“Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee”: Part 8,987,436

August 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Posted in civil rights, God machine, Historical, Reality Bites | 7 Comments
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California : Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1941 (Library of Congress)

California : Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1941 (Library of Congress)

Ads sponsored by the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers group were placed on the side of some Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) buses this week reading, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

Seems harmless enough, right? Not offensive. Nobody said “fuck.” The FSM was nowhere to be seen.

But the delicate sensibilities of the faithful — who apparently have small faith in the power they claim to believe in — have been offended and the governor of Iowa has responded by saying, “I was disturbed, personally, by the advertisement and I can understand why other Iowans were also disturbed by the message that it sent.”

Disturbed? Do tell.

Governor Culver went on to say that “the question will likely become a legal battle,” but deferred to the Iowa Attorney General on the question of “whether the group deserves the same free speech rights as Christian organizations to advertise on the buses.”

Given that requiring approval by Christianists would be in itself a violation of the First Amendment, these seems like a curious statement by the governor. Perhaps he should consult with the governors of Wisconsin, Tennessee, Colorado and Ohio.

The signs went on the buses last Saturday, August 1, but were removed on Tuesday, August 4, after “a storm of controversy” and complaints. “DART’s advertising director, Kirsten Baer-Harding, said Wednesday that the agency’s board never approved the signs and that they were put up by mistake. But the president of the atheist group said Baer-Harding had told him the signs had been approved.”

Given that the signs were actually placed on buses, it is hard to imagine that they were not in fact approved by an appropriate authority at DART. One would expect that there is a charge for advertising. Is Ms. Baer-Harding saying then that DART accepted no payment? They must be running a pretty loose operation if just anyone can post advertisements on DART buses willy-nilly.

Last October the British Humanist Association (BHA) began running adverts on London buses as part of a fundraising campaign. The signs read, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Some Christian organizations expressed disagreement with the campaign but others spoke in support.

The Methodist Church not only thanked Professor Dawkins for encouraging a “continued interest in God,” but spirituality and discipleship officer Rev Jenny Ellis said, “This campaign will be a good thing if it gets people to engage with the deepest questions of life.” She added, “Christianity is for people who aren’t afraid to think about life and meaning.”

The British ad campaign was expanded in January 2009 and ran on 200 buses in London and 600 others across England, Scotland and Wales for four weeks.

Many public figures spoke out in support of the effort. Ariane Sherine, a comedy writer who came up with the idea for the ads, said, “‘I am very glad that we live in a country where people have the freedom to believe in whatever they want.”

Religious sign on highway between Columbus and Augusta, Georgia indicating a revival of interest in religion.  1940 December.  Marion Post Wolcott, photographer  (Library of Congress)

Religious sign on highway between Columbus and Augusta, Georgia indicating a revival of interest in religion. 1940 December. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer (Library of Congress)

It would be great if in America people had the same freedom to believe whatever the want.

The campaign was welcomed by Theos, the public theology think tank and even various religious figures.

Paul Woolley, director of Theos, said: ‘We think that the campaign is a great way to get people thinking about God.

‘The posters will encourage people to consider the most important question we will ever face in our lives.’

The Methodist Church also welcomed the campaign.

The Rev Jenny Ellis, spirituality and discipleship officer, said: ‘We welcome the atheist bus campaign as an opportunity to talk about the deepest questions of life.

‘The God many atheists have rejected is not the God we recognise and this campaign has opened up a dialogue between Christians and atheists which allows these types of misconceptions to be challenged.’

The idea that belief in a god is mandatory is anathema to the principles held by the Founding Fathers, generations of Americans and imbued in the Constitution.

Governor Culver is clearly ignorant of the First Amendment, which expressly prohibits the infringement of the free exercise of religion or speech, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which the Supreme Court has held applies the limitations of the First Amendment to each state, including any local government within a state. Whether speech is protected is not decided by the personal likes and dislikes of someone, even if they are governor of a state. I would imagine that President Obama is not terribly happy with the accusations that he is not a legal “natural born” citizen of the United States, but he has not directed the Attorney General to look into the question of whether Birthers “deserve the same free speech rights” as Americans who recognize the authority of the government of the State of Hawaii.

Interestingly, of the top ten least religious countries in the world, only three have a lower life expectancy than the United States (ranks 50th) — Vietnam, Estonia and the Czech Republic. Those Godless socialists in Sweden, Japan and France have managed to establish a standard of living and care which ranks them in the top ten for life expectancy.

Life expectancy is more closely tied to access to good health care than a church. Even in Iowa. Citizens living in the Southern states, a hotbed of religious fervor, have the lowest life expectancy in the nation.

Smelling out a rat; or the atheistical-revolutionist disturbed in his midnight calculations.  Print shows Richard Price seated at a desk, he turns to look over his right shoulder at a vision of an enormous Edmund Burke, his spectacles, nose, and hands emerge from the haze, a crown in one hand and a cross in the other, on his head an open copy of his Reflections on the Revolution in France.... Hanging on the wall is an illustration of the beheading of Charles I titled, Death of Charles I, or the Glory of Great Britain.  Pubd. by H. Humphrey No. 18 Old Bond Street (London), 1790 Dec. 3d (Library of Congress)

Smelling out a rat; or the atheistical-revolutionist disturbed in his midnight "calculations." Print shows Richard Price seated at a desk, he turns to look over his right shoulder at a vision of an enormous Edmund Burke, his spectacles, nose, and hands emerge from the haze, a crown in one hand and a cross in the other, on his head an open copy of his "Reflections on the Revolution in France...." Hanging on the wall is an illustration of the beheading of Charles I titled, "Death of Charles I, or the Glory of Great Britain." Pubd. by H. Humphrey No. 18 Old Bond Street (London), 1790 Dec. 3d (Library of Congress)

* * *

While looking around at information about religion in America, I came across an interesting article about Reinhold Niebuhr and “the extent to which the 20th-century theologian has influenced Obama’s views on faith, politics and social change.”

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7 Comments »

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  1. […] UPDATE: I continue to “blog against theocracy.” Go here to read my more recent post about the intersection of religion and free speech. […]

  2. While your comments on life expectancy and religion are nothing more than spurious, I wholeheartedly agree with your views on the freedom of speech. As a Christian and an American, I am disturbed by any abridgement of the freedom of speech, even though I think many are too quick to claim that beliefs are “forced” on them (no one can really force you to believe anything).

    The founders of this nation were in large part Christian (many were also Deists), and they were highly suspicious of government. I think we could use a little more of that suspicion today.

    Those who disagree with the atheists should get their own bus ads (and express that they find the ads disturbing), not seek to prohibit the atheists’ ads.

    “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
    Justice Louis D. Brandeis
    (1856-1941) US Supreme Court Justice
    Whitney v. California, 1927

    Likewise, the atheists ought not take offense when Christians express their disapproval of the ads and call them “disturbing.” That has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with vigorous public debate.

    • I don’t know that you can call my pointing out a correlation between religiosity and life expectancy “spurious.” I never said there was a cause-and-effect. My point is that adherence to Christian belief does not result in better life outcome as measured by longevity.

      I have no objection to Christians expressing disapproval or calling the ads “disturbing.” I do object to the governor of a state telling his citizens that there is a question about whether there is a right to express atheist ideas in a public forum, and I have a real problem with a representative of DART withdrawing authorization of advertisements based on disapproval by local Christianists.

      • “I never said there was a cause-and-effect.” Well, that’s what spurious means, so apparently we are in agreement.

        As to the bus ads, I completely agree with you, and would concur in any political efforts to keep the government from engaging in any content-based discrimination, whether for or against any religion or religion as a whole. Like I said, if the local Christians don’t like the ads, they should pay for their own rebuttal bus ads, not try to silence the atheists. Just as the government should not prevent religious speech of any kind, either. If we want our own free speech, we have to want it for everybody.

        I’d fight for your right to free speech no matter how much I disagree with what you say. There was a recent Supreme Court case known infamously as the “bong hits for Jesus” case. A kid across the street from a public school held up a large sign saying “bong hits for Jesus” and was then punished by the school. Despite the obvious anti-Christian message, large Christian groups filed briefs in *support* of the student on the basis of his freedom of speech. There are a great number of Christians that support free speech no matter how offensive the speech.

  3. You seem to not have a grasp of the definition of “spurious” so I will provide it to you from the dictionary:

    “not genuine, authentic, or true; not from the claimed, pretended, or proper source; counterfeit.”

    My “comments on life expectancy and religion” are not spurious. There is a correlation but, as I pointed out, that does not necessarily translate into cause and effect.

  4. Having once upon a time taken a sociology class that concerned statistics, the definition of “spurious” upon which we operated was correlation without causation. As in, if educational success is lower in black communities, that fact is “spurious” in that blackness does not cause poor education in itself. The suggestion that blackness is somehow tied to a lack of education is false, notwithstanding the correlation, because the causation of lack of education is something else that has nothing to do with merely being black (say, a recent family history involving involuntary servitude, or some other factor not inherent in blackness).

    So that’s what I meant by spurious. But thanks for your impressive use of dictionary.com.

  5. My lack of health care won’t give me cancer either, but lack of health care will result in my earlier death.

    When people cannot get certain kinds of healthcare because a mob with strict religious beliefs have rendered them unavailable, people are going to die.

    So, there is no direct cause and effect as would be the case of your face hurting if I punched you in the nose, but there is a relationship.

    You might not like it but that’s not my problem.


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