Protect our secular heritage

Cleo Kocol is a Sacramento writer who was named a humanist heroine by the American Humanist Association in 1988

Philosophically, my husband and I are humanists. Religiously, we are atheists. Religious believers tell us, “You don’t know what you’re missing.” They’re wrong.

I once was an Episcopalian. Except for the “God” belief, nothing in my life has changed. Morals flow from rational thought. Religion depends on faith. It has no verifiable answers.

We have no argument with religious believers. We simply do not believe. We are members of many free-thought groups, including Sacramento’s Atheists and Other Freethinkers, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Our nation’s slide toward theocracy disturbs us. Crèches on government land, crosses in city parks, Ten Commandments monuments in our court halls and religious mottoes on money might seem to be small intrusions. But factor in the assault on public education, “intelligent design” taught with evolution, a “God” text in our Pledge of Allegiance, “God” mentioned on billboards at schools, tax-funded faith-based charities (some of which discriminate in hiring), faith-based prison systems that exert subtle coercive forces on prisoners, and “abstinence-only” sex-education programs, and you may get the picture. These are discriminatory programs. And our taxes pay for them.

Mainline churches and freethinkers agree: A secular government is the only way to maintain the individual freedom to worship—or not worship.

Church land is not taxed, but our tax money is used every time a fireman or policeman is called to a church. Patrol officers direct traffic for church affairs. And, of course, the tax assessment of private homes increases when church land goes tax-free. Wouldn’t it be better if we all shared equally in the burdens of state?

How far will religion encroach before society rebels? Imagine a child from a religious tradition that practices snake-handling bringing a rattlesnake to show and tell, Koran verses carved on stone in public places, or Hare Krishna chants at high-school football games.

As atheists, we are fighting for our rights and, by extension, the rights of all. Michael Newdow has taken the pledge case to the Supreme Court this week, another member spoke against a “God” sign at her child’s school, and we have involved the scientific community in the fight to keep sound science in the public-school classroom.

We call on all citizens, regardless of their beliefs, to join us in protecting our heritage of a secular government.

That is the only way to maintain your rights of worship.