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Atheist view of the First Amendment

thisRobot (CC)
thisRobot (CC)
Some of you may be aware of the fact that I write for Examiner.com. If you’re fairly close to me, you also know that I get some degree of amusement over their system of categorizing content. Sometimes they quietly let me know that they’re not exactly happy with what I post there. They don’t remove it, but they also don’t give it any attention. One of those “less loved” articles is on the battle between the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and a couple schools in my state, and a state legislator’s response to the situation. Representative Tim Krieger has introduced legislation that if passed would prevent anonymous lawsuits over religious displays from being filed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. My article on that topic covers the legalities. Here, I’ll restrict myself to offering my own opinion on the matter – as an atheist.

FFRF is a really bad joke that simply never goes away. It’s like those really crass blonde jokes that everyone hears multiple times, and rolls their eyes every time someone is rude enough to bring them up in the first place. Krieger is absolutely right that they prey on people – particularly minors – to promote their agenda. And their agenda to rid the world of all public displays of religion is laughable. Beyond the concept of promoting ignorance and intolerance, they have absolutely no respect for history either. Of course, in theory, that could be used against them, at least when it comes to their desire to remove long-standing monuments. It would be much more difficult for them if they were all declared historical monuments – a big hint to people that fed up with battling them, by the way.

I claimed I would stay away from the legalities in this, but it simply isn’t meaningful if I don’t address the obvious. Start with the name of the organization itself – The Freedom From Religion Foundation (emphasis mine.) The First Amendment – specifically the establishment clause – does not guarantee anyone freedom “from” religion. That amendment gets tossed about rather liberally (pun intended) in the context of protecting people from things they claim to not believe exist in the first place. But, the amendment simply guarantees that the Federal government may not establish a state religion. The legal battles that FFRF regularly starts are rarely associated with anything that has to do with the Federal government. It is usually about local monuments that happen to have some sort of religious symbol or text on them. There is no legislative action involved with them, and at most, the local government might spend some small sums of money on upkeep of the items. For those who are slow, that in no way establishes a state religion.

I’ve said repeatedly that contrary to anyone’s wish or misguided belief, atheism is not a religion. It is the absence of faith. (For those who are really, really slow, like the folks over at FFRF, one cannot have a religion without faith.) If one is really an atheist, there is no earthly reason why one should give a damn whether or not there are religious articles anywhere. They certainly shouldn’t care about monuments on public property that were placed there years ago. They shouldn’t care about soldiers making religious monuments without using public money on public property, assuming they weren’t ordered to do so by anyone. Bluntly, the only religious activity atheists should care about is something that is done now that really does establish a state religion. If FFRF wanted to be relevant, and do something useful, then maybe they should focus on preventing the passage of legislation that is based solely on religious tenets. Yes, I know that won’t be popular with social conservatives, but maybe you all need to have someone put your principles through some sort of litmus test to prove that it really isn’t an attempt to establish the Judeo-Christian family of faiths as the state religion. But that would make sense, and nothing in this country seems to do that anymore.

The bottom line remains that the FFRF is a laughable organization that is methodically wasting time and tax dollars with frivolous lawsuits. In the cases of the Pennsylvania schools, claiming that a monument to the Ten Commandments is offensive to someone is bluntly insane. Other than the commandments about adultery, the one true god, and honoring one’s mother and father, all the others were adopted into common law generations ago. We carried those little rules over to the Americas when this nation was created. And again, if one truly does not believe in any deities, how is one harmed by the existence of something to do with those non-existent deities? Well, maybe that does make sense in some way – apparently the FFRF and the people they represent are like the Hollywood depictions of vampires that are terrified of religious articles.

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Liz Harrison (twitter: @GoldwaterGal)

Liz is a mostly-retired veteran political campaign worker, wife, mom, opinionated gal, fiscal conservative, anti-social-conservative, atheist, and foreign affairs/Mid-East politics junkie.

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  1. “But, the [first] amendment simply guarantees that the Federal government may not establish a state religion.”

    I can safely stop reading here, as it shows you do not know what you are talking about. You might want to read some actual court decisions concerning the first amendment, but only if you’re interested in dealing with reality.

    1. Brian, I am aware of what you are referring to, and have a rather firm grasp on reality. In this case, the reality is that the courts have made regular practice of legislating from the bench. The problem is that in the attempt to completely secularize government, the result is creating a hyper-secular society that is getting dangerously close to infringing on the rights of deists to observe their own beliefs. Or are you suggesting that it would be better that the U.S. become like the Roman Empire, when Christians had to meet in hiding, and were often fed to lions for sport? Would it be better if people of faith had to observe their beliefs in private only?

  2. Atheist or Christian, We don’t always share the same opinion. However, one thing I can always be sure of you it that always deliver information from knowledge, sprinkled with a good amount of common sense. Thanks

  3. From Everson v. Board of Education:

    The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.”

    Laugh away, I have the courts on my side. Like I said, I deal with reality.

    1. Brian,
      The federal government is setting up state religions, one being Pantheism and others that worship Earth Gods. They are practicing some type of Pagan religions but we have a tendency to demonize Christianity.

  4. Liz,
    Excellent article. Recently, the FFRF visited one of my hometown. It was great to see the good ole boys get out to voice their opinion on the subject.

    I recently did an article on this subject and found that the FFRF is practicing an FDR freedom known as “Freedom to Worship”.


    In the 1970s, the Supreme Court the three-part Lemon Test:
    1) Does the law have a secular purpose?
    2) Is the primary effect either to advance religion or to inhibit religion?
    3) Does the law foster an excessive governmental entanglement with religion?


    I recalled this from my research. I dislike the FFRF also.

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