When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals releases its decision on the constitutionality of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on the currency and posted in public buildings (particularly in classrooms), we will undoubtedly hear comments about 'atheists' and 'secularists' who are offended by every mention of God in the public square.
Mentioning God in the public square does not offend me. Having the government teach children that a person who does not support 'one nation under God' is as anti-American as one who does not support 'liberty and justice for all' offends me.
Even here, I do not consider offense to be a morally relevant factor. We have to ask a further question. Is the offensive statement true or false? If it is true, then the offended party has to suck it up and live with the fact. Whereas if the offensive statement is false, then the problem with the statement is not that it is offensive, but that it is false.
Even false statements have to be divided into distinct moral categories. There is the innocent mistake – one that even a good moral character could make. There is the negligent falsehood – a falsehood acquired out of a lack of concern for the truth or the effects of a falsehood on others. Finally, there is the malicious falsehood – a falsehood adopted and spread out of a desire to do harm.
The claim that, "The American who does not favor 'one nation under God' is as bad as a person who does not favor 'liberty and justice for all'" is offensive. However, the moral problem with this statement is that it is a malicious falsehood. It was adopted out of a desire to do harm to the interests of those who do not believe in God. It does so by promoting the falsehood that atheists (e.g,, people like Pat Tillman and my father) are as bad as those who do not support liberty and justice for all.
This problem is compounded by the fact that the government has written this malicious falsehood into its Pledge of Allegiance and that the government takes such great pains to teach this malicious falsehood to very young children starting on the first day they enter public school.
Attempts to characterize objections to 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance as 'offense at the mere mention of God in the public square' is a bit like characterizing objections to slavery in the 1850 as 'objections to doing an honest day’s work'.
It compounds one malicious lie (the malicious lie written into the Pledge of Allegiance that an American who does not support 'one nation under God' is as bad as an American who does not support 'liberty and justice for all') with another malicious lie (that atheists are offended by any mention of God in the public square).
Both statements are also bigoted.
There are a lot of atheists in the world, and some of them hold to some pretty stupid ideas. I have no doubt that there are atheists who are offended by any mention of God in the public square and who are willing to insist that this never be permitted. However, the claim that this characterizes all atheists is a lot like saying that because some Muslims perform terrorist actions, all Muslims are terrorists. It is simple bigotry – motivated by the same malicious disregard for interests of others that got 'under God' inserted into the Pledge to start with.
This brings up another problem – the idea that theists are morally superior to atheists because theists have a foundation for their morality and an incentive to do what is right.
Yet, if this is the case, then why are so many of them doing such a poor job at determining right from wrong and doing such a good job of doing that which is wrong?
A good person would not accept a government program to promote malicious falsehoods about decent law-abiding citizens. He would say that this is wrong and, as a good person, he would refuse to participate or endorse the use of malicious falsehoods against innocent people. He certainly would object to teaching bigoted malicious falsehoods to children in a public school. He would never tolerate any attempt to elevate malicious falsehoods to the level of a national motto or a national pledge.
The fact that many Christians and other theists in this society are in favor of these practices is proof that their religion either is not helping them to understand their moral duties or not giving them much of an incentive to do what is right. Or both.
People who are driven to promote the teaching of malicious falsehoods to young children out of a desire to do harm to the interests of peaceful law-abiding neighbors by religious dogma represent that subset of religion that is motivated to do evil, rather than good, by their religious teachings.
I explicitly deny that this is true of all religion. There are, in fact, a great many religious people who realize that having the government teach malicious falsehoods to children as a way of harming the interests of peaceful citizen is wrong. The fact that there are some religious people motivated to do evil by their religious beliefs does not imply that all religious people are motivated to do evil by their beliefs.
However, it is just as true that the fact that some religious people do good that no religious person may be condemned. There are those who argue this way - using the good deeds that some religious people perform to condemn all criticism of religion.
That inference does not hold up. If it did, then it would be wrong to condemn the 9/11 hijackers or suicide bombers so long as we can find a single Muslim who has done good.
As a matter of fact, we must recognize that some religious people are good, and others are evil, and those who advocate government-sponsored malicious falsehoods against those who do not share their beliefs are closer to the second category.
We have good reason to morally condemn a religious practice that motivates its followers to do evil. We have good reason to morally condemn a religious practice that motivates agents to support a government teaching malicious falsehoods to young children, such as the malicious falsehood that a person who does not support 'one nation under God' is as bad as a person who does not support 'liberty and justice for all'.
We have good reason to morally condemn a religious practice that hides one malicious falsehood behind another as when those who defend the first practice 'bear false witness' against atheists – claiming that all atheists are (merely) offended by all mention of God in the public square.
Sometimes, religion motivates people to take political action harmful to the interest of others for no reason other than, "They do not share our religion." Sometimes it motivates people to lie and distort the objections of those they harm to the harm they do by saying that, "They are merely offended by the mention of God in public."
Sometimes, religion motivates people to do things that no good person would do.