By Jacqueline J. Holness
At the start of each year, we Americans customarily make resolutions and set new goals for ourselves. The majority of resolutions have to do with improving our well-being by losing weight, tackling debt, eradicating bad habits, and more. While these goals are admirable, the new year should also be a time to refocus on what God would have us to do as the church.
Last year the atheist advocacy community amassed significant gains in various sectors:
• As of July 2014, “secular celebrants” can legally officiate weddings in Indiana, after a federal appellate court overturned the state’s marriage statute which had restricted this privilege to clergy and government officials. The Center of Inquiry, which filed the original lawsuit, trains secular celebrants who can also officiate weddings in our nation’s capital.
• As a result of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lawsuit against the IRS, the IRS will more closely monitor political activity at churches that claim tax exemption, according to a settlement agreement also reached in July.
• According to the Tufts University website, the school has created a Humanist in Residence position, the first University-funded humanist position in the nation.
• Also in 2014, American Atheists launched Atheist TV, the first atheist television channel.
In 2015 the church must continue to challenge atheists’ efforts to erase God and the Christian faith from our legal system, our educational system, and our culture. What steps can the church take?
1. Pay attention.
In September the American Humanist Association announced its national campaign discouraging Americans from taking the Pledge of Allegiance until the phrase “under God” is removed from it. In October, People of Color Beyond Faith held its first Moving Social Justice Conference. The church needs to be aware of the ongoing efforts of atheists.
Get behind organizations on the frontline of protecting religious freedom. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Liberty Institute are two of several organizations that champion religious freedom.
3. Fight back.
Last year New Jersey high school senior Samantha Jones, who is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, opted to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the American Humanist Association to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance in New Jersey.
Arkansas State University had banned football players from wearing crosses on their helmets to honor deceased football players and faculty. In response, an anonymous Arkansas State football player protested and, with the help of the Liberty Institute, overturned the ban last year.
4. Acknowledge victories.
Last May the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase “under God” as led by teachers in state schools does not contradict the state’s equal rights amendment nor discriminate against children of atheists.
Last July the Alliance Defending Freedom secured a win in Mike Adams’s case against University of North Carolina–Wilmington. Adams was an atheist when he was hired to be an assistant professor at the school in 1993 and said that he was promoted to associate professor in 1998. However, after Adams became in Christian in 2000, he was harassed and ultimately not promoted to a full professor position.
5. Recognize that not all is lost.
While atheism has increased in this country, Americans still tend to have negative views of atheism. A Pew Research Center survey conducted of 3,217 adults from May to June 2014 concluded that Americans have cold feelings toward atheists. Respondents were asked to rate various religious groups on a “feeling thermometer,” with 100 representing the warmest feelings and 0 representing the coldest. Atheists were given an average rating of 41.
Also, while James Woods of Arizona was the first openly atheist person to run for Congress, according to Religion News Service, another Pew Research Center study revealed that atheism is the top negative trait for presidential candidates. The center surveyed 1,501 adults in April.
While we should focus on our goals at the beginning of the new year, it is also an optimum time to recalibrate and remember that the church is charged with the responsibility to uphold God. Let’s also protect our religious freedom.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.