2.8 Religion & Humanism

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2.8.1 When many religious people see atheists, agnostics, humanists, or freethinkers organizing in any way, they sometimes assume that their goal is to outlaw or somehow infringe on the rights of religious people. As with any group of people, there are undoubtedly overzealous individuals who’s views are extreme. However, the bulk of organized nonbelievers are not looking to infringe on the rights of believers and would even be opposed to such measures. Many organizations’ official policies reflect this as well.

2.8.2 One reason why believers get the idea that nonbelievers are attempting to infringe on their rights is that, in many situations that occur, the alleged "infringements" are being over exaggerated or the "rights" are being overstated. For example, a person might hear the following story...

A child had a relative that died. While in class, the child asked what heaven was and the teacher told him. For this, she was fired.

This type of story sounds pretty bad. But what we don’t hear is that the teacher went to great lengths to preach Christianity in general to the child, after which she put her hand upon each of the children’s heads and led them in a prayer, in a public school. These details often get left out in the recounts in radio programs and religious television programs. The regular media is reluctant to give out such details because they don’t want to do anything that might give the appearance of being anti-religious. Another example might simply say something like, "The Supreme Court outlaws prayer at school" when, in fact, they have simply outlawed the use of public facilities, sound systems, and personnel to lead sectarian prayers, since this property is funded by tax money, which comes from people of all sorts of opposing viewpoints. The rights of students to pray individually or even collectively and the right to form prayer groups is not infringed. This is a far cry from "outlawing prayer."

2.8.3 These are the sorts of distortions that lead many people to believe that Christians are being persecuted when the reality is, and has been, the opposite. Are there explicit laws against Christians serving in public office or as Notary Publics, as there are for atheists? Is there a similar group shown as much favoritism by our government as the Boy Scouts, which explicitly bans nonbelievers? Are atheist, or even non-Christian religious holidays officially celebrated by our Government? Are there as many cities across America which have non-Christian religious or atheistic symbols in their seals, or which have the humanist equivalents of crosses and ten-commandment plaques erected in public areas? Can non-religious organizations get the same sort of tax exemption as churches or are they restricted merely to the non-profit tax exemptions? Can non-religious community leaders marry people without question, as in the case of those who claim to be the leader of a church? It would be humorous if it were not so shameful, when Christians complain about persecution when not able to use public property to advance their religion or have access to State resources to do the same. What leads conservative Christians to such a view is likely that, whether explicitly or not, they believe that this country either is or should be officially a "Christian nation" with all others merely tolerated. In this view, any sort of equitable restriction or quid pro quo becomes a "violation" of their rights.

2.8.4 One of the central values of humanism is the valuing of basic human rights. This includes the right to believe and practice one’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof. Humanists realize that, unless everyone is free, no one can be free. What humanist do say in this area is, "We do not hold your religious beliefs, this is why we don’t hold them, but you should be free to hold them yourself." What humanists do insist on is the following...

a) We insist on our right to openly speak our mind about our beliefs and our right to be treated as equals in society, including the right to run for and potentially fill any office in the land (many States have laws against nonbelievers in office, which are still being enforced in many cases even to this day).

b) We insist on the right not to be forced to participate in or sit through other’s belief rituals, and the right not to have our children forced into sitting through them. "Forced" in this sense also includes "effective force" which means that if one declines then one is excluded from general activities that should be open to all in a community or school. The claim that this sort of participation is "optional" is a farce when the other "option" is not to participate in events or come to facilities funded by taxes from all citizens.

c) We insist on a government which is neutral to religion, neither for nor against - a government that does not show favoritism to one religion’s holidays, customs, etc. We insist that tax money, which is collected forcefully and supposed to be spent on behalf of all citizens, not be spent to aide religious agendas, favoring one over the other, or even favoring religion over non-religion.

d) We insist on the right of all people, of any religion, to practice their religion and to enjoy all of the rights we enjoy, unless or until they infringe on our or any other group’s rights.

2.8.5 Along with these values, many humanist organizations are concerned about corruption in the government, poverty issues, human rights abuses, education, the environment, etc. Many of these concerns are shared by several other groups, including many theistic churches. Both nontheists and theists of all types should be open to working together on such common causes where possible. While it is true that we live in a democracy and Christians may currently be in the majority, we must remember that the rights of minorities must be protected, else our democracy easily becomes a "mob rule". The goal of every person and every such group should be a free and open society where no one is made by active effort or policy to feel as though they are less than a fully legitimate member of society, regardless of their beliefs.

Continue to 2.9 Humanism & Atheism