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Wednesday, December 5,2001

Lo,the poor athiests

Athiests cry discrimination while propagating the same

A mayor in another state called me a hack. Answering to the latest police brutality case, he said in fury: "You guys are doing a hatchet job. You've got your hatchets out, and you're poised to start hacking. So hack away, boys, there's nothing I can do about it."

We took his advice. We hacked, and we hacked, and we mercilessly hacked some more, every time a black man was broken, bruised and bleeding from the latest assault by a cop.

Call me a hack, and I'll wear the title with pride. Except this week. Today I ask to be called a musician. For today, I've traded my hatchet for a violin.

I play my violin in sadness and sympathy for the "woe is us" atheists of Boulder, who seek attention and understanding for their "non-belief."

Marvin Straus and Eric Simons have founded a group called Boulder Atheists in order to facilitate the "understanding and acceptance of atheism through education and community service," as stated in the Boulder Daily Camera.

The men told Camera reporter Kevin Williams of a "stigma" associated with being an atheist-one they insist is hard to overcome. They talked of the group's aim to allay fears about atheists by adopting a stretch of highway in order to have a road sign that says "Boulder Atheists."

The story was appropriately on the Camera's "Faith" page, because their disbelief is nothing other than "faith" that no God exists, and therefore a religion of sorts. The story quoted atheists who fear going public with their belief in no god. Not a single atheist, however, offered examples or evidence of persecution. Unlike black men who are maimed from persecution by cops, these people have only unfounded fears about what might happen at work if they reveal their beliefs.

In other words, the persecution is only in their heads. They're the safest people on earth. Belief in God-not the dismissal of God-is what's stigmatized, censored and openly persecuted. The two young American women taken hostage in Afghanistan were held on the suspicion that they tried to proselytize their belief in Jesus, not because they declined to embrace Islam.

Six million Jews were killed by Nazis, and not for a lack of faith. They were killed for the act of being born into a culture that believes in God-the same God Christians believe revealed himself as Jesus. Throughout modern history Jews have been persecuted and killed for their belief in one God.

Today, in Canyon City, Fremont County District Attorney Ed Rodgers faces a recall campaign. Not because he refuses to believe in God, but because he's a Catholic and respects the Pope's stern opposition to capital punishment. If Rodgers were an atheist, his job would likely be secure.

In Littleton, grieving parents of kids killed during the Columbine massacre are suffering under state-imposed censorship. In an artistic forum of hallway tiles, open to families of dead students, they have been unlawfully barred from painting crosses or Bible verses or words such as "Jesus" or "God." They're persecution results from faith in God, not the belief that no god exists. If they were atheists, these parents would face no censorship at all.

One can't say that atheists never face public bigotry for their beliefs. However, it's rare. Almost never in the United States is the spoken word, a work of art, an essay or a book banned for its lack of religious content or its aggressive dismissal of God. Yet even the most subtle religious works are censored for content, lawfully and unlawfully, every day.

And who are the modern censors? Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and the like aren't famous for forcefully censoring rhetoric and art-using the heavy hand of government-in the United States. Atheists are. Groups such as the Atheist Alliance, American Atheists, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the always atheist-friendly American Civil Liberties Union are more active today at forcing their beliefs and agendas on others than all religious institutions combined.

Columbine is just their latest hurrah. A tiny cross painted on one of 2,000 mostly secular tiles in a hallway does nothing to force anyone to believe in God. It doesn't suppress, oppress or establish a state-sanctioned faith. The private citizen who painted the cross has forced no hardship on anyone.

The atheists, by contrast, have forced their agenda-their belief that no god exists-on everyone in the school. They've sanitized the walls of expressions reflecting any beliefs other than their own. And has it been damaging, painful and oppressive? Absolutely. Just ask those who were trying to mourn publicly, by invitation of the school district, only to have their works of art forcefully censored by non-believers and school board officials who don't understand the First Amendment.

At the risk of sounding like a racist-(the "my best friend is black" type)-let it be said that my best friend is an atheist. So is my second best friend. So is my activist mentor, Carla Selby-former chairman of the Boulder ACLU chapter.

These people are seldom persecuted for their beliefs. Anti-abortion Catholics, by contrast, are openly oppressed in Boulder for expressing their faith. So are Jews and Muslims and Buddhists. They're persecuted and silenced by a handful of atheists who are intolerant of any beliefs but their own. So muzzle the violins. Atheist beliefs are easy; the belief in God is fashionably despised.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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