Welcome to the latest installment of Further Than Atheism, a weekly column that explores the vast territory that lies beyond the mere disavowal of religion. As atheists, we share little but our disbelief. We often devote so much effort to defending this disbelief that we don't take the time to articulate what we do believe in. Further Than Atheism explores some of the many possibilities for positive belief that remain when gods are pushed out of the picture.
One issue that almost all atheists can agree upon is the importance of the separation of Church and State. Every atheist I know wants to be able to disbelieve in peace and deeply resents the efforts of religious groups to impose their beliefs on everybody else. The principle of separation of Church and State goes beyond mere negative disbelief, advocating a vision of a society that operates according to secular principles such as democracy and toleration.
Of course, religious conservatives insist that they're not imposing their beliefs on everyone else. They claim, over and over again, that all they want is to be allowed to practice their religion whenever and wherever they want. Besides, they argue, the First Amendment only protects against the establishment of an official church, not against religion in general.
Usually, we atheists resort to quoting the first amendment verbatim: "Congress shall make no laws regarding an establishment of religion". We note that the amendment limits not just the establishment of a particular religion, but religion as a general category. This usually shocks evangelistic fanatics, and effectively keeps them quiet for a good amount of time.
This approach is all well and good, but the truth is that I sometimes get bored with taking the serious Constitutional tack in my rebuttals to the religious. Sometimes I'd like to find some other, more entertaining way to defend the integrity of the First Amendment.
I've found just such an alternative in a new web site, DumbLaws.com. Dumb Laws is an index of, well, dumb laws. Whatever kind of ridiculous legislation you can imagine has been passed somewhere, and you'll find it listed here.
Such an index is a perfect resource for any atheist looking for an example of laws that unconstitutionally establish religious groups by giving them special protection. For example, by searching for the phrase "believe in", I learn that in California animals are prohibited from mating within 1,500 feet of a church, and that in South Carolina it's illegal for anyone to perform work on the Sabbath. By searching for the word "church", I learn that South Carolina also has outlawed the establishment of any "dance hall" within a quarter-mile of a church.
You get the idea. The presence of laws of this kind prove that religious groups have a long history in the United States of using government to force everyone to live according to their rules. These kinds of laws are by definition dumb, but the religious laws you'll find on DumbLaws.com are particularly silly. You'll want to bone up on your more serious violations of the separation of Church and State, of course, but for those times when you're tired of taking it all so seriously, a web site like this really hits the spot.
Riled up? Don't let it bottle up. Talk back!
Got irregular thoughts of your own?