By Mathew Goldstein
The U.S. Constitution forbids religious discrimination by government, it treats freedom of religion as freedom of conscience, yet our government has instituted multiple establishments of monotheism. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that the Constitution permits the government to disregard atheists. When Congress placed "In God We Trust" on all our coins and currency, when it inserted "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance, when the Supreme Court starts its sessions with "God save the United States and this honorable court," when every legislative session begins with a prayer to God, etc. - those who disbelieve in a supreme being are explicitly told that "they are outsiders, not full members of the political community," while theistic Americans are told "that they are insiders, favored members of the political community."
Is this a concern of humanists and freethinkers or not?
Government cannot eliminate invidious opinions, but it can--and, when the opinions are based on religious differences, it constitutionally must--stop fostering such beliefs. The fact is that we are not a second-class citizen who should be seen and not heard. The United States of America is just as much an atheistic entity as it is a theistic entity, just as much a polytheist entity as a monotheist entity, with zero being the measure of each. This is a civil rights campaign, as important and as serious as any in our history.
The accusation that groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, by focusing on, and pursuing, a non-establishment of religion agenda that seeks equal regard for atheists and polytheists with monotheists, are somehow interfering with dealing with the debt ceiling, unemployment, public education, reproductive choice, climate change, environmental degradation, GLBT rights, etc., is nonsense. There are groups and individuals that focus their time and effort on each of these issues at the expense of spending more time and effort on other issues. By having a limited focus these activist groups and individuals are not guilty of giving "listeners a very narrow and limited perspective on what humanism is all about" or "putting [pick one: reproductive choice, climate change, etc.] ahead of everything else". They are all making a contribution, and by specializing in seeking remedies for a particular category of problem they all contribute to the common good. Furthermore, they arguably contribute more effectively to the common good than they would if they did not narrow their focus and specialize.
The same is true of those individuals or groups who have decided to focus on EC compliance problems facing atheists and polytheists. The accusation that their doing this somehow "weakens the positive thrust of humanism" is groundless. The accusation that EC violations that target atheists and polytheists are not a common concern of, and challenge for, all people of good will, including those who identify as Catholics, Protestants, Jews, etc. is mistaken. If this currently isn't their concern then it should be. Violations of constitutional principles that today targets only some minorities also weakens and undermines those constitutional principles generally, thereby increasing the future risk to those who are not currently targeted by the violations.
George Lakoff's book about framing issues, when referenced in this context as an excuse for singling out and not addressing one category of problem because the targets of the problem are unpopular, amounts to little more than a non-ethical argument for appeasement of majoritarian prejudices. If the majority objects to atheists standing up for their civil rights then I don't feel the slightest obligation to appease that prejudice by "framing" atheists and atheism into a closet. Nor should you or anyone else be intimidated into silence and invisibility by majority prejudices.
What works against the advancement of humanist values is this appeasement of the prevailing 'atheists must remain hidden' attitude. What works against the advancement of humanist values is this 'atheists are to be excluded from residing within the larger context of "core humanist concerns"' attitude. This double-standard nonsense that somehow the presence of atheists or atheism anywhere on the activist agenda is incompatible with "the advancement of humanist values" is itself inconsistent with humanist values.
There is no way that atheists will accept being told that they are not welcome as equal participants in all respects, including being part of the agenda of humanist concerns today for civic equality. If humanists are for civic equality today then they must be for non-establishment of theism today. To place non-establishment of theism off of the agenda is to fail to commit to civic equality. This is an either or choice, there is no third option. So is civic equality a core humanist concern or not?