A reader writes:
I’m an atheist, and I really appreciated you linking to the U of Minn study on "distrusted minorities". I agreed 100% with your statement that "religious freedom must emphatically include the right to believe in nothing at all." I’m sorry that angry atheists have been filling your inbox; clearly you meant "no religion at all". The overused phrase "taken out of context" is apt in this case.
Secondly, I particularly appreciated your support for atheists because I know that you are deeply religious. Acknowledging the dignity and moral beliefs of atheism is not only quite welcome, but I think (dare I say?) the Christian thing to do. In the same way, we atheists should respect believers; too often, many of us are hostile to people of faith.
I was touched on Sept. 11 when Tony Blair described that day as an "an attack on those on every religion and those of no religion." It was completely unexpected, and made me realize that for years in the U.S. I’d been hearing the sound of the dog that didn’t bark. Nowadays in the U.S., politicians recognize Yom Kippur, Easter, Eid and Diwali; but I’ve never heard of political support for atheism in the public square.
The worst offender, oddly enough, was the first president Bush. My point is that religious freedom does not simply mean the freedom to believe in God. It also means the freedom to deny his existence, if that is what your conscience and reason tell you. In this, atheists and believers should be completely united. We’re fighting for the same freedon: to decide for ourselves what the meaning of the universe is. To quote Sandra Day O’Connor – more of a real conservative, in my mind, than Antonin Scalia:
"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State."
A government that screws with the rights of atheists is screwing with the rights of believers as well.