If Bill O’Reilly thinks our state’s opinion leaders are going to follow his lead in whipping up a tempest in teapot over the Atheist display in the state Capitol, he has another thing coming:
The state of Washington seems to have hit on the right approach for a nation that evolved because of people seeking the right to worship as they want. This year, the state Capitol displays not only a menorah, commemorating the eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah, and a Nativity scene depicting the Christmas story, but also a statement of a thoroughly dissenting opinion. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has placed a sign that reads: “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
The pluralism of the holiday display might be a little unruly, but it is a reasonable alternative to stripping from government buildings any reference to these holidays that are such an important part of many citizens’ lives.
Gov. Gregoire’s staff has fielded thousands of calls since O’Reilly started broadcasting her phone number on TV and radio, but staffers tell me they’re mostly coming from out of state, and I’ve got news for Billo and his legion of angry automatons… out-of-staters don’t pay taxes here in our Washington, and they sure as hell don’t vote. So they shouldn’t expect more than passing attention from our very busy governor.
Personally, I don’t much disagree with the content of the “Reasons Greetings” sign, though I would not have definitively stated that religion “hardens hearts and enslaves minds,” (it can and sometimes does, but not always), and I certainly wouldn’t have placed such an unnecessarily anti-religious message in a holiday display. But one doesn’t have to defend the message to defend the messenger’s right to express it on an equal footing with other religious groups. In Washington, as in the rest of the nation, government simply cannot express preference for one religion over another, nor for religion over non-religion.
The consequences of the First Amendment may at times be messy and irritating or even offensive, but the rights enunciated within provide the bulwark from which all our rights are protected. This near absolute reverence for freedom of religion, speech and the press was a uniquely American invention, and has always been our nation’s greatest strength.
So if I had the opportunity to answer O’Reilly’s questions with one of my own, I suppose I’d ask Billo… “Why do you hate America?”