You see, last week, all 193 of them voted unanimously to name 2012 the "Year of the Bible" in PA House Resolution 535. Read that resolution and you'll find references to "the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the scriptures in the lives of individuals, families and societies" and "our knowledge of and faith in God". Now, I can't speak for you, but that certainly does not apply to me.
So last night, I drafted a letter and emailed it to every one of the representatives. So far I've gotten the following responses:
- Eli Evankovich emailed me back promptly last night to say "I could clutter this response with any manner of justification for why we disagree but I think that my vote will suffice." Entirely unhelpful. I emailed him again in the hopes of getting a real response, and he replied asking me to contact my own representative. Unfortunately, my district - District 186 - is currently unrepresented.
- Tonya, Chief of Staff for Rick Mirabito, was kind enough to call me and explain a few things about the resolution. She told me that resolutions like this are deemed "noncontroversial" from the outset (as printed on the resolution), and that the goal of these resolutions is simply to honor and recognize different people, cultures, etc. She likened it to naming February Black History Month. Which is very nice, but to my knowledge, the effort to name February Black History Month did not include any implication that we are all African American. In the meantime, the wording of Resolution 535 implies that we are all Christians - an obvious untruth.
- RoseMarie Swanger, Todd Stephens, and John Lawrence also asked me to contact my representative. I've emailed them back to tell them that I don't have one, and am hoping for a response.
I'm not the only one communicating with the representatives about this - Dan Barker and Annie Laurie-Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a beautiful rebuttal to many of the points made in the resolution. You really should check it out.
In the meantime, here's what I wrote:
This weekend I learned that on my behalf, you have resolved (in House Resolution 535) to declare 2012 the "Year of the Bible." I am writing in protest as a voice for those who you have failed to represent. Additionally I want to remind you that you have violated the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
In writing this letter I find myself compelled to outline and defend the idea of separation of church and state - a sad state of affairs when the people I am writing to are those who have been elected by me and my peers to uphold this and our other national values. So rather than arguing on the constitutionality of your decision (the clearest argument and likely the one you are hearing about the most), I will inform you about the harm in it.
Yes, Christians are the majority in this country. This does not mean that Christianity is our national religion. By endorsing your holy book in a political forum, you have devalued the teachings of other beliefs systems, thereby reinforcing divisiveness and alienating many Pennsylvanians. To Christians, you are saying "Your beliefs are more valid." To non-Christians, you are saying "Your beliefs are not worthwhile." In the meantime, the language in Resolution 535 - such as "our knowledge of and faith in God" - presumes that all of your constituents share your belief. I'm one who does not.
As an atheist, I have on occasion been presented with the question of how I determine what is right and what is wrong. The assumption behind this question is that humans are incapable of distinguishing what is moral and what is immoral without a superimposed set of values (a depressing worldview, I think - and one that I don't adhere to). What follows that assumption is a belief that we require strict guidance in every action we take.
When people seek guidance from an archaic piece of literature rather than weighing facts and potential consequences, they are more likely to make harmful decisions simply because they have neglected to consider the real-world consequences for their actions - consequences to others and to themselves.
Sadly, you have chosen to glorify a book rife with internal inconsistencies as well as inconsistencies with our modern world's developing ethics (see this article). In the meantime you have wasted valuable time and effort by presenting an undefined problem with a vague solution - time and effort that I had hoped you were spending on finding tangible solutions for real problems.
I urge you, from here on out, to approach real issues with real solutions. In the hopes that others will join me in holding you accountable to this, I will be posting this letter as an open letter on my personal blog, Becky Lee Dreams. You are invited to visit my blog to learn more about how a person can find joy and value in life without turning to religion.
Rebecca L. M.
Oh. Yeah. That's right, I plugged my blog to the whole PA House of Representatives. And you know what? Since I started sending the emails last night, I've had an otherwise inexplicable spike in hits :)