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Austin Cline

Monique Davis: Dangerous for Kids to Learn that Atheism Exists

By April 7, 2008

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How can anyone maintain that there isn't significant bigotry against atheists in America when we have politicians who are actually willing to say ó in public and without apology ó that it's dangerous for children to even learn that atheism exists? There can be fewer statements that are more clear about the idea that atheists should remain hidden and ashamed, much like gays were once expected to live.

This probably won't be news to most atheists, but what might be news is that such opinions are not unique to conservative or fundamentalist Christians. No, even some liberal Christians feel this way. Yes, those same liberal Christians whom atheists are supposed to stop upsetting with religious critique and who are supposed to be our "allies" against the Christian Right will sometimes express opinions no less noxious and immoral as the Christian Right does.

The following exchange is between Monique Davis, and Illinois state representative from Chicago, and Rob Sherman, an atheist activist who has become a thorn in the side of the state's Christian power structure. Sherman was testifying before the House State Government Administration Committee against Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's attempt to give a $1 million grant to Pilgrim Baptist Church:

Davis: I donít know what you have against God, but some of us donít have much against him.† We look forward to him and his blessings. And itís really a tragedy -- itís tragic --† when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight.† They want to fight prayer in school.†

I donít see you (Sherman) fighting guns in school. You know?

Iím trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln† where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.Ö What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, itís dangerous--

Sherman: Whatís dangerous, maíam?

Davis: Itís dangerous to the progression of this state. And itís dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if youíll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and Iím sure that if this matter does go to court---

Davis: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

Source: Chicago Tribune (via Friendly Atheist) emphasis added

So, atheists are intolerant, extremists, and worse if they suggest that religious indoctrination starting at a young age might qualify as a form of psychological abuse, but apparently it's OK for a Christian to state outright that children shouldn't even learn that atheism (and by extension, atheists) even exist. Let's not forget that any atheists from the first example would be speaking as private individuals, whereas the Christian in the latter example is a powerful politician with a great deal of authority and influence behind her.

Can you imagine if Monique Davis had said basically the same thing about Jews or Muslims? I can imagine a politician saying something similar about gays, though only in a transcript from a couple of decades ago. Such comments made today would be condemned far and wide and you can be sure that liberal Christians would fall all over each other to distance themselves from it. I haven't seen any liberal Christians condemning these remarks about atheism, though. Do you suppose that might have something to do with a general animus towards atheists, even among liberal Christians?

Monique Davis, by the way, is a member of the same Trinity United Church of Christ as Barack Obama ó but whereas Obama had the sense and character to denounce many of the statements made by Jeremiah A. Wright, Monique Davis has tried to excuse them. She has, for example, insisted that Wright was taken out of context: "I don't think he meant God d--- America but I think he feels disappointed sometimes in the way America has acted in the past," Davis said. Think? She doesn't know?

Monique Davis sponsored and is named at the top of a resolution from the Illinois House of Representatives congratulating Jeremiah Wright on his retirement ó not because they were glad he was leaving the public spotlight, but because they approved of what he's done. It is my impression that Davis regularly attends services at Trinity United Church of Christ, and it's hard not to conclude that her ideas about atheism, atheists, and the role of Christianity in public life ó including our common government ó are derived at least in part from what she has learned from Jeremiah Wright.

What other lessons has Monique Davis learned at Trinity United Church of Christ, I wonder?

April 7, 2008 at 1:22 pm
(1) Patrick Quigley says:

Here is the audio file of the exchange (mp3). The applause and “amens” after Davis’ vicious outburst are particularly disheartening.

April 7, 2008 at 1:46 pm
(2) Kyle S says:

The applause and amens are indeed disheartening but,unfortunately, not surprising to me.

I first heard about this listening to the Atheist Experience show. Tracie H. you should be familiar with this.

April 7, 2008 at 2:14 pm
(3) tracieh says:

Yes. If I recall right, I AE addressed an episode of Paula Zahn where some similar comments aired.

On the one hand, I hold representatives to a higher standard than regular citizens, because they are supposed to be representing all of their constituents’ concerns (not just those they happen to agree with). They are in a job where their personal views are irrelevant and they have to be equitable. It would be like going into your office and finding your boss wearing a t-shirt that said, “Atheism is dangerous.” While your boss may believe this, he/she can’t express or manifest that view while in the workplace. They are held to a higher standard when they’re at work than they are at home.

It amazes me that this rep is not only saying this, but is supported, since it’s a statement that very realistically could have resulted in her immediate dismissal if she’d have said it in any other work environment.

And could anyone imagine if she had said this about Jews or even gays, so openly?

Emotionalism flies less and less with me as I get older. I begin to lose my personal tolerance toward it. I don’t really care how she feels or what she believes. I only care how informed she is and what she can actually support. Beyond that, what she thinks about any issue shouldn’t be of concern to anyone. Defend it, or look like an idiot.

That’s how it _ought_ to work. Sadly, we suffer from such a severe lack of critical thinking skills in this nation that it can’t work that way until we cease to hold faith (gullibility), not questioning (just accept god’s will), and total submission to authority (do what god says, you get a reward, don’t do it, you get punished) as valued character traits.

April 7, 2008 at 6:22 pm
(4) Andrew says:

That woman is a creep.

April 8, 2008 at 12:01 am
(5) Rae says:

Even fair and balanced Fox news makes a point to lean hard on every Atheist, and free thinker.
All my life I have seen nearly all of the organized religions as very dangerous. Because of the religous cultism the world is always in a state of war. The name of god is the largest mass killer the world has ever seen.
Please don’t forget our own wonderful moral majority. The people that are so woried about what kids or you an adult see on TV. They have rooms of people around the clock watching and recording every kiss, fondle, or curse. After all someone has to record it, hoe else would you know what you missed.
Of course we all realize their people are in Washington lobbying to make sure we all have their moral’s straight.

April 8, 2008 at 3:31 am
(6) k9_kaos says:

Disgusting. Particularly notable is her line “Get out of that seat!”. Did that naughty atheist sit at the front of the General Assembly? Bad, bad, bad!!!

Davis: “This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.”

I wonder if she is familiar with what Lincoln thought of Christianity:

Abraham Lincoln: “The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.”

I sure hope this woman really pays for it at the polling booth.

April 8, 2008 at 1:37 pm
(7) Kafir says:

The inevitable implication of this is that she might as well have said particularly this about jews, buddhists, or hindus, etc. because the practical difference between being an atheist and being simply a non-christian are almost nil in the context of her agenda. There are enough theists out there who adopt wholly different ideologies than hers that unless she can find a fundamental value encompassing all of those diverse theistic groups worth promoting, attacking an atheist on this particular issue is to attack any one of them, too.

April 8, 2008 at 5:54 pm
(8) tracieh says:

K9: I also chuckled at the Lincoln reference. Lincoln did seem to hold to some sort of religious views–but what a lot of people don’t know is that he wasn’t “Christian” enough, apparently. When he ran for political office against Peter Cartwright, he was actually maligned as an “infidel” (which then would have been the equivalent of “atheist”).

April 8, 2008 at 10:45 pm
(9) Freethinker says:

Lincoln wrote to his life long friend, Judge J.A. Wakefield, this “testament” of his beliefs:

“My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the Scriptures, have become clearer, and stronger, with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”

Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, in the years following the assassination, said:

“Mr. Lincoln was an infidel, sometimes bordering on atheism.” “He never mentioned the name of Jesus, except to scorn and detest the idea of a miraculous conception.” “He did write a little work on infidelity in 1835-6, and never recanted. He was an out-and-out infidel, and about that there is no mistake.”

When Lincoln was asked why he includes God stuff in some of his speeches “Oh, that, is some of Seward’s (Sec of State) nonsense, and it pleases the fools.”

“When Dr. Holland asked Mr. Herndon about his partner’s religoius convictions, Mr. Herndon replied that he had none,
and the less he said on that subject the better. ‘Oh well,’ replied Dr. Holland, ‘I’ll fix that.’” — Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 112, on Dr. Josiah G. Holland, later editor of Scribner’s Monthly, having spent only two weeks interviewing Lincoln’s friends before preparing his Biography, in which Holland fabricated accounts of Lincoln’s piety

“No one of Lincoln’s old acquaintances in this city ever heard of
his conversion to Christianity by Dr. Smith or anyone else. It
was never suggested nor thought of here until after his death….
I never saw him read a second of time in Dr. Smith’s book on
Infidelity. He threw at down upon our table — spit upon it as it
were — and never opened it to my knowledge.”
— William Herndon, quoted in Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our
Presidents, p. 124

April 9, 2008 at 12:13 am
(10) Kim@Religiarchy says:

She may want to go back and read the Illinois Bill of Rights. I posted #3 for her, just in case she reads my blog :) . I don’t know how I’m a few days behind on this story, but I just moved to Illinois and, seriously, I’m calling her office tomorrow. I’ll make sure they write down that I’m an atheist. And a voter.

April 9, 2008 at 11:23 am
(11) Lynne says:

Where is the outrage?

This is a woman who is sworn to uphold the Constitution! A legislator for the United States of America which is founded on the very principle of the separation of church and state!

Not only do I hope that she tanks at the polls next time, but more so I wish she would have genuine shame and contrition that she allowed her religious feelings to interfere with the duties of her office. [Of course she is free to express these feelings when she is not weilding legislative power but only insofar as that expression is protected by the First Amendment which she so violently denounced in a public forum!] Unfortunately, I, unlike Ms. Davis, understand that wishing does not make it so.

April 9, 2008 at 1:37 pm
(12) dgandhi says:

I find it interesting, and disturbing, that she can unashamedly get away with this. I still wonder if any call will come out from “reasonable” Christians to denounce this sort of behavior.

The link to Dr. Wright is tenuous at best, if you watch the non-sound bite clips that are on youtube it’s plainly obvious that he said nothing particularly offensive when taken in context. While she was probably right to defend him, that does not mean she is not a nut-job in her own right, as this event clearly illustrates.

April 11, 2008 at 2:43 pm
(13) John Hanks says:

Many religious people are actively and militantly ignorant. The see, hear and speak no evil so to speak. Shunning and ignorance are important weapons for them. Israelis don’t talk to Palestinians. Bush doesn’t talk to Iran. It is important to pretend that the opposition doesn’t even exist.

April 11, 2008 at 4:24 pm
(14) Lee PIcton says:

Sometimes, it takes just one more nutball to push some into activism. You know what I did? I took a deep breath and took out a life membership to the FFRF! For someone on Social Security, $1000 is a LOT of money, but it was worth every penny.

April 11, 2008 at 6:43 pm
(15) phrog says:

Good on ya, Lee. I’ve been FFRF member for about 5 years. I’m about to retire and plan on taking $1k aside and earmark it to become a lifelong member myself.

It is a bit unsettling to me that this woman is Democrat. The majority of Atheists I know vote Democrat. There certainly would be a bit of irony if her election was close at all which may mean that it was the Atheist vote that put her in office.

April 11, 2008 at 9:26 pm
(16) Mike says:

This is about a minute of silence in the schools?
Teaching a child to pray is like teaching a child to smoke!

April 13, 2008 at 1:45 pm
(17) Adrienne says:

I’m wondering why Davis is allowed her minutes-long tirade without interruption, but Sherman was told to direct his comments to the issue at hand and not allowed to respond to her.

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