Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Warning: Atheism may be dangerous to children

Last year the State of Illinois issued a grant of about one million dollars to a Chicago-area church to repair damage to its building, a registered historic landmark, caused by a fire. It has since come out that this money was diverted to fund religious education; the damage remains unrepaired. This has any number of people upset, especially those who object to state money funding religious education. The General Assembly has been holding hearings in relation to this whole situation.

Today, during those hearings, and specifically during the testimony of well-known atheist activist Rob Sherman, Chicago South Side representative Monique Davis attacked Sherman for being an atheist. Specifically, she declared that it is "dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy [atheism] exists!" She then proceeded to attack him for not doing enough to keep guns out of the hands of children, a topic that was totally not relevant to the hearing (but is of quite some relevance to Chicagoans; there have been several killings at or near Chicago schools in recent weeks and the issue of teen gun violence is a hotbutton issue with Chicagoans, especially on the South Side). She even had the lack of sense to tell him (a citizen of the state of Illinois) that he had "no right to be here" testifying before a committee the state legislature, presumably because he is an atheist.

Sherman is generally something of an ass, but he handled himself remarkably well in the face of a seemingly deranged person (listen to the audio if you want to hear for yourself). I applaud even more the chairman of the committee for directing Sherman not to answer the question and to restrict his comments to the matter of his conversations with Governor Blagoyevich, which is certainly much more relevant to the purpose of the hearing than Rep. Davis' rant.

This really harks back to the olden days when most Midwestern states had explicit law that declared that atheists were not qualified to testify because, as atheists, they had no fear of God and thus had no reason not to lie under oath. Such absurd rules have long been invalidated as unconstitutional and absolutely have no place in public discourse. That Rep. Davis would ignore her oath to support and defend the constitution of the State of Illinois and hearken back to such antiquated notions is disturbing in the extreme.

Illinois has no provisions to recall elected officials (although it did recently entertain a constitutional amendment that would allow for recall of the governor and certain other statewide offices, almost certainly a reaction to the highly unsatisfactory and evidently corrupt Blagoyevich administration). However, I suspect that the General Assembly has the power to censure its own members, and I think it would be quite appropriate for them to do so to Rep. Davis for her quite unseemly outburst. Those of you who live in Illinois, please consider contacting your representatives to let them know how you feel about Ms. Davis.

Kudos to Eric Zorn for blogging about this.