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The Christian Right’s shortsighted legal strategy actually promotes atheism and LGTBQ rights

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The Christian right and its legal defenders—each with a name Orwell’s Big Brother seems to have coined, Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Institute, American Center for Law & Justice—haven’t considered the long-term implications of their legal strategies.

National Eye Institute via Wikipedia

They fight to distribute bibles in public schools. If they win, that means the atheists can distribute their literature too, as FFRF did in Orange County (Fla.) public schools. And we can invite our friends at The Satanic Temple to distribute their literature too. When that happens, most people seem to agree that we should not use public schools as a religious recruiting ground. Funny, that’s what FFRF was saying in the first place.

They fight to keep a nativity scene up on public property. But the only way that might be approved by a court is to open a forum for everyone else’s display. So FFRF displays our Bill of Rights nativity and our friends display their Festivus pole made of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans. Or the government opens 21 spots for holiday displays, like the City of Santa Monica did, and atheists “hijack” 18 of the spots. And the next year all displays are removed—which we were arguing for in the first place.

They fight all the way to the Supreme Court twice—in 1983 and 2014—to be able to give overtly Christian invocations at government meetings. But when a Muslim or Satanist or an atheist give an opening prayer or remarks, they throw a hissy fit and walk out or they shut it down—again, what we argued for in the first place.

This shortsightedness is perhaps most obvious when these groups lobbied Congress to pass the Equal Access Act so that Christian students can form clubs in their public schools. The EAA was a direct response to two court decisions that prohibited Christian clubs from forming in public schools: Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., (3rd. Cir. 1984) and Lubbock Civil Liberties Union v. Lubbock Indep. Sch. Dist. (5th Cir. 1982). Congress made it clear that the EAA’s purpose was to countermand these decisions:

 “[S]chool authorities across the country are banishing religious clubs from campus or placing such onerous restrictions on them that meetings become almost impossible.”

But the EAA has proved to be a better vehicle for LGBT or atheist groups to form in public schools. When that obvious outcome occurs—it’s right there in the name of the law, “Equal Access”—there is a predictable backlash against the atheist or LGBT students.

It’s fair to say that the religious right paved the way for every student atheist group and LGBT group at public schools around the country. In fact, the wonderful Secular Student Alliance exists partly because the religious right is so myopic.

In their frantic attempt to force Christianity down everyone’s throat, the religious right does not seem to be noticing that their strategy regularly backfires. They are giving us tools, like the Equal Access Act, to better promote our message. Sure, they are able to promote Christianity, but their strategy is also allowing minority groups who would not otherwise be heard a platform for their message. They are giving our messages greater access proportionally. Bibles are the most widely available book in the country, kids can get one anywhere. But where can they get a free copy of The God Delusion or Letter to a Christian Nation? Well, in schools that insist on telling FFRF that bibles will continue to be distributed, such as Orange County, Florida (until they prohibited all religious literature distributions—which FFRF argued for in the first place).

If that is not enough, Christian legal groups should know that every law they lobby for and every court case they win, is likely to hurt them in the future. American Christianity is in demographic tailspin. People are leaving the church in droves. There may well come a time when Christians are a minority and some other religious sect becomes the privileged majority. This is what James Madison warned about 230 years ago: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”

This is why the best policy is what FFRF fights for, the separation of state and church. The Christian Right would do better to join us.

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9 Responses

  1. Separation of religion and State is a delusion. Secularism itself is a religion, and is just another name for atheism. Atheism, SECULAR Humanism are religions in the full sense of the word, As even the US.Supreme court has ruled. So, spare us your godless propaganda

  2. I have heartily embraced the ability to get other faiths inserted into the public square, thanks to those who don’t realizing they’re laying the groundwork for the FFrF and the Satanic Temple to do so.

    I wonder if there’s a bible verse which credits false prophets for making Satan more visible.

    1. You can! Become a member of the FFRF and sign up for their alerts. I get notification of blogs when they publish one, albeit a little later than the exact time it posts. Happy reading!

  3. Shhhh, don’t tell them now, we’re winning. Don’t tell them how we’re doing it. A few more years we can get them to ban themselves and foot the legal bill while they’re doing it.

  4. My thanks for the great work you do … your letters have helped pave the
    way for removing invocation in several Florida cities (and get ready to
    write some more, I have a couple others towns lined up).

    When we erected the PBR Festivus Pole, I was simply blown away by the
    positive international response … who knew a silly stack of empty beer
    cans would cause such a stir.

    In 2015, Team Beer Can Festivus Pole stand with our LGBT friends … we
    figure — since the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, we needed to send an
    even sillier message.

    To wit, The Humanity Fund (


    BOCA RATON, FLORIDA – My name is Chaz Stevens, Executive Director for The
    Humanity Fund, an advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and
    promoting freedom of speech and religion, especially the separation of
    Church and State.

    The Humanity Fund believes in equal rights for all, with a focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

    In December of 2013, I felt that the religious symbols prominently
    showcased in the Florida State Capitol were implying that certain
    viewpoints had state endorsement. To protest this violation of our
    rights, I decided to force Florida to allow me to erect a Festivus Pole,
    a symbol from the fictious holiday created within the scripts of the
    Seinfeld show, with the same prominence given to the manger and menorah.
    The protest was an international sensation during the holiday season
    that was nationally recognized on The Colbert Report, Daily Show, Fox
    News, and hundreds of media outlets.

    We saw similar injustice play out after the U.S. Supreme Court declared
    same-sex marriage a constitutional right, subsequently various public
    officials, political pundits, and presidential hopefuls across this
    country are actively seeking to thwart those inalienable rights.

    We could not stand by while religious fanatics denied people their basic
    human rights and dignity, and watch in wonder as Kim Davis, and her
    followers, flaunt the law of the land.

    The Humanity Fund has decided to take our advocacy a step further by
    placing Festivus Poles across the country, so the world can collectively
    and jubilantly protest this harassment, while making the world a better
    place. With your generous help and support, we will erect rainbow poles
    from DC to LA and beyond.

    The poles will be wrapped in the rainbow colors of gay pride.

    We will soon launch an Indiegogo project, promoting our cause and offering
    for sale Rainbow Gay Festivus Pole inspired items; with a portion of
    the proceeds to benefit various youth LBGT rights organizations.

    So, join with us on Indiegogo, proudly display your pole this holiday
    season, and help us to help extremely worthwhile movements that
    encourage hope for young LGBT people who face bullying and harassment.

    Happy Festivus 2015.

  5. If there’s one exception to this rule, it’s probably the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA can, in theory, be used to promote freethought (like in the Satanic Temple’s lawsuit against Missouri over abortion restrictions) but for the most part, RFRA advances religious beliefs above secular laws. That’s why FFRF has unequivocally and consistently called for RFRA’s repeal. It’s nice that the ACLU and other organizations are joining us in that effort, but we still need more public support!

  6. Great points. Theocrats figured out long ago that for their ideology to stick, it needs to be drilled in young and without alternatives. If they kids are shown how many religions exist, most will realize they are all obviously man-made.