The NeoTheocratic Bigotry of a Democratic Legislative Leader in Illinois [corrected and updated]
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 12:10:52 PM EST
Rob Sherman is a good guy. Smart, warm and funny. I have been on his radio show. He is also an atheist activist and is concerned about issues of separation of church and state, among many other things. That is why he is running as a Green Party candidate for State Representative. He has been recently in a dispute with a Democratic legislator who is sponsoring a mandatory moment of "meditation" bill, that Sherman says is thinly disguised prayer. That dispute apparently set the stage for a controversy that should not go unnoticed or uncommented on. Sherman was testifying at an unrelated hearing sponsored by a committee of the Illinois state legislature which is looking into a shady million dollar state grant to a private school in tax trouble with the state -- when something utterly despicable happened:  
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn reported that commitee member Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago)  interupted Sherman's testimony, and the following exchange ensued:  

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.

This is one of the most disgraceful treatments of a citizen testifying before a legislative committee I have heard of anywhere in the country.

Now usually on this site, if we report on a display of bigtory on the part of a politician or elected official, it is mostly likely to be a Religious Right Republican. But this episode underscores that the views and harsh attitudes of the Religious Right are sometimes present in the Democratic Party as well.

So for the record, let me just say that Rep. Davis' neotheocratic claim; her vague Christian nationalism; her overt anti-atheist bigotry, and her abuse of her legislative post to attack Rob Sherman's atheism, is an attack on the absolute right of individual conscience of all Americans. The Constitution, the law, the broad culture of religious pluralism that seeks to foster mutual respect among our infinitely different views -- makes no distinction between religious believers and non-beleivers.  

Rep. Davis owes Rob Sherman; all atheists; fellow Democrats; and all Americans a hearfelt and profound apology.

Update [2008-4-8 14:55:11 by Frederick Clarkson]: Rob Sherman wrote in to correct some factual errors. I have done so and am glad to get the story straight.

Update [2008-4-10 10:21:29 by Frederick Clarkson]: Rob Sherman reports that Rep. Davis felt the heat of national blog and national media exposure and the outrage of constituents, and called to apologize. Her apology was accepted.

Pastordan has more.

Some time ago Rob and I were on opposite sides of an issue I felt strongly about as did Rob. I actually had the opportunity to meet him personally, and discovered that I found him much more desirable as a friend and neighbor than most I had joined in effort to oppose Rob's position. (It involved a lighted cross for Christmas on a fire station). Good to hear that Rob is still active and apparently not embittered by the battles. If you are reading this Rob, my best to you though we still find much to disagree about. It's time to learn that friendship and respect are essiential if we are to expect otthers to listen and respond to our beliefs and ideas.

by chaplain on Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 12:22:07 PM EST

I'm glad you wrote about this, because in my experience, it isn't hard to find people in either party who look on atheists with suspicion.  True, verbal challenges like you describe here are more common among GOP-affiliated theocrats.  But suspicion and distrust in the form of "well how do you know what's right?!" is quite common among non-GOPers too.  The common basic assumption is that one needs religion to be moral, and therefore those who reject religion or the notion of god must be amoral.  Also, people frequently interpret a statement of one's atheism as a direct attack on their beliefs.  Honestly, it is less of a problem telling people I'm gay than telling them I'm atheist.

by Laurel on Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 03:18:56 PM EST
and in this case I would agree with that saying.

Think about it- people who assume that morality is because of an outside force don't consider the fact that an atheist is moral because they CHOOSE to be moral- and indeed, from what I've heard and read it comes from their concern for others- they don't have a God to take responsibility when they do something wrong.  They recognize that their own actions have an impact on others- and that THEY are responsible for the harm that they do to others.  ("The devil made me do it!" just doesn't make sense if you don't believe in such things!)

Also, based upon my observations, I would say that a great many "Christians" aren't that moral to begin with- and either are putting on a show for others, or they behave BECAUSE they're afraid of divine punishment- rather than because they freely choose morality (or because it's a part of their nature).

That's a lesson that I wish Christians would take to heart (responsibility for damage done to others)... instead of just trusting God to clean up their messes.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 12:10:01 AM EST

so much to do, so little time.

After seven years of erosion, even outright attacks on the separation between church and state, we find the same kind of bigotry and closed-minded, irrationality and abuse on the (alleged) left as on the right.

Education would seem to be the answer, but for the fact that our battles on that front seem to resemble the battle against Hydra. Every time Intelligent Design is proved not to be, it pops up again elsewhere. Even worse, the common mantra is that OURS IS A CHRISTIAN NATION, when clearly, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and others held a very different, and far more progressive and civilized view.

by Pastor Agnostic on Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 04:10:23 PM EST

Some googling turned up some more information about Rep. Davis.  Apparently, she  was one of the Illinois legislators that strongly supported the moment of silence resolution that was passed last year (Rob Sherman and his daughter were the ones that filed the federal suit that blocked its implementation).  That may explain (but not excuse) some of the acrimony displayed at the hearing by her.  I also found that Rep. Davis has a very liberal voting record, at least as measured by various liberal NGOs in Illinois.  She also attended the same church as Barack Obama did (though interestingly she did not endorse him for his U.S. senate race, but has endorsed him in his bid for president).

We'll have to see if Rep. Davis does the right thing and apologizes for her hateful and ill-considered remarks.  However, many black people who are otherwise very liberal do not like atheists or atheism one bit.

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 08:21:31 PM EST

"However, many black people who are otherwise very liberal do not like atheists or atheism one bit. "

I wish you hadn't said that.  Perhaps consider rethinking that and merely state that "Some people who are otherwise liberal do not like atheists or atheism one bit."  Is there a reason to point at black people, just because Davis is black?

by Laurel on Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 09:49:03 PM EST

what I wrote was accurate, at least in my limited experience.  I would also base that view on what I have heard from Norm Allen, who is the Executive Director of African-Americans for Humanism and has experienced much hostility from many blacks in the US when attempting to spreading humanistic ideas.  I did not mean what I wrote as an insult.

I was reluctant to publish the last portion of my comment and wavered about publishing it, but I still think it is accurate.

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 11:50:04 PM EST

Several years ago, here in the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough County Government was trying to pass a "Human Rights Ordinance". It failed in no small part to the strong opposition of a most of the black churches in the area. What was ironic was the fact that  many of the selfsame black ministers that thundered so loudly against equality for gays were the same ones that loudly advocated equal rights for blacks. Go figure.
It has been my experience that many black churches are very socially conservative when it comes to certain issues.

by Frank Frey on Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 09:35:48 AM EST
What was ironic was the fact that  many of the selfsame black ministers that thundered so loudly against equality for gays were the same ones that loudly advocated equal rights for blacks. Go figure.

It has been my experience that many black churches are very socially conservative when it comes to certain issues.

This is true, but I don't know how much it applies to Rep. Davis.  In my googling, I found that she had been very involved in HIV education and protection, but I don't know how she feels about gay rights.  Maybe atheism is her only bugaboo...

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 09:48:37 AM EST

Because I don't think there is an ethnic dimension to this issue.   In America, there are several things that people are brainwashed against- liberalism, atheism, evolution, and anything to do with Marx and as sociology puts it, the "conflict perspective".  

Liberals are supposed to be all about micromanaging everyone's lives (NO, just putting reasonable controls on business and the rich so we're all more equal), atheists are supposed to be amoral (another falsehood- I've met VERY moral atheists), evolution is observed fact (and NOT just an idea), and when it comes to analyzing the current situations in this country- theory developed out of "the conflict perspective" is the most effective in accurately describing much of what goes on.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 12:03:41 AM EST

in the school in question?

My guess is that there is a perceived correlation between church-going and respectability that is much greater in the African-American community than in the rest-of-US, simply because the AA churches were the original source of AA leaders. And respectability is everything when a minority group is interacting with the majority.

by NancyP on Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 01:36:45 PM EST

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