Recently, in the Illinois legislature, there was a disturbing exchange made between Representative Monique Davis, a Democrat who represents Illinois’s 27th house district (in Chicago), and atheist activist Rob Sherman over a plan by the governor to direct $1 million to the Loop Lab private school, which was renting space from a Pilgrim Baptist Church, to repair the church’s roof, which was damaged in a fire.
Here’s a transcript of the exchange (italicized text is shouted):
DAVIS: And I don’t know how old that church is…a hundred years old, I believe. I think the church, regardless of what it’s being used for now, is a building that deserves to be preserved historically because in our community, it has great value.
SHERMAN: Yes ma’am.
DAVIS: Great value. Historical value. So, I don’t know what you have against God, but um 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 whose against anything related to God, they want to fight, they want to fight prayer in school. I don’t see you 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. You know, we don’t want, in my opinion, 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. That you will go to court to fight kids having an opportunity to be quiet for a minute, but damned if you’ll fight to keep guns out of their heads. I am fed up. Get out of that seat.
[Clapping and amens]
SHERMAN: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure if this matter does go to court, the record will…
DAVIS: You have no right to be here. We believe in something you believe in destroying.
OTHER VOICE: That’s right
DAVIS: You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.
SHERMAN: Well you’ve made an assertion, let me respond to it.
This disturbed me for several reasons. For one, the idea that one should not be allowed to hold non-religious beliefs or petition the government if you have such beliefs is incredibly dubious.
Second, the source of this bile was a Democratic, elected representative. Now, I’m not so naïve to think that just because a person has been elected to the state legislature or just because they are a Democrat, that they will be enlightened individuals who will not make bigoted remarks. However, I do believe that public servants should be held to a higher standard, and these comments fall well short of that standard.
Third, and perhaps the most disturbing part for me was that these remarks were actively cheered and affirmed at their most bigoted points. The notion that Sherman had no right to discuss his perspective received applause and amens from what sounded like two other members in the chamber. Not only was there no dissent from her view in the chamber, outside of Sherman, but two people actually endorsed it.
Now, I understand that atheists won’t get much sympathy out of these tirades, since many Americans share Davis’s views and since, unlike some racial minorities, atheists tend not to be socioeconomically disadvantaged, and are thus not perceived as “oppressed”. However, in a diverse society like our own, such views and statements tear at our social fabric and do us all a disservice, and so I think that Davis’s statements should be roundly condemned as she is a public official and should be held to a higher standard.
Davis’s contact information can be found at her page on Project Vote Smart.