While listening to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address this afternoon, I was struck by his mention of pivotal moments in past campaigns for rights for those who, before those campaigns took shape, were not the equal beneficiaries of the rights outlined in the US Constitution. He mentioned Seneca Falls, which before this day I did not know was the locus for a convention in 1848 which focused on issues surrounding women’s rights and the seed for their right to vote movement in the US. Also mentioned was Selma, more specifically Selma, Alabama, which was the site in 1965 of one of the most horrific incidents during the fight for racial equality for African-Americans, where peaceful marchers were met with police armed with batons and tear gas, in a day which became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Finally and rather surprising for me was the mention of Stonewall, referring to the gay bar in New York, the riots which resulted from a police raid there in 1969, and there from the spawning of the gay rights movement.
Two things strike me as being in common with the three movements President Obama gave note to there. The first is obviously that all three were fights on the part of marginalized citizens for their equal place in America’s workings. The other is that all three were marked and marred by violence, particularly from those who, at the time, were utterly and irrevocably opposed to the empowerment of those citizens.
This has made me wonder: would an atheist movement to gain full recognition of our presence and restore full secularity to our government require a movement of equal significance, and would that movement result in similar reactionary violence before its ends are achieved?
As of right now, I don’t know as there is particularly an atheist movement of any kind, local, state or national, with aims of any sort, never mind general atheist recognition or an affirmation of the non-religious foundations of our government. The old saw about organizing atheists resembling “herding cats” is both well-known and well justified here. Still, I can’t help but feel at least the beginnings of such a movement among my fellow non-believers when I hear the words and see the actions of dominionists such as Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, who push for a greater involvement of their particular brand of christianity in our government, in direct contravention of the Constitution. True, the reelection of Barack Obama has blunted the current push by those who support the New Apostolic Reformation to remake the government in their own image, but it has by no means stopped it. Moves to legalize the teaching of intelligent design in public schools have already had success in Tennessee and Louisiana, and actions to pass Personhood Amendments at the state level, while as yet unsuccessful, are remarkably persistent and may yet gain the force of law. Make no mistake; both of those efforts are elements of dominionism.
So what are we going to do about this? It has been suggested by at least one Atheist Nexus member that atheists as a general population are unwilling to put themselves on the line when push comes to shove and that what few atheist voices are raised will be ignored. I would prefer that he were wrong, but I’m not truly certain that he is. Certainly, we have organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation which provides individual legal support for atheism-related cases, but what about direct dealings with the government itself? Does the FFRF or any other atheist organization lobby for atheists as well? If they do, it’s news to me. Had Mitt Romney been elected, would we sit idly by as he appointed justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, support corporate personhood and most egregiously, nullify the separation of church and state which is the hallmark of this country’s foundation? Why are we so complacent?
Does there have to be an atheist equivalent of Stonewall or the March to Selma before atheists can bring themselves to respond as an organized group? How bad does it have to get before atheists will be willing to band together and ACT?