Assemblywoman Calls Atheism a Dangerous Philosophy

Illinois State Representative Monique Davis said some nasty things to atheist activist and Green Party candidate for State Representative for the 53rd District of Illinois Rob Sherman during an Illinois State Government Administration Committee hearing, to which the latter had been called to testify on the propriety of the Governor's proposed plan to give $1M of the taxpayers' money to the Pilgrim Baptist Church for restoration and preservation.

[audio:DAVIS.mp3]

Partial transcript, borrowed from Eugene Volokh:

. . .

Davis: . . . 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.

. . .

I for one have no problem with one person telling another that such and so a philosophy is dangerous. I do it all the time. But Davis is a government official, presiding over a government hearing, telling a witness that he may no longer testify because she has deemed, without due process, that nothing he might have to say should be permitted.

Sherman is a Green Party candidate, so I'm sure there are parts of his philosophy (including fundamental metaphysical and epistemological premises) which can rightly be considered "dangerous." His campaign platform is a blend of libertarianism and environmental fascism typical of his party. Atheism is very surely a "dangerous" philosophy if one is a Christian, and I'm sure Davis feels very threatened by it. But neither her subjective opinion, nor the incorrectness of that opinion, is the real cause for distress here.

The problem here is that a government official, in her official capacity, tried to eject a witness from an official legislative hearing without due process or probable cause. As you can hear from the clip, Sherman did not leave the stand and continued his testimony. Nonetheless, Davis is a prime example of what happens when religious politicians fail to respect the rule of law.

Update: Not so much an update as an addendum. At common law, atheists were disqualified from testifying in court because the oath (to God, on the Bible) to tell the truth would have no meaning for them and would therefore fail to put them in meaningful fear of the consequences of untruthfulness on the stand. Such disqualification is no longer constitutional, and the Federal Rules of Evidence, enacted by Congress and used in all Federal courts and many State courts by adoption, expressly disallow disqualification of witnesses on religious grounds. Nonetheless, many State constitutions still contain inoperative clauses disqualifying atheists from giving evidence in court. Of course, none of this is relevant, as this incident occurred in a legislative hearing, which is not the same as a trial in court, but I thought someone might find it interesting.

Tom G Varik