A few atheist sites are discussing the fact that the Republican Party of Texas has asserted that a Democratic candidate for judge, Ben Franks, is an Atheist and that,
Should Franks be elected in November, one would have to conclude that he will hold true to his out of touch “atheist” belief system and ignore the laws and Constitution of Texas.
It is not possible to utter a more blatantly bigoted statement. Imagine somebody asserting that a Catholic, Jew, or Muslim is disqualified to become judge because he would necessarily put his religion above the Constitution.
However, I am not going to write much on the moral contemptibility of this statement. You can read about the issue in the article, “GOP Raises Religion in Court Race, Calling Democrat an Atheist” . You can find additional discussion on the merits of the claim in an article at Austin Cline’s About Atheism called, "Republican Party of Texas: Officially Bigoted against Atheist".
I want only to mention the irony of the Republican Party saying that an atheist will not defend the Constitution, while at the same time endorsing a violation of the federal Constitution. The Constitution of the United States bans religious qualifications for public office, yet the article cited above endorses Texas’ use of religious qualifications for public office. We can see from this how interested the Texas Republican Party is in defending the Constitution. We need not mention the destruction to the federal Constitution engineered by Texas resident President George Bush.
My main interest is in the reaction to this message.
First, there is Ben Franks’ reaction. So far, Franks has not had the courage to condemn the Republicans for such blatant religious discrimination. In fact, if silence implies consent (or, at least, assent) Franks thinks that the Republicans are correct to assert that voters are justified in keeping atheists out of office. At least, he is not concerned with taking a stand against the practice.
Instead, all he has done is deny that he is an atheist. Such an assertion tacitly accepts the premise, “Well, yes, if I was an atheist, then your charge would be correct and people should vote against me. But, since I am not, your accusations should be rejected.”
It is a bit like standing up to the Nazi party in Germany by saying, “I am not a Jew. I am a good German. I hate Jews as much as you do. I spit on them. Ptoooie.”
Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism responded to the Texas Republican Party statement in a posting called “The Atheist Crew” with a call for Atheists to stand up proudly and assert their beliefs.
As the name of my weblog suggests, we atheists can only fight prejudice by stepping into the light. It is easy to demonize the unknown and the invisible. Only by keeping nonbelievers in the closet for so long have members of the believing majority been able to perpetuate such slurs; when we are not there to counter them, they can say whatever they like without fear of contradiction, and with no counterevidence in sight there is no reason for ordinary people to disbelieve them.
However, when actual atheists are visible to contradict these smears, they do not stick.
This is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough – and the last proposition is false.
Clearly, bigotry against African Americans before the civil rights marches of the 1950s did stick – even though African Americans did not remain unknown and invisible. Also, the Nazi Party in Germany actually required Jews to reveal who they were by wearing a large yellow star on the front and back of their clothes. If Ebonmuse was right, this effort to make Jews visible should have defeated the Nazi Party. Instead, it had the opposite effect.
That’s the way hate works. “To know me is to love me,” is an idealistic fantasy.
A More Fitting Reaction
Atheists have to do more than simply say, “I am an atheist.” They have to point shout – in ways that others are sure to hear, “And you are a low-life bigot for failing to give me the proper respect and consideration that I deserve. Your comments here – to ban us from public office – belong in the same family as Jim Crow bigotry against African Americans and early Nazi bigotry against the Jews. The Nazis did not start with the Holocaust. They started off with simpler, easier forms of bigotry and hatred – such as banning Jews from holding public office. In short, this represents the type of religious bigotry that we can expect to find in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East, and is best left confined to that region.”
At the same time, somebody should say to Mr. Franks, “If you are not willing to stand up to bigotry while on the campaign trail, then we should assume you do not wish to stand up against bigotry on the courts. The last thing the state of Texas needs is an elected judge who is worried that he must prove to the voting public that he has no interest in defending atheists from bigotry.”
Which is a message that I will be trying to send to Mr. Franks shortly after I finish this post.
What the state of Texas needs is an atheist leader who is willing to stand up and be heard – willing to find some way to speak as loudly as he peacefully can that this is bigotry not unlike that expressed against African Americans and Jews in other times.
For any who would like to contact the principle parties, I will make it easy for you.
Email address for “Elect Ben Franks”: firstname.lastname@example.org
The email for the Texas GOP that hosts the site with the statement in question (for all the good it would do) is: email@example.com
I would like to add the request that, when writing to somebody, at least at the start, keep the discussion civil.
Franks is running for a seat on the Sixth Court of Appeals in Texas, which is in the northeast corner of the state (in the Texarkana region), in case you know somebody in the area.
I would also like to invite readers to pressure any political sites they frequent to take a stand on this issue. It is as wrong to suggest that only atheists should speak about this type of bigotry than it is to say that only blacks should condemn racism and only Jews should speak ill of Nazi Germany. That which is wrong should be condemned by all who recognize it as such.
It is more than fitting to contact these people to tell them that they should go on record as condemning this type of behavior. They should state their conviction that atheists should be treated as full and equal citizens, that no person shall be called morally inferior on a matter of religious belief alone, and that it is simple bigotry to advocate religious belief as a reason for barring a citizen in good standing from public office.