News and Notes

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By George Kane

Head shot of George, smiling in jacket and tie.

I was pleased to learn before this election that my polling place had moved from Como Park Lutheran Church to the North Dale Recreation Center, even though it is a couple of miles from my home. When I lived in California, I always voted at a public school. I don’t know if California ever uses churches as polling places, but I found the practice here in Minnesota to be an unsettling mix of the sacred with the civic act of voting. This election provided considerable evidence that it is time for Minnesota to end the practice. Many churches are activists in political issues these days, and cannot be trusted to provide a politically neutral environment.

At St. John Vianney Catholic Church in South Saint Paul, a banner proclaiming “Strengthen Marriage, Don’t Redefine It” hung over the voters’ entrance. It was a campaign sign, pure and simple, to display the church’s endorsement of the constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban same-sex marriage. Another Catholic Church in nearby West St. Paul displayed a prayer, written by Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, imploring Catholics to defend God’s plan, for marriage to be exclusively between one man and one woman.

Both of these incidents violated the Minnesota statute requiring that campaign materials must be at least 100 feet away from a polling place. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis claimed that the incidents were innocent oversights that were corrected when they were pointed out by election officials, but they were displayed for hours. If churches cannot be trusted to follow the rules, they should not be used as polling places.

No one should be surprised that the spokesmen of the religious right wasted no time in blaming the December 15 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on atheists.

  • • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: “When you have an anti-religious, secular bureaucracy… seeking to drive God out of public life, something fills the vacuum.”
  • • Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee: “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
  • • James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family: “I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.”
  • • Bryan Fischer, spokesperson for the American Family Association: “We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve gotta invite me back into your world first. I’m not gonna go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.”
  • • William J. Murray, head of the Religious Freedom Coalition: “In the vast majority of America’s public schools, the authority of God has been replaced with the authority of the iron fist of government. Morals? Without the authority of God, there are no morals, and none are taught in the public schools today. The ethics that are taught are situational, perhaps the same situational ethics that led to the logic that caused the tragic shootings in Newtown.”

These accusations are purely ideological and are not substantiated by any facts from our nation’s history of mass killings. Massacres occur in privately owned movie theaters as well as public schools. In the 61 mass murders in the US in the last 30 years, there has not been an atheist perpetrator. The claim of Christian moral superiority over atheists is without basis. People who advance beyond the folly of god belief base their moral decisions on the consequences in peoples’ lives.

Is it even possible that these people believe what they have said? Probably not. They are just reflexively attacking atheism to sharpen national division. They have no qualms about their brazen opportunism at what should be a time for coming together and national healing. Unfortunately, they are sure to succeed in stirring their followers to greater anger.

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