposed the blank plaque so no one would feel left out. The American Civil Liberties Union says the display is unconstitutional.

As an aethiest and a resident of this town, I can't help but feel insulted by the blank plaque. Local florist Melissa Hill adds: "But I do think it's sad that they needed to place a blank [plaque] to make the aethiests and the people in the world who don't believe that this world was created by god, um, to keep from them from causing trouble."
posted by mcsweetie (107 comments total)

 
as an aside, Melissa Hill is married to a local minister and is currently still reeling from the backlash brought on by her 14 year old daughter getting pregnant last year.
posted by mcsweetie at 7:44 AM on October 17, 2001


who is Melissa Hill?
posted by delmoi at 7:51 AM on October 17, 2001


the general idea that (most/some/whatever) religious people hold about non-believers not having any beliefs or standards of their own, is non-sensible and downright foolish. that is, of course, what this blank plaque is stating -- that non-believers don't have anything that they do believe in, or that they don't have anything to turn to for guidance in their lives.
as an agnostic who grew up in a Christian household and once was a professed Christian, I've seen both sides of the arguement, and I can vouch that these people's blank plaque is a blind, one-sided look through a one-way mirror. plain and simple, if they're insinuating what I think they are, they're just plain wrong. of course, you can't tell them that.
posted by lizardboy at 7:55 AM on October 17, 2001


The Catoosa County News: Ringgold to display Ten Commandments. Scroll down the page and you'll find a poll on this topic--while labelled as "local," I was able to vote [against].
posted by Carol Anne at 7:58 AM on October 17, 2001


The most interesting quotation from the councilman was regarding a comment that there are other faith options besides christianity and atheism -- such as Islam. He said, (paraphrase): "Yeah, but we don't have any of them here."

Just further example of the kind of people who fully believe that the world would be a better place if the USA were a fundachristiocracy.

But, to represent atheism, what would be better than a blank frame would be a statement of humanistic ethics. Since most xians think that "humanistic ethics" is an oxymoron, a plaque that nicely explains it would be a good thing.

PLEASE let's not devolve this discussion into a religious debate. The issue is not religion, or theology, but freedom of religion, separation of church and state, etc.

Ideology flamers can post in other threads (what, about 20 of them this past week, no?).
posted by yesster at 7:58 AM on October 17, 2001


who is Melissa Hill?

a florist.
posted by mcsweetie at 8:03 AM on October 17, 2001


I'll give them an A+ for effort. What an amazingly innovative way to be prejudiced, patronizing and unconstitutional all at the same time.
posted by boaz at 8:05 AM on October 17, 2001


“If other religions want to put something up here (City Hall), we are not against it.”

I'm sure they'd be whistling another tune if someone wanted to put up "Satan is King" on a plaque.

Excuse me for my ignorance, but....doesn't "Separation between Church and State" mean that there shouldn't be any plaques in City Hall? Even if you have a variety of faiths represented by these plaques, there's always going to be one that's left out, or one that's prefered.
posted by jennak at 8:08 AM on October 17, 2001


yesster, "Humanistic Ethics" can be found in any religious text. Remember, if we don't believe in gods, we believe those religious texts were conceived and written by men. Jesus? Just an inspired man (who BTW historically never admitted to being anything other than a prophet, e.g., not the literal son of god. Even in the first few hundred years after his death there was a huge conflict among followers who believed him man, god or both. You know who won.).
posted by fleener at 8:12 AM on October 17, 2001


this is simplistic / reductionistic thinking: there's "us" (fundachristians) and "them" (everybody else)

makes it easy to rationalize xenophobia

sad that people like that are in positions of power and influence (for what they're worth in podunk, usa)
posted by yesster at 8:17 AM on October 17, 2001


Carol Anne: Tee-hee. Me too.
posted by realjanetkagan at 8:18 AM on October 17, 2001


That's very funny. "You bastards don't believe in nothing, so you'll get this here blank plaque to represent your dopey little minds." Heeeee I like that. Maybe they can get a flat screen up there on the wall, and have it show metafilter, refreshed every 5 minutes. And a poster of Britney Spears. (I assume they have preteens in this town.) A tv showing nothing but star trek repeats. An issue of Cosmo. A breast implant. A hand gun. (I'm sure there are a few of those in this town too.) And, of course, a statue of 'Buddy Jesus'. Now THAT would be fun.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:18 AM on October 17, 2001


I think there's two things that most commenters are missing.

1. Seperation between Church and State really comes down to freedom of religion. Your government cannot tell you what to believe...but they can believe whatever the hell they want to. They can enact plaques, etc. They just can't force you to believe or worship anything you don't want to.

Now, I'm not saying that this is necessarily a good thing. I would take offense at a plaque that says "Satan is King", so that's why I don't think displaying these is a good idea. You can't make everybody happy. On the other hand, having prayer in a public building is a good thing, if there are people that want to do that.

2. You're missing everything about the article:

"No residents who attended the meeting voiced opposition to the decision. " Well now...they should've spoken up. If 100% of a town is behind this move, why are you trying to stop them? Government BY the people, FOR the people.

The blank slate isn't representing a lack of faith. It's like a written moment of silence....an insert-your-own-thoughts-here plaque. Read the fucking article. I think it's a beautiful thing to have.

Furthermore, I think that that is what should be on the wall in the first place....a huge blank plaque with an inspirational message, perhaps, or a description of what the plaque is for.

But the bottom line is, if the residents of this town (at least those who show up to council meetings) think that this is a good idea, butt out. If 'mcsweetie' went and voted his dissention, well then I think that that would say something. But this was a unanimous decision, folks.

And remember, not only are a significant majority of the citizens of this country Judeo-Christian, but so are our public servants. And they have a right to worship, as they demonstrated by singing God Bless America at the Capitol.

They weren't forcing anybody else to sing.
posted by taumeson at 8:28 AM on October 17, 2001


As long as they put a big ol' Buddha under the plaques, so visitors can rub the Buddha's belly for good luck when they come in to register their handguns, get a license to marry their cousins, etc.
posted by Holden at 8:34 AM on October 17, 2001


taumeson: If the town was 100% white and everyone agreed that a "no blacks allowed" sign was a fantastic idea, it still wouldn't be okay.

Democracy is great, but you have to play by the rules.
posted by owillis at 8:40 AM on October 17, 2001


I'm aghast! Narrow-minded Southerners? Who would have thunk it?

All kidding aside, I grew up in Marshfield Wisconsin. Recently there was a big what-to-do about a 10 foot tall statue of Mary inscribed with "Christ guide us on our way" at its base. Problem was, its location was in a public park about 30 feet away from the main highway that led into the city. This landmark existed well before I was born, and I always accepted it as just that, a landmark. While I suppose it bore a religious message, it also had historical significance. Where should the line be drawn in cases like these?
posted by sharksandwich at 8:41 AM on October 17, 2001


Aside: I wonder if these folks in Ringgold have stopped to consider that the sacred texts of the other Abrahamic faiths include the 10 Commandments as well?

The blank plaque is so insulting and ignorant. The good citizens of Ringgold have seriously misinterpreted the values upon which this country was founded.
posted by Vacaloca at 8:42 AM on October 17, 2001


my point of curiosity is, why couldn't they put up a plaque that had eight of the commandments (leaving off the "thou shall not have other gods before me" and "Keep holy the Sabbath"). That would seem to be a decent compromise. Although I guess "christians" would be upset that they are incomplete and atheists would still be bothered by the perceived religious background. Oh well, I guess no plaques would have to be the way to go.
posted by srw12 at 8:42 AM on October 17, 2001


why is it that when a tv show includes sex or violence or drugs, it is "endorsing" it, but when a government agency displays religion it is not "endorsing" it?
posted by yesster at 8:48 AM on October 17, 2001


I take issue with mcsweetie's claim in the link title that atheists are minorities, at least any more so than any one religion. In fact, the ranks swell depending on how you identify an atheist. If you factor in "residual belief" then I bet atheists constitute a majority. Definition: residual belief - the lingering doubt a non-believer has because of the years of ingrained indoctrination they received as a child and group-think that is encouraged by society as a whole. If a person doesn't attend group (church) services or doesn't practice the belief system in their everyday life (prayer, or reflection or whatnot.) I have doubts about just how religious that person is. Religion isn't just a belief system, it is a mode of living that includes rules of conduct and thought.
posted by fleener at 8:50 AM on October 17, 2001


Seperation between Church and State really comes down to freedom of religion. Your government cannot tell you what to believe...but they can believe whatever the hell they want to.

On the other hand, having prayer in a public building is a good thing, if there are people that want to do that.

I disagree with your interpretation of "Separation between Church and State." I believe it is just that -- a separation. Courts have consistently ruled that the display of one faith communicates the unsaid bias and preference towards that faith.

The display of one faith, in a governmental setting, advocates that religion and makes those of other religions or spiritual beliefs feel excluded.
posted by jennak at 8:50 AM on October 17, 2001


taumeson: separation of church and state is there so that public officials/governments won't make decisions based on beliefs or faith, but instead based on rational, logical decision making principles.
Remember, a few years back, one of the female councillors (senators?) in Turkey wanted to wear her religous covering while at work but was denied because it was seen as her bringing her religous beliefs into the government.
Ak, jennak beat me.
My other point was that, just because there were no dissenting voices at the meeting doesn't mean that the whole town agreed. Perhaps the mayor "forgot" to post public announcements for the meeting?
posted by nprigoda at 8:52 AM on October 17, 2001


Let's be serious here for a moment. Now, what kind of degenerate goes to a city counsel meeting? In all honesty, while this SHOULDN'T be the case because people should be active in their community, the people going to these meetings are either spooky zealots with an agenda, or retired and possibly senile. The average person probably doesn't even know these meetings exist. The kind of people attending small town meetings in the South are the same kinds of people who call their local TV station to complain about the sexual overtones of Full House. We shouldn't assume a town is 100% behind something because a small number of people with nothing better to do decided it was a good idea.
posted by Doug at 8:54 AM on October 17, 2001


owillis: Yes, but before (sorry I don't know the specific date) the repeal of the Jim Crow laws, it was legal.

It's certainly democratic....democracy has few rules unless the citizens write them...except that survival of the majority is paramount.

But is it OKAY...well, I should think not. But a law had to be written to say that it's not. We're just not allowed to descriminate based on color. We're not allowed to descriminate based on religion, either... but we're allowed to exercise it however and whenever we want.

Btw, I don't believe that putting these plaques up is a constitutionally protected form of worship..I'm against having them up. I like the one big blank plaque.

But I think we need to allow for the fact that the majority of Americans are Judeo-Christian.

And yeah, I don't like politicians, so the mayor/council prolly did do something shady....and so word never got out. That's an inherent problem with today's government, unfortunately, but that's a different issue.

nprigoda: I would say no, that's not what seperation of church and state is for. Wasn't it a response to the bloody shifts of hegemony in England between Catholicism and the Anglican church, with Mary Stuart and all that? And the oppression of certain religious groups like the Pilgrims and the Quakers? A government is not allowed to oppress a religion (Freedom of religion) and furthermore, cannot advocate one religion over another, because of the inherent bias that would cause (Seperation clause). Most of the constitution is based on deist principles.

I don't believe the courts have ruled properly in many cases, so I'm not disagreeing with you on the current interpretation. I'm interpreting the forefathers' meaning in my own way.
posted by taumeson at 8:59 AM on October 17, 2001


Whoops...let me clarify. The government display of faith. But if a citizen walks into a governmental setting displaying his or her own faith -- that's great. Freedom of religions, baby.
posted by jennak at 9:00 AM on October 17, 2001


> That's very funny. "You bastards don't believe in nothing,
> so you'll get this here blank plaque to represent your
> dopey little minds."

In pagan Rome, which was the most extreme example of religious pluralism we have yet seen and which was filled with shrines to thousands to gods from all over the empire (embracing most of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Near East) there were also many instances of shrines "to the unknown god," just in case one of them might have been overlooked. It strikes me that a blank plaque upon which one can mentally write the religious text of one's choice, or none at all, is exactly the same sort of offering.

Originally there is no tree of enlightenment,
Nor is there a stand with a clear mirror.
From the beginning not one thing exists;
Where, then, is a grain of dust to cling?

- (Huineng, 6th Zen patriarch)

> And a poster of Britney Spears. (I assume they have
> preteens in this town.) A tv showing nothing but star
> trek repeats. An issue of Cosmo. A breast implant. A
> hand gun.

Ghod, your mind is full of styrofoam peanuts. Go sit in the corner and meditate. Your mantram is "banana."
posted by jfuller at 9:02 AM on October 17, 2001


Man, that story sounds like something right out of the Simpsons.
posted by holycola at 9:04 AM on October 17, 2001


Why don't they put up significant text from, say, the Koran? Or the Book of Mormon? Or (as pointed out) something from Lucifer?
posted by davidmsc at 9:10 AM on October 17, 2001


As a devout member of the Church of the Subgenius, I demand a plaque reading "Don't just eat a hamburger. Eat the hell out of it."
posted by Skot at 9:22 AM on October 17, 2001


If 100% of a town is behind this move, why are you trying to stop them? Government BY the people, FOR the people.



Yes, a government by and for the people, but with restrictions. In Austrialia, it's perfictly legal for the government to institute censorship because they have no freedom of speech like we have here. They are the only contry in the world besides china that has government censorship of the internet.

But that could never happen here, even though most of the people in the nation wanted it, because of the rules set down when our democracy was created.

And just like freedom of speach, a seperation of church and state was written into our constitution, they must remain seperated.

The people run the government, yes, but that dosn't mean they can do whatever they want with it.
posted by delmoi at 9:24 AM on October 17, 2001


As an atheist myself, I see no explicit insult concerning the plaque. Knowing where it's coming from, though, and what it was *meant* to represent, it's a chilling statement on the part of the town council; specifically that there is one and only one acceptable set of beliefs in this here town, and everything else is null and void.

That sais, if they inscribed "/dev/null" on the blank one, I'd giggle enough to forget about it. :)
posted by poorhaus at 9:34 AM on October 17, 2001


As an attorney and a college instructor in US Govt, I can say that pretty much everything taumeson said is wrong.

Seperation between Church and State really comes down to freedom of religion. Your government cannot tell you what to believe...but they can believe whatever the hell they want to. They can enact plaques, etc. They just can't force you to believe or worship anything you don't want to.

Just wrong. The Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment to mean that government cannot endorse, inhibit, or otherwise entangle itself with religion (see Lemon v. Kurtzman and subsequent cases). Posting the Ten Commandments, leading a prayer, etc. has specifically been held unconstitutional. (quick aside: secular "moral guidelines" and generic "moments for reflection and meditation" are ok)

But the bottom line is, if the residents of this town (at least those who show up to council meetings) think that this is a good idea, butt out.

As mentioned by others, the Constitution is not there to protect the civil liberties of those who show up at council meetings. Neither is it there to protect the majority. Civil liberties protections are there to prevent government infringement on our personal, fundamental freedoms (as delineated by the Constitution and interpreted by the Court). It does not matter if no one in the town is "offended" by the government endorsement of the Ten Commandments, because the Bill of Rights specify what the government can and cannot do - there is no exception for homogenous communities.

And remember, not only are a significant majority of the citizens of this country Judeo-Christian, but so are our public servants.
But I think we need to allow for the fact that the majority of Americans are Judeo-Christian.

See my comments above, and also keep in mind that the Constitution was NOT adopted to protect the majority - in fact, fear of tyranny and fear of mob rule were overriding concerns at the Constitutional Convention.

I don't believe the courts have ruled properly in many cases, so I'm not disagreeing with you on the current interpretation. I'm interpreting the forefathers' meaning in my own way.

Please continue to make it clear when you are stating an opinion and when you are stating facts. We all have our own opinion of what the founding fathers intended (or whether it even matters what they intended), but the only opinion that matters for us and for the people in Ringwold is the opinion of the Supreme Court.

If anyone dislikes the Constitution, please urge your representative in Congress to author a Constitutional amendment (all they need is 2/3 approval from the House and Senate, and then ratification by 3/4 of all the states). Otherwise, at least be familiar with what the Constitution allows and does not allow.
posted by conquistador at 9:36 AM on October 17, 2001


A blank plaque would not adequately represent my non-belief, I am a afraid. The blank plaque implies that atheists conduct themselves without regard to any sort of moral ground (in comparison with the O so Holy 10 Commandments) and that non-belief represents a blank mind and soul. While I do not believe in some dude on a cloud somewhere weeping about human sin or any sort of higher power, I do not simply go through life "unguided" as it were.

For this display to TRULY avoid leaving anyone out, they need to include tenets or significant texts from dozens of religions, and perhaps a few people to pass along their oral traditions near the other plaques.

This entire enterprise is utter bullshit. As an atheist, I would be more inclined to "start trouble" over a blank plaque than no plaque at all.
posted by xyzzy at 9:41 AM on October 17, 2001


Hahahahahahahahaha. That is about the funniest thing I've ever heard. Fitting for a religion where principles are arbitrary or completely "relative" to the current culture. No insult intended... it's just the way things are.
posted by aaronshaf at 9:45 AM on October 17, 2001


I take issue with mcsweetie's claim in the link title that atheists are minorities,

as someone used to the blank stares and "oh"s brought on upon me from anyone confronted with the fact that i am not a christian, nor the member of any other socio-cultural acceptable organized religion (ie: an indian being hindu, an egyptian being islamic), i can safely say that ive experienced actions and behaviors that could only be likened, in the most base terms, to those conflicting any repressed or underrespected minority.

atheists are a minority. im pretty sure there are more african americans at my school than atheists- the only difference here is that people are more likey to tell you you are going to hell than to call you the n-word to your face. america, essentially, is learning that race discrimination is wrong, but it still remains A-Ok to denounce the beliefs of the deluded, 'non-believing' heathen.

the blank slate is an obvious civil rights violation. to say that athesists believe in nothing, when in fact all they dont believe in is a god- i am utterly offended.
posted by c at 9:46 AM on October 17, 2001


Hahahahahahahahaha. That is about the funniest thing I've ever heard. Fitting for a religion where principles are arbitrary or completely "relative" to the current culture. No insult intended... it's just the way things are.

Yeah, it is both funny and fitting that Christians are doing this.
posted by boaz at 9:50 AM on October 17, 2001


I was able to vote [against]. Yes, vote early and
--vote often, multiple aliases...
posted by y2karl at 9:52 AM on October 17, 2001


> Why don't they put up significant text from, say, the
> Koran? Or the Book of Mormon? Or (as pointed out)
> something from Lucifer?

Or a secular humanist manifesto. Possibly because nobody has asked them to?

Why don't you (or a resident, like mcsweetie) go to the next city council meeting and provide such a text? Until they have explicitly refused to put up texts from other faiths and non-faiths alongside the Judeo-Christian ones they have, there's nothing here worth hyperventilating over.


conquistador:

> If anyone dislikes the Constitution, please urge your
> representative in Congress to author a Constitutional
> amendment (all they need is 2/3 approval from the
> House and Senate, and then ratification by 3/4 of all the
> states). Otherwise, at least be familiar with what the
> Constitution allows and does not allow.

All it takes to change what the Constitution allows or disallows is the votes of five justices. It happens all the time.


mcsweetie:

> As an aethiest and a resident of this town...

Spelling flame. Someone so little committed to atheism as not even to have learned how to spell it strikes me as no great threat to even Homer-Simpson-level city councilpersons.
posted by jfuller at 9:53 AM on October 17, 2001


as an aside, Melissa Hill is married to a local minister and is currently still reeling from the backlash brought on by her 14 year old daughter getting pregnant last year.

ROFLMAO. father, hopefully, was a speed metal amphetamine addicted satan worshipping 15 year old?
posted by quonsar at 9:54 AM on October 17, 2001


conquistador: Thunderous applause!

test your knowledge about the separation of church and state.
posted by Fenriss at 9:57 AM on October 17, 2001


jfuller:

Very good point. Also, assuming that none of us on this board are Supreme Court justices, and recognizing that lobbying justices is not allowed, it is also a completely irrelevant point. I was directing my earlier comments at those who disagree with the Constitution (as interpreted by the Court).
posted by conquistador at 10:00 AM on October 17, 2001


jfuller:

very bad point. spelling is not an indication of commitment.
posted by c at 10:09 AM on October 17, 2001


Ya know, jfuller, it's considered in extremely poor taste to "flame" someone for their spelling here. You should consider that, as you now look like a huge ass.
posted by Doug at 10:09 AM on October 17, 2001


I'm an agnostic apatheist when I can make my mind up, but I'm not offended at all.

I think the real reason that these people don't put up well-documented atheist or agnostic arguments will turn out to be that they're scared it will convert people.

Pretty flattering really ;)
posted by walrus at 10:20 AM on October 17, 2001


The United States Supreme Court has expressly held the Establishment Clause is not violated when the government merely authorizes religious expression on public property on an equal access basis (1). Did the city pay for the plaques? Then take them down, let some private citizen pay for identical ones, and voila. No constitutional issue.

(1) [See Westside Community Bd. of Ed. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990) (while Establishment Clause forbids government speech endorsing religion, Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect private speech endorsing religion); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981); see also Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of Va., 115 S. Ct. 2510, 2523, 132 L. Ed. 2d 700, 723 (U.S. 1995) (government has not fostered or encouraged any impression that student newspaper speaks for University); McCreary v. Stone, 739 F.2d 716 (2d Cir. 1984), aff'd sub nom. Board of Trustees of Scarsdale v. McCreary, 471 U.S. 83 (1985) (city may disclaim public impression that it is connected with or supports message by simply posting signs). See generally Op. Va. Att'y Gen.: 1990 at 213, 215­16 (school board regulation must strike balance between allowing free exercise of religion and avoiding establishment or support of particular religious group); 1977-1978 at 336 (locality's mere authorization for use of public streets for religious gathering in nondiscriminatory, rather than supportive, fashion is not violative of Establishment Clause).]

Unless and until someone tries to have some non-JudeoChristian expression posted, and is refused, thereby providing evidence that religious (or a-religious) expression is not being allowed on an equal access basis, there's no case here that any higher court would bother to look at. De minimis non curat lex.
posted by jfuller at 10:24 AM on October 17, 2001


That said, if they inscribed "/dev/null" on the blank one, I'd giggle enough to forget about it. :)

How about "This plaque intentionally left blank" :)


I want them to put up a plaque with the words "Fliegende Kinderscheisse" on it for the Discordians. All 5 of them.
posted by Foosnark at 10:31 AM on October 17, 2001


About the minority/majority question - could it be that a lot of atheists/agnostics/residual believers... lie? Even just a fib, or misleading statement, so as to not garner the blank stares and uncomprehending "oh"s of which c speaks? My mother thought I was still a Christian for the longest time, merely because I never told her outright that I wasn't.

Closet atheists?
posted by starvingartist at 10:31 AM on October 17, 2001


> Ya know, jfuller, it's considered in extremely poor taste
> to "flame" someone for their spelling here. You should
> consider that, as you now look like a huge ass.

Heh. Doug says "let's give some teeth to fashion law."

Sorry Doug, the people who can't spell are the ones who do not read. Which means, as my calculus prof put it, that the value of their opinions closely approaches zero as a limit. Love and kisses.
posted by jfuller at 10:34 AM on October 17, 2001


I'd like to "provide the text" for a particular worship "manifesto", in hopes that it will be posted at Town Hall too! I sure hope it's worth "hyperventilating over"!

Some troublemaker named Jesus said:

Matthew 6:5-6: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men....when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret...."

From my reading of the New Testament, I hadn't thought the big J. stuttered much when he uttered the above. It seemed pretty clear. But let me spell it out for you Christians and everyone else.

Keep your Goddamned religion to yourself.

But then again, most of the Christians I know are calling for bloody war right now. I hadn't thought the big G. stuttered much when He uttered what He undoubtedly thought were four simple one-syllable words in the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill."

That seemed pretty clear, too.

>sigh<
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:43 AM on October 17, 2001


Someone so little committed to atheism as not even to have learned how to spell it strikes me as no great threat to even Homer-Simpson-level city councilpersons.

Horribly awkward. Wordy. C-, see me after class. Try "How can you be an atheist if you can't even spell it?"

Sorry jfuller, the people who can't write are the ones who do not read. Which means, as my calculus prof put it, that the value of their opinions closely approaches zero as a limit. Love and kisses.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:48 AM on October 17, 2001


thanks, conquistador, I'm glad you stepped in as an expert witness. aside - Perhaps we need to have a panel of experts that can weigh in for each issue?
posted by nprigoda at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2001


I think it'd be fun if somebody went up to the blanque plaque and wrote this. Of course, the town probably has plenty of people who would applaud such a statement about the satanic leader of "them papists."

And you can say all you want about the blank plaque being an eloquent statement of pluralism, but any city council that tries to institutionalize Christianity this way probably ain't all that enlightened.
posted by diddlegnome at 11:20 AM on October 17, 2001


Closet atheists?
Of course. It's not like the subject comes up in conversation much, and it's pretty easily avoided when it does.

I think that's why I've never really been able to summon up any anger over incidents like the one that started this thread. I actually have to admit to a bit of wry admiration for the guy who came up with the blank plaque idea. Yeah, it's a little provincial and probably unconstitutional to boot. It's much less of a slap in the face than it is a tweak of the nose, and good nose-tweakings are rare enough that I appreciate them when I see them, even ones directed my way.
posted by jaek at 11:37 AM on October 17, 2001


I'd like to see excepts from Darwin's Origin of Species. That's my bible.

why couldn't they put up a plaque that had eight of the commandments (leaving off the "thou shall not have other gods before me" and "Keep holy the Sabbath").

See, now, I happen to be a big fan of coveting. I covet lots of things--including my neighbor's wife. She's hot. Plus, there are plenty of people (swingers, for example) who don't have a problem with the adultery thang, either.
posted by jpoulos at 11:38 AM on October 17, 2001


jfuller: Great post--the one with the law section.

conquistador:

"Seperation between Church and State really comes down to freedom of religion. Your government cannot tell you what to believe...but they can believe whatever the hell they want to. They can enact plaques, etc. They just can't force you to believe or worship anything you don't want to."

Just wrong.


What? What's wrong? That they can enact plaques? Fine. I was wrong...private people have to buy the plaques, and then they can be displayed if they so desire. But you knew that, cause you're a lawyer, right? So you must think that the fact that the government can't tell you what to believe is wrong.

Well that's no good. I think I'd have to disagree with you there.

Civil liberties protections are there to prevent government infringement on our personal, fundamental freedoms (as delineated by the Constitution and interpreted by the Court).

Well, as a lawyer, you know that our "civil liberties" are open for debate. There are various laws enacted that tread over the "no ex post facto" laws section of the constitution. Habeas corpus is null and void in some cases.

in fact, fear of tyranny and fear of mob rule were overriding concerns at the Constitutional Convention.

Absolutely...and I see you metioned fear of tyranny. Well, I find my second amendment rights pretty much worthless when I see that my government has an armed force in the millions with high tech toys I could never hope to rebel against. Tyranny?

And what about tyranny of the minority? I take offense that some rich guy can get ordinances passed because he knows the mayor, so a stop light gets put up in front of his business (studies have shown that stop lights can increase business). I don't have a whole lot of defense against that.

We all have our own opinion of what the founding fathers intended (or whether it even matters what they intended), but the only opinion that matters for us and for the people in Ringwold is the opinion of the Supreme Court.

What?! Do you serious believe that? So the Supreme Court doesn't make mistakes or bad calls? So Clarence Thomas is one of the preeminant judges of our time?

SO much more matters than what the opinion of a bunch of shrivelled humans has to say.

Of course, that's the only opinion that can condemn a man to life or death...so, eh.

Otherwise, at least be familiar with what the Constitution allows and does not allow.

Damn, so you knew Tom, Ben, John, and the boys? All we HAVE are interpretations.

How would they feel if they knew hemp was outlawed (a few of them grew it) or slavery was outlawed (a lot of them had some) or for a time, alcohol was outlawed? How would they feel about suffrage for women and blacks?

In all seriousness, what school do you teach at? If you insist that you're a lawyer and a professor (and honestly I have no reason to doubt you except that I don't know who you are), then why shouldn't that be a valid part of your credentials?
posted by taumeson at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2001


All it takes to change what the Constitution allows or disallows is the votes of five justices. It happens all the time.

Wow, jfuller, I didn't know this! Since when did the Constitution get amended to allow the Supreme Court to amend the Constitution? I would LOVE to see the citation for this.

Ooops, didn't think you could, because it ain't happened. I bet you mean "All it takes to change the interpretation of what the Constitution allows or disallows is the votes of five justices. It happens all the time"

No offense, but methinks you need to pull out those Constitutional Law books again.
posted by PeteyStock at 11:50 AM on October 17, 2001


PeteyStock makes a distinction without a difference.
posted by jfuller at 12:07 PM on October 17, 2001


fleener:

Jesus? Just an inspired man (who BTW historically never admitted to being anything other than a prophet, e.g., not the literal son of god.

I think he summed it up when he said "I and the father are one."

There's also a passage from Zechariah which states, "they will look at Me, whom they pierced, and they will mourn for him." (paraphrased). The point of these two passages, being to state that Jesus was not JUST a man, and always maintained that he is the Messiah.

Further on, I see a quote that says: "Someone so little committed to atheism". How committed to nothing does one have to be? Not even Stephen Hawking believes in the 'big bang' theory.

I think it's a bad idea for the government to get involved in the religious aspects of its citizens (degrading into an ultimate "state-sponsored" religion can be the only end result - see the Anglican religious examples as why America was colonized in the first place.) BUT as a Christian, I feel that it is a moment like this in which we can really open up and examine what exactly it is we believe.
posted by schlaager at 12:08 PM on October 17, 2001


In 1789, George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of "public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.'"

James Madison, author of the establishment clause, served on the committee that recommended the establishment of Congressional chaplains. In fact, the very first Congress established not only congressional chaplains, but also chaplains for each branch of the military. If the founding fathers had intended a "wall of separation" between church and state, wouldn't state chaplains be unconstitutional?

Historically-speaking, the problem with the "wall" rhetoric is that a wall is a two-way barrier. When James Madison and the other founding fathers spoke of the "separation of church and state" and of religious freedom, their intent was to keep the government out of religion, not vice-versa.

In a democracy, our government should reflect who we are as a people. And, in fact, it does... our system of criminal law is directly derived from our social norms, just as our approach to domestic policy is determined by our most deeply held values. To claim that a truly secular state can come from and rule over a religious people is ludicrous, because nobody "leaves their religion at the door". Moral and religious views are, at some level, foundational to any possible understanding of government and law.

What separates a democracy from a theocracy, however, is our commitment, as a matter of public policy, to equal respect for all religions. As far as government decisions go, each religion must be addressed without discrimination. But the logical jump from protecting religion from the state to keeping religion out of the state is not inherent in the Constitution. It was added later, by the Supreme Court.

If our country is dedicated to the free exercise of religion, an absolute separation of church and state would constrict and inhibit the very freedom that we are seeking to protect.

For the lawyers: I am well aware of the current state of constitutional law on this topic. That's irrelevant both to what the law should be, and to what the law truly is when properly understood and interpreted.
posted by gd779 at 12:19 PM on October 17, 2001


ringgold, dear ringgold. i have known your eternal and quiet struggle for revelance beyond providing a place for residents of catoosa county to appear for jury duty and to test for driving permits. i know that your high school football team would meet our team on friday nights in games that never meant more than two hours of mediocre sports split into halves by brass bands playing "twist and shout" and "a taste of honey." i know your carpet factories, your lumber yards, your hosiery mills where enterprising trailer families would buy seconded socks for pennies and try to sell them in weekend flea markets. i know that you are a small town, unassuming, seeming to take the office of county seat with a resigned shrug and a bit of a smile, not necessarily wanting the job, but realizing that in a county just under 163 square miles that there were not that many contenders. you, dear ringgold, are a geographic reference point.

where is ringgold? just above dalton.
oh. where is dalton? just south of chattanooga (tn).
oh. where is chattanooga? :sigh: two hours north of atlanta.
oh! atlanta! yeah, i know atlanta. the olympics and that bombing thing right?


dear ringgold, the county seat of the county that raised me, the place where i passed my driver's exam on the first try at 15, the place where i proudly sat on jury duty weeks before leaving town for good.

dear ringgold. you had no national reputation. you did not need one. now, you do. and it is not pretty.

ringgold, you know better. or maybe i just hope you do.
posted by grabbingsand at 12:23 PM on October 17, 2001


Thank you, fold_and_mutilate!!
posted by yesster at 12:23 PM on October 17, 2001


Yea verily, fold_and_mutilate saith:
From my reading of the New Testament, I hadn't thought the big J. stuttered much when he uttered the above. It seemed pretty clear. But let me spell it out for you Christians and everyone else.

Keep your Goddamned religion to yourself.

Prayer is only one cornerstone of religion. It is merely one of the five pillars of Islam, for instance. It is perfectly reasonable to prosletize without praying at someone. And, in fact, the Christians have a thing called "The Great Commission", which is the big J. telling people to go out and share their faith with all the world. No stuttering there, either.

I hadn't thought the big G. stuttered much when He uttered what He undoubtedly thought were four simple one-syllable words in the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill."
That seemed pretty clear, too.


That's what you get for not being able to read Hebrew, I guess. It's actually just two words, basically saying "don't murder". In fact, "ratsach" does include a potential for accidental death, but the primary meaning is premeditated killing. Acts of war, or retribution, are covered elsewhere as a good thing, so long as they are taken with divine guidance. Sort of a jihad, if you will. Or, Crusade.

Not that this sits well with big J's idea that you should not render evil for evil, in that same chapter of Matthew: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

That's a much better slam on the violent Christians, for those that want one. Damn, being a fair seminarian is going to make my life weird at times.
posted by dwivian at 12:28 PM on October 17, 2001


It was added later, by the Supreme Court.

That was a stupid and casual comment. I withdraw it.

I meant to say that,to the extent that the law prohibits the expression of religion in government, that prohibition was largely added later by the Supreme Court.
posted by gd779 at 12:30 PM on October 17, 2001


jfuller: "Sorry Doug, the people who can't spell are the ones who do not read."

What about people who can't punctuate -- or is that a commentary on Doug?
posted by joaquim at 12:35 PM on October 17, 2001


I know I'm late but...

You should consider that, as you now look like a huge ass.

Huge asses look better in Calvin Klein jeans.

::: slinking away into the night :::
posted by ethmar at 12:37 PM on October 17, 2001


As long as Bush keeps ending his speeches with "God bless America," there is obviously no such thing as the separation of church and state.
posted by fusinski at 12:43 PM on October 17, 2001


> I think he summed it up when he said "I and the father
> are one."

But schlaager, you and the Father are one, too. And where you and Francine and Billy Bob gather together in reverence then messiahness happens and you are in the kingdom of heaven and you love your neighbor as yourself and you are the son of God (And so, of course, are Francine and Billy Bob.)

That is the altogether remarkable phenomenon that Jesus noticed, and did his damnedest to tell us about. (As an aside: it has nothing whatever to do with Darwin and doesn't contradict Darwin even slightly, any more than long division contradicts the color blue.)

Just to keep this on topic, that's what jfuller sees on the blank plaque.
posted by jfuller at 12:51 PM on October 17, 2001


A statue of Buddha dressed in Calvin Klein jeans. You could rub the belly and the ass.
posted by Holden at 1:10 PM on October 17, 2001


fusinski:

> As long as Bush keeps ending his speeches with "God
> bless America," there is obviously no such thing as the
> separation of church and state.

You might ask yourself what it means for there to be union between church and state. Hint, the church buildings are owned by the government, the clergy's salaries are paid by tax money, the clergy's sermons are subject to review and censorship by government officials, those who do not belong to the state religion are subject to arrest and imprisonment (not to mention beheading and burning at the stake) by the civil authorities, and the head of state is also the official head of the church, as Henry VIII of England was. That is what "establishment of religion" is. All this describes the Church of England at the time of the American revolution.

Do you really think that is how things are in the U.S. today? That's what you've said, if you claim there's no such thing as separation of church and state. To quote a certain wascally wabbit, what a maroon.
posted by jfuller at 1:14 PM on October 17, 2001


What separates a democracy from a theocracy, however, is our commitment, as a matter of public policy, to equal respect for all religions. As far as government decisions go, each religion must be addressed without discrimination. But the logical jump from protecting religion from the state to keeping religion out of the state is not inherent in the Constitution. It was added later, by the Supreme Court.

Granted, its been a while since I've read the 10 commandments, but one of the big problems is that posting the 10 commandments in public buildings is incompatible with "equal respect for all religions." The whole one god and sabbath thing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:19 PM on October 17, 2001


Another fun Christianity trick: 'The Ten Commandments' are not actually the Ten Commandments; the ones we know and love (Exodus 20) are never referred to as commandments and are not what Moses carved on the tablets. Those can be found in Exodus 34.
posted by boaz at 1:20 PM on October 17, 2001


jfuller, I tend to disagree when you say religion doesn't contradict Darwin, when the only thing anyone has proven about Darwin's theories is that some of them are laughable.

Yes, you caught me with my pants down. It does say that we "are all sons of God." and in other scriptures also calls Adam the "son of God." When Christians call Jesus the Son of God, we mean that

1. Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit. This is why he is called "his only begotten son."
2. Christ is what we could call the physical manifestation of God on earth (hence "I and the Father are one."

The blank plaque is supposed to mean an undefined set of beliefs, perhaps to be determined at a later date. I'm sure that if the non-believing people want to define a set of beliefs for the council, they would have no trouble inscribing them on the plaque.

However, I think it's more than anything a tribute to the 'unknown gods' that the Greeks made a statue for.

Anyway, the legality is questionable.
posted by schlaager at 1:23 PM on October 17, 2001


You might ask yourself what it means for there to be union between church and state. Hint, the church buildings are owned by the government, the clergy's salaries are paid by tax money, the clergy's sermons are subject to review and censorship by government officials, those who do not belong to the state religion are subject to arrest and imprisonment (not to mention beheading and burning at the stake) by the civil authorities, and the head of state is also the official head of the church, as Henry VIII of England was. That is what "establishment of religion" is. All this describes the Church of England at the time of the American revolution.

Actually, if you look at the OED (which documents the history of the term) "establishment" was considered to be inclusive of all ceremonies, rituals and liturgy at the end of the 18th century. As a result, "no law regarding an establishment of religion" literally means no law regarding any ceremonies, rituals or liturgy. It is useful to remember that the early blows in the English protestant reformation involved laws of "trivial" matters such as prayer books and Bible translation.

This of course makes it likely that the 10 commandments would be problematic under an original reading of the First Amendment. After all, pulling from the KJV or other English translation favors protestant Christianity over other sects that prefer Hebrew, Greek, Latin or German.

jfuller, I tend to disagree when you say religion doesn't contradict Darwin, when the only thing anyone has proven about Darwin's theories is that some of them are laughable.

I don't know. A theory supported by more independent lines of evidence than the existence of the planet Jupiter as a big ball of gas certainly is good enough for most of us.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:34 PM on October 17, 2001


the only thing anyone has proven about Darwin's theories is that some of them are laughable

For example.....?
posted by groundhog at 1:44 PM on October 17, 2001


the only thing anyone has proven about Darwin's theories is that some of them are laughable.

Yeah, okay....maybe I missed it...did someone recently prove that a big guy in the sky created me out of sand? Does he look like Wil Wheaton?
posted by bradth27 at 2:22 PM on October 17, 2001


Someone so little committed to atheism as not even to have learned how to spell it strikes me as no great threat to even Homer-Simpson-level city councilpersons.

uh, yeah. anyways.
posted by mcsweetie at 2:28 PM on October 17, 2001


oh wait, sorry. Jack Chick proved it years ago. Damnit, if Chick says so, then it must be fact.
posted by bradth27 at 2:29 PM on October 17, 2001


> "establishment" was considered to be inclusive of all
> ceremonies, rituals and liturgy at the end of the 18th
> century.

Fuller tips hat re. the OED citation. I'll certainly have a look at it when I get home (even my flyspeck-print edition is a bit large for carrying around.) But my question still stands, and I'll ask it to you: do you feel, as fusinski says he does, that there's no substantive difference between W saying "God bless America" in a speech, on the one hand, and having a full-scale state-sponsored established religion backed up by civil authority and military force, on the other?

>> the only thing anyone has proven about Darwin's
>> theories is that some of them are laughable.
>
> I don't know. A theory supported by more independent
> lines of evidence than the existence of the planet Jupiter
> as a big ball of gas certainly is good enough for most of
> us.

For me, too. It's worth remembering, though, that Darwinian evolution is a funny sort of theory, in the sense that scientific theories are supposed to be, in principle, falsifiable by contrary evidence; and it's hard to imagine what kind of empirical evidence might be considered as incompatible with Darwinian evolution. But if it can't, even in principal, be shown to be false by the usual process of making a prediction based on the theory, running an experiment to test the prediction, and seeing if the prediction holds or does not hold, then it's an odd sort of theory. That, I think, is what the inarticulate may be trying to put their fingers on when they claim Darwinism "isn't scientific." It's a subtle point, and probably goes right over the heads of the folks who believe in Darwin as an article of faith and a tribal marker rather than as a critically examined aspect of scientific training.


jpoulos:

> I'd like to see excepts from Darwin's Origin of Species.
> That's my bible.

The Origin is the meat and potatoes, but The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Earthworms is the spice and wine.
posted by jfuller at 2:34 PM on October 17, 2001


one of the big problems is that posting the 10 commandments in public buildings is incompatible with "equal respect for all religions."

Kirk: Though I'm everyone who reads MeFi is aware of this, the exact wording of the Constitution bears repeating for the record:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

If the founding fathers had intended "respect" to absolutely separate religion from government, why would they establish Congressional Chaplains? If the state cannot express religious sentiment in a courthouse, why can they do it in a legislative chamber?

Instead, a look at historical writings reveals that "respect" was probably intended to mean something different. Viewed in it's historical context, the "respect" wording was solely intended to protect the citizens from a state religion, such as the one that England had.

All theories of government are based upon a religious worldview. Both theocracies and truly secular governments lend themselves to certain (different) propositions about fundamental rights, the nature of man, the role of government, etc. In that sense, a pluralistic and tolerant secular government is exactly equivalent to a pluralistic and tolerant religious government.

In fact, John Calvin has often been referred to as "the father of America" due to his extreme influence in the initial values that formed our government.
posted by gd779 at 2:44 PM on October 17, 2001


taumeson, jfuller, gd779 et al:

What? What's wrong? That they can enact plaques? Fine. I was wrong...private people have to buy the plaques, and then they can be displayed if they so desire.

As pointed out in the cases cited by jfuller (and more recently upheld last term, in a case dealing with school religious groups meeting on campus), the govt can allow private exercise of religion on government property as long as the govt does not discriminate. I'm not, however, convinced that would extend to a private citizen erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments on the city hall lawn. I'm VERY sure that it does not apply in this case, where the government is responsible for the religious endorsement, which is what I thought we were all talking about in the first place.

But you knew that, cause you're a lawyer, right?

Yes, as you so cleverly pointed out, I claim to know everything.

Well, as a lawyer, you know that our "civil liberties" are open for debate. There are various laws enacted that tread over the "no ex post facto" laws section of the constitution. Habeas corpus is null and void in some cases.

Our civil liberties are only open for debate in an academic sense and in the context of a case before a federal court; otherwise, it's pretty clear what our civil liberties entail (and yes, I know they are subject to "re-interpretation" - but that is really pretty rare and very subtle). As for laws or practices that "tread over" our civil liberties, of course there are many many examples of that (references to God on our currency, our pledge, our Congress, etc). What is your point?

I find my second amendment rights pretty much worthless when I see that my government has an armed force in the millions with high tech toys I could never hope to rebel against. Tyranny?

I just don't understand the point you're trying to make. If you are saying "tyranny happens, get over it" - I just don't agree. One example of what you call tyranny does not justify all other exercises of government oppression. Likewise, "tyranny of the minority" (your words) does not justify other forms of tyranny.

What?! Do you serious believe that? So the Supreme Court doesn't make mistakes or bad calls? So Clarence Thomas is one of the preeminant judges of our time?
(In response to: "the only opinion that matters for us and for the people in Ringwold is the opinion of the Supreme Court.")


When I say the Court's decision is the only one that matters, I obviously meant that the Court's opinion is the only one that is important as a practical matter - ie. that matters in terms of whether or not that monument will be allowed to stand in Ringgold. I also, of course, realize that the justices have been, are now, and will continue to be politically motivated, imperfect beasts - but that is a whole other discussion that does not matter here (so please do not get me started on Clarence Thomas).

Damn, so you knew Tom, Ben, John, and the boys? All we HAVE are interpretations.
(in response to: "Otherwise, at least be familiar with what the Constitution allows and does not allow."


I don't have to know the founding fathers to know what the Constitution permits. Is that what you're suggesting? I certainly wasn't saying that the Constitution is unchanging. In fact, one might argue that the founding fathers intended for the Constitution to evolve. To suggest that we as a country should be frozen in time, bound to the mores of people living over 200 years ago is, to me, crazy (see: slavery, patriarchy, and other bad ideas from long ago). I totally agree that INTERPRETATIONS of the Constitution are necessary (and indeed are Consitutionally required), which is how I know what the Constitution permits. Again, however, nobody really cares what you or I think - only what the Court thinks.

In all seriousness, what school do you teach at? If you insist that you're a lawyer and a professor...

Why do you care? I certainly don't care if you believe that I'm a lawyer and a professor. And does it give my statements more or less weight if I say I teach at Harvard or Virginia or New Mexico State or Ringgold Community College? I won't even comment on the sarcastic, dismissive tone of the question, (oops - I guess I just did) but it's not appreciated. Try concentrating on responses to what I am saying rather than questioning my credentials. I only shared my background because I sort of do this for a living and thought some people might like knowing that.

Next:
For all of those citing "authority" showing that the founding fathers intended a more prominent role for religion: please, just stop. For every example you give, I can give an example showing that a rigid separation of church and state was intended. For anyone to pretend to KNOW the intent of the founding fathers (or even that there was an agreed upon, single intent at all) is intellectually dishonest.

For the lawyers: I am well aware of the current state of constitutional law on this topic. That's irrelevant both to what the law should be, and to what the law truly is when properly understood and interpreted.

I'm glad you've got it all figured out despite the existence of that pesky constitutional law. You should drop a line to the Supreme Court, the Congress, and the President and we can all be done with it.

Whew.
posted by conquistador at 2:59 PM on October 17, 2001


Any conceivable theory of government necessarily flows from a moral worldview, which in turn necessarily flows from a religious worldview (or lack thereof). A person's beliefs about the inherent nature of man, the role of government, and the proper relationships between man and man are necessarily predicated upon his or her religious beliefs. Therefore, it is clear that legislators, judges, and executives never really leave their religion behind when they put on the mantle of government.

It's foolish to think that those religious assumptions don't inform our decisions about issues like rehabilitation vs. punishment, foreign policy, welfare, abortion, euthanasia, taxes, etc. No amount of "separation of church and state" will alter the relationship between government and religion because, at it's bottom, government is religion, pragmatically administered to deal with real world problems.

The calls for a secular government, in the face of commonly shared religious belief, are therefore either naive in the extreme or are designed to prohibit the mere expression of religious values that we know are already there.

Why would one care about the mere public expression of a value that we already know influences the process of government? Perhaps it is because of the messages that those values send, and the normative effect those messages will have on future generations.

Therefore, so long as pluralism and religious tolerance (defined as the right to hold whatever belief you want, and to receive equal respect in governmental action if not governmental speech) are held absolute, secular and religious views of government can be reduced to mere competing value structures. Will our government convey A, B, and C as our prime shared social values, or will it convey X, Y, and Z? Will we be a Christian nation, founded on Christian values, that respects other religions, or a secular nation, founded on secular values, that respects other religions? Do we believe that all religions are equal, or do we believe that all religions are to be treated equally? A war of values, in other words.

Am I missing something? I admit that my thoughts here were hurried, and maybe they're flawed. Is there a particularly compelling reason why a secular government is inherently preferable to a religious government (again, presuming religious tolerance and pluralism are upheld constantly)?
posted by gd779 at 3:12 PM on October 17, 2001


For every example you give, I can give an example showing that a rigid separation of church and state was intended.

Please do so. My intent was not to convey that I knew, absolutely, the intent of the framers, but rather to jump-start a discussion on a subject in which I am interested. I am open to alternative theories and evidence. History, after all, is should not be not subject to our political preferences.

I'm glad you've got it all figured out despite the existence of that pesky constitutional law.

Conquistador: chill. Discussions about what we, as a society, think that the law should be (and what it is when correctly understood) are valuable. Just relax, okay? I didn't mean it in an arrogant or presuming way. In fact, I would love to hear your side of the story, so to speak.
posted by gd779 at 3:20 PM on October 17, 2001


To gd779: sorry for directing my taumeson-related frustration towards you. What (I think) you're missing:

(1) A person can indeed have beliefs and values that are not dependent on religion.

(2) Our country does not have a "commonly shared religious belief." Maybe a majority religious belief - but in my mind, that is not good enough.

I think most of the debate/discussion in this thread (at least my portion) is not concerned with whether private religious beliefs (including the beliefs of the founding fathers) inform public decisions - rather, the concern is whether The Government can overtly endorse a specific religion as they did in Ringgold.
posted by conquistador at 3:23 PM on October 17, 2001


Oh - for some quick examples supporting the proposition that the founding fathers intented a separation of church and state, take the quiz linked by Fenriss (near the beginning of this thread).
posted by conquistador at 3:29 PM on October 17, 2001


conquistador: I took the quiz. Frankly, it's facile and even downright misleading on a number of issues, especially on the philosophical foundation of our Declaration of Independence and the origin of In God We Trust (which was first put on our money in 1864. They use the 50 year absence of the motto as an excuse to "adjust" the date. Bah.)
posted by gd779 at 3:44 PM on October 17, 2001


If the founding fathers had intended "respect" to absolutely separate religion from government, why would they establish Congressional Chaplains? If the state cannot express religious sentiment in a courthouse, why can they do it in a legislative chamber?

The answer to your question is, the founding fathers, like most politicians, were quite capable of talking out of whichever face was most advantageous for them at the time. As a result, it is not that suprising that they put language that basically mandates a strict separation. Remember that 'respect' in this context means 'in regards to.' Religion was pretty much officially declared off-limits.

However of course our founding fathers ruled in Marbury vs. Madison that the Supreme Court was the highest court of appeals for interpreting the Constitution, most likely realizing that the Constitution was not sufficient to cover every single nit of legal representation in the land.

But of course, Madison was also quite clear that he felt that making a rule favoring Christianity was only a small step away from favoring the Quakers over the Baptists.

Instead, a look at historical writings reveals that "respect" was probably intended to mean something different. Viewed in it's historical context, the "respect" wording was solely intended to protect the citizens from a state religion, such as the one that England had.

Well, lets look at how England established the state religion. Many of the first steps involved not putting the clergy on the government payroll, but in choosing to adopt specific liturgies as official. Enshrining the 10 Commandments, and not only the 10 Commandments but a specific English translation of the 10 Commandments establishes the liturgy of a specific branch of protestant Christianity as worthy of honor and celebration over other religions. Not only over other religions, but over forms of Christianity that don't consider a protestant Christian version to be liturgy. It is interesting that many of the most vocal opponents of the 10 Commandments are not atheists, but Christians who fear excessive entaglement, and Jews who note that the 10 Commandments enshrined are not their commandments.

All theories of government are based upon a religious worldview.

Well now, that depends. The Founding Fathers (who were human and made mistakes) certainly were inspired by secular, even atheist views of government including both ancient greek and enlightenment sources. Since then there have been a number of purely secular theories of government.

But the problem with enshrining the 10 Commandments is not only the fact that it involves enshrining the liturgy of a specific branch of protestant Christianity, but that the 10 Commandments include two items that are hostile to a tolerant pluralistic government, whether religious or secular.

So the question is not about whether religious people should hold office, or leave their religion at the door. The question is can or should a government install the liturgy of a particular branch of protestant Christianity, a liturgy that demands obedience to a particular religion's observances, a liturgy that declares believing in other religions to be a sin, a liturgy abstracted from a text that mandates capital punishment for violating those laws, as a public shrine?

My opinion is that creating such a public shrine to such a liturgy would be a law "respecting an establishment of religion."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:59 PM on October 17, 2001


conquistador: A person can indeed have beliefs and values that are not dependent on religion.

I agree, but the point is that one's beliefs about the origin and nature of life informs one's both morality and government. They're interconnected in such a large way that you cannot truly separate one from the other. Calls for secular government may appear to do so, but the reality seems to be that you are simply substituting one set of governmental values for another.

Our country does not have a "commonly shared religious belief." Maybe a majority religious belief - but in my mind, that is not good enough.

In other words, you're saying this: If we are a overwhelmingly Christian nation, we should act like one. If we are, in fact, not a Christian nation, we should not act like one. Fair enough?

If so, our difference of opinion is not over the role in government but over the factual state of America. I could live with that.

Kirk: You and (in part) conquistador raise some interesting food for thought... let me think about it for a while...

On the subject of the 10 commandments: the decision of an individual judge to display the 10 commandments in his courtroom is analogous to a politician praying to his God before Congress. Neither is an expression of the official religion of the United States. In that sense, then, we can distinguish the display of the 10 commandments from England's decision to adopt specific liturgies as official.

On the foundation of our country: while it is beyond question that our ff's considered both classical and Christian philosophies when forming our government, are you alleging that it was an even consideration? In other words, wouldn't you agree that Christian philosophies were the largest influence, as compared to secular philosophies? After all, John Locke's political theories (which were undeniably influential in the forming of our nation) were strongly based on the religions views expressed by the Rev. Samuel Rutherford in Lex, Rex.
posted by gd779 at 4:11 PM on October 17, 2001


The answer to your question is, the founding fathers, like most politicians, were quite capable of talking out of whichever face was most advantageous for them at the time.

Would you mind providing some evidence to back that assertion up? I don't mean a quick quote by one founding father, but some sort of persuasive evidence of systematic hypocracy on this.

Remember that 'respect' in this context means 'in regards to.'

Would you mind backing that up as well?
posted by gd779 at 4:17 PM on October 17, 2001


In other words, you're saying this: If we are a overwhelmingly Christian nation, we should act like one. If we are, in fact, not a Christian nation, we should not act like one. Fair enough?

I think that this idea of a universal "Christianity" is relatively recent and rather ignorant of historical context. Granted the majority of our Founding Fathers were Christian, but they were all blasphemers, heretics and miscreants in the each other's eyes. (This of course is ignoring the fact that most of our founding documents were written by English speakers who had a plurality but not a majority.) It was a period in which it was conceivable to wonder exactly what strange rites and hedonistic orgies the other denomination was engaging in. This was quite a bit before our contemporary buddy-buddy ideals of a "Christian coalition" (there is in fact a liberal Christian coalition but it doesn't get as much press.)

On the subject of the 10 commandments: the decision of an individual judge to display the 10 commandments in his courtroom is analogous to a politician praying to his God before Congress. Neither is an expression of the official religion of the United States. In that sense, then, we can distinguish the display of the 10 commandments from England's decision to adopt specific liturgies as official.

But of course, I was not aware that we were talking about an individual decision to display the 10 Commandments but a governmental decision to enshrine the 10 Commandments in the courthouse.

However, your argument does not hold water for the "10 Comandments Judge) because the Judge has made his intent to establish Christianity. In addition, the Judge in a courtroom is the representative of the Judicial branch so when the Judge displays the 10 Comandments in the courtroom, he is adopting that liturgy as official.

Would you mind providing some evidence to back that assertion up? I don't mean a quick quote by one founding father, but some sort of persuasive evidence of systematic hypocracy on this.

You've provided your own example. Madison, who wrote a first amendment that creates a wall of separation between church and state (and made it clear that a wall was intended in public writints) served on the committee that appointed the first congressional chaplans.

Would you mind backing that up as well?
Oxford English Dictionary
1 to have respect to: a To have regard or relation to, or connexion
with, something.

b to have reference to, to refer to something.

So I'm trying to understand what is so difficult about "no law." No law means no law. The First Amendment effectively ties the hands of the legislative branch in supporting a government.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:42 PM on October 17, 2001


In Austrialia, it's perfictly legal for the government to institute censorship because they have no freedom of speech like we have here. They are the only contry in the world besides china that has government censorship of the internet.

The Australian government can do what to the who now?

The Australian government has no powers other than those expressly awarded it through legislation. There is no legislation that says 'the Commonwealth shall have powers to censor the Internet' or 'the Commonwealth shall have powers to censor individuals'.

If you're uploading/downloading kiddie porn or warez, running an online casino, or blabbing about official secrets, the Commonwealth can and will kick your arse. And in much the same way as it can act to stop you hurting people by having its police put a bullet in you, it can try stop you from accessing illegal material on the net (not that it does). This has nothing to do with censorship.

If somebody in the US was found to be running a kiddie porn site, or communicating defence secrets to a foreign power, and your Government shut it down/locked them up, would you cry 'censorship'? Thought not.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:28 PM on October 17, 2001


"In America today there are more Muslims than Presbyterians and more Buddhists than Episcopalians. The main point about the religion clauses of the Constitution is that religion is not to be established by law or government at any level. In America religion is to be voluntary, and what good is it if it is not voluntary?" asks Gene Garman, author of America's Real Religion.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:47 PM on October 17, 2001


I'm all for people trying to show compassion and tolerance for others. Issues involving the separation of government and religion can often raise others involving the right to freedom of speech.

Rather than allowing a place for people to express their religious speech, government in Ringgold is determining what will be expressed, and the manner of expression. When I read about the blank plaque, I thought of being seated in an assembly which started with a prayer, and then had a moment of silence for all the "heathen unbelievers."

The constitutionality of a governmental action is something that can really only be truly addressed in hindsight by a court, and only upon legal challenge. That was Chief Justice Marshall's ruling in Marbury v. Madison, on the concept of judicial review. Even the ACLU states that considerations of the constitutionality of religious displays sponsored by government have been addressed by the Court on a case-by-case basis with a look at all of the circumstances involved. In many instances, there are rarely challenges to this type of action. When there are, you may end up with the Santazilla described in the ACLU article. The blank plaque is ringgold's santazilla.
posted by bragadocchio at 6:10 PM on October 17, 2001


conquistador:

my point throughout my entire diatribe is that laws are open to interpretation (otherwise you wouldn't have a job). just because it seems clear to everybody now what the relationship between government and religion is does not mean that that's the way it's supposed to me. Nor does it mean that that's the way it should be.

i'm not sure you understand that.

otherwise, it's pretty clear what our civil liberties entail

well, i mentioned tyranny and the bulldozing of my civil liberties because i thought they clearly illustrated how mores change over time and how our rights change because of the changing times.

I totally agree that INTERPRETATIONS of the Constitution are necessary (and indeed are Consitutionally required), which is how I know what the Constitution permits.

you say you get it, but i'm not sure you KNOW what the Constitution permits. okay, you may be a foremost authority, but you also say:

I obviously meant that the Court's opinion is the only one that is important as a practical matter - ie. that matters in terms of whether or not that monument will be allowed to stand in Ringgold

well, okay, in this one instance about the plaques...but you seem to think that we need to go along with the Court no matter what they agree, cause if they agree to it, then there's nothing we can do, and they've made the best decision possible in light of their political beliefs.

hrm...i don't agree with that. i think that there are more flawed or corruption-motivated decisions being made now then ever before in our history (maybe not percentage wise (good laws vs. bad) but certainly quantitatively).

For all of those citing "authority" showing that the founding fathers intended a more prominent role for religion: please, just stop.

but isn't that what you're doing? and asking us to listen to you because of your credentials?

And does it give my statements more or less weight if I say I teach at Harvard or Virginia or New Mexico State or Ringgold Community College

well, yes...and how long you've been teaching, and practicing law, etc.

furthermore, i know law students at harvard and NYU, and former law students (read: lawyers) from U of Miami and Rutgers Newark. if you had mentioned who you were or what school you taught at, perhaps i could look you up and try to explain better, or i could ask ex- or current students whether or not you're a crackpot. or perhaps i could talk to peers about you.

there are reasons that certain schools have better reputations than others. it's the quality of their professors.

back on track: i don't have much to offer as to the intentions of our FF, so that's why i haven't touched that one much. i do know what i THINK they meant, and what, to me, makes for a sensible interpretation.

how can we reconcile that military chaplains are on government payroll? don't say it's because they're nondescriminatory...that's blatantly false. i know for a fact that the Marines only have christain and protestant chaplains on the majority of their bases. there are MANY religions not represented in the various armed forces chaplain corps, and the army & air force are the only services that even HAVE a few of them. what does everybody say to that?

or has this thread lost its relavancy? i believe that it is vital that we talk about what the laws SHOULD be, because we're the citizenry who're affected by them. i don't want to roll over just because a politician/judge says they should be something.
posted by taumeson at 6:13 PM on October 17, 2001


I just find it insulting because the display of the blank plaque next to one with the ten commandment's is like saying "you don't believe in god, therefore your life is as empty as this plaque" or "you don't live by these rules verbatim, therefore you are amoral, a vagabond, nothing, etc." and this makes me feel bad so I want them both gone, as it is my right to do as such.

had they just put up a plaque with the ten commandments, I really wouldn't have cared. I don't really see just hanging the ten commandments somewhere as offensive, no more than I see christmas or hanukah decorations as offensive. so long as someone's personal beliefs don't have a negative effect on the people around them, then I don't judge them for it.

and I had no idea such a town meeting was taking place, and I'm a pretty civil minded person. had I known, you can bet I would have been there with bells on (thats a southern figure of speech, by the way. I'll use this opportunity to tell "y'all" that I don't appreciate the redneck jokes). but I definitely plan on fighting this thing now that I know about it.

so, if you live in catoosa county and you wanna participate in some demonstrations, get in touch ASAP.
posted by mcsweetie at 8:52 PM on October 17, 2001


Kirk: I think that this idea of a universal "Christianity" is relatively recent and rather ignorant of historical context.

I think that I'm missing your point. I'm trying to determine the proper role of religion in government, and you're going off on divisions within Christian denominations in early America. Why do I care?

the Judge has made his intent to establish Christianity.

Precisely. As I posited above, it's possible that laws and government are simply an extension of religion. I invited comments when I made the argument the first time; I do so again now. But please read my argument before responding.

In addition, the Judge in a courtroom is the representative of the Judicial branch so when the Judge displays the 10 Comandments in the courtroom, he is adopting that liturgy as official.

And, like I said in my post, when the President speaks, he's representing the Executive branch. But when he publicly prays to a Christian God, we haven't established a state religion. Unless you can distinguish the judicial branch from the legislative and executive branches somehow, your argument doesn't defeat my point... it is my point.

You've provided your own example. Madison...

{Read: I have no evidence that I'm willing to provide. Why should I need to back up either of my assertions with evidence?}

Also: that would be tautological. If your're trying to show hypocracy based on a disputed view of the ff's intended meaning of the establishment clause, saying that the ff's didn't abide by your interpretation of the establishment clause proves nothing at all.

You had me reconsidering my views there for a while, but your last post hardly seems objective or rational.
posted by gd779 at 8:54 PM on October 17, 2001


Wait, I know what the blank plaque should say: I'm with stupid.
And if anyone is interested in what credentials I have for making that joke, just ask.
posted by Doug at 9:29 PM on October 17, 2001


I think that I'm missing your point. I'm trying to determine the proper role of religion in government, and you're going off on divisions within Christian denominations in early America. Why do I care?

Well, geeeee. You are the one who keep bringing up the Founding Fathers establishing the U.S. as a "Christian" nation. The fact that most of them did not see each other as true Christians should be a note of caution.

Precisely. As I posited above, it's possible that laws and government are simply an extension of religion. I invited comments when I made the argument the first time; I do so again now. But please read my argument before responding.

Please read my argument before responding, the judge in question has made it quite clear that he wishes to establish Christianity as the state religion in his courtroom. I suggest that both his intent to establish Christianity in the courtroom, and his enshrining of the 10 Commandments in the courtroom is an act of establishment.

And, like I said in my post, when the President speaks, he's representing the Executive branch. But when he publicly prays to a Christian God, we haven't established a state religion. Unless you can distinguish the judicial branch from the legislative and executive branches somehow, your argument doesn't defeat my point... it is my point.

Certainly. The reason for it is because the president and representatives don't make law when speaking in public. They make it when they draft, vote for, or sign bills.

In contrast, the Judge when sitting on the bench IS the law within the bounds of the court. The judge determines what is and is not evidence. The judge can force action through threat of imprisonment. When a judge sitting on the bench enshrines the 10 Commandments, he is establishing Christianity as the official religion of the courtroom.

Of course, this has nothing to do with the Judge's freedom to practice his religion. He can wallpaper the 10 Commandments on the walls of his chambers. He can wear the 10 Commandments as underwear. He can mutter them under his breath out of hearing of the jury. But enshrining the 10 Commandments in the courtroom, is establishment both in intent, and in practical effect.

If anything, judges while on the bench should be held to even higher standards than our elected legislature and executive. The judge is charged with the responsibility to insure that the case is tried with a minimum of all possible bias and prejudice. If the judge while sitting on the bench demonstrates a clear bias towards a religious view, then how the heck is the jury supposed to come to a decision based on the facts of the case, rather than the religious faiths of the defendant, prosecution, and witnesses?

Also: that would be tautological. If your're trying to show hypocracy based on a disputed view of the ff's intended meaning of the establishment clause, saying that the ff's didn't abide by your interpretation of the establishment clause proves nothing at all.

Well, actually I'm coming to question whether Madison supported a legislative chaplan at all given that a bit of research came on a summary of Madison's Remonstrance (scroll down) written in opposition to a Virgina proposal to pay state legislators. Both Madison and Jefferson make the claim that leveying taxes from unbelievers is a form of tyrany, different from the inquisition only in degree. Madison framed Separation of Church and state not just as a civic obligation but a religious one as well. Allowing the state to promote religion was seen by Madison as determental to religion AND the state.

The site is also good for revealing Samuel Livermore's next-to-final draft:
"Congress shall make no law touching religion, or infringing the right of conscience."

Drafts of the amendment more friendly to the promotion of religion were proposed and rejected by the Senate. So certainly we can infer that at the very least, a strong separationist caucus was key to drafting the first amendment. There was also a caucus that wanted government promotion of Christianity.

As for what is permitted by the first amendment. On this I think we both agree. It's not a problem for Bush to speak of his religious faith in speeches (although it is uncertain how far is "unity" spreads given previous comments.) Congressional chaplins are probably not a big problem although they would be less of a problem if they were paid out of the pockets of the congress. School prayer is a big problem not only for the establishment clause, but also for the religious test clause. Enshrining the 10 Commandments in the courtroom is probably a big problem because the state moves into the ground of "exhortation, endorsement, and coercion" within a setting where the potential consequences for non-belief are quite high.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:39 PM on October 17, 2001


Just to add a little more on the eighteenth-century "Church of England, By Law Establish'd", since it's been slightly simplified here: it entailed not only specifying forms of service -- the Authorised Version and the Book of Common Prayer -- but also requiredthe swearing of oaths to the succession and the Thirty-Nine Articles in order to enter university or take public office.

Most of the American Framers drew on a century-long tradition of Deist objection to points of Anglican doctrine, which solidified into a critique of "establishment" itself, since Deism's chief principle is that it's possible to get blind faith and "mystery" out of religion.
posted by holgate at 4:54 AM on October 18, 2001



Sorry if I'm beating this one to death:

Jesus? Just an inspired man (who BTW historically never admitted to being anything other than a prophet, e.g., not the literal son of god.

People who say that Jesus did not ever claim He was the only begotten Son of God always overlook this particular passage:

15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 16.

Yep. If the Father revealed it to St. Peter, it could only be the truth, as far as the big J would be concerned about it.
posted by paladin at 6:16 AM on October 18, 2001


mcsweetie:

> I just find it insulting because the display of the blank
> plaque next to one with the ten commandment's is like
> saying "you don't believe in god, therefore your life is as
> empty as this plaque" or "you don't live by these rules
> verbatim, therefore you are amoral, a vagabond,
> nothing, etc."

What mcsweetie sees written on the blank plaque. It's entirely in the eye of the beholder.
posted by jfuller at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2001


Paladin:

> People who say that Jesus did not ever claim He was the
> only begotten Son of God always overlook this particular
> passage:

I don't see "only begotten" anywhere in the verses you quote. The reason I don't see it is because it isn't there. Jesus didn't say it.
posted by jfuller at 6:25 AM on October 18, 2001


What mcsweetie sees written on the blank plaque. It's entirely in the eye of the beholder.

from the wire story:
The blank frame "is for those who believe in nothing," Councilman Bill McMillon said Tuesday
It seems to be in the eye of the beholders on the other side too.
posted by boaz at 6:30 AM on October 18, 2001


boaz:

From the Catoosa County News (i.e. Carol Anne's Link)

McMillon feels it is appropriate that Ringgold show that it stands on these same principles, but he did not want to leave out those with other beliefs. “We will also display a blank frame to recognize other religious beliefs,” he said.

Doesn't really say "believe in nothing" in that story...perhaps McMillon was being a bit prejudiced in whatever you read, however.
posted by taumeson at 8:23 AM on October 18, 2001


> The blank frame "is for those who believe in nothing,"
> Councilman Bill McMillon said Tuesday

Fantastic, dude. I may make a pilgrimage.


Now, he thought, that all these transitory things have slipped away from me again, I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a small child. Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I have learned nothing. How strange it is! Now, when I am no longer young, when my hair is fast growing gray, when strength begins to diminish, now I am beginning again like a child. He had to smile again. Yes, his destiny was strange! He was going backwards, and now he stood empty and naked and ignorant in the world. But he did not grieve about it; no, he even felt a great desire to laugh..."

-- Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
posted by jfuller at 8:28 AM on October 18, 2001


no, I want to have the last word.

isthmus.
posted by kv at 8:10 PM on October 18, 2001


peninsula.
posted by gd779 at 8:31 PM on October 18, 2001


jfuller,

You did get me on the minor point, that the words "only begotten" are not there, but the text clearly reads, "the Son of the living God", which was really the major point I was trying to make. Saying that the Father gave Simon Peter the knowledge that Jesus was, in fact, "the Son" is just as good as the big J coming right out and saying it.
posted by paladin at 9:16 PM on October 18, 2001


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