Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Complain, complain, complain

Chipmunk Eyes
I don't tend to get into social-political issues here. My thing is more epistemology, counter apologetics and science.

Over the past few days, however, I've been working on a project that deviates from that role - Challenges to Secularism. There's one point that has immediately become evident to me, and that's the fact that pro-secular hominids need to speak out against all unconstitutional infractions, no matter how trivial they may seem.


Why? We have an actual slippery slope.

"We've had this city logo featuring a church since 1959, and no one's complained about it before" - becomes an argument as to why the city should continue to violate the constitution.

In 2005, in Austin, Texas, a judge implemented a "Grandfather Clause" that basically said that a clearly unconstitutional issue - a ten-commandments monument on the State capitol grounds, is constitutional because no one complained earlier.

The message is clear. Complain.

Make the Precedent Complaints

This is all about precedent. If you don't complain, ten-commandments monuments become valid. When ten-commandments monuments become valid, other things start to become acceptable, because "well they're getting away with it over there". This isn't dissimilar to why legal precedent is so vital during lawsuits.

Having a city logo, that has an outline of a church on it, may not seem like a big deal - but it's planting the seeds of more prolific and damaging constitutional violations in the long run.

The activities of the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, as well as the Freedom from Religion Foundation have gotten to the point where many of these violations can be resolved merely by a strongly worded letter, and a long citation of legal precedent. Increasingly, towns, cities, schools, etc, are relenting before having to waste tax dollars defending something that they cannot win.

Some communities are dumb, though. One school district kept fighting a lawsuit to hold graduation ceremonies in a church even though they hadn't needed to use it for years, because they built their own on-campus building that could accommodate  They kept fighting "on principle". During the Ahlquist case in New Jersey, the school had a prayer banner on the school gymnasium wall that was present for many decades.  They had no chance to win - and it cost the school greatly. The community only barely voted to not appeal the ruling. Others tried to appeal it on their own, out of outrage, but didn't have standing.

"Tradition" gets cited frequently for substantiating these violations. The key here is to not let it be tradition in the first place - else, taxpayer money goes to pay to defend a losing battle.

Why didn't we complain before?

Keep in mind that the reason no one complained before was because we lived in an oppressive society where coming out as an atheist would have been social suicide. Hell, that's still the case for many people. Now that we have the internet, we can create reinforcing supportive communities so that stranded and isolated atheists aren't so alone. Now we're more comfortable coming out, because we have the ACLU, AU, FFRF, as well as a broad online community to back us up.

We're more comfortable coming out now. And now - now we're complaining - now we can.

I am the Law!

Many on the opposing side have compared this to "bullying" (like they'd know what bullying is). It's not bullying. It's policing. We as a society have hired people to enforce laws - we call them "police". Unfortunately, we don't have an equivalent group to enforce the constitution (judges may sort of qualify - but they don't "patrol"). Individuals can file suit, and that would be roughly equivalent to a "citizens arrest". Fortunately, the citizens are better organized these days to combat systemic violations of the constitution, and we see these groups manifest as groups like the ones I've mentioned above.

Their role is to fill the void - to enforce the constitution.

Almost across the board, their lawsuits end up being upheld by the courts, or sometimes thrown out for lack of standing - but not because they were wrong. These aren't bullies. They're enforcers.



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