Michael Egnor’s most recent post accuses me of being an “atheist fundamentalist” due to my belief that military chaplains are a violation of the Establishment Clause. Okay—call me what names you like. While I admit that my position is “extreme,” whatever that term might mean in this context, it is one I am proud to share with James Madison, the author of the First Amendment, who said,
The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional pnnciples. The tenets of the chaplains elected shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain? To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the evil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers, or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor.
If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents shd discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expence.... Rather than let this step beyond the landmarks of power have the effect of a legitimate precedent, it will be better to apply to it the legal aphorism de minimis non curat lex.... Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy, than erect them into a political authority in matters of religion. The object of this establishment is seducing, the motive to it is laudable. But is it not safer to adhere to a right principle, and trust to its consequences, than confide in the reasoning however specious in favor of a wrong one. Look thro’ the armies & navies of the world, and say whether in the appointment of their ministers of religion, the spiritual interest of the flocks or the temporal interest of the Shepherds, be most in view whether here, as elsewhere the political care of religion is not a nominal more than a real aid. If the spirit of armies be devout, the spirit out of the armies will never be less so, and a failure of religious instruction & exhortation from a voluntary source within or without, will rarely happen and if such be not the spirit of armies, the official services of their Teachers are not likely to produce it. It is more likely to flow from the labours of a spontaneous zeal. The armies of the Puritans had their appointed Chaplains, but without these there would have been no lack of public devotion in that devout age.
The case of navies with insulated crews may be less within the scope of these reflections. But it is not entirely so. The chance of a devout officer, might be of as much worth to religion, as the service of an ordinary chaplain. But we are always to keep in mind that it is safer to trust the consequences of a right principle, than reasonings in support of a bad one.
But, again, I’m puzzled by the relevance of this issue. If ID is just a scientific dispute, why would it matter to Dr. Egnor to argue that the government may fund the propagation of religion? The only reason that this issue of chaplains would have any relevance here is if Dr. Egnor knows that ID is a religious viewpoint, which he thinks should be taught to schoolchildren at taxpayer expense. To that, all I can say is, let him do so at his own expense. Yes, Doctor, you should hold a bake sale. A fair and honest bake sale where people can buy your cookies or refuse as they decide. You have no right to teach your religion with money taken from me by force.
At the end of all of this, hving had every one of his substantive points refuted utterly, Dr. Egnor is reduced to the very sad state of repeating lies: that, for example, I “advocate expulsion of Christianity from the public square” or believe in “judicially enforced censorship” and am a “totalitarian.” Of course, I have done none of these things, and Dr. Egnor can provide no evidence at all to back them up. I’ve made it clear time and again that all students and teachers have an individual right to express their beliefs on their own behalf at any time, including in government schools; I’ve made it clear time and again that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific models are legitimate subjects of discussion and research and that nothing in the Constitution forbids them. I have made it clear that the Establishment Clause forbids only the teaching of a religious viewpoint as true; it does not forbid teaching anything else, including even falsehoods; it cannot reasonably be characterized as censorship, since government has no right to freedom of expression. But individuals always retain a natural right, protected by the Constitution, to believe as they wish with regard to religion and to express those beliefs on their own behalf.
As far as my being a totalitarian.... You know, some accusations are so ludicrously off the mark that it’s sufficient refutation simply to repeat it; indeed, they only reveal how silly the accuser really is. Is there any sane person in the world who thinks I advocate totalitarianism? Just hearing him fly so far afield is an indication of how carefully he weighs his words against the facts and how deep is his concern with an accurate discussion of the truth. My libertarian credentials speak for themselves.
Dr. Egnor is a shameless liar who misrepresents the statements of his opponents, and uses vague terms to disguise the true meaning of the positions he advocates. Asked to point to a single piece of evidence proving his accusation that I believe in teaching atheism in government schools, he has failed to do so. Asked to point to a shred of evidence showing that I believe in censoring any person’s individual right to freedom of speech or freedom of religion, he has failed to do so. Dr. Egnor is at the least totally ignorant of First Amendment law; he thinks free speech protections apply to the government rather than to individuals, yet he considers himself competent to pronounce things “obviously constitutional” when those issues are complicated enough that they sometimes divide the nation’s foremost legal experts....
But more shameful than all of these things, Dr. Egnor considers the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment—a prized accomplishment of this country’s founding fathers—one of the greatest achievements of the men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to create a nation of liberty—Doctor Egnor considers this principle to be “censorship” and something worth discarding or ignoring. Now, he may ridicule my “religious beliefs,” as he is pleased to call them. He has a First Amendment right to do so, which little old totalitarian me would defend before any court in the land. He is free to drag my deepest spiritual convictions into the public square and flail them mercilessly with rhetoric all he likes. He may call me all sorts of names. But for him to attack the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—that is very telling, indeed. It proves, I think, where ID creationism is really coming from.
Michael Egnor is a petty demagogue; a little Squealer without a podium; a drum major whose tiny band is playing badly off key, but who insists that there’s no difference between music and noise; an “intellectual” whose work consists of inflaming public opinion rather than educating it; a doctor who knows little science, less law, and absolutely no intellectual integrity.
My posts on Egnor:
Is that a beam in Egnor's eye? Or two?
Egnor’s pseudo-logical pseudo-reply
Michael Egnor tries again
May the government fund scientific research on evolution?
My alleged illiberalism
Is the Establishment Clause a form of censorship?