The East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation has noticed a number of constitutional violations taking place by government officials in Knoxville (including placing a Nativity scene in a government building, seen in the picture below), and they’ve followed up by sending warning letters to the appropriate officials.
That, to one local columnist, makes them just like ISIS.
It began over the summer when FFRF sent a letter to the Knoxville Police Department about a plaque quoting Romans 8:31 in the building. Mayor Madeline Rogero agreed to remove the plaque, but not before Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett weighed in with an ignorant response.
“Mayor Rogero is my friend, but I would fight this one. I wouldn’t yield to extortionists,” he said. “Ultimately, I have to answer to God not some outfit from out of town who make their living just suing people …
“What I don’t understand is with atheists if they don’t believe in God, what do they care? It just doesn’t make much sense to me,” he said.
That’s… a lot of stupidity for one man. It wasn’t extortion (the atheists weren’t demanding a pile of cash). It wasn’t a complaint from people living “out of town” (it turns out East Tennessee is, in fact, in Tennessee). And the atheists spoke up because, apparently unlike the mayor, they know how to read the First Amendment.
It didn’t get any better by November. That’s when the FFRF chapter’s director Shawnee Casteel wrote to the Knox County Health Department about a publicly displayed religious poem. Burchett responded to that letter, too, saying he would not remove the display. He then said this to a reporter:
“Faith is such an important part of our lives and of all the things going on in this world … this is the place where they attack us … I think it’s very telling,” he said.
Notice he didn’t deny a single thing Casteel said. Instead, he deflected by basically saying, Sure, we’re breaking the law, but people are starving in Africa, so don’t pay any attention to us.
The problem is only getting worse.
This time, the FFRF chapter wrote to the executive director of human resources for Knox County Schools about a publicly displayed Nativity scene in the office. And, like clockwork, Burchett responded with the same denials of wrongdoing. FFRF didn’t budge.
“There appears to be a pattern in Mayor Burchett’s utter lack of respect for both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions, which he swore to uphold,” Casteel said in an email to the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee. “We take the First Amendment very seriously, including the rights of individuals, and only request that the displays be placed in their personal areas, out of view of the public, and as to not promote one religious belief over others to employees.
“If these items will not be removed, and these violations continue, we may request that displays of other religious and non-religious groups be displayed publicly as well,” she said.
Casteel is right to push back against all of this, and it’s appalling that a mayor doesn’t give a damn about the Constitution. (It won’t surprise you to learn that Burchett, a Republican, plans to run for Congress next year.)
But the reason I’m writing any of this is because of a truly disturbing column by Greg Johnson in the Knoxville News Sentinel. not only did Johnson defend Burchett, his attacks against FFRF went much further than anything we’ve heard up to this point. He even compared FFRF to terrorist groups.
The radical atheists of the Freedom from Religion Foundation have gone mad about a tiny baby Jesus, surrounded by wise men, in the government-owned Andrew Johnson Building.
This little figurine nativity scene turned the unbelieving folks from the Wisconsin-based group right rabid. They wrote another threatening letter to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett telling him to remove it. Burchett, running for Congress, rightly refused.
He uses all the stereotypes right-wing activists frequently throw at atheists since they don’t have any substance in their defense. The issue isn’t the size of the Nativity. It’s the fact that a government official erected a Christian display in a public building. If it were a miniature display honoring the Qur’an, you know exactly what the uproar would look like. Christians shouldn’t get a pass just because they’re in the majority.
Not that Johnson cares. He really believes being in the majority means you can override the First Amendment.
East Tennessee is overwhelmingly conservative, overwhelmingly Christian and just days before many of us will celebrate the adoration of the Magi, when the wise men bowed to the baby, Burchett stands with the majority, for the majority.
Uh-huh. And the atheists stand with the Constitution. We win.
Then, Johnson started in on the comparisons to terrorists.
This attempt to eradicate the Christ is no new thing. Last week, a Muslim gunman killed nine in a Coptic Church in Cairo. Yet Christians persist. In Wenzou, China, Reuters reports, communist authorities outlawed Sunday school. Yet Christians persist.
So when the folks at the Freedom from Religion Foundation seek to remove Christ from the scene, they are taking the same position on Jesus as ISIS and the godless communists in China. They also are of like mind with a genocidal king.
Mass shooter. Dogmatic government that represses freedom of thought. And atheists who point out how government officials have crossed the line, then politely ask them to fix the problem by at least moving the religious displays to a private part of the office (like at someone’s desk instead of in the lobby).
Totally the same thing.
Under the guise of legal language, the Freedom from Religion Foundation still seeks to kill Jesus. Like ISIS, communists and Herod, they too shall fail.
Jesus Christ, this man is unhinged.
Burchett, Johnson, and every other law-ignoring government official in Knoxville should be thanking these atheists for point out the problems and giving them a chance to avoid a lawsuit. Instead, Burchett responds by chastising his own constituents and Johnson literally compares them to ISIS.
I asked FFRF’s co-president Dan Barker what he would say to Johnson, and he was rather diplomatic in his response.
[FFRF co-president] Annie Laurie [Gaylor] and [I] see this as [an] example of religious paranoia in those who don’t understand neutrality.
Jesus, like a small-town autocrat, said “He that is not with me is against me,” not realizing that you can be neither, in the middle. Since the Constitution demands neutrality, Greg Johnson’s opinion actually turns the First Amendment into a terrorist! That is absurd. Let’s reserve the word “terrorist” for people who commit actual violence to further a cause, such as the biblical Israelites, or the modern murderers of abortion doctors, or a wrathful God who (if he exists) threatens eternal torture for those who dare to think for themselves.
See? You can be reasonable without calling a columnist a member of al-Qaeda.
If you’d like to respond, write to the News Sentinel and let them know how disturbing it is that they would give space to such an ignorant, hateful person. And tell them, if it applies, that you’ll be cancelling your subscription.