March 1, 2006

Religion and the false sense of entitlement

I recently caught an interesting radio programme on the CBC about how an atheist organization wants Utah to remove roadside crosses that serve as memorials to state troopers killed in the line of duty.

Needless to say, the Utah state troopers are hurt and pissed and they can't understand for the life of them why anyone would consider the memorials to be a religious imposition, or why anyone would construe them as being offensive.

Conversely, the atheists argue that these crosses are overt religious symbols that have been placed on public property by what should be a secular organization -- and on this they clearly have a point. A group like the police must always act in a neutral and secular manner and have the common sense to refrain from posting Christian memorials.

What has been particularly interesting in all this was the perspective from Michael Rivers, the Utah director for American Atheists, who has essentially said that enough's enough. He decided to pick a battle over the memorials, noting that atheists have only themselves to blame for allowing religious imperatives to go unchecked in the US for decades.

He's right, of course. Christians have fought actively for years against the secularization of society, while atheists (and those in favour of the separation of church and state in general) have stood by and done nothing. Over time, as the inch offered has extended into a mile, religious groups and individuals have adopted a sense of privilege, entitlement, and legitimacy.

Consequently, everyone has all but forgotten about just how firm the US constitution is about the separation of church and state, making battles like the one waged by the American Atheists in Utah appear extreme and unfair when in actuality it's completely appropriate and necessary.

Michael Rivers is right, and the more we do to counter religious impositions, the more we normalize the ongoing effort to remove religion from public institutions.

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Rob said...

I wonder that an attempt to remove roadside crosses might be seen as disrespect. Perhaps the conversation should be framed by attempting to find a more appropriate (non-religious) symbol to mark such sites (say something resembling a flower).

George said...

I agree. No one has any qualms about roadside memorials -- it was the choice of xian iconography that upset the atheists. There are lots of alternatives to crosses, flowers probably being the most noteable.