Sunday, April 20, 2014

Atheists want to eliminate religious expression

The world has always had atheists. But through most of history they remained quiet about their disbelief. Twenty-first century atheists are no longer quiet. In fact, they are seeking out religious observances they see as inappropriate and trying to get rid of them.

The latest battle involves the Clemson University football program. Most fans only care whether the Tigers win their games. But the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is not known to be a fan of Clemson football, cares about the fact that the Clemson coach, Dabo Swinney, is an outspoken Christian. FFRF complains that Swinney oversteps his bounds when he encourages players to attend religious services and makes religion-tinted remarks. Surely, Swinney and Clemson are not the only targets on FFRF's radar. A number of coaches and athletes are openly religious. Likewise, some university professors, high school principals, physicians and politicians are ardently religious. To the folks at FFRF, that's a problem.

Their claim is that tax dollars may be going to spread religion, but big-time college football is not likely to be good place to look for misplaced tax dollars. Clemson football, like most major-college football programs, makes money. Without football's and men's basketball's revenues, other collegiate sports would likely have to be abandoned because those two money-making programs support other collegiate sports. So Dabo Swinney may technically be a state employee, but he's a state employee who earns more for the university than he takes in tax money.

If this case goes to trial, a fundamental issue could revolve around the plaintiff's name — the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The first clause of the First Amendment decrees that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... ." The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Although some atheist plaintiffs have convinced the court that required religious observances infringe on their freedom, the courts have never found voluntary group or individual religious observances to violate the Constitution. There have been no complaints from the Clemson players about Swinney's public displays of religiosity, so you have to wonder whether the FFRF has any standing in the case. The plaintiff has to be injured, if only emotionally, by the defendant's actions in order to bring a case.

The court and the public should ask what harm has been done by a coach encouraging spiritual values or a player thanking God for his success. FFRF, it seems clear, will not stop until all religious expressions are eliminated from American life. Not only would tax breaks for church property and church donations be endangered, but zoning laws that favor churches or religion-oriented advertising could also be banned.

Atheists are no longer quietly passive, content to let others practice their beliefs. They are aggressively seeking to deny freedom of religion, of speech and of thought. They ridicule religious beliefs as unscientific, never understanding that religion and science are separate disciplines or that one can be both scientific and religious. Ask Albert Einstein, among others.

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