How bass-ackwards can any one person get things? To find out, one need only read the latest column by Marilyn Loeffel in the Memphis, Tennessee Commercial Appeal. Loeffel is the “former chairman of the Shelby (Tennessee) County Commission and former president of FLARE, a pro-family advocacy group.” Loeffel is surely fighting for Sarah Palin’s spot as the Most Willfully Uninformed Republican Female, elbowing Michelle Bachmann in the ribs on the way up.
In her September 22nd essay “It’s atheists’ turn–to tolerate believers,” Loeffel rattles off the usual list of Southern sectionalist talking points and fundamentalist disinformation. “Our civilized way of life is coming unraveled” by the terrors of secularization, according to Loeffel. A “group in Wisconsin [the Freedom from Religion Foundation] is interfering with our lifestyle down here in the Bible Belt. They want the Memphis City Council to discontinue opening its meetings with a prayer.” (Oh dear. Never mind that FFRF is a national group coincidentally headquartered in Wisconsin; saying they’re interfering in Memphis would be like someone in Ohio saying the Southern Baptist Convention is some “group in Nashville” interfering with the Ohio way of life.)
Loeffel charitably acknowledges “that they [FFRF] have the right to voice their opinions, to inform, educate and recruit. But so do the rest of us. And we will not submit to threats.” Threats? What threats? FFRF, like so many similar groups, asks only that the government arena be neutral. Not a single member of any secular activist group that I know of has ever called for the abolition of private or assembled religion–only for the abolition of religious observances by public servants in their capacities as public servants. One does wonder, during Loeffel’s tenure, how many of the prayers before Council meetings were offered by non-Christian officiants, or by secular officiants? Actually, that would be beside the point. Even if Memphis were 100% Methodist, it would not justify public servants offering up Methodist prayers in their official capacities. The government sector is intended to be neutral with regard to religious belief. Period. The Founders were very clear about their suspicions toward the mingling of church and state, and our court system (with the exception of a couple of recent glitches) has repeatedly and consistently interpreted the Constitution to mean that religious neutrality must be observed.
Loeffel also lets her paranoia kick in. Christians have “[stayed] in their holy huddles and [let] this intimidation happen. We have allowed the atheists to dictate where, when, how and if we pray. They got prayer out of public schools and we now reap the consequences, opening the door for more drugs, rape and school shootings.” Yes, right. All the praying at home, in private, in church, or in your head before the big math quiz can’t make up for the time in school when teachers can’t force students to pray a certain way. Oh, and atheists are such an intimidating bunch. Were it not for the courts holding us back there’s no telling what we’d do! (Cough.) Ms. Loeffel, I’ll say it again: the only place atheists have asked that you not pray is while you are a public official on the job. That’s it. As Dr. Seuss might say: you can pray in your car; you can pray in a bar; you can pray in your head; you can pray ’till you’re dead.
She also trots out the old argument that the phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t in the Constitution (which nobody ever argues anyway), that separation of church and state “is a myth” (which is odd, since Thomas Jefferson himself coined the phrase and affirmed this principle a mere 15 years after the Constitution was written!) and that we’re supposed to have “freedom for religion, not from religion.” Frankly, on that last point, I don’t see how you can have freedom for religion without also having freedom from religion, since the freedom to practice your religion presupposes that you also have freedom from the other fellow’s religion as well.
What’s most disturbing is Loeffel’s tacit approval of religious violence. She laughs off a comment (anonymous, of course) at the local WREG-TV website, which says, “Just try to stop us from praying in Memphis, Tennessee. We have a lot of problems but you just try this and you will see the races coming together to kick your liberal, godless butt from Graceland over the (National) Civil Rights Museum all the way back to your pathetic place of residence.” Never one to call for cooler heads, Loeffel adds, “The only way I could improve on that would be to amend it by sending them over the museum and into the Mighty Mississippi.” Nice.
What’s priceless is that Loeffel’s next sentence is: “Morals and civility are coming unraveled.” You said it, sister. First it’s the atheists causing a rise in violence by expunging gawd from the government sphere, but now you’re calling for Christians to kick the ass of atheists who object to being railroaded at City Council meetings? What happened to Christ’s call to “turn the other cheek,” “forgive [those who offend you] seventy times seven”?
You can register your, um, righteous outrage by emailing Ms. Loeffel at firstname.lastname@example.org.