Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Pledge Project: Sit Down and Shut Up

Kieffe and Sons, a Ford dealership in Mojave, California thinks that I should sit down and shut up. They are running a radio ad that says:

Did you know that there are people in this country who want prayer out of schools, "Under God" out of the Pledge, and "In God We Trust" to be taken off our money? But did you know that 86% of Americans say they believe in God? Now, since we all know that 86 out of every 100 of us are Christians who believe in God, we at Kieffe & Sons Ford wonder why we don't just tell the other 14% to sit down and shut up. I guess maybe I just offended 14% of the people who are listening to this message. Well, if that is the case, then I say that's tough, this is America folks, it's called free speech. And none of us at Kieffe & Sons Ford are afraid to speak up. Kieffe & Sons Ford on Sierra Highway in Mojave and Rosamond: if we don't see you today, by the grace of God, we'll be here tomorrow.

Yes, I do know that there are people who want “under God” out of the Pledge. I want the government to quit telling people that it regards a peaceful law-abiding citizen who does not support “one nation under God” to be the unpatriotic equivalent of an American who does not support ‘liberty and justice for all’.

There are people who want “In God We Trust” taken off the money, because the government should not be handing out political leaflets that tell the people, “You are not to think of those who lack trust in God as being one of us.”

As for prayer in schools – I know of nobody who wants the government to ban prayer in schools. I have only heard objections to schools telling students when to pray, how to pray, and to whom to pray. Nobody I know would advocate punishing a student who whispers a prayer before a test or says grace before eating lunch.

But, it is customary for people like those responsible for this add to bear false witness against others. It is often easier to promote hostility towards others by lying about them than by telling the truth.

The reason why Kieffe & Sons think I should sit down and shut up is because 86% of the country are Christians. This leap between 86% believe in God to 86% are Christians is another example of lying for effect. Unless Kieffe & Sons have never heard of people who believe in one or more gods but who are not Christians.

Some people commenting on this advertisement have already pointed out the flaw in that reasoning. It is the same flaw that I used in the book Perspective on the Pledge. Assume that a nation was 86% white, and they voted to support a pledge of allegiance to “one white nation”. Would the fact that 86% are white imply that they are morally permitted to tell the 14% who are not white to ‘sit down and shut up’?

I want to draw another lesson out of this rebuttal. Please note that, in the counter-example above, a person does not have to be black to object to a Pledge of Allegiance to ‘one white nation’. A person can be white and still recognize that it is fundamentally unjust for the government to have children pledge allegiance to a white nation.

Similarly, even if 86% of the nation believes in a God, a person can still believe in God and know that it is fundamentally unjust for the government to teach children to be prejudiced against those who do not support ‘one nation under God’. Any attempt to portray this issue as being one in which only the 14% who do not believe in God can be in favor of removing ‘under God’ from the Pledge and ‘In God We Trust’ from the money is fundamentally dishonest.

A person only needs to consider whether the government has the right to tell people, “We do not want you to think of those who do not believe in Jesus as being one of us,” or “We do not want you to think of those who are Catholic as being one of us,” to see the moral problem with a government statement that, “We do not want you to think of those who do not trust in God as being one us.”

A person only needs to consider the immorality of a government that says, “Those who do not support one white nation are, in our eyes, as bad as those who do not support ‘liberty and justice for all’ to see the immorality in the government’s pledge to view people who do not support ‘one nation under God’ to be the same as those who do not support ‘liberty and justice or all’.

Certainly, there is no law of nature that prohibits a person from believing in God from also believing that these types of government claims are unjust and immoral. Kieffe & Sons has insulted a great many people who believe in God by claiming, in effect, that everybody who believes in God endorses the bigotry expressed in their advertisement.

Yet, this is only the third dishonesty found in this advertisement so far.

Though it does cause me to wonder whether it would be a good idea to buy a car from a group of people have proved in their advertisement that they are more than happy to bear false witness and make other dishonest statements and inferences when it pleases them to do so.

I also want to note the misplaced appeal to “free speech” in this advertisement (as well as in some responses to it). Free speech, as I have written in the past, is not a freedom from condemnation for what one says. It is a freedom from violanece. Unless and until people start talking about a violent action (including the violence of government prohibitions backed by people with guns), no violation of free speech has taken place.

In a free society, a car dealership has the right to produce an advertisement quoting from Mein Kampf if he believes it will help to sell cars. It is equally within the realm of free speech for others to condemn the advertisement.

Similarly, as a free country, Kieffe & Sons are free to produce their bigoted hate-mongering advertisement, and it would be wrong for anybody to respond to it with violence. Yet, it is not a violation of free speech to condemn the advertisement. In act, the right to freedom of speech includes the right to condemn other peoples’ bigotry. Not to react with violence, but to react by pointing out that no decent, moral, and just person would ever produce or support the injustice and bigotry that Kieffe & Sons ha endorsed in its advertisement.

Telling somebody that they should sit down and shut up (that no moral and just person would make those types of claims) is not the same as forcing them to sit down and shut up. It is only the latter that violates freedom of speech. Condemning bigoted speech is not the same as banning it.

Here, again, it may be useful to point out that there could be problems with buying a car from a dealership whose management has such difficulty telling the difference between right and wrong as those who run Kieffe & Sons.

Finally, I want to point out that the attitudes expressed in this advertisement (that so many atheists and secularists have gotten worked up about) are the same attitudes found in the national motto and the Pledge of Allegiance themselves.

When the national motto says, “You should not consider a person who lacks trust in God to be one of us,” it is easy to see how the owners of a car dealership might come to believe that it is permissible to tell their customers, “We do not consider a person who lacks trust in God to be worthy of our respect.”

When the Pledge of Allegiance equates those who do not support ‘one nation under God’ with those who do not support ‘liberty and justice for all’, it is not unreasonable to believe that they are teaching citizens to treat those who do not value ‘one nation under God’ the way they would treat those who do not value ‘liberty and justice for all’.

It is even interesting to note that, in the eyes of some, it is sufficient ‘protection’ against the charge of discrimination that atheists are not required to actually say the Pledge of Allegiance. What are atheists supposed to do while the rest of the class or the civic group stands and gives the pledge of allegiance?

According to the doctrine endorsed by many people (including many justices), the proper behavior for atheists during the Pledge of Allegiance itself is to sit down and shut up.

I am not inclined to follow this particular advice. As far as I can tell, there is little difference between the Kieffe & Sons advertisement, and a statement by a bus driver in Alabama saying, "Shut up and get to the back of the bus."


Anonymous said...

Hi, Although I can't think of an ideal alternative, that is the problem with Democracy. Fifty-One percent of the people get the opportunity to tell Forty-Nine persent of the the people "where to get off the bus". The "quality" of a democracy is judged by how it treats the "minority". America's history on that score is not a shining example to the world, especially its affect on the rest of the world and the "costs" of that effect.

Martin Freedman said...

Hi Anton

Your version of democracy leads to the "tyranny of the majority". Republicanism is mean to deal with this - no-one is above the law and so there are no double standards - that work in favor of one group over another - and, theoretically, protects everyone equally, including minorities, to prevent the tyranny of the majority.

However all states have various built in double standards and resolving this is work in progress and a challenge for us all in the 21st century. The Pledge issue in the USA is on obvious example of this.

Anonymous said...

I did not find the word "compulsory" in your article, nor the comments, so I'm posting this.

Here's the thing: Education in the U.S. is compulsory. Children are required, by law, to attend school. Now it may be a private school, home school, or what have you, where anything goes, prayer-wise and religion wise. But, for those who can't afford the luxury of private school, or home schooling, the government provides public school. If you can't attend private school, or home schooling, you are REQUIRED UNDER FORCE OF LAW to attend public school.

Consequently, any endorsement of religion by public school amounts to the government, by force of law, imposting religion upon its citizens. You dipshit Americans who want prayer in school, you really want the government telling you what your religion should be? You really want that? Are you that dumb?

Anonymous said...

Martino - The type of democracy practiced in the US is certainly not MY version. What you may have in the US is the "tyranny of a vocal, right wing, religious minority" who, of the entire population, are a signifant minority buy a "majority" of those that are "active", "cohesive" and "dedicated" to their purpose. Could you explain any other reason why the US "imposes" its will on the free world? Actually, that "vocal and active minority" has a deleterious effect on the entire world . . . but then, isn't that what they want to do?

Martin Freedman said...

Hi Anton

Well I am a UK citizen but largely agree we also have a "tyranny of the minority" growing here with unjustified double standards in favour of the "muslim community" leveraging off the unjustified double standards of the nominal xian majority - in fact a shrinking minority too (coupled with left-wing anti-capitalism trumps all ideology - the enemy of my enemy is my friend) .

Eliminating double standards deals with both tyrannies. Letting any stand only supports arguments for keeping them. Hence my agreement with Alonzo's position on the Pledge.

And I must add that the whole idea of having an enforced Pledge - whatever it says - is a highly dubious imposition on the citizens of the USA. What is its justification at all?

Anonymous said...

Martino - "what is its justification . . ." There is no justification, its only a continuing proof "that those who continue to use it are controlled or 'tractable'". Making the sign of the cross, a special handshake, etc. are all signs that the individual subscribes to a set of "rules", "conventions", "values" or "lack of values". Twenty five hundred years ago a Greek Atheist was banished for life because he dared to burn one of the symbols. In the US, you can suffer persecution and prosectution for burning the flag, even if "under that flag" dire things can happen. If you attack the act, some of them (like the last Bush president) declares that you are attacking the "flag" and he gets everyone riled up over an attack on the flag. In the meantime, focus has been shifted away from the questionable act. Hasn't this been the way for all of recorded history?

Uncle Enore said...

I'm a life-long atheist, find the entire concept of god laughable. And yet I don't take any umbrage at that ad at all. In fact, I think it's funny, different and refreshingly honest. It doesn't bother me in the least, nor would I distill from it anything at all about their car-selling honesty.

You mention elsewhere in your blog that they should apologize for the ad. Quite the contrary. Apologize why? If one is offended by the ad, don't buy cars from them...and maybe lighten up a little bit. All that neck cording can give you a headache.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Whether you do or do not take umbrage at the ad is not a morally relevant consideration.

The morally relevant consideration is whether harm is done. We live in a country where an atheist cannot get elected, and where a candidate who decides to talk to atheists is held to be less qualified for public office than one who considers the atheist unfit even to be invited to dinner.

All of this feeds into a culture that says that there is nothing wrong with telling atheists that they should sit down and shut up - that they are fit only to obey orders from their "betters".

So harm is being done. And those who oppose behavior harmful to others have reason to protest.

It is quite common, when a culture denigrates a group, for even members of that group to see them denigration as "normal". In fact, it is normal to them - it is what they were raised with. So, Muslim women actually defend the practice of denying them any education, any mobility outside the home, and decent medical care. And in the South during the civil war some blacks even fought in defense of slavery.

But the question remains whether harm is being done, not whether a person in that culture has grown sufficiently comfortable in an environment of degradation.

Anonymous said...

a worthless tirade by a godless cry-baby. if you're so offended by leaflets which carry a phrase upon which the united states was founded, then you can be thankful (...) that Christian society in America has been as welcoming as it has. Without the fundamental principles which Christianity brought to this country, the US would be less free, less successfull and less filled with hope than it is.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Actually, as I have written elsewhere in this blog, I do not consider 'offense' to be a morally viable concept.

What matters instead of offense is malicious falsehood - holding others in an unfavorable light because of false beliefs, ultimately for the pure pleasure of thinking of oneself superior to them and them inferior and worthy of contempt.

So, it was not offense to blacks and Jews that made bigotry wrong. It was the malicious falsehoods held about them.

And, in this case, it is the malicious falsehood held by a Christian who holds that, merely in virtue of being a Christian, he is innately morally superior to others and thus may rightfully look down on them.

The very idea that others should be grateful to the Christian for the recognition of his moral rights is as absurd as the male telling a female that she should be grateful that he does not rape her. As if saying, "Of course I have a right to do these things - you should be happy that I choose not to."

I, on the other hand, deny that a right to bigotry, like a right to rape, does not exist. As a result, no more gratitude is due to the person who does not express bigotry than is due to the person who does not commit rape.