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21.6.04

What Is William Raspberry Afraid Of?

William Raspberry seems to want me to agree with Hunt Stillwell (see previous post), since the very day after I posted my rebuttal he comes out with a column titled Understanding Their Fears. It's a case of poor headline writing, as Raspberry doesn't manage to understand anyone's fears -- rather, he uses the "they're afraid" hypothesis to explain the actions and beliefs of "serious-minded people working to impose their will (especially their religious views) on the rest of us." The category includes people who are anti-gay marriage, anti-school prayer, and anti-public-manger-scenes. And most importantly, it includes Michael Newdow and those who support his case to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Now Raspberry agrees> with Newdow on the merits, even going so far as to admit that "In God we trust" is also unconstitutional. Yet for whatever reason (I'll try to refrain from speculating), he insists on seeing Newdow's campaign as motivated by some sort of irrational fear.

Raspberry goes on to insist that a little Establishment never hurt anyone, and atheists should suck it up the way non-Muslim foreigners do in the Middle East. If he's right that "imposing your beliefs on someone" (by which he seems to mean "basing public policy on your beliefs) is the result of fear, it seems we could just as easily ask "what is Raspberry afraid of?" More easily, even, as Raspberry admits that his preference is at odds with logic.

Raspberry's answer is the strange claim that a religion-neutral Pledge imposes atheism, while a religion-affirming Pledge is actually neutral. Thus, he's not open to his own fear argument.

Eventually, Raspberry resolves his tension by endorsing the Supreme Court's non-decision of throwing out the case on a technicality. I happen to agree that that was the best outcome (and perhaps Raspberry would be pleased to learn that my motivation is fear -- fear of the enormous backlash that would have followed a Newdow victory, and fear of the mischief that could be wrought if the First Amendment were weakened to uphold "under God"). But you can get to that conclusion on the merits, rather than Rasberry's path of wondering aloud what kind of fear drives someone to accept the logical conclusion.

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