Over the weekend, some person, persons, or maybe a deity, vandalized the law school building at the University of Wisconsin, where I am a student. The vandal spray-painted a message and signed it from the (presumably) Christian deity underneath the building’s sign: “Fuck the Law, —God.”
If this had happened a year ago, I would have been upset that a vandal had the nerve to deface public property while insulting the profession that I have chosen to pursue. The attribution of this phrase to God would not have held any significance to me. I would have written off the vandalism as some disgruntled, childish person expressing their disdain for the law in an inappropriate and illegal manner. I would not have understood how prevalent and potentially dangerous the vandal’s idea truly is.
I am not only a law student, but have been working at the Freedom From Religion Foundation since May. I have been an atheist for most of my life, but until recently, I thought that Americans didn’t have to worry about the dangers of religious dogma. I thought that religious dogma could only hurt people in places that do not have the constitutional protections that we have in America. I have never been personally persecuted or openly discriminated against because of my beliefs, nor have I ever felt coerced into showing support for a religious belief that I do not hold. Only through interning with the FFRF over the past five months have I been able to truly understand how lucky I am.
Before I began interning at FFRF, I hadn’t encountered the idea that one’s belief in a god allows them to disregard the law, and I certainly didn’t realize how extremely prevalent the idea is throughout the United States. You don’t have to look hard to find educators, public servants, and elected officials who support the idea, either explicitly or implicitly, that when the law conflicts with a religious belief you hold that you should follow the religious belief and just say, “Fuck the law.”
These people believe strongly that they are in the right and doing what their god wants. Fellow believers are proud to cheer them on at the expense of all those negatively affected. Kim Davis made the news recently for her willingness to disregard the law and deny rights to gay couples, but for every Kim Davis there are thousands of public employees denying people’s rights for religious reasons that do not make headline news. And there are even more victims.
Thankfully we have groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Humanist Association willing to fight to protect our rights from those who prefer the idea spray-painted on a wall over the ideals in our Constitution.