Mount Soledad's Paulson -- A Hero? I Think Not

A couple of days ago, I came across an article published by the Institute for Humanist Studies, Humanist News Netword entitled "Freethought Community to Honor Paulson" by Bobbie Kirkhart. The story is about how some humanists plan to get together to honor Philip Paulson, the man who started the 17 year legal battle to remove the memorial cross from Mount Soledad in San Diego. The story, reads in pertinent part:

For 17 years, Mr. Paulson has fought and repeatedly won his battles with the city of San Diego, California to remove a large Christian cross from atop Mount Soledad in a city park of the same name. In spite of his victory at every round, the cross still stands as a monument to the stubbornness of politicians who pander to Christian claims of privilege.

* * *
Paulson’s legacy, impressive and still growing, has been recognized by several freethought organizations. He will receive the award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation at their convention this October. In past years, the Rationalist Society of St. Louis gave him their Freedom Fighter Award, and American Atheists of California has named him Atheist of the Year.

Now, I find this desire to name him "Atheist of the Year" and give him the "Freedom Fighter Award" to be . . . well, a little awkward for our skeptical friends. In all sincerity, this man should be considered a public relations nightmare for the atheists who are trying to make inroads towards broader acceptance in the community. From the point of view of religious people, Mr. Paulson is one of a very few number of selfish people who are trying to push their failed political agenda on the rest of the American public though the use of the courts. He has worked for seventeen years to remove a cross that, in all liklihood, very few of the servicemen in whose honor it was raised would have wanted removed. In a very real sense, Mr. Paulsen is disrespecting the wishes of the brave servicemen and women in whose honor the cross was raised in favor of his own narrower view of what the Constitution reasonably permits.

Perhaps an analogy might work -- suppose that a Christian were fighting hard to get a cross raised over a cemetary where a group of atheists were buried because he finds it offensive that a cemetary should not have a cross. His argument is that the First Amendment of the Constitution forces the government to act neutrally between religion and non-religion and that because some of the people buried in the cemetary may not have wanted to be buried in a cemetary without a cross, a cross should be raised so as not to discriminate against their wishes. Wouldn't you think that type of activity was rather foolish? I would. But that, in my view, is pretty much the same thing that Paulson is doing.

Now, please don't post comments about how the founders of the Constitution would have objected to the presence of a cross on federal land because that is an old argument that really isn't accurate in light of the history of our country. But the point is not who is right in this argument (I agree that the Christian in my analogy would lose the argument for several reasons). The question is one of perception. And believe me, all of you atheists who think that this guy is doing a wonderful thing by working to have the court's enforce the "strict wall of seperation" view to this case -- he is hurting the image of atheism among moderates and especially among more conservative Christians. I had earlier written that Christians should be loving towards atheists, but it is hard to remain loving to someone who is making an effort to remove any public acknowledgement of your beliefs from any public land or buildings -- even when doing so almost certainly would have been against the wishes of those in whose honor the religious symbol was raised.

A hero? No. I think this guy should be shunned.


Bruce said…
BK wrote: "he is hurting the image of atheism among moderates and especially among more conservative Christians. "

I don't think the more conservative Christians will ever come around to mere tolerance of us. For some people we make enemies by just existing. The writings of Niztche ALONE will take 300 years to undo in the PR department.

I agree, this issue hurts our image among moderate Christians. If I belonged to any of the organizations that honored him, I'd resign. But of course, I don't. Nor do most atheists.

I think we should shut up and take this one.

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