Atheists are holding on tight to their separation of church and state ideals.
In a recent report, Ventura County Star reporter Mike Harris profiled a Simi Valley atheist who is doing everything he can to make sure that other people’s religious beliefs don’t influence the way he has to live his day-to-day life.
Stuart Bechman, 51, was described as playing a central role in drawing attention to a large cross on Mt. McCoy that had been donated to the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District. Ultimately, the land would be sold to the private nonprofit Simi Valley Historical Society, a feat that Bechman and his people were reportedly “satisfied” about.
With the cross out of the way, Bechman moved on to more pressing matters – a framed poster in the Simi Valley City Council’s foyer which reads: “God Bless America” and “God Bless You.” By allowing the poster to hang on the wall next to a “Council Chamber,” he argued, the council is opening itself up to possible scrutiny about supporting the poster’s religious overtones.
"It is one thing to hold personal religious beliefs, which City Council members certainly have the right to hold," wrote Bechman, a 15-year Simi Valley resident who is a national advisory council member of Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "But it is quite another thing to use one's elected position and government resources to actively promote those beliefs to the exclusion of others in the name of our government.”
While some may point to the fact that the poster didn’t denote which god was to bless America (and bless you), Bechman accurately points out that by even mentioning the word “god,” the poster is ignoring soldiers and families who have no religious beliefs. In fact, Bechman even went so far as to call the poster disrespectful of nonbelievers.
"These religious messages ... present the message that it's exclusively the religious community of Simi Valley that supports and honors our military personnel," wrote Bechman, who authors a blog, SecularSimi.blogspot.com (via Harris’ piece).
For their part, though, the council doesn’t appear to be backing down this time. Despite countless letters sent by Bechman regarding the matter and an increased amount of public scrutiny, no plans have been made thus far to take the poster down.
The entire situation speaks to a larger issue, of course, of whether atheists like Bechman are being selfish in their endless quest to rid America of all things religion. Both sides of the argument are obviously valid, and it’s almost impossible to come down on one side of the debate without trivializing the other.
On one hand, it must be terribly disconcerting to wake up every morning and constantly have other people’s ideologies inflicted upon you. What’s worse is that people who aren’t athiets rarely notice how inherently religious so many aspects of American culture are. It’s entirely understandable that after lifetimes of having to cope with major religious annoyances, atheists find themselves lashing out at seemingly minor things (i.e. posters).
At the same time, by wasting headline space and their efforts on things that are as seemingly tedious and unnecessary as taking posters down, you have to wonder whether or not atheists are cutting their nose to spite their face in the PR department. Sure, the poster will most likely get taken down. But if it comes at the cost of irritating the general public over something that most would view as inconsequential – is it really worth it? Aren’t there bigger battles to be fought out there on the atheist front?
Either way, regardless of which side of the equation you fall on, it’s safe to say that this issue isn’t going away anytime soon.