AN: I've responded to a piece in a Wisconsin area newspaper, please let me know what you think. By the way, you can also read this at Good Reason News where you can also fine an adorable puppy dressed as the pope.


I'm taking a page from Angie's book today and responding to a wildly irresponsible op-ed piece. This one comes from Mike Nichols of the Journal-Sentinel and involves the Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit against using the phrase "In God We Trust" on the Capitol Building's visitor's center, which I wrote about earlier. Mr. Nichols said:

I suppose it's futile for a churchgoer like me to offer a little, friendly, non-religious advice to the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the group of atheists and agnostics and so-called freethinkers who are in the news again. The foundation is asking a Wisconsin federal judge to keep the words "In God We Trust" off the new visitors center at the U.S. Capitol. The group also recently sent a letter to Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan asking him to prohibit prayer at the beginning of legislative sessions and has made similar requests of local politicians everywhere from La Crosse to Dodge County.

The advice: At least pretend not to think that people who believe in God are the equivalent of dogs.

So far we've got Nichols dismissing the two real issues the FFRF are raising, giving "so-called" non-religious advice in an insulting tone and, finally, predictably re-framing the argument in a way that makes atheists look like monsters.

Moving on...

The thing is, even smart people who believe in God usually have enough of a mind to believe in a firm separation of church and state. They might argue, as I would, that historical and largely ceremonial references to trusting in something other than themselves are not the same as attempts to establish any sort of state religion, but they also acknowledge there are two sides of the debate. It's true, too, that preachers should be prohibited from invoking Jesus or Buddha or Allah where our politicians make our laws. Most fair-minded people might say the freethinkers are being reasonable about that.

Sir, there is an outrageous amount of church/state betrayal, particularly in the last 10 years. Can you remember a president that invoked so much born-again Jesus talk as George W. Bush? Can you imagine if a natural disaster wiped out half a city in the Ford Administration and some preacher came out and said the city 'had been asking for it.' Bush didn't create the religious ferver of the last decade, but he sure let it thrive.

As for it being 'largely ceremonial' and 'not a state religion' you're exactly wrong. The push to squeeze the name of ANY 'greater power' onto a public institution is the process that religious leaders use to establish an unofficial state religion. It's their way around the law. And by the way, atheists who identify with humanist philosophies do believe in something other than themselves. It's called the law and the common good and morality. But it's not called God, no matter how you slice it.

The foundation posted Sheridan's e-mails on its Web site the other day. I, in turn, filed an open records request for any e-mails sent to his office and was given 10. "Yo, The Honorable Mike Sheridan . . . Why do you have to bring your delusion with you to Assembly meetings," stated one from a guy named Richard, who quickly segued into a diatribe about transubstantiation being "witch-doctor mumbo jumbo." And ended by calling Sheridan a "dog."

"Rep. Sheridan - Are you and your fellow assembly members that join in prayer (pissing in the wind) to open sessions incapable of performing your governmental duties without appealing to some alleged sky phantom?" asked another kind soul who signed his name Bill Fell.

Cease "your excursions into self-delusion!" advised Dave Summers of Erie, Pa., "No heaven awaits you nor other Wisconsin citizens . . . nor does a hell, which you might find to be as consoling."

Of course, now we're way off course as far as the FFRF lawsuit goes, but let's take a look at what you've found here. Looks to me like a constituency, who by the way may or may not be actually involved with the FFRF, lashing out at their representative because they disagree with something he did. Oh the shame! Mr. Nichols, I could only wish that the residents of my state were so proactive. Am I trying to excuse personal attacks on Sheridan? No, of course not. But are the people represented by this man allowed to express their frustration with someone who was elected to do a decidedly secular government who engages in on the job prayer sessions? Of course they're allowed to. Nobody's made any threats. Sheridan has no idea what an OB/GYN goes through in the face of Christian opposition. You have no idea what I go through as a fellow journalist who's commentaries on religion rarely contain even an ounce of the vitriol expressed in some of the responses I get.

Freethinkers occasionally can be funny. And there are rational ones as well. One e-mail from Nancy and Harlan Harris of Kewaskum was titled "a polite request" and noted that "our government is mandated to be neutral in matters of religion." And just because there are a few wackos sending e-mails doesn't necessarily reflect on the whole organization. Surely, most of the group doesn't consider people who believe in God to be dogs. So I picked up the most recent edition of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's newspaper, "Freethought Today."

On the very front of the paper, edited by Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, is a cartoon of a guy wearing a cross sneaking through a doggie-door labeled "Fido," which leads to a chamber that is supposed to represent state government. Inside are articles titled, "Slavery: 'A Trust from God,' " "Holy Goats" and "Creeps of the Month: The Irish Catholic Church." Also included: the "Black Collar Crime Blotter" and "Marquee Madness," a selection of pictures of sayings outside churches that freethinking readers make fun of and, it seems, find amusing.

Less amusing to us dogs is the suspicion that the Freedom From Religion Foundation isn't as interested in separating churches from the state as it is in deriding them.

You know, I've seen political cartoons making Democrats look pretty ridiculous. I'm aware of socialist publications with headlines derogatory towards capitalism. There are many Web sites calling for awful things to be done to President Obama. (I wonder where they go... But the point is that this is all exaggerated, opinionated and protected free speech. You're talking about political cartoons in a specialized publication for goodness sake! Did you expect to be handled with kid gloves? Oh, I guess, since religion is something 'we just don't discuss,' you did. It must be a bit of a culture shock for you, but let me assure you, I'm shocked everyday when I meet seemingly reasonable people who abandon reason for dogma and who put appeal to bronze-age myths above appeal to their own set of morals, standards and rationale. Religion demands you put away your questioning and obey. sit. stay. roll over.

Mr. Nichols, I don't think you or any other religious person are like dogs, but I certainly think you allow yourselves to be treated that way.

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