Where the atheists roam
Christopher Duva longs for a godless homeland
When Judge Roy Moore in Alabama installed a 5000lb Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of his courthouse, he claimed he had a constitutional right to do so. Even though the monument was eventually removed, Moore still enjoys the support of the White House, and the Alabama legislature is currently bending over backwards to amend the state's constitution to accommodate such overt Christian displays. Other expressions of personal freedom in the United States have not been afforded quite the same protection.
For 16 years, up until last spring, Florida resident Steven Miles had a vanity licence plate on his car that simply said "ATHEIST." You might assume that this freedom would be enshrined by the first amendment. The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles thought differently. They informed Mr Miles that his licence plate was being revoked because 12 people had complained that they found it offensive.
It was only after being threatened with a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that the DMV relented.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court is considering the case of atheist Michael Newdow, after he pleaded on behalf of his daughter that the inclusion of the words 'one nation under God' in her school's daily Pledge of Allegiance violated her right to freedom of belief. The School District is fiercely contesting the case, and Newdow is portrayed by most media as some kind of lunatic.
Episodes like that make me desperate to escape the religious fervour that appears to be gripping the nation. A vast number of Americans have cast aside reason in favour of superstition. And they are doing their utmost to make sure that these irrational beliefs infect every aspect of public life.
Even more troubling, voices of reason and rationalism are often met with disdain and scorn both by the general populace and those in positions of power.
I once asked a Jewish friend of mine who had moved from the US to Israel how he found life in such an unstable environment. He replied that, despite the instability, he loved it, because, for him, "being Jewish is not an issue there." Thinking about my friend's response more and more lately, I have realised that what I want is what he has in Israel.
I want to live in a country where religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs) are not an issue. I want an atheist homeland, a place where my lack of belief in a 'supreme being' or organised religion does not put me at odds with 90 per cent of the country.
I would like to live in a country where the response to a major terrorist act is not to go around mindlessly repeating 'God Bless America', but in which a serious dialogue concerning foreign policy issues could take place.
I would like to live in a country where religious leaders do not blame these same acts of terrorism on homosexuality and abortion (as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell did shortly after 9/11) but rather where secular leaders would assign blame to the true source of much of the terrorism in the world today: religion itself.
I would like to live in a country where doctors who perform legal surgical procedures are not harassed, intimidated and even gunned down in their homes by people claiming to be protecting the sanctity of human life.
I would like to live in a country where its president does not propose an office of 'faithbased' programmes to be located in the White House, a country in which public monies would not be used to support religious indoctrination, in clear violation of the constitution.
I would like to live in a country where our children are not coerced into pledging allegiance to 'one nation under God' and where the idea of removing this phrase from the pledge is not met with calls for a constitutional amendment to ensure its continued use.
I would like to live in country where we do not have 'In God We Trust' on our currency and where it is not common practice to swear with one's hand on the Christian bible before testifying in a court of law.
I would like to live in a country free from the rancorous debate between science and religion. There, school boards would not try to ban the teaching of evolution in schools, nor would they sticker science textbooks with warnings about the 'controversial' theory of evolution while simultaneously trying to reinstate school prayer.
In the country of my dreams, there would be no creationist 'museums' with displays showing dinosaurs and humans coexisting, or religious groups that organise 'biblically correct' tours of public museums and zoos, twisting science to fit their personal creation myths. There, no one would prise the Darwin fish off the bumper of my car and replace it with a sticker that says 'Smile, Jesus Loves You, as someone did to me last year.
I would like to live in a country where an athlete who has just won the Super Bowl, when asked the secret of his success, doesn't say "my faith in God".
But most of all, I would like to live in a country where I do not feel like a secondclass citizen because of my lack of religious beliefs, a country where I would not be viewed by its president and attorney general as a sinner and a heretic. In short, I want to live in a country where an atheist could be elected president, where science is unquestionably taught in science classes, and where we would not have to work so hard at keeping religion from where it doesn't belong.