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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
Don’t Forget the Atheists When Tragedy Strikes
By Ed Buckner and Amanda Knief
During the past five days, a nation has struggled to deal with the loss and grief of 20 children and six adults—all gunned down for unknown reasons. American Atheists recognizes that many in this country will turn to their Christian beliefs and leaders for guidance and comfort. However, millions in this country look elsewhere for comfort, solace, and guidance. Some turn to minority faiths and some turn to non-religious life philosophies. Yet, we have not seen the media or our national leaders acknowledge the diversity of coping methods.
American Atheists and its members want media representatives—reporters, newsreaders, commentators—to understand that their role is to investigate and report facts, not to air their own religious assumptions. If a particular religious leader is newsworthy in a community, we understand his or her words or actions being reported. However, this should not limit the news media from recognizing that there are diverse religious and non-religious leaders to be found in every community.
When reporters describe the victims of a mass shooting and their families in desperate need of comforting, they should not assume that everyone in an affected community is Christian or even theistic. One surviving teacher in Newtown reported telling her students hiding during the massacre that those who believed in prayer should pray and those who did not should think good thoughts. That teacher, unlike most of the media, understood that it is unreasonable to assume religious belief. Newtown and other communities victimized by violence are often flooded with counselors, but the focus is exclusively on the religious aspects of heaven and angels. The media should recognize and interview non-religious counselors, who are also available for those who wish to use their services.
Newtown hosted an interfaith ceremony on Sunday, December 16. However, as is so often the case, no non-religious leader or representative was included as a speaker. We can offer words of solace and comfort to our fellow citizens as well as any religious leader. President Obama gave a moving speech at that ceremony. As a citizen he has the right to invoke his own beliefs, but as president we were disheartened when he said that god had called the child victims home to heaven. This is not a belief shared by all U.S. citizens and though many may find it a comforting idea, it made others uncomfortable and disenfranchised. We want—we must have—political leaders who understand that this is a secular nation, full of citizens with all sorts of conflicting religious beliefs and with none.
When the media jumps on stories by religious leaders, such as Mike Huckabee, Bryan Fischer, William Murray, crying that the lack of their god in schools is to blame for the deaths in Connecticut, we demand that the media be objective and present data that dispels these ridiculous claims—or at the very least allow those of us who defend secular public schools to offer rebuttal.
Religion often gets a pass and a free ride in the media. We are calling out the media and political leaders to stop it. No idea—even religious ones—are exempt from scrutiny and criticism. Those without any religious affiliation are the fastest and largest growing “religious” group in this nation. We will be heard, we will be counted, and we will be part of the conversations about all events in this country.