Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life - Part 06

A member of the studio audience has asked that I comment on the Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life, a product of the World Atheist Conference: God and Politics.

Today: Proposition 6:

We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.

Well, I have to say, I have little to comment on with respect to this principle.

We have to remember that a right to participate in public life is not a right to hold any public office. It is a right to an immunity from government regulations prohibiting one from running for public office.

In this respect, even the KKK member or neo-Nazi, or Al-Quida sympathizer, or has a right to participate in public life. That is to say, he has a right to announce his candidacy for public office, to announce his platform to the voters, and to collect votes in a free election.

He has no right to WIN that election - and no decent and moral community would elect such a person as one of their leaders. Yet, this fact is not an infringement on his right to participate in public life. That right only grants one the liberty to run, not the liberty to win.

This applies as much to voters as it does to candidate. The person who would cast his vote for KKK or neo-Nazi candidates may not be barred from voting simply because we disapprove of who he would vote for. He has a right to cast that vote. Our only legitimate recourse to preventing that person's candidate from winning is to find a better candidate and to campaign to see that the better candidate gets the most votes.

The same is true of equality of treatment in the democratic process.

It would be unjust for the government to create two different sets of rules when it comes to participating in the political community. A rule that says that one must collect signatures from 5% of the registered voters to get one's name on the ballot unless one is a KKK member or neo-Nazi, in which case 7% of the registered voters is required, would be unjust. The same rules should apply to everybody.

Correspondingly, a state that created different levels of entry into public office for those who believe that a God exists and those who do not. It is particularly true of any state that has legal restrictions on who may hold public office grounded on belief in a God.

By this, I refer to any government whose constitution states that those who do not affirm the existence of a deity may not hold public office, or that makes it a social or political requirement to swear an oath to a deity. This would include any state that makes it a requirement for public office that a candidate pledge allegiance to "one nation under God", or where the oath of office contains a non-optional reference to a God.

A state also violates this principle if it makes a statement suggesting that those who hold a particular attitude towards the existence of a God have a special place in the community. For example, it is a violation of this principle for a government to adopt a national motto that says something to the effect of "we trust in God", so as to say that if one does not trust in God then one is not really to be thought of as belonging to the group understood as "we".

These types of statements are a government's invitation to the people, and a government endorsement of the attitude, that those who trust in God are better than those who do not. This stands in direct violation of the principle that the government should treat those who believe in God and those who do not with equal respect.

It is only rational to expect that these types of endorsements will affect the public attitude, and their votes. As such, these types of measures are only a half-step short of passing a constitutional amendment or a law that states, "No person shall hold public office who does not affirm support for a nation under God or who does not trust in God."

So, with respect to this principle, I have no objections. I have nothing to offer but to express more clearly what the proposition says, and what is implied by the just and fair application of this principle.

Previous Episodes:

Proposition 1: We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.

Proposition 2: We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.

Proposition 3: We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.

Proposition 4: We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.

Proposition 5: We assert that private conduct, which respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.

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