Monday, December 10, 2007

To Mitt Romney and Bill O'Reilly

Mitt Romney recently spoke to an audience of right-wing Christians to assure them that, as president, he would not impose his Mormon faith on the nation but would advance religious (Judeo-Christian) values in "the public square." Besides keeping Christmas trees and menorahs in the public square, Romney would strive to keep "In God We Trust" on our currency and "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance.
I assume he would also want to continue funneling federal tax money to religious charities and withholding federal tax money from organizations that advocate family planning, the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and sex education in schools that doesn't consist solely in advising teenagers to abstain from sex until they marry. He likely will want to promote the teaching of intelligent design instead of evolution in public science classrooms. George W. Bush has promoted all of these things with the support of a Republican-controlled Congress and a conservative-majority Supreme Court. (I'll refrain from listing all of the non-religious ways President Bush has defied our Constitution.)
Romney and the religious right are clearly threatened by secular humanism, by brave and dedicated atheists like Michael Newdow. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly claims secular humanists have a "very secret plan" to get rid of public religion in this nation. As an open secular humanist and atheist, I object to O'Reilly's claim that I'm part of some conspiracy. As a member of the newly formed Secular Humanists of Santa Cruz County, I am not hiding my atheism nor plotting with any of the other members to remove religion from the "public square." We openly advertise our existence and invite others to join us in discussion about religious and secular humanist issues affecting our civic, public lives.
At our last meeting, no one registered concern that downtown Santa Cruz displays both a Christmas tree and large menorah. Instead, we discussed how to respond to Romney's assault on secular humanists. We are not intent on stripping the joy of the holidays from anyone. We are intent, though, in opposing the religious right, who insist on promoting a religious government in direct violation of the Constitution.
Romney and O'Reilly incorrectly ascribe a Christian religiosity to our Founding Fathers. George Washington attended Anglican/Episcopalian church with Martha, but he never took communion, an act that would have signaled his belief. Thomas Jefferson wrote often of his skepticism. Benjamin Franklin was a deist, not a Christian. Later, James Madison staunchly defended the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state, fully appreciating that this was absolutely the intent of our Founding Fathers.
While the Puritans certainly settled New England, and Spain certainly spread Catholicism in Florida and up the coast of California, the Framers of our Constitution founded this nation's government on religious freedom. No president should be forced to pass a litmus test of religious belief, and the president, Congress, and Supreme Court should never be permitted to promote a religion. This nation became a hotbed of Christian fundamentalism during the Great Awakenings, after the founding of the government during the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason. And "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, at the height of anti-communism in America. Philosophically, the nation's secular roots are older than its religious ones. I guess Romney and O'Reilly flunked history and government in high school.
The religious right fears losing the presidency to a person who would end the current president's disregard for the Constitution. They should be scared. It's long past time for reasonable people to stop the religious right's influence and power. Secular humanist conspiracy isn't going to bring down religious fundamentalism. Secular humanist open participation in the public square and in the public courts (go, Michael Newdow!) and halls of government are going to restore our Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, including the right to be religion free.
To Romney and the religious right, I say again that I (and probably a good many of my fellow secular humanists) enjoy religious celebrations and displays in the public square. To O'Reilly, I say that I don't feel offended when a store greeter says "Merry Christmas" to me during this season. I'm not offended that stores allow the Salvation Army to ring bells and collect donations at store entrances. I'm not upset that the US Post Office sells Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa stamps.
As a member of the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, I sang in its 25th annual Music for the Feast of Christmas Concerts and Community Sings at Holy Cross Church just two weekends ago. My joy in singing gorgeous music by Bach, Mendelssohn, Gabrieli, and so many others was not diminished by the fact that I didn't believe a religious word of what I was singing. I love singing Christmas songs (and Hanukkah songs, for that matter) and celebrating the holiday with family and friends. My non-belief in a god incarnate, born of a virgin, doesn't lessen my pleasure in Christmas trees and wreaths, candles, carols, wassail, eggnog, and family togetherness. What gives me deep pain is living under a president who deprives me of Constitutionally guaranteed rights . . . and the prospect of another one who would do the same.

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