|Not an atheist display ... it's failed art (not my picture)|
Over the last few months of blogging, I've tried very hard to become more charitable in what I write, particularly when engaging with certain "discrete minorities" (to use the pet legal phrase). Getting insulted and disrespected by others for shooting off your mouth is a cheap and easy "white martyrdom" ... in fact, to pat yourself on the back with the quote from Matthew 5:11-12 is to demean and devalue the witness of those who really suffer for the faith. So I'm trying not to go out of my way to provoke non-believers and anti-Christians.
But there are times ....
The picture is from a story about the display at the Loudoun County Courthouse in Loudoun, Va., that Matt Archbold at Creative Minority Report reprinted from Weasel Zippers. Matt, among others, thought that it was some bizarre protest against Christmas by atheists; it turns out that it was a bizarre — and very unsuccessful — protest against the commercialization of Christmas by a Christian. As someone quipped, "Just because no one understands you doesn't mean you're an artist."
I can understand and even sympathize with atheists who would take WZ, CMR et Cie. to task for assuming an atheist group was responsible for this wierdness. Let's face it, folks ... Santa Claus ain't St. Nicholas, and hasn't been for some time; he's a commercial substitute with no more religious connotation than the Easter Bunny or Paul Bunyan. Most atheist activist groups, whatever you think of them, are intelligent enough to realize this and to make their Christmas displays more obviously anti-Christian.
But then came this piece of snottiness on Matt's combox (of course it was signed "Anonymous"):
This is why any government official with two or more brain cells just bans any and all "holiday" displays on government property.....
You want XMas? Do it on Xtian property.
Y'all want Hanukkah? Do it on Jewish temple property.
Solstice for the Druids? You know the drill.
Why is this so hard to understand?
And thus my (rather ill-tempered) reply:
No, that's not why government bans holiday displays on government property. Government officials ban [them] because crybaby atheists have sued over even the most tasteful religious displays and won, on the theory that such displays constitute "establishment of religion". By contrast, flag-burning, a deliberately offensive act, has been ruled an exercise in free speech.
It's hard to understand because [we] religious people are citizens too, with free speech rights; not only are courthouses our property, too, we pay the vast majority of the money used to build and maintain them.
Why is this so hard to understand?
Yeah, I was hot ... so hot I committed two rather egregious grammatical mistakes (corrected above).
But the fact is, the "establishment" argument is a bad misconstruction of the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment, which encourages suppression of both the "free exercise of religion" and "free speech" clauses. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas recently complained that SCOTUS' rulings on such displays are all over the map in what is permissible and what isn't. And even "obscenity/offensiveness" is losing its steam as a valid limitation on free speech, as nudity and foul language crop up — should that be "creep up"? — more and more on prime-time television (as if the distinction between "broadcast" and "cable" mattered anymore). To steal a metaphor from Abe Lincoln, the Constitutional arguments against religious displays are "as thin as the homeopathic soup once made from boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death".
Here's another point: The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. The Constitution provides for freedom of speech. The Constitution does not provide for guaranteed warm, fuzzy feelings of love and acceptance from the broader society. Not only are they not provided for, they're not even a realistic expectation. There are things even atheists and rabid libertarians believe are just flat-out wrong, even if their wrongness is taught by religious groups; there are things even the most forceful advocate of "tolerance" simply will not tolerate, and will turn a cold shoulder to right alongside the rest of us "intolerant haters". Yet how could we come to a consensus on what we allow and proscribe if every attempt to provoke or conduct a dialogue were shut down by the courts out of fear that someone's feelings may be hurt?
No, not all atheists are crybabies, and I defy anyone to derive such a contention from my reply to Anonymous. If anything, we're all becoming a nation of crybabies, because for decades we've been a nation that doesn't know how to carry on a civilized dialogue ... that is, if we ever knew how to have such a dialogue. We have a culture where it's perfectly acceptable to slander and libel, to cherry-pick and distort evidence, to bias definitions of hate speech according to what political factions are in charge of the shop; and it's arguable that we always have been.
But what I fear more than uncivilized dialogue is a legal definition of "civilized dialogue". I'm willing to allow absurd and outrageous allegations about Catholics so long as I have the right to make the best defense of the faith that I can without having to talk around a bunch of "politically correct" legal restrictions. I'm willing to allow activists for various causes to lie and have their lies broadcast far and wide, so long as I have the right to point out that they are lies, and to tell the truth as best I know it, without losing my civil rights, suffering civil or criminal penalties, or having my blogs shut down by the government because I'm supposedly "spreading hate".
In fact, go ahead and lie about me ... your right to say I'm spreading hate is my right to tell you you're full of beans. And I say that with love.
So tell me: What right to not be hated, libeled or offended do "discrete minorities" have that I as a white, male, Catholic heterosexual don't?