Positive Atheism Forum
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The Role Of Religion
In The U.S.
Presidential Campaign

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Cliff Walker's Open Letter
To Senator Joseph Lieberman
[*modified slightly to clarify an ambiguous statement]

Cliff Walker, Publisher
Positive Atheism Magazine
PO Box 16811
Portland, Oregon, 97292
www.PositiveAtheism.org
editor@positiveatheism.org

August 31, 2000
 

Senator Joseph Lieberman:

I send this to you as an open letter, in response to several comments you've made since your nomination for the Democratic Party's vice-presidential candidate.
 

1. The Supremacy of Christians (and lately Jews)!?

We are distressed by comments you made recently during your speech at a Detroit, Michigan church where you called upon Americans to "reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes."

How would it sound if a politician had urged Americans to "reaffirm whiteness and renew the dedication of our nation to the principles of the supremacy of white males"?

If this makes you shudder, then you have an idea what it's like to be a nonreligious American and to hear remarks by yourself, vice-President Gore, Governor Bush and his running mate (but not the Green or Libertarian candidates).

To favor one group (in your case, religious people) or to represent one group over another is sheer bigotry. The only difference is that it is still very popular among Americans to discriminate against nonreligious people (see the Gallup poll that was released upon your nomination as Gore's running mate). Unfortunately, we are such a despised minority that we cannot even organize in many areas of the country, and must remain "in the closet." Being so diverse and so accustomed to enduring the most brutal persecution and discrimination for centuries, most of us haven't the nerve to speak out and stop this bigotry like women, Jews, African Americans, and lately homosexuals have been able to do.
 

2. Yes, Freedom From Religion! You bet!

You also suggested that the Constitution of the United States "guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

Excuse me? Which constitution have you been reading? And which cases have set this as the precedent? I cite Grand Rapids School District v. Ball (1985):

    "The solution to this problem adopted by the Framers and consistently recognized by this Court is jealously to guard the right of every individual to worship according to the dictates of conscience while requiring the government to maintain a course of neutrality among religions, and between religion and nonreligion.
          -- Justice William. J. Brennan
                for the majority 473 US 373

These remarks of yours are inaccurate and inappropriate in an American election campaign. You are seeking the nation's second-highest elected office where you may have the responsibility of representing all Americans -- not just those of religious belief. Tens of millions of us describe ourselves as Atheists, agnostics, skeptics -- people of no religious faith. We pay taxes, "play by the rules" as Bill Clinton likes to say, and many of us vote. We find it offensive that major political figures preach at us, commanding us to worship, and then suggest that our nation does not enjoy the constitutional protections of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

Many who would traditionally vote the Democratic ticket are now going to send the Democratic Party a message by voting for Independent candidates. I am one of those voters.

Nonreligion -- atheism -- has been the "faith of my fathers" for at least four solid generations, probably longer. Not one of my parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents was a Christian, and most were not even theists. One was a Unitarian, and that's as religious as we get in our family tree.

We look forward to hearing from you on this matter, and will publish any responses you may have to what I have written here. Our next issue will complete five years (60 issues) of my publishing a magazine dedicated to, among other things, the dignity of those without religion, many of whom suspect that all religion is opportunistic at best and outright fraud at worst.* Ours is not a tax-exempt organ, so we can and will speak our minds on the candidates who seek to trash the right to lack religion, or who seek to relegate atheists back to second-class citizenship, or who seek to funnel even more of our tax dollars into the treasuries of the already tax-exempt religions, or who seek to revise history and paint the United States as a "Christian Nation."

Thus, we call on you to resign as vice-President Gore's running mate, return to private life (where bigotry is perfectly legal and entirely one's own business), and free up the position for someone who will be more willing to represent all citizens.
 

Sincerely,

Cliff Walker, Publisher
Positive Atheism Magazine

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Earlier Cliff had written:

I apologize to all non-Americans for this, but we were the modern world's leader in divorcing state from church, and many Americans fear that this is quickly coming to an end -- at least here in the States. So much is happening this Presidential campaign season, and I am so overwhelmed by it, that I really cannot begin to comment (though I did say some terse words in the July column).

Below is the latest dispatch from American United for Separation of Church and State (our deserted-island e-mail list recommendation -- if you get only one, get that one). You can subscribe to the e-list at the AU website linked below.

If anyone has some comments on the AU dispatch, we have permission to use their material. I will start a forum if some want to comment on this Presidential campaign. Simply Reply to this e-mail.

Also note that the political situation is entirely different in Brazil, as shown in yesterday's letter from author Huascar Terra do Valle. Brazil is the world's largest Roman Catholic nation, but their President is an atheist. Unlike today's American politicians, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has learned that keeping quiet on one's personal religious faith (or lack thereof) is expedient. Not only must a representative or a leader represent all citizens, she or he best realize that whether or not a god exists (or who that god is or what it says) is one of the least important topics over which to argue.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From Americans United

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 9, 2000

Contact: Joseph Conn or Steve Benen
202-466-3234
202-466-2587 fax
http://www.au.org/

AMERICANS UNITED STATEMENT ON
THE ROLE OF RELIGION AND POLITICS
IN THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

AU's Lynn Urges Candidates To Reaffirm Church-State Separation

The appropriate role of religion in politics has emerged as a major point of discussion in the 2000 presidential campaign.

Earlier this week, Democratic candidate Al Gore selected as his running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the first Jewish American chosen to run for national office. In Lieberman's first speech, the Connecticut senator, who is known for his personal religious devotion, began his address with a prayer and a quote from the biblical book of Chronicles.

This event and other religion-related developments in the presidential campaign have sparked national reflection on the relationship between faith and politics. Today, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, issued the following statement on this issue:

    "Forty years ago, Democratic candidate John Kennedy gave a campaign address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Kennedy, a Catholic, sought to reassure these Protestant clergy that his faith would not undermine his commitment to church-state separation.

    "Kennedy said, 'I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.'

    "Kennedy's word rang true at the time and are equally compelling today.

    "We celebrate the fact that a Jewish American has been added to a national presidential ticket. This reflects the American respect for religious pluralism and the full inclusion of religious minorities in our national life. It also honors a bedrock principle of our Constitution -- Article VI -- which prohibits any religious test for public office. In this country, individuals' religious or philosophical commitments cannot disqualify them from government positions.

    "However, while Americans are a religious people, many of them get very nervous, and properly so, when candidates appear to place too much emphasis on their personal faith in the context of a political campaign.

    "Yesterday, Sen. Lieberman opened his first campaign address with a prayer and a recitation from the Book of Chronicles. This was apparently an expression of his personal religious devotion, and I think most Americans saw it that way.

    "However, as the campaign proceeds, many voters would be concerned if the senator -- or any other candidate -- continued to open his appearances with a prayer and a scripture reading. Americans are more interested in candidates' stands on the important issues of the day than their personal faith. Repeated reliance on pious rhetoric would be seen by many as exploitation of religion. Such manipulation would benefit neither the political process, nor religion itself.

    "Unfortunately, this campaign has already been marred with inappropriate uses of religion. It was wrong for Gore to go to a New York church in February to receive the pulpit endorsement of the Rev. Floyd Flake. It was equally troubling when the Republican Convention beamed in the Rev. Herbert Lusk from his Philadelphia pulpit to endorse GOP candidate George W. Bush.

    "It was wrong for Gore aide Elaine Kamarck to insist that 'the Democratic Party is going to take back God this time.' It was just as wrong for Gov. Bush to proclaim 'Jesus Day' in Texas June 10.

    "It's past time that all the candidates remember that this is a presidential campaign, not a holy war. This is a race for president, not preacher. The winner will swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, not the Bible.

    "John Kennedy had it just right. This country was built on the separation of church and state. It has served us well, guaranteeing full religious freedom for people from many different faiths and those who have chosen no spiritual path at all. Candidates today would do well to reaffirm this principle, not ignore it for political gain."

 
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.

Beth Corbin
National Grassroots Organizer
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
518 C Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
PH: 202-466-3234
FAX: 202-466-2587
corbin@au.org
AUcorbin@aol.com
www.au.org

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From: "Bobbi Needham"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: The Role of Religion in the U.S. Presidential Campaign (AU)
Date: Friday, August 11, 2000 8:17 PM

Hi Cliff,

Every minute of campaign time that our presidential and V.P. candidates spend touting their beliefs, bowing their heads in prayer or invoking the name of God or Jesus Christ, is a minute stolen from the citizens of this nation.

It is a moment that the candidates should have spent informing the voters of their positions on foreign and domestic policy, individual rights, social security, the death penalty, clean air and water, immigration, campaign finance reform, etc.

Voters will go to the polls less informed on the issues as a result. I shudder to anticipate what they have in store for us once the debates begin.

What the voters of this country need is information, not religiosity.

Bobbi Needham

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From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: The Role of Religion in the U.S. Presidential Campaign (AU)
Date: Saturday, August 12, 2000 2:43 AM

what can i say but amen

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From:"curoich"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"<editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM:_The_Role_Of_Religion_In_The_U.S._Presidential_Campaign_9431
Date: Sunday, October 08, 2000 10:46 PM

    I would be the first to agree that what Lieberman said has no place in a Presidential race in this country in the year 2000, but I fear this is not the time to send messages to the Democrats by voting for Nader. Nader can't win and a vote for the Green ticket will take a vote away from the Demos and is very apt to send "Dubya" to the White House. The next president will likely name as many as three Supreme court Justices and Bush's choice would be the Scalia, Thomas ilk, which could change the direction of this country for the next 30 to 40 years.

Dorothy Gaspard

From:"Stephen Sells"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"<editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM:_The_Role_Of_Religion_In_The_U.S._Presidential_Campaign_9431
Date: Monday, October 09, 2000 3:09 AM

Fortunately, Australia has a foreign heredetary monarch who never interferes at all. Lucky us.

Sincerely,
Stephen Sells

Cliff Then Sent Out the Following Dispatch

[Begin Forwarded Attachment]

 
The State of Texas, under the leadership of Governor George W. Bush, is ranked:

    50th in spending for teachers' salaries
    49th in spending on the environment
    48th in per-capita funding for public health
    47th in delivery of social services
    42nd in child-support collections
    41st in per-capita spending on public education

and ...

    5th in percentage of population living in poverty
    1st in air and water pollution
    1st in percentage of poor working parents without insurance
    1st in percentage of children without health insurance
    1st in executions (avg. 1 every 2 weeks for Bush's 5 years)

Just think of what he could do for the country if he were president.

Please forward this to every person of voting age.
 

[End Forwarded Attachment]

Cliff responds:

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From: "USAF Buttcrack"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: FORUM: Can One Ignore The God Issue During This Campaign?
Date: Sunday, August 13, 2000 8:32 AM

Cliff,

Mark Twain once wrote: "Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you want."

The spam in question cites lots of statistics, but lacks the most important piece of information: the source.

I personally advocate people forcefully doubt any information that they receive via the bandwidth unless they can identify the source, the author, and the bias of both.

We all have that acquaintance who subjects us to Urban Legends (i.e. "Someone is Stealing Kidneys" and "Dead Babies Used to Smuggle Cocaine") despite their outlandish and impossible claims.

I believe the most dangerous threat to Atheists doesn't wear a habit or thump the Bible. It doesn't come wearing a G.O.P. or D.N.C. pin on it's lapel. The most dangerous threat to Atheists are the ignorant atheists: those of us that will grasp an idea without scrutinizing its merits.

As Atheists, we should be the most vigilant against hearsay and hypocrisy.

Randy Balsom (_|_)
www.usafbuttcrack.com

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From: "K1zw"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: FORUM: Can One Ignore The God Issue During This Campaign?
Date: Saturday, August 12, 2000 7:23 PM

Cliff

Having being born and raised in Texas let me address the Bush spam if I may. In the first place I don't know if any of those stats are true, they may be, but allow me to remind the spammer of a few things.

Texas has a state government that has a very weak governor's office with little power to get things down so Bush has done the best he could with the tools he had to work with.

Texas also has a very long border with a foreign country that is piss poor and this causes a lot of problems because they flood acroos the border by the thousands. All of these people are dirt poor and many in poor health which makes the average look bad. All kids, legal aliens or not, go to school here and the drop out rate for Mexicans is over 50 percent, again making the state look bad.

Texas is not a rich state and it does what it can for everyone, legal or not , but Texas does have unique problems other states dont have. We share a very long river with Mexico but Texas cannot control pollution of the river by Mexico, again making Texas look bad.

Here in Dallas, Texas, for example, the county hospital is 600 million over budget and asking for a 40 percent tax hike because they don't turn away any poor folks, legal citizens or not. More babies are born at Parkland (the county hospital) by illegal aliens than any hospital in the USA and its all at tax payers expense. Texas tries to do all it can but the tax base only covers so much.

In other words , its easy to throw figures around but getting to the real truth of why things are as they are is more difficult.

One more point and I will go away . Yes Texas does execute a lot of killers. What's the problem? What is so special about the human animal that its life is so sacred that it cannot be taken away regardless of the terrible crimes these killers commit? From what I see of human beings there isn't much special about any of them.

If I have offended any one by my comments I am sorry but spam is just spam.

Larry
Mesquite Texas

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From: "K1zw"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: FORUM: Can One Ignore The God Issue During This Campaign?
Date: Sunday, August 13, 2000 6:20 AM

Its my guess that Bush is somewhat serious but I would have no idea how far it will go. It's a good vote-getting spin, and after he is in office he may make some half-hearted attempt to implement something so that when it fails he can say he tried.

These guys will say anything to get your vote.

The next 8 years are going to be very interesting.

K1zw
Larry
SOC #386
Qcwa

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From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: FORUM: Can One Ignore The God Issue During This Campaign?
Date: Sunday, August 13, 2000 11:29 PM

In a message dated 8/12/00 5:30:52 PM Pacific Daylight Time, editor@positiveatheism.org writes:
 

Texas 1st in air and water pollution

On TV this was further expanded, in that evidently Bush appointed an industry's own (favorite/solicitor/campaigner) to the position of monitoring industrial pollution. As such Bush would be directly responsible for present state of pollution in Texas. If the republicans were sincerely interested in issues that effected the nation, they would pass them in the House and Senate, thus forcing the Clinton to pass or veto them. This would imply some sincerity to me.

Dorman

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From: "Lynn Atherton & Roger Bloxham"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: FORUM: Can One Ignore The God Issue During This Campaign?
Date: Saturday, August 12, 2000 9:55 PM

Dear Editor,

Do you all really want a candidate who unequivocally stands for a non-theocracy?

Do you really want a candidate who uses reason and logic instead of mysticism and the supernatural?

Do you truly want a candidate who understands that character aand moral behavior is not tied to religion, but rather to a moral code that is proper for humans?

Do you think it would be wonderful to have a candidate who can actually understands economics and will forthrightly discuss the issues instead of engaging in personal attacks?

Do you want a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate who understand the very core of individual liberty and to whom these issues are a part of their everyday life and not just window dressing?

If you really did, you would thoroughly investigate the Libertarian Party and Harry Browne, our candidate for 2000.

I have been "hanging around humanists, skeptics, non-theists etc., for many, many years to have relief from the "Bible Thumpers" to put it kindly. I am an atheist who has never been in the "closet".

I am also an economic analyst. The theories of central planning do not work. Freedom and individual liberty work. Eliminating the initiation of force from our dealings with people will work.

Using the government to do the things that you would not do yourself, is only charity by force. It will have the opposite reaction than one expects.

I could write pages, but I have tried that when I was younger. What puzzles me is how people who are dedicated to using reason and logic in one area -- science -- ignore it totally in economics.

I would be happy to refer you to writings that explain why the economics of "involuntary economic activity (socialism, communism, fascism, "democratic" socialism, government/business partnership etc.) are unworkable and have always been disasters economically. But worse they lead to fewer and fewer real civil liberties, a stifling of creativity, animosity within and without the country and eventually to ever greater totalitarianism.

Economic Systems based upon voluntary exchange, respect for individual rights; their life and their property lead to creativity, more honesty and respect among the inhabitants, more peace at home and abroad and more abundance.

What is desperately needed is a presidential candidate who will have the courage to undo the very things you are complaining government does not do enough of. Please! Use the same logic you apply to religion and mysticism. Theft is theft, whether we do it directly or hire the government to do it for us.

What also amazes me though, is that so many times humanists accept the philosophy of Christianity; a philosophy of self-sacrifice and central planning and re-distribution of "wealth" without understanding that it is a detrimental philosophy.

There is a reason why "God" is an issue in politics. There is also a reason why there is so much friction on this issue. What is obvious is that government is trying to provide services it has no business providing so there is no choice for people to purchase goods and services on the market. Most of the friction is in the area of education; an area in which government never should have become involved. Government cannot provide a service without extracting wealth from unwilling taxpayers, who then complain because they feel it is not what they would have purchased with their own money. People do not get up in arms regarding what grocery store they use or where they purchase their clothes. Only services which government tries to provide are in controversy.

I know, I know, education is considered sacred and every person's "right." But you would feel it was your right to free food and clothes if the government had always operated grocery stores or clothing stores.

Government's sole responsibility, if at all, must be limited to protecting life, liberty and property from force and fraud. But that gets into law. Anyway, use your reason. Read something besides the pablum you have been force fed on economics and history. Go to "libertarian" and start your study.

Lynn Atherton
Oklahoma Libertarian Party
(918) 447-1776

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Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.