"Ironically, a conservative atheist would endorse the Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical and Orthodox Christian principles of the Manhattan Declaration, regarding exercise of conscience in political matters of compromise, more readily than could a liberal Christian."
Christians won in the courtroom in recent weeks, while atheists advanced to ground zero, in the battle over God in the public square.
Late Feb. 26, Christians cheered as Westview (Calif.) High School math teacher Bradley Johnson, a 30-year employee, won his three-year battle for the right to re-post classroom banners that display historical and religious American heritage themes.
That morning, atheists gloated over a first-ever secular lobby meeting at the White House (two hours with five Obama staffers) to discuss religious policy matters.
In San Diego, the school district violated Johnson’s constitutional rights, ruled Federal District Court Judge Roger Benitez, when the principal ordered him to remove the banners – because they “overemphasized” God, or might offend a hypothetical Muslim student.
For 25 years, Johnson displayed a banner that features traditional patriotic phrases – “In God We Trust,” “One Nation under God,” “God Bless America,” and “God Shed His Grace on Thee.” For 17 years, he displayed another that quotes from the Declaration of Independence: “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed by Their Creator.”
Johnson removed his patriotic displays, but other teachers’ personal banners that promoted political positions or non-Christian religions stayed put, a fact that weighed heavily for Judge Benitez:
“Fostering diversity…does not mean bleaching out historical religious expression or mainstream morality. By squelching only Johnson’s patriotic and religious classroom banners, while permitting other diverse religious and anti-religious classroom displays, the school district does a disservice to the students…and the federal and state constitutions do not permit this one-sided censorship.”
In his 32-page opinion, Judge Benitez strongly states, “That God places prominently in our Nation’s history does not create an Establishment Clause violation requiring (scrubbing of) Johnson’s public high school classroom walls. It is a matter of historical fact that our institutions and government (give) place to a supreme God.”
Meanwhile, 60 representatives of the Secular Coalition for America, which unites 10 member organizations -- and boasts 25 endorsing groups -- of atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, skeptics, brights, ignostics, materialists and naturalists, met with Obama staffers from Public Engagement; Intergovernmental Affairs; Children, Youth and Families; Department of Justice; and Military Personnel.
SCA founder (2002) and president Herb Silverman reports (Washington Post, Feb. 28) the secularists’ three-prong agenda: “to close legal loopholes for the religiously based medical neglect of children;” protect military personnel from “(coercion) into religious participation,” proselytizing, or discrimination; and to establish that religious organizations who receive federal funds “cannot discriminate in hiring,” or proselytize, “and that secular options are made equally available.”
Margaret Talev writes in her Feb. 25 McClatchy Newspapers article that the White House “downplayed the meeting,” while SCA members believe they have a “kindred spirit” in President Obama --- since his mother was agnostic, and he is the first U.S. President to recognize “nonbelievers,” alongside religious groups, in his inaugural address.
Coincidentally, on Feb. 24, the Pontifical Council for Culture announced it would create a foundation to answer Pope Benedict’s call to "renew dialogue with men and women who don't believe but want to move towards God."
Sounds counter-intuitive; but Catholic News Agency reports the council’s aim is “to create a network of agnostic or atheistic people who accept dialogue” to develop “themes of rapport (among) religion, society, peace and nature.” The first conference could take place later this year.
Ironically, a conservative atheist would endorse the Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical and Orthodox Christian principles of the Manhattan Declaration, regarding exercise of conscience in political matters of compromise, more readily than could a liberal Christian. In fact, the document signatories commend pro-life atheists for their support.
Could convictions of heart transcend this battleground?