Nobody ever accused Warren Mayor Jim Fouts of being a man of reason — and after his latest stunt, nobody will anytime soon.
Warren’s scandal-scented mayor recently shot down a local atheist’s application to establish a “reason station” inside Warren City Hall for one year, claiming that the Warren man’s table would somehow be an unfair imposition on a “prayer station” that’s already located in the building.
In his letter, Fouts said Freedom From Religion is not a religion, has no tenets and no congregation.
“To my way of thinking, your group is strictly an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion. The City of Warren cannot allow this,” he wrote, underlining the last sentence.
“Also, I believe it is group’s intention to disrupt those who participate in the Prayer Station which would also be a violation of the freedom of religion amendment. For these reasons, I cannot approve of your request,” he wrote.
Now, I’m sure that between alleged threats to pulverize opponents with baseball bats and cozy getaways with attractive staffers, Fouts considers himself to be quite the pious man.
But brazen thought they may be, Fouts’ warped personal views are exactly what should not be at issue.
So what if he doesn’t like atheist Warren resident Douglas Marshall or Marshall’s Freedom from Religion organization? So what if Fouts wants to believe in gods or devils or faeries at the bottom of a well?
Marshall has every constitutional right to be able to talk peacefully in a public place about the value of reason, free thought and a rational, non-religious approach to understanding our world.
Disagreement is not inherently disruptive. Nothing about the dissemination of non-religious pamphlets poses a threat to staffers at a prayer station.
And how is it that, in a secular country that explicitly eschews state religion, the presence of a “prayer station” in a City Hall raises fewer constitutional concerns than a secular group’s makeshift kiosk?
Chorus of Persecution
Fouts’ stance echoes a growing chorus among many religious proponents that suggests that they are increasingly being “persecuted” for their beliefs. They see enemies to their faith any and every where reason and enlightened inquiry may be found, from a schoolgirl’s love of the woolly mammoth to the TV show Cosmos. Reason is anathema, science the dark witchcraft of apostates. Those who doubt, who pose uncomfortable challenges to ancient fables, are foes to be vanquished rather than engaged.
Of course, this whole persecution complex has no basis in reality. First off, churches, synagogues and mosques continue to rake in billions of dollars a year in this country and hold significant sway over every political office from town dog catcher to the White House. Meanwhile, although the number of Americans turning their backs on their childhood faiths is indeed growing, avowed atheists make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, according to researchers.
A suburb teeming with churches, Warren needs a “prayer station” in City Hall like Fouts needs a Louisville Slugger. Fighting this straw man is not only unnecessary but a clear detriment to what should be cherished principles: free speech and the separation of church and state.
Just as bad is Fouts’ claim that the Warren government allows the prayer station in an effort not to “restrict this right for any religion to use the atrium.” In other words, he using the guise of “religious tolerance” to justify his blatantly un-American intolerance. It’s like agreeing to extend free speech to everyone who believes in leprechauns — regardless of whether they think those leprechauns red or green or turquoise — but attempting to shush anybody who dares question whether leprechauns are real to begin with.
I don’t know what Fouts thinks he protects with such an anti-democratic gesture, but it sure isn’t freedom.