Monday, April 14, 2003

Vampire rights

Atheists are threatening to sue Ventura, California, unless city officials remove a "90-year-old, cross-shaped monument from a hilltop park overlooking the coastal town." The Washington Times reports atheists are suddenly apoplectic over the monument's religous meaning:

"Government establishing a Christian cross on government property treads on their rights and makes second-class citizens of non-Christians," said Charles Wilson, a federal employee from nearby Oxnard and one of three men threatening to sue the city over the cross.

He said the cross is a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Stan Kohls, a resident of nearby Somis and another of the men complaining about the cross, said the symbol represents a dangerous intrusion of religion into public life.

"All you have to do is look at Israel or Northern Ireland to see how destructive religion can be when it is brought out in public," said the semiretired special education teacher. "A society that is democratic must be secular as well."

This last statement struck me as odd. After all, secularism qua secularism does not guarantee democratic values. Just look at the Soviet Union, which was an atheist state. And it's also true that a belief in individual rights is ultimately compatible with altruist concepts of religion. But at the same time, a society can respect individual rights while maintaining religious components. The United States is in fact a prime example of this theory.

Furthermore, I disagree with the premise that enacting a cross on government property violates the "rights" of non-Christians. The Constitution only prohbits the establishment of religion, not the incidental endorsement of it. While a cross may be offensive to atheists, the city's decision to permit a cross on government property does not compel an atheist to conform to any particular belief. Unless you're a vampire, the cross's presence does violate anyone's right to life, liberty, or property.

Personally, I would not be terribly offended if I saw a cross on government property. Since I am an atheist, I invest the cross with no particular meaning, therefore the mere sight of one produces no negative reaction. Then again, unlike many atheists, I subscribe to a positive belief system rather than simply define myself by what I don't believe in. After all, I don't believe in communism, but I rarely describe myself to others as an "anti-communist."

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