Reflections on the Orlando killing spree

By Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

A member from Florida left a message on my phone this morning. This former Roman Catholic nun was crying as she spoke about the massacre at the gay nightclub in Orlando. She pointed out that the shooter, identified as Omar Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, Fla., who pledged allegiance to ISIS during the attack, was clearly a homophobe. And that the root of his homophobia and of Religious Right Christian homophobia lies in the same so-called holy teachings common to Abrahamic religions — the Mosaic law: “Homosexuals are an abomination. Their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13) Mateen’s father told The Washington Post that he plans to apologize to Orlando survivors or families of victims, but posted a Facebook video saying, “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality.”

Could there have been a more grisly fealty demonstrated to this dangerous verse that this bloodbath in Orlando?

Even though both major candidates have issued statements begging for some correction over the horrific slaughter, they have starkly different approaches.

Donald Trump (who, taking a cue from his playbook, I’m going to start referring to as a German candidate for U.S. president) gets both religion clauses of the First Amendment wrong. He has openly vowed to bar people from coming to America using a religious test, and incomprehensibly congratulated himself for making this call:

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Many individuals and government officials of course recognize the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism. But they understand that just as there can be no religious test for public office, there can be no constitutional religious test for citizenship, whether pro- or anti-Muslim. That prohibition doesn’t bar our federal government from assiduously identifying and weeding out terrorists, whether homegrown, as is the case with Orlando shooter, or involving potential immigrants.



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The way to protect our nation and the world from Islamist terrorism is to redouble our efforts to keep religion out of government, not to fan the flames by indulging in hateful rhetoric or by engaging in harmful interventions abroad.

I was pleased to see that Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton’s first statement on the killings in a tweet was not the usual “our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

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Thankfully, journalists and even members of Congress have committed mutiny over meaningless statements following the shooting in San Bernardino last December by a couple who were fans of the Islamic State.

But it didn’t take Clinton long in issuing what seems to be the mandatory “I join Americans in praying for the victims of the attack in Orlando” statement.

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In another statement sent to supporters, Clinton made many laudable comments. But in addressing “inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric,” she also managed to step on the toes of us “Nones,” the 23 percent of the U.S. population that identifies as nonreligious. Clinton wrote: “We’re a big-hearted, fair-minded country. We teach our children that this is one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all — not just for people who look a certain way, or love a certain way, or worship a certain way.”

Clinton is actually old enough to remember when the previously secular Pledge of Allegiance was tampered with in 1954, dividing “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” by inserting the words “under God.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if presidential candidates would quit assuming their audience or supporters are all religious? (If this ever happens I’d think I’d died and gone to atheist heaven.) Our Orlando-area FFRF chapter, Central Florida Freethought Community, is to be commended for taking action (not praying) over the slaughter. They are part of a secular community holding a blood drive this week.

President Obama was also forced to make remarks to the press on yet another shooting. He did not leave out the obligatory “Our prayers to go those who have been wounded” and in fact peppered his remarks with prayer, God, etc.

His remarks contained many commendable passages, such as pointing out that “regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act.”

But calling out “God [to] continue to watch over this country” and to “comfort” families is about as impotent a remark a president could ever make.

The Onion got it right today with this classic piece of satire (“Frustrated Obama writes letter to his Congressman about need for gun control”). I speak as an individual, not on behalf of FFRF, when I say: It is time for rational gun control in the United States. The endless analysis on “Why did this or that shooter go berserk?” is a waste of time. The biggest reason our nation is uniquely riddled with horrifying gun crimes is that we have failed to enact rational gun control legislation.

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It is time to follow the successful lead of Australia and most of the European Union, and adopt stricter gun control regulations to protect citizens from Islamic terrorists — or anyone with an assault rifle or handgun bent on killing others. Isn’t that the essence of terrorism? And it happens all day, every day, here in a country where we can crow, “We’re Number 1 — in gun deaths.”

FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.

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