You may remember atheist activist Rob Sherman from the Illinois moment of silence controversy I blogged about way back when. Fresh from victory on that score, Sherman has most recently been challenging some shady grants to a church and school by the state’s governor.
And that’s how he ended up testifying before the Illinois State Legislature, during which Democratic Representative Monique D. Davis took the time to work herself into a ranting fit. Hemant over at the Friendly Atheist and Eric Zorn at the Chicago Tribune have the full quotes, along with audio of the exchange. But suffice to say that things like demanding to know why Sherman has something “against God” telling him that he’s attempting to destroy the state, and saying “what you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous… to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!” is not exactly the height of legislative decorum.
There isn’t enough context to know if Sherman said something previously that provoked the outburst, but there’s simply no question that Representative Davis’ stated remarks are both ignorant and reflect the usual bigotry towards atheists and those who simply want to keep the government out of religious matters.
More importantly though, they are deeply revealing about the deeply confused manner in which many people approach issues concerning religion in both government and civil society. Look at this statement, for instance:
Davis: Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!
Forget for a second the absurd red herring about Sherman’s opinions on guns (in any case, I have no idea what he believes the best gun policies are with regards to keeping them out of the hands of children, and I very much doubt Representative Davis had any idea either.) What can she possibly mean accusing Sherman of fighting against the opportunity for kids to be quiet “for a minute?”
What Sherman originally opposed was making a moment of silence, ostensibly to provide a special time for silent prayer, a mandatory requirement for the school day in every public school in Illinois. At no point did he challenge the rights of teachers to make kids be quiet as needed to conduct class (or even voluntarily have a moment of silence at the start of class if they choose). Nor did he challenge the right of kids to be “quiet for a minute,” which they are perfectly capable of choosing to do on their own already (just as teachers are already perfectly capable of disciplining them if they won’t shut up during class time).
So how warped does her thinking on this issue have to be to actually characterize the state forcing something on children and classrooms as an “opportunity?” That’s like saying that when the state rescinds a law forcing businesses to close on Sundays, that it has stripped them of the opportunity to do so. Nonsense. Taking away the opportunity to remain open on a Sunday (or to not observe a moment of silence) is simply not the same thing as providing people with opportunities to close (or observe moments of silence whenever and with whomever they choose). They can do those things on their own just fine, again, if they choose to do so.
Davis’ real problem is that people aren’t voluntarily choosing to do what she wants them to do. Which is exactly where her own presumptuous demands come into the picture. It’s only through a bizarre bit of self-delusion that she’s able to think of herself as liberating the very people she’s actually demanding rigid compliance from.
This sort of backwards thinking is unfortunately quite common amongst critics of secular government. It sometimes seems as it religious people are so bizarrely fixated on having religious endorsements on government land, or direction to pray, and so on, that they completely forget that they are already free to do all these things themselves, on their own time, dime, and land.
Update: Davis does the right thing and apologizes. It’s still not clear that anything in her thinking about prayer in school and so forth has been clarified, or if she’s just apologizing for lashing out at someone in particular.