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April 08, 2008

State Rep: Atheist has no right to testify before state assembly

An Illinois State Representative says that its dangerous for children to learn that atheism exists. Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) excoriated atheist activist Rob Sherman as he testified in the state assembly last Wednesday.

Davis told Sherman that he had "no right to be here." It's not clear whether she meant the legislature or the state of Illinois generally.

"I am fed up! Get out of that seat!" she barked at the witness:

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. [Chicago Tribune]


HT: Crooks and Liars.


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Eric Jaffa said:
"How about: there is a creature watching everything that happens on earth. Would that be a better description of what religious people believe?"

Thank you for asking. But no, that formula is also a non-starter. A Jew, Muslim, or Christian (leaving out of consideration such exotic strains as the Mormon, which I know little about) who both understood the basics of her faith and had a good command of English would reject any belief that the G-d of Abraham is a "creature." George Carlin or Grammar RWA may not know why, but you surely do.

Btw, if, as columnist Eric Zorn has argued, the grant to "gorgeous, historically significant and culturally important" Pilgrim Baptist Church is in straightforward violation of the Illinois Constitution, it should be easy to stop in the courts. There should be no need for the fatuous self-promotion of the grandiose Rob Sherman, who "feel[s] like Rosa Parks" (!) -- or is an office-seeker enduring verbal insults by an elected official indeed the moral equivalent of getting arrested for defying Jim Crow?

Davis is repugnant in this matter, but Sherman seems another dubious hero of the caliber of Harris or Hitchens.

My comments above could stand revising.

First, about Sherman: his ill-treatment by Davis remains trivial compared to Rosa Parks's arrest. But if you visit his website, you will see he claims to have suffered far worse injustices:

"Attempts to smear my reputation with false rumors and fake convictions have completely failed to tarnish my image in any way, whatsoever. The local State Court, widely known in the community as the House of Fraud, has proclaimed me guilty, on many occasions, for supposedly violating state statutes and municipal ordinances, but I have never been accused of doing anything that actually constitutes a violation of those statutes and ordinances. Sometimes the accusation and conviction is for the crime of 'We don't have to tell you what the accusation is,' such as when I was arrested, convicted and sent to jail for supposedly causing bodily harm to my 16-year-old son."

He tells the story of his conviction for the battering his son in more detail in comments here, Sep 25, 2007 5:58:24 PM. As Sherman tells it, he was railroaded by a a conspiracy of local Republicans in a Kafkaesque proceeding, and spent 127 days in jail; he doesn't say anything about seeking a writ of habeas, or an appeal or suit in the aftermath.

Now if Sherman's account is accurate, he has been the victim of a frame-up in a kangaroo court, charged with no facts to make out a case against him, maliciously prosecuted and denied due process, persecuted under the color of law. It's hard to believe it could happen that way in Illinois, but if it did, it is a monstrous injustice that needs to be investigated, publicized, and set right. Getting excoriated by State Rep. Davis is tiny tubers compared to a deliberate, knowing prosecution and conviction of an innocent man. Everyone offended by Wright's unacceptable words of abuse should be outraged by such an intolerable abuse of a court of law -- and begin to look into it right now.

OTOH, if Sherman's story is on its face too improbable to be believed, or investigated and found to be false in important particulars, what does that tell about the teller?

The quotation above strikes me less as the protestations of a persecuted innocent than the felonthink of a jiving hustler, the sort of dreamy mendacity you often hear from prison inmates who never did anything wrong, deny the domestic batteries they were convicted of, for example; bad things just happened to them; they are the real victims. Am I wrong?

Which is it? And if it's as Sherman told it, shouldn't his become a cause celebre for atheists and civil libertarians alike?

Moreover, I may have been mistaken in thinking Davis's tirade was premeditated grandstanding.

For one thing, it could have been worded better -- surely it wasn't composed beforehand to sound spontaneous when delivered. What she said is rightly and roundly condemned -- but were there mitigating circumstances for her saying it?

What did she think she knew about Sherman? His criminal convictions, and the fashion in which he takes responsibility for them? That he was before her committee to testify about the illegality of the grant to Pilgrim Baptist when he has no legal, or indeed any scholarly expertise? That his testifying was a flimflam narcissist's publicity-seeking? That Sherman was a white suburbanite trying to prevent the disbursement of a large grant in an African-Amercan neighborhood still hurting from the loss of a monument and mainstay institution of the community?

Was it unreasonable for her to believe these things? If not, it's understandable she lost her temper. She should apologize for implying that atheists are necessarily bad people (even if Sherman is), have no standing to speak out in public discourse etc. -- and then be forgiven.

And what did Sherman say before Davis blew up? Does anyone have a transcript that would give the immediate context of her fury? Davis may have set upon an heroic Col. Dreyfus -- or been provoked by a paranoid P.T. Barnum.

In an entry on his site dated today, April 10, Sherman says:

"Yesterday, State Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago) called me from the Floor of the Illinois House of Representatives to apologize for what she had said to me at last Wednesday's hearing of the House State Government Administration Committee. ...Rep. Davis said 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. She said that it was wrong for her to take out her anger, frustrations and emotions on me, and that she apologized to me. I told her that her explanation was reasonable and that I forgave her. ...She thanked me for forgiving her ...Rep. Davis' apology was a direct result of the pressure put on her by the thousands of bloggers from around the globe who commented on the various news sites and the hundreds of people from around the world who contacted her office..."

He also gives an account of what he, "in a very calm manner," was saying that "instigate[d] Rep. Davis' comments." But in view of his account of his criminal convictions, I would think an examination of the transcript remains a desideratum.

And again, it should be determined whether Sherman was wrongfully convicted and jailed for battering his son. If he was, that is a mighty wrong that needs righting, and cries out for "pressure put ... by thousands of bloggers from around the globe." If he is lying, he deserves to be exposed -- he is the Green candidate for State Representative for the 53rd District of Illinois, and should be prevented from riding into office telling false sob stories. If, again, he is lying, his success could well hurt both his constituents and the cause of church-state separation nationwide.

As for Davis, she still owes the public an apology, but at least she has done right by Sherman. Can we do right by him?


UPDATE --- At his Web site, Sherman is reporting (and I have not cofirmed since Davis has not returned several phone calls from me) that he has accepted an apology that Davis offered to him over the phone:

Davis said 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. She said that it was wrong for her to take out her anger, frustrations and emotions on me, and that she apologized to me.

I told her that her explanation was reasonable and that I forgave her.....she thanked me for forgiving her .....

The good news is that "Christian Mathematics" doesn't seem to involve teaching bad math to its adherents, just a lot of claims about math providing proofs of God that require stretches more characteristic of the Fantastic Four.

On the "creature watching everything that happens on earth" - not the right description. A "creature" is a created being so a Christian would not refer to God or Jesus as a creature. A "being watching everything that happens on earth" is better, although the sense of some kind of omniscent voyeur is still not a particularly fair description of the concept.

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