April 11, 2008
The American Humanist Association responded today to the claim that Illinois State Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago) apologized for an April 2 anti-atheist tirade she delivered during a State Government Administration Committee hearing in Springfield, Illinois.
“As far as we know, the only source for this alleged April 9 apology is the Web site of the immediate victim. It hasn’t been corroborated or confirmed,” declared Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association. “Moreover, even if confirmed, the apology was only private. That just isn’t good enough.”
On April 2, Davis had interrupted atheist Rob Sherman during his testimony critical of a $1 million grant to a Baptist church. She declared, in part: “I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. . . . This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children. . . . it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! . . . I am fed up! Get out of that seat! . . . You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying!” (A transcript and audio of the exchange can be found at http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/ .) Sherman remained in his seat and continued his testimony.
“We humanists would be gratified to know for sure that Monique Davis has apologized for her anti-atheist outburst,” said American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “We are grateful already for the public and media outcry against that outburst.”
Speckhardt was referring to commentaries critical of Davis on MSNBC “Countdown” (where host Keith Olbermann designated Davis the Tuesday, April 8, “Worst Person in The World”), various radio stations, prominent blogs like the Daily Kos and the Huffington post, Eric Zorn’s Chicago Tribune column and blog “Change of Subject,” and elsewhere. A large number of individuals have posted blog comments supportive of respect for atheists, and have phoned and e-mailed Davis’ office. “This shows how much America is changing in its willingness to support the right of people like humanists to be God free and be respected for who they are,” Speckhardt added.
On his Web site (http://robsherman.com/), Sherman reports that, on April 9, Davis had called him “from the Floor of the Illinois House of Representatives to apologize for what she had said,” adding that, “she had been upset, earlier in the day, to learn that a twenty-second and twenty-third Chicago Public School student this school year had been shot to death that morning” and this was why she had taken her anger out on him. Representative Jack Franks, who had chaired the hearing, told Chicago’s WBBM Newsradio 780 yesterday that Davis’ outburst was uncharacteristic: “she was having a bad day.”
“Such a purely private apology, even when publicly reported, misses the point,” declared Lipman today. “What Monique Davis said was an offense to all nontheistic people, including humanists like me, not merely an offense to a single atheist. And her words were uttered publicly, so only a public apology will suffice.
“On behalf of humanists everywhere, we will accept such a public apology if it comes,” Speckhardt said. “But this won’t mean that the godless now enjoy a level playing field. We still have a ways to go. Had Representative Davis’ remarks been directed at Jews or Christians instead of atheists, she would have been forced to resign.”
Speckhardt went on to note that atheists have been discriminated against throughout history. “In England, when poet Percy Bysshe Shelley published a pamphlet in 1811 entitled ‘The Necessity of Atheism,’ he was kicked out of Oxford. Closer to home, in Arkansas, atheist activist Charles Lee Smith was twice arrested in 1928, first for selling atheist literature and then for blasphemy. Moreover, since he couldn’t as an atheist swear an oath to God on the Bible, he wasn’t permitted to testify in his own defense!”
Times have changed since then: “This is modern America. We have a right to be here,” Speckhardt concluded.
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.