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Saturday, 12 April 2008

My letter to Monique Davis

Rep. Monique Davis of the state legislature in Illinois caught the attention of the atheist blogosphere recently with her startling outburst (reported here) to atheist Rob Sherman, who was testifying against the allocation of state funds to rebuild a historic (but still operating) church:

Davis: I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy -- it’s tragic -- when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school.

I don’t see you (Sherman) fighting guns in school. You know?

I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.… What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous--

Sherman: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

Davis: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure that if this matter does go to court---

Davis: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

Unbelievable stuff. Since then, the Council for Secular Humanism has called for Monique Davis to resign, and there have been several calls for an apology. Davis has responded by apologising to Sherman, as reported here.

Maybe I'm just being influenced by Alonzo Fyfe's take, but really, Davis' apology disturbs me more than the reports on her initial comment did. We don't know exactly what she said, because it wasn't a public apology, it was a personal one to the person she blew up at. It's nice to know that she understands that it's polite to apologise to someone you yell at, but does she even understand that what she said about atheists -- all atheists -- was wrong? What's with that reference to school shootings? Does she blame atheists for those?

I can't know for sure what Monique Davis believes or was trying to say. I have, however, sent her a letter asking for clarification. I have no idea what she'll think to receive a letter from New Zealand that won't reach her for a week on a subject that most closely concerns the atheist citizens in her own state, but I find I can't keep silent. The text of my letter is given below.


Flat _
_ _______ Street
New Zealand

11 April, 2008

Dear Ms Davis,

I am writing with regard to the remarks you made to Rob Sherman, stating that atheists ‘believe in destroying’ and that it is ‘dangerous for children to even know that [atheism] exists’. I wish to commend you for apologizing to Mr Sherman for your remarks. However, you do not merely owe an apology to Mr Sherman. You owe an apology to all atheists.

I myself am an atheist and secular humanist. My atheist mother, who is currently doing a PhD in ethics, brought me up to think as carefully about what is morally good as I do about what is objectively true. I believe in showing compassion to others. I believe in justice. I believe in being open to new evidence. I believe in not pre-judging people by their religion or lack thereof.

In stating that atheists ‘believe in destroying’, you have shown incredible bigotry to all people who, for whatever reason, come to believe that God probably does not exist. I urge you to consider your atheist constituents and apologize to them, too, as a lawmaker who publicly stated that they did not have a right to be heard by the state government. I realize your comments were spoken in the heat of the moment. Please take the opportunity to put them right!

I am also concerned to hear that, in your apology to Sherman, you explained that you were upset that day because you heard that two Chicago students had been shot to death. I hope this does not mean that you succumb to the bigotry that blames atheists for school shootings. No good reason for such blame exists. When we hear that children have died, we grieve, too. We cannot even comfort ourselves with the thought that the children will live on in heaven. I have nothing but contempt for the people who use such tragedies to try to inspire hatred of unrelated groups. I would be grateful for clarification of what you meant when you referred to school shootings in your apology to Mr Sherman.

I am a New Zealander, not an American. I do not have to face the anti-atheist sentiment that some unlucky American atheists put up with on a regular basis. However, as a member of the international atheist community, I hope that more Americans will come to understand that atheists generally do not believe in destroying. Indeed, atheism is all the more reason to try to do good in the world. Since there is no God, if we do not build the world we wish to see, no-one will.

Yours sincerely,


I even Americanized my spelling for her. I'd like to say it was politeness; I'm sorry to say it may have been an indication of my opinion of her openmindedness. Not that American spelling izn't uzually more sensible when you think about it.


Anonymous said...

Bravo. The private apology is a start, but she has a long way to go.

I'm also impressed that it seems the sheer numbers of bloggers and readers contacting Davis to demand an apology were a significant factor in her doing so. It shouldn't have been necessary, but maybe we can all put a little more pressure on her and help her change her thinking.

Alon Levy said...

I don't know how much members of Congress listen to people who're out of district, let alone out of country...

I also don't know whether it might've been wiser to publicize this incident in a political ad. Now that she's apologized, there's no way anyone can use it in a primary challenge.

Anonymous said...

Ugly, huh? And it only made the news because of the prominent setting.

I think atheists are pretty much unelectable in most parts of the US. Different by you, right?


Anonymous said...

"...if we do not build the world we wish to see, no-one will."

Excellent statement, and the core of what we should be pushing.

Unknown said...

Very nice, well-written letter, Lynet. Hmmm... I think you've inspired me to write one of my own.