May 22, 2013...from Salon, by Mary Elizabeth Williams...
You’d think by now CNN would have learned to stop treating their assumptions and as truths. But when Wolf Blitzer made a casual comment Tuesday, it turned out to be a teachable moment both for the newsman and television viewers.
Speaking live to a survivor of the deadly tornado in Moore, Okla., Blitzer declared the woman “blessed,” her husband “blessed,” and her son “blessed.” He then asked, “You’ve gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?”
But as she held her 18-month-old son, Rebecca Vitsmun politely replied, “I’m actually an
atheist.” A flummoxed Blitzer quickly lobbed back, “You are. All right. But you made the right call,” and Vitsmun graciously offered him a lifeline. “We are here,” she said, “and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord.” Nicely done, Rebecca Vitsmun.
One in five American adults – and a third of Americans under age 30 — now declare no religious affiliation. We are less religious now than at any other point in our history, and our secularism is rising at a rapid pace. Get used to it, Lord thankers.
As Vitsmun pointed out, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a statement of gratitude or even an acknowledgment of spirituality. I recently had someone tell me that she felt very “blessed” – right before adding that she was agnostic. Where Blitzer was insensitive — and just plain unthinking — was in his no-doubt well-intentioned demand that his interviewee cough up a Praise the Lord moment for edification of CNN viewers.
And Blitzer was not the only person this week who got his expectations rocked. When Tempe, Ariz., State Rep. Juan Mendez was asked Tuesday to deliver the opening prayer for the afternoon’s session of the House of Representatives, he delivered something different.
He went on to say, “This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences.”
It was a call to love and empathy that stands right up there next to any prayer in the book, and one that offered bonus inclusion and humanity. Afterward, he said, “I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona’s non-believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.” And if the conservative state of Arizona can make it happen, there’s hope yet for the other 49, people.
In a nation in which the divide between believers and non-believers can be great and truly ugly – one of “militant atheism” on one side and unbearably ignorant religious conservatismon the other, with just a few words, Rebecca Vitsmun and Juan Mendez showed that the ideals of being respectful and compassionate belong to all of us. Whatever our personal views, we can give others space to have theirs and to express them with dignity. We can challenge assumptions, but we can conduct ourselves with kindness. Because what matters most in life isn’t what we believe in our hearts, it’s how we practice those beliefs with each other.
Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have introduced a bill declaring that the state has the power to establish an official religion — a direct challenge to the First Amendment.
The bill says that federal courts do not have the power to decide what is constitutional, and says the state does not recognize federal court rulings that prohibit North Carolina and its schools from favoring a religion.
The bill was introduced Monday by two Republican representatives from Rowan County, north of Charlotte, and sponsored by seven other Republicans. The party controls both chambers of the North Carolina Legislature.
The two lawmakers who filed the bill, state Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, did not immediately return calls Wednesday from NBC
The American Civil Liberties Union sued last month to stop the Rowan County Commission from opening meetings with Christian prayers. One of those prayers declared that “there is only one way to salvation, and that is Jesus Christ,” the ACLU said.
The bill does not specify a religion.
The North Carolina ACLU chapter said in a statement Tuesday that the sponsors of the bill “fundamentally misunderstand constitutional law and the principle of the separation of powers that dates back to the founding of this country.”
North Carolina scholars also cast doubt on the bill.
“It has elements of not being American,” Gary Freeze, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College, told The Salisbury Post. “I think it goes far beyond religion and frankly doesn’t have a lot to do with North Carolina or tradition.”
Another professor at the college, Michael Bitzer, told the newspaper that the bill is based on discredited legal theory that the states can declare themselves exempt from federal law.
“We saw this in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education,” he said, referencing the integration ruling. “The belief is that the states hold more power than the federal government. If the federal government does something, the states can simply ignore it.”
This story was originally published on Wed Apr 3, 2013 10:45 AM EDT
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