Last week, I posted about a controversy brewing in the Nashville (Tennessee) mayoral race between Megan Barry and David Fox. Rumor had it that Fox’s campaign was calling up voters and suggesting that Barry didn’t believe in God — because that’s supposed to be a bad thing.
Barry responded to the initial rumor by telling the audience at a church’s prayer breakfast that the allegations weren’t true — which is perfectly fine for her to say — but I didn’t appreciate this one particular comment:
“There have been a lot of comments from my opponent and a lot of really not nice things said about me,” Barry said. “So let me just start off with, I’m a Christian.
“I was raised as a Catholic, but my faith, which was always very personal to me, has suddenly become a public conversation, which has made me uncomfortable.”
I don’t care that she’s a Christian. But what did that radio ad say that was “not nice”?
Atheist isn’t a slur. And Barry, by trying to distance herself from the word, acted like it was.
My colleague Tracey Moody, who lives in Nashville, was interviewed about this issue and she expressed the sort of frustration I was also feeling:
Tracey Moody is a board member of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
As an Atheist herself she’s unhappy Fox has brought religion into the race and she’s bothered by Barry’s response to rumors she’s an Atheist.
“What she said was he had some not nice things to say about me and she immediately followed that up with to clarify I am a Christian,” said Moody. “What that says is she’s separating herself from non-believers to say there’s something wrong with us.”
A radio ad recently approved by Fox was even more explicit:
So how do Megan and her husband Bruce spend their time since it’s not in the black community? Well, I’ll tell you. They’re opposing the National Day of Prayer, opposing prayer before high school football games, fighting with Christian faith-based organizations that he called, and I quote, “part of the Jesus Industrial Complex.” Can you believe that? She doesn’t share our values and Megan Barry doesn’t deserve our vote.
Fox is clearly the worse candidate here. In addition to playing off anti-atheist fears, that radio ad, suggesting Barry doesn’t share the community’s values, was played on stations aimed at a black audience, adding a racial component to the mix.
Barry made a careless statement. But Fox is the guy who thinks church/state separation isn’t worth defending.
If I lived in Nashville, I’d be voting for Barry.
And after she got elected, I’d hope to sit down with her to explain what she needs to do not to further alienate her atheist allies.
The election is September 10.