News and Notes: The War of Words

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By George Kane

Head shot of George, smiling in jacket and tie.

In early February, the Star Tribune ran an AP article headlined “Millions in tax dollars flow to anti-abortion centers” detailing how, while Republican-controlled legislatures have done everything they could to make abortion unavailable, state funding of anti-abortion centers has spiked. The article revealed that these anti-abortion centers do not provide medical care but instead provide misleading and incorrect information about abortion and contraception.

In a past column, I wrote about a team to write letters-to-the-editor of the Star Tribune. This was, of course, grist for the team’s mill. I sent in a denunciation of state funding of religious projects. I noted that the churches that created these anti-abortion centers sought “to impose church dogma
on the population of the states with the force of law.” I capped it with a quote from James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” that denounced legislators who use religion as an instrument of civil policy.

A week later the Star Tribune published a rebuttal to my letter, under the headline “Dogma as deflection.” The writer claims that my denunciation of dogma driving civil law is just a distraction, apparently because dogma is just a belief, and everyone believes things. He writes “(i)f his logic is to be accepted, then efforts to support Planned Parenthood (hundreds of times larger than taxpayer support of pro-life work) and other pro-abortion organizations by people of faith … must also be seen as an imposition of ‘church dogma’ on a secular society.” Of course Planned Parenthood has never received state funding for any abortion, but only Medicare payments for medical services at the same rate as every other provider. Neither has it ever received state funding to persuade people to have abortions, which would be the correlate he claims to the anti-abortion centers. There is no equivalence to whatsoever to “imposing dogma with the force of law.”

The writer admits that his opposition to abortion is based on “faith that human life is special and sacred everywhere at all times.” The anti-abortion side wants to use the force of law to deny to women the right of abortion. The other side does not try to impose anything on anyone.

The author accuses me of leaps in logic yet asserts that his “understanding of the issue comes from several points: settled scientific fact, reasoning that the only logical point of protection is conception.” That “settled scientific fact,” he tells us, is that “from the moment of conception the baby is a unique and individual human being.” Most Americans, however, do not agree with him that a microscopic cell is deserving of the rights and protections that we accord each other. The “point of protection,” as he calls it, is not a scientific question, but a matter entirely of valuation. His argument necessarily rests on a religious dogma to which most Americans do not subscribe, but which certain state governments would impose on everyone.

I saw this letter online, the night before it was published. I immediately wrote all of this to the other members of the team, and to a few other activists. I thought that it would be best for the advocacy of secularism if the response came not from me but from others. I have not seen the Strib run a “back-and-forth” between letter writers, and were they to do so it would be looked upon as a personal feud. If others write, they could expose the weakness of his arguments and show that the separation of state and church has widespread support.

I was disappointed that I did not receive a response from anyone on the team. I’m sure that they all have valid reasons for not getting involved with this particular letter, but this exposes one critical weakness of the project: the team is too small to make the case that secularism is an important issue for a significant share of the newspaper readers.

If any of you want to join our team, please let me know, at

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