Illinois State Rep. Monique Davis Apologizes to Rob Sherman April 10, 2008

Illinois State Rep. Monique Davis Apologizes to Rob Sherman

Illinois State Rep. Monique Davis never should have made her incendiary comments against atheists in the first place, but yesterday, she called Rob Sherman and apologized for her remarks.

Says Sherman on his website:

Yesterday, State Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago) called me from the Floor of the Illinois House of Representatives to apologize for what she had said to me at last Wednesday’s hearing of the House State Government Administration Committee. Rep. Davis had said, among other things, that atheism is dangerous to the progression of the State of Illinois, that children should not be allowed to know that my philosophy (atheism) exists, and that I had no right to testify to any Illinois legislative committee because the People of Illinois believe in God. She concluded by ordering me to “Get out of that seat!”

Some bloggers have asked what I said to instigate Rep. Davis’ comments. I was testifying about why the Governor’s proposal to donate one million tax dollars to Pilgrim Baptist Church is unconstitutional. Specifically, I was reading, in a very calm manner, from my laptop computer, the words in the March 4th “Latest Update,” which appear below and which explains why the proposal to give money to the church is unconstitutional.

Rep. Davis said that she had been upset, earlier in the day, to learn that a twenty-second and twenty-third Chicago Public School student this school year had been shot to death that morning. She said that it was wrong for her to take out her anger, frustrations and emotions on me, and that she apologized to me.

I told her that her explanation was reasonable and that I forgave her. I also suggested that if she really was concerned about public school students dying needlessly, she should look into helping me to get passed legislation to get lap and shoulder seat belts on school busses that is pending in the House and in the Senate.

She thanked me for forgiving her and said that she would look into those two pieces of legislation.

Rep. Davis’ apology was a direct result of the pressure put on her by the thousands of bloggers from around the globe who commented on the various news sites and the hundreds of people from around the world who contacted her office by telephone or e-mail.  Each and every one of you really did make a difference.  Your comments didn’t just go out into thin air and get forgotten about and ignored.  By each one of you taking the time to carefully craft your intelligent message, pressure built up on Rep. Davis.  Meanwhile, more pressure built as additional news outlets picked up the story, including the Countdown show with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, which gave Rep. Davis the Worst Person in the World award; the Capitol Fax in Springfield, Illinois; and a half-hour appearance on WTDY radio in Madison, Wisconsin.  Blogs and direct contact with the offending party really do make a difference.  They may not get read everywhere, but they are read by people who matter, so I thank each one of you for your efforts.

The reasoning as to why she made her remarks seems very shaky to me (what do shootings have to do with atheism being a “dangerous philosophy” unless she wants to equate the two… which would be an even bigger mistake)… But it took a lot for her to apologize, and it was the right thing to do. Kudos to Rep. Davis for making the call to Sherman, even if it was about a week overdue.

Let’s hope she never makes those kinds of attack statements again.

I’m guessing she’s learned her lesson.

And Rob is right — this story received plenty of (well-deserved) attention because it was spread from blog to blog and from blogosphere to mainstream media.

Remember that the next time you witness a similar incident. If you raise your voice (or your typing fingers), people will hear about your story.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • I’m still waiting to see this from Representative Davis herself. I think it is appropriate that the apology be given both to Rob Sherman personally, and also the the United States in general — as Keith Olbermann pointed out. I also think it would be appropriate for a plain statement to be given from the Illinois General Assembly.

    There are still some folks out there baying for blood, but frankly I think there is more to be achieved by following Rob Sherman’s own lead; which was to accept the apology and give a concrete suggestion for moving forward — in his case by asking Rep. Davis to support his proposals for seat belt legislation. It would be a very positive example if coming out of this there is a concrete instance of an atheist and a Christian both co-operating to support things they have in common, without any particular regard to religious differences.

    As for a statement from the house; abuse Rob Sherman received was in a formal hearing of the State government, and it seems to me that the State government bears some collective responsibility for what occurred. It would be appropriate for the house to recognize this. It would be a mistake to see this as a problem from just one person. It would probably be a good time to apply a bit of public pressure to have have a plain statement made by the Illinois State Government on the equal standing of all Americans under the constitution, with an equal right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. It would be appropriate to thank Rob Sherman for taking the time to speak before the committee, and to apologize as a body for his reception he received in the House.

    I am not an American myself; but an observer from outside.

  • Kate

    Good. It takes a lot to apologize.

  • David D.G.

    Hemant, I don’t think Davis was insinuating a link of any kind between the student’s death and atheism; I think she was just trying to claim that she was in a state of anger and frustration as a result of that incident, and she wound up taking it out on Sherman — quite randomly, as people who are upset often do. I don’t know whether the explanation is true or not, but it is at least plausible.

    Whether the apology is sufficient after her actions, however, is a different question entirely. It is a good thing, yes. If Sherman is satisfied, that’s good, too. But just teaching her to keep her bigotry quiet is not the lesson that should be brought out from all this; what needs to be said — not just in a private telephone call, but publicly — is that this verbal assault on Sherman was not only inappropriate, but was at least partially motivated by attitudes that were exceedingly hateful, wrong, and unacceptable. That these attitudes surfaced because of other events troubling her may well be the case, but the fact that a person holds them at all is a disgrace — especially a black female legislator who is bloody well old enough to know better.

    ~David D.G.

  • Paul

    Such an apology would not have satisfied me. She is a liar and a cheat. She did what was politically expidient. She should be removed from office by the voters.

  • The one thing that I want to say about this, which I have not heard others say as much as I would have liked, is that atheism is NOT a dangerous philosophy (at least for 99% of atheists out there). When looked at correctly, atheism is life-enriching. It is an extremely positive thing. It is not destructive. It is constructive. It is saying no to irrationality. Irrationality which literally hurts every one of us, every day. It is saying no to dogmatism, religious extremism, fear of death, fear of the unknown, and fear of science. It is saying no to all the immorality in this world that gets disguised as morality due to the distorting effects of religion. It is saying no to theocracy, moral police, and terrorism. It is saying no to so many things, and, indeed, it is also saying yes. While atheists are (rightly) not required to agree on what it is saying yes to, for the vast majority it is saying yes to a sense of deepness without religion, a sense of ethics without God, a sense of hope without irrationality.

    Atheism is a great thing, one of the greatest things of all time, and in a century it may be the philosophy of most of the world’s citizens. Atheism is, contrary to how most people still see it, about relinquishing oneself from absolutism but still retaining a sense of goodness in the universe.

    I wish I could hear THAT on the nightly news…

  • Mike Higginbottom

    I just sent the following e-mail to her. Perhaps someone should send her a copy of PZ Myers’ ‘Atheist Creed’. Like so many she clearly has no idea what we’re about.

    Just a quick note to say thank you for your recent apology to Rob Sherman. I understand the reasons for your anger in relation to the shootings and we’ve all been guilty of allowing our anger rooted in one context to overflow into another. While not wanting to second guess your thought processes at the time I can also see how Rob’s issues over state funding may well have seemed rather trivial in comparison to the killing of children.

    What still troubles me though is that I can’t seem to reconcile your understandable anger with the construction of a philosophical position to which you do not hold true. I find it difficult to believe that your comments about atheism, whilst said in the heat of the moment, were not truly heartfelt. And I feel you need to be taken to task over this matter. If your stated opinion of atheists is indeed your true opinion of atheists then you are in serious need of some education on the subject.

    Atheists do not seek to destroy anything. We simply believe religious faith is misplaced. We have very strong arguments to support this thesis. And we have perfectly good replacements for everything that religion provides with one singular exception. We have a strong, self determined, moral framework which is all the better for being developed through personal investment in the pursuit of guiding principles rather than a fear and guilt driven adherence to external commandment. We have tremendous respect for life, since we know it is all we have, and we have a determination to use our precious lives to best advantage for all those around us and those who will follow once we are gone. That is our purpose in life and will be our legacy. We appreciate the aesthetic and our wonder at the beauty of the universe and the rich emotions of a human life are no less meaningful or cherished because we see them as natural processes rather than something mystical.

    The one thing atheists do not have is all the answers. We are humble and brave enough to accept that we do not, and probably never will, understand the universe in its entirety, its origin, its ending or its ultimate purpose if indeed it has one. And acceptance of this is, I think, the fundamental difference between theists and atheists. We do not _need_ to know all the answers. We will always strive to find them but our failure to obtain them all is not a problem for us. We know the answers we do have are true and we think the answers you have that we don’t are wishful thinking.

    But you’re entitled to your faith. You’re entitled to freedom of religion. Just so long as you respect our freedom _from_ religion. And in your country, you simply don’t have any choice in the matter.

    Of course, any good criticism should sandwich the bad between a good beginning and a good ending. Often the good is not sincere but I assure you, in this case, it is. I was genuinely surprised to hear you had apologised. It is a rare and valuable thing to hear in this world. Especially from a politician. A sincere apology, as I believe yours to be, does anyone credit but seldom gets rewarded. Honesty, humility and integrity are precious commodities and I think that’s a goal more of us, whether children of God or not, should strive for in ourselves and praise more in others.

  • Siamang

    Hear hear, John.

  • Well, it’s definitely nice that she gave an apology. That’s difficult for a lot of people to do. And we all have our moments where we snap because we’re having a rough day…but, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t believe what she said. Nowhere did she state that she didn’t mean it, that she didn’t think atheism was really bad, that she was just trying to find some easy shot. She’s sorry because this brought negative attention to her. She’s sorry because she said something she believes that she probably should have kept to herself. If an atheist were to snap and say equivalent things to a Muslim or Christian, no amount of “I was just in a bad mood” would be tolerated. You may have been in a bad mood, but it exposed bigotry that is always there and needs to be dealt with.

    Again, I’m glad she said something, and I’m glad Sherman accepted instead of blowing it up like I am. However, it really doesn’t address the real issue in the long run.

  • the Shaggy

    I think the connection between the shootings and this incident were the comments she made about “Why are you going on about this when you could be helping keep guns out of children’s hands.”

    So I think her apology partly rings hollow since she apologized for that, but for nothing else.

  • Scorpious

    If an atheist were to snap and say equivalent things to a Muslim or Christian, no amount of “I was just in a bad mood” would be tolerated. You may have been in a bad mood, but it exposed bigotry that is always there and needs to be dealt with.

    Jennifurret, you’re right.

    Just like with Mel Gibson and his anti-Jew rant while drunk, this just exposed her for what she really is, an anti-atheist or athei-phobe or whatever it is the word that I mean here. Sherman is right to have accepted her apology as he did, but if this had been about any other religion or skin color or what-have-you, most people wouldn’t be settling for a private apology over the phone and would be calling for her resignation.

    As I just said, Sherman is right to accept the apology, were atheists to have more clout than we do currently, we could have asked for more than a simple, private apology over the phone. We could have demanded a public apology in front of not only the committee where this occured, but also in front of the entire Illinois State Congress & Senate along with her resignation. Views like these wouldn’t be held up with any other bigotry.

  • Mriana

    There is no excuse for what she said, not even children who had been shot at a school or anything else. What she said was very wrong.

  • Renacier

    It reeks of conspicuous public apology. She’s not sorry; she’s just sorry she didn’t get away with it.
    It doesn’t take any effort or courage to spew bigoted ignorance and then pay lip service to decency in order to get angry people to leave you alone.

  • Thank you Siamang.

    There is a bright side to this: correct me if I’m wrong, but a couple of years ago we would not have had this kind of outcry when someone said something denigrating about atheists, right? I mean, we got on MSNBC. (Olbermann rules!)

  • A better apology would’ve been more like this: “I was completely out of line and have brought shame upon the Illinois legislature. I now resign my position, for it to be filled with someone who will represent the people, not just the christian church.”

  • Darryl

    Who knows what was in the woman’s heart, but doesn’t it appear that all the criticism she received is what led to the apology? That’s what’s important about this story–not one backward politician–but how effective the blogosphere is at kicking ass when it’s needed. The community of right-thinking bloggers: slamming stupidity one idiot at a time.

  • Richard Wade

    Contrite does not mean convinced. She is only sorry she made a fool of herself but she hasn’t changed her opinion about the civil rights of people who do not share her religious beliefs. She wants them out of her state. She hates and fears them.

    The real test of any actual change in her attitude will be what she does, if anything, about the Governor’s unconstitutional proposal to give a million bucks to a Baptist church. Will she favor her religion or uphold the principles of the Constitution she has sworn to uphold?

  • Russell


    I’m also guessing she did learn her lesson to never make attacking statements again, only I don’t think that is a positive outcome. Now instead of speaking her bigoted thoughts out loud she’ll make sure to just vote based on them. This is no different than the racist that has learned to say “black” instead of “nigger” but who still won’t let his daughter date a non-white person. The only acceptable conclusion to the episode is the return of Ms. Davis to private life, voluntarily or via election of a challenger in the next cycle.

  • I think the apology is a step in the right direction, but I would frankly like a public statement. Frustration of a school shooting did not make her hate atheists and think they have a dangerous philosophy. He mental state could have made her less likely to realize she shouldn’t say those things publically, but it didn’t put the ideas in her head. I’m glad she apologized to Sherman, but she said it was dangerous for children to even know that a non-theistic philosophy exists. That is offensive to far more people than Sherman alone. I want to know what she really thinks about that.

  • I don’t respect people who apologize for saying what they really think. She’s an ass, she said what she thought, and her apology means nothing unless she comes out and says that she was wrong and that she has nothing whatsoever against atheists and that they are equal citizens with people of faith.

    She revealed her true colors and she should be forced to resign unless she retracts her words, not just apologizes for the way she said them.

    I seriously doubt she’s changed her mind on the issue just because she got a lot of emails. She’s being dishonest and insincere. Bleh.

  • Lynchamisto

    This kind of apology isn’t really an apology at all. She obviously meant what she said and said what she meant. Her “apology” was made under public pressure and wasn’t at all sincere. That nonsense about school children being killed was ridiculous. The only reason she apologized was that she got caught in her own bigotry.

  • TXatheist

    I’m going with the camp that is grateful she apologized. I guess I’m just worn down by Texas politicians that don’t regret pushing a christian agenda and hardly consider apologizing for it. You know, like Jesus day every June 10th here in Texas.

  • TXatheist

    Mike Higginbottom,
    I couldn’t locate an email for her? Can you supply it? (If I overlooked it in Hemant’s post…my bad 🙂

  • A lot of people are saying the apology isn’t enough and that a statement should be made… or that the apology was insincere and that she didn’t mean it.

    Good points. But an apology is *something* even if you think it’s not enough. She didn’t have to do that, but for whatever reasons (she felt bad or she felt pressured), she did it The main thing we need to keep in mind is that the atheist she made the statements to — Rob Sherman — has forgiven her.

    If he can do it, and he’s the one who spoke with her on the phone, it seems reasonable that we should do it as well. Not to forget what she did, but to move on from it.

  • Mriana

    If he can do it, and he’s the one who spoke with her on the phone, it seems reasonable that we should do it as well. Not to forget what she did, but to move on from it.

    I have to agree. Hopefully she has learned something from all of this too.

  • Mriana

    First one didn’t go through. 😕

    If he can do it, and he’s the one who spoke with her on the phone, it seems reasonable that we should do it as well. Not to forget what she did, but to move on from it.

    I have to agree. Hopefully she has learned something from this too.

  • Marlboro

    I dont think he should have accepted the apology. It’s not about an apology. Very specific unconstitutional remarks and demands were made [on top of an unconstitutional request for funding of a religious organization] in a public hearing. At the very least, she should publicly rescind her comments and further explain why such posturing is in breach of the constitution.

    She has publicly identified herself to be unfit for office and should resign. I am unsure as to why so many commenter’s here would accept such a blatant miscarriage of acceptable behavior from an elected official… EVERYTHING about the freedoms we enjoy [including operating and posting on blogs like this] relies on upholding the constitution, and in holding our elected officials to a standard that secures its existence.

    Com-on people! – this is no time for tolerance! You should demand the minimum acceptable behavior from this person. The behavior we are guaranteed by OUR constitution!

  • Glad indeed to see I’m not the only one who thought her apology fell about a thousand miles short of the mark.

    Next time I’m in Chicago, I might have to drop by, take the woman out for tea with some atheists, and help her take the next step, which is to realize that denying someone their Constitutional rights based on their religious creed or lack thereof isn’t something you can gloss over with a half-hearted excuse.

    Who’s in?

  • Though I’m not entirely convinced of the justification she gave for her attack on Sherman, I appreciate her apology. She’s a much bigger woman than Sally Kern, who not only has refused multiple times to apologize for her hateful rant against LGBTs, but has now turned their rightful outrage against her into “persecution”.

  • Richard Wade

    Apologizing is a lost art. Hardly anyone knows how to do it.

    If Sherman’s description of Davis’ “apology” is accurate and complete, it’s not really an apology. It’s an attempt to mitigate her offensive tirade by appealing to an upset that has nothing to do with what she did and said. She apparently did not acknowledge that what she thinks about atheists is wrong, she only said she should not have said it out loud.

    Here’s a similar situation:
    1. I deliberately poke you in the eye with an ice pick and call you a piece of shit.
    2. You and your friends come down on me like a ton of bricks.
    3. Only because of that ton of bricks, I call you up and say I’m sorry for deliberately poking you in the eye with an ice pick and calling you a piece of shit, whining that it was only because I was upset about somebody neither of us ever met having been hurt. I never address how the actual motive of my attack is wrong; I only try to mitigate it with an unrelated excuse.
    4. You say you forgive me.
    5. I quietly continue to think you’re a piece of shit and keep my ice pick handy.

    Such a cheap substitute for an apology does not produce growth in the individual nor does it promote better understanding between opposing sides in a conflict. It just makes for more quiet, careful use of ice picks.

    Now here is the anatomy of a real apology:

    1. My accurate and thorough description of my offending behavior.
    2. My completely unambiguous statement that my behavior was wrong, unacceptable and hurtful to you, and my willingness to listen without any defense to you tell me how it was hurtful to you.
    3. My promise to never repeat the behavior again.
    4. My sincere request for forgiveness. (This must never be a condition required for the other steps.)
    5. My willingness to further discuss the issues of whatever led to the offending behavior, such as my self-centeredness, ignorance, hatred, fear, bigotry, etc. etc.

    This is how I apologize. It’s hard. Needless to say I try harder to avoid doing things that would make me have to make an apology.

    An excuse is not an apology. An excuse cancels out the sincerity of an apology. It should never be tacked on to an apology or offered as a substitute. It turns an apology into bullshit.

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