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Leading Atheist Legal Activist and Candidate for Alabama Attorney General

Has Some Rather Interesting Views About Jews, Zionism, and the Holocaust: Larry Darby is apparently a pretty prominent atheist legal activist. He was the president of the Atheist Law Center (though he has since stepped down to run for public office); filed amicus briefs in the Supreme Court's Ten Commandments cases on behalf of various atheist groups and also on behalf of Scouting for All; ran the Alabama chapter of American Atheists; got the Atheist of the Year award from American Atheists; has been quoted in various newspapers, mostly in Alabama but also elsewhere; and has appeared on various television programs in connection with his opposition to Judge Roy Moore's actions related to the Ten Commandments. Darby is now running in the June 2006 Democratic primary for Alabama Attorney General — I suspect that he has little chance of winning, but I take it that he'll want to use the race as a platform for expressing his various views, which include juvenile law reform and decriminalization of marijuana.

Mr. Darby also (1) apparently wrote that "David Duke is right on with the problem of Zionism and the Zionist-Occupied Government we live under," (2) seems quite interested in whether media representatives who contact him about such matters are Jewish, and (3) was substantially involved in organizing a speech by noted Holocaust denier David Irving.

I first heard about this when an acquaintance of mine e-mailed me an exchange that included Mr. Darby's "Zionist-Occupied Government" quote. I then e-mailed Mr. Darby to verify the quote. (I had and still have no reason to question my correspondent's veracity, but I thought that checking would be a good idea.) The closest Mr. Darby came to denying the accuracy of the quote is when he eventually said — after an exchange of several e-mails — "Know that what you sent to me as represented by [my correspondent] is not authentic," which seemed to me like a somewhat coy way of addressing whether Mr. Darby indeed said the "Zionist-Occupied Government" item.

I then followed up by asking "My question was simply whether you did or did not e-mail the text I asked you about. Did you or didn't you?" He didn't respond to that question, but instead insisted that I tell him whether I was a Zionist and a Trotskyite. Mr. Darby's e-mails to me also included the following, which further leads me to think that my correspondent indeed accurately quoted the "Zionist-Occupied Government" line:

[F]or the record, Dr. David Duke does offer insight into the neoconservative or Trotskyist government in Washington, DC. Some of what he has been saying for years is bearing out in the news today. Have you ever read anything of Duke's your self? I'm sure he'd talk to you. Write him at www.davidduke.com and find out for yourself. And read what he really says for yourself, without relying on what Jewish Supremacists say about him.

Have you been keeping up with all the Zionists (Jews and Jewish-Christians) being arrested by the FBI? I know it hasn't made mainstream media, but it is happening and expectations are that when Kidan turns evidence against Uber-Zionist Abramoff, some other members of Congress might be indicted. Those are only two of several people arrested.

If you aren't keeping up with those issues, then likely you won't be able to understand that Dr. Duke knows what he's talking about when it comes to Jewish Supremacism and Zionism. . . .

Earlier in the exchange, Mr. Darby had also asked me whether I was a "MOT," which he later elaborated to "MOT refers to Member of Tribe. In other words, are you a Jew?" A quick Internet search revealed to me Mr. Darby's invitation of David Irving.

* * *

It seems to me very important that irreligious people participate in public debate, to defend the legitimacy of their views, and to protect themselves against religious discrimination and hostility. I don't agree with everything that all atheist activists urge; for instance, I don't think that the Establishment Clause is properly interpreted as banning religious speech by the government. Nonetheless, there are indeed some egregious forms of discrimination against the irreligious (or the less religious), for instance in child custody cases — these should be assiduously fought.

Moreover, there seems to be a great deal of hostility to atheists among the public: A July 7, 2005 Pew Research Center poll, for instance, asked people about their views of various religious and political grounds, and whether "your overall opinion of [the group] is very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?" For Catholics, the total unfavorable percentage was 14%; for Jews, 7%; for "Evangelical Christians," 19%; for "Muslim Americans," 25%; for "Atheists, that is, people who don't believe in God," it was 50%, including 28% "very unfavorable" (only 35% said they had either a "very favorable" or "mostly favorable" view of atheists). Such religious hostility, it seems to me, should also be fought (though of course through argument rather than litigation). Anti-atheist bias is no more justifiable than anti-Jewish bias.

I therefore have nothing at all against atheist political movements in general, nor do I have any reason to believe that atheists generally have any hostility towards Jews, or affection for David Duke. Yet this makes it all the more important, it seems to me, for atheists who are deciding whom to ally themselves with — or for that matter, for members of other groups, such as Scouting for All or any marijuana decriminalization groups — to know Mr. Darby's views that I describe above, views with which I hope most atheists much disagree. Likewise, Alabama Democrats should know who's running in their primary, and should keep in mind the views I note above, even if some of them are tempted to agree with him on marijuana decriminalization, juvenile justice, or even religion in public life. (I doubt there are that many Alabama Democrats who do agree with him on those latter issues, but I imagine there are some.)

And it's also important for Jews — even in America, the place in the world in which it is probably safest to be a Jew — to be reminded that these sorts of views do exist in America, and in what might to many seem like quite unlikely circles.

UPDATE: Corrected "Atheist Legal Center" to "Atheist Law Center"; sorry for the error.

Hostility to Atheists:

As I noted below, the hostility to atheism in America seems remarkable, and quite troubling. A July 7, 2005 Pew Research Center poll, for instance, asked people several questions about their views of various religious and political grounds, and whether "your overall opinion of [the group] is very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?" Here are the numbers for various groups:

Group

Very favorable (%)

Mostly favorable

Mostly unfavorable

Very unfavorable

"Catholics"

24

49

10

4

"Jews"

23

54

5

2

"Evangelical Christians"

17

40

14

5

"Muslim Americans"

9

46

16

9

"Atheists, that is, people who don't believe in God"

7

28

22

28

This strikes me as quite troubling — 50% of Americans have an unfavorable view of people whose great sin, as best I can tell, is that they refuse to take on faith what others are willing to take on faith. I'm pleased that hostility to Jews and Catholics seems to be much less than what it used to be in the past. I hope the same will soon happen as to Muslim Americans and Evangelical Christians; that one may disagree with some Evangelical Christians' political agenda, for instance, is surely no reason to view them unfavorably as people (just as one's disagreement with most American Jews' liberalism is no reason for viewing them unfavorably). Yet the high level of disapproval of atheists should make us worry about American religious harmony and tolerance more broadly.

UPDATE: For more information, which may more precisely reflect willingness to discriminate against individuals (at least in voting) and not just unfavorable viewpoint of a group, and which involves a poll that didn't use the possibly negatively laden term "atheism," see the post above.

UPDATE: One of the commenters thought these were all options in answering one question; I've tried to clarify above that there were separate questions for each group.

FURTHER UPDATE: Another commenter wrote, "I dont know about this poll. How much of this might be blowback from the lawsuits about the pledge of [allegiance], the 'holiday' season, the cross in the city seal of LA, etc etc etc?" Well, I can't speak to all these lawsuits, but we can probably control for the Newdow pledge of allegiance lawsuit; that lawsuit really hit the news, to my knowledge, in June 2002, when the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiff. A Pew Research Center poll in Feb. 2002 asked "Now thinking about some specific religious groups, is your overall opinion of...Atheists, that is, people who don't believe in God very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?" 5% said "very favorable," 29% "mostly favorable," 23% "mostly unfavorable," and 31% "very unfavorable" — results quite similar to those found by the 2005 poll.

More Hostility to Atheists:

Some commenters to the post below suggested that unfavorable views of atheists may not indicate any desire to discriminate against individuals because they're atheists, but just annoyance at the views of prominent atheists (especially those who label themselves "atheist" rather than "agnostic" or "irreligious"). That's possible, and I don't know how to test this directly using existing polls, but here's the closest I could come up with.

A June 23, 1999 Fox News poll asked, "Would you consider voting for a political candidate who did not believe in God?" The responses were: Yes: 26%; No: 69%.

The closest comparable poll that I could find related to other religious groups was a Jan. 14, 2003 Fox News poll that asked, as to various groups, "Over the years there has been debate over whether a presidential candidate's religion is an obstacle or an advantage to getting elected. I'm going to read you some religious affiliations and I'd like you to tell me whether you think that affiliation is a positive thing that might make you more likely to vote for the candidate or a negative thing that might make you less likely to vote for the candidate...." Here are the results:

Candidate's affiliation

Positive, More likely to vote [for the candidate]

Negative, Less likely to vote [for the candidate]

Doesn't matter [volunteered]

"Jewish"

14%

12%

70%

"Roman Catholic"

19%

11%

67%

"Christian Coalition"

21%

24%

46%

"Muslim"

3%

49%

44%

"Protestant"

25%

5%

67%

So in 2003, 47% of respondents said they'd ignore a candidate's being a Muslim, or see it as a plus. 49% said the candidate's being a Muslim would make it less likely that they'd vote for him, though presumably for some respondents, there would remain some possibility that they'd vote for the Muslim candidate.

Yet in 1999, only 26% of respondents said they'd consider voting "for a political candidate who doesn't believe in God" (even without any reference to the possibly emotionally laden term "atheist"), and 69% apparently wouldn't even consider such a possibility.

Still More on Hostility to Atheists:

Quite a few of the comments to my earlier posts suggested that there isn't that much wrong with people saying that they had an "unfavorable" view of atheists, or that they wouldn't consider voting for an atheist candidate. Let's say that the posts were instead about Jews, not about atheists, and the data was:

  1. A poll question asked "Would you consider voting for a political candidate who [was religiously Jewish]?" The responses were: Yes: 26%; No: 69%. (The real question asked was "Would you consider voting for a political candidate who did not believe in God?")

  2. A poll question asked whether "your overall opinion of [people who are Jewish by religion] is very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?" The answer was 7% very favorable, 28% mostly favorable, 22% mostly unfavorable, and 28% very unfavorable. (The real question asked about "your overall opinion of Atheists, that is, people who don't believe in God.")

Would people be troubled by such results, results that show that 69% of the public wouldn't even consider voting for a religiously Jewish political candidate, and that 50% of the public had an unfavorable view of people who are Jewish by religion (22% mostly unfavorable, 28% very unfavorable)? If you are, then is there any reason to be less troubled by the same results as to atheists?

UPDATE: I meant to focus this on attitudes towards people who are Jewish by religion, rather than by ethnicity, and made that clear in item 1, but I neglected to make it clear in item 2. I just corrected that, and also for clarity noted that in the paragraph following the list.

Hostility to Atheists in the 1991 GSS.--

Eugene is correct about public hostility to atheists and the willingness to admit discriminatory feelings against them. In 1991, the General Social Survey asked 1244 respondents this question (variable POLSGOD):

How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following?: Politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for public office.

RESULTS:

15% Strongly Agree
15% Agree
27% Neither Agree Nor Disagree
31% Disagree
11% Strongly Disagree

Note that 30% think that atheists are "unfit for public office," and only 42% actively disagree with the statement that they are unfit.

By comparison, in the 1991 GSS, 90.5% of Americans said that they would vote for a qualified black for President if nominated by their party. Similarly, 91.4% of Americans said that they would vote for a qualified woman for President if nominated by their party. The difference for atheists is stark.

In looking at some demographic breakdowns, there is no difference in tolerance of atheists between Republicans and Democrats, but there is between conservatives and liberals, with liberals being significantly more tolerant. Also, whites are significantly more tolerant of atheists than African Americans.

All this emphasizes for me how different the law teaching world is, where atheists (such as myself) are strongly over-represented and Christians, particularly fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, are strongly under-represented.

Atheist Law Center Seemingly Continues to Support Larry Darby:

Darby is the ALC's cofounder and former president; he's now running for Alabama Attorney General. Last month, I noted on this blog that Darby had complained about America's "Zionist-Occupied Government," helped organize a talk by denier David Irving, and seemed oddly interested in whether his questioner on this (me) was Jewish. Here's a message from Carol Moore, the Center's new president, which was sent in response to my blog post (which I had cross-posted to a discussion list):

[Quoting me:] "On the other hand, his having been involved in the group, and the Center's having hosted David Irving while Mr. Darby was president, makes me concerned about the group more broadly. It seems to me very important that irreligious people participate in public debate, to defend the legitimacy of their views, and to protect themselves against religious discrimination and hostility. I don't agree with everything that all atheist activists urge; for instance, I don't think that the Establishment Clause is properly interpreted as banning religious speech by the government. Nonetheless, there are indeed some egregious forms of discrimination against the irreligious (or the less religious), for instance in child custody cases - these should be assiduously fought. I therefore have nothing at all against atheist political movements in general, nor do I have any reason to believe that atheists generally have any hostility towards Jews, or affection for David Duke. Yet this makes it all the more important, it seems to me, for atheists who are deciding whom to ally themselves with - or for that matter, for members of other groups, such as Scouting for All or any marijuana decriminalization groups - to know Mr. Darby's views that I describe above, views with which I hope most atheists much disagree."

[Moore:] I simply do not understand "concerns" about the ALC simply because of Larry Darby and David Irving. It is important that citizens participate in the public debate, but it is even more important that ALL citizens receive as much information as possible so they can make up their own minds. Both Darby and Irving provided such information from different perspectives. Listening to all sides of issues does not mean that atheists "ally" themselves with those who disseminate such information. It means we embrace free inquiry and discussion first, and then chose our own level of acceptance of that information. For the record, Irving's presentation in Alabama last summer was a discussion of the English legal system as it related to his case. Would you have us ignore this first hand account simply because of other's opinions? It that were true, how on earth would anyone get through law school?

[Quoting me:] "Likewise, Alabama Democrats should know who's running in their primary, and should keep in mind the views I note above, even if some of them are tempted to agree with him on marijuana decriminalization, juvenile justice, or even religion in public life. (I doubt there are that many Alabama Democrats who do agree with him on those latter issues, but I imagine there are some.)"

[Moore:] Yes, there are enough Alabama citizens who agree with Darby's views to make Darby a viable candidate for AG. We "know" about Darby...he's been a reputable, consistent representative of our frustration with our current state government. We are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents. We can see through the smoke screen of the current status quo, listen to all sides of the issues, and make up our own minds. Doubts do not deter us — they challenge us.

[Quoting me:] "And it's also important for Jews — even in America, the place in the world in which it is probably safest to be a Jew — to be reminded that these sorts of views do exist in America, and in what might to many seem like quite unlikely circles."

[Moore:] This comment perpetuates the myth that Atheists are the enemy. America doesn't promise safety, equality, or fairness. America doesn't promise that you won't be personally demonized for your opinions — as some on this service seem to relish. America does, however, promise via the First Amendment the opportunity and the potential for a rational life, by stating explicity that the Government will stay out of religion. There is no quote on the Statue of Liberty that says "I lift up my lamp for the religious only." America promises a forum for all ideas, even those we may personally abhor. We are all enriched and enlightened by the forum and the participants.

I think this should give people a pretty good sense of where the Atheist Law Center stands on Larry Darby and his views.

As I said in my original post, "It seems to me very important that irreligious people participate in public debate, to defend the legitimacy of their views, and to protect themselves against religious discrimination and hostility. . . . I . . . have nothing at all against atheist political movements in general, nor do I have any reason to believe that atheists generally have any hostility towards Jews, or affection for David Duke. Yet this makes it all the more important, it seems to me, for atheists who are deciding whom to ally themselves with — or for that matter, for members of other groups, such as Scouting for All or any marijuana decriminalization groups — to know Mr. Darby's views that I describe above, views with which I hope most atheists much disagree. . . ."

So, no, I don't think that atheists are the enemy of Jews (whether ethnic Jews, against whom atheists need have no animosity, or religious Jews, with whom atheists may simply have a disagreement). But it certainly seems to me that Jews, both ethnic and religious, should be pretty troubled by the Atheist Law Center.

UPDATE: Whoops -- originally wrote Larry Irving instead of David Irving (and not for the first time, sad to say). Larry Darby + David Irving somehow end up melding in my mind into Larry Irving, who as best I can tell is a perfectly fine fellow; my apologies to him. Thanks to commenter MM for the correction.

Murders of Atheists Because of Their Beliefs About Religion:

Last week brought two stories about such incidents, though the killings themselves were a year apart. Here's one from Michigan:

It was one of the five "most heinous" crimes Wayne County Circuit Judge Gregory Bill has ever seen.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Christina Guirguis called it the "most gruesome" crime she's ever prosecuted.

On Dec. 20, Bill sentenced Arthur Eugene Shelton, 51, of Taylor to 25 to 45 years in prison for the Oct. 18, 2004, shotgun and revolver killing of Shelton's friend, Larry Hooper.

"He blew the guy's head off," said Shelton's attorney, Seymour Schwartz.

Following a three-day bench trial, Bill found Shelton guilty Nov. 30 of second-degree murder for killing Hooper in the living room of his Taylor home, where Hooper was staying. . . .

Shelton [had] called Taylor police and told a dispatcher that he'd just blasted a man with a revolver and a shotgun because the man said he didn't believe in God.

The dead man was "the devil himself," Shelton told the dispatcher. . . .

Before the shooting, Hooper had told Shelton that Shelton couldn't say anything to convince him to believe in God, according to police[.]

Shelton left the room, took off his shirt, shaved his face and tried again to convince Hooper there is a God. But at that point, Shelton had a 12-gauge shotgun.

"How long would it take you to believe in God?" Shelton said he asked Hooper.

"Not until I hear Gabriel blow his horn," replied Hooper.

Hooper tipped his hat and Shelton fired the shotgun at Hooper's head.

"I did it because he is evil; he was not a believer," Shelton said.

Later, Shelton told cops he might have second thoughts about the existence of God. "Maybe there's not" a God, he said. . . .

Bill found him guilty of second-degree murder but mentally ill, Guirguis said. . . .

Here's the second, from Kentucky; I quote the Paducah Sun, Dec. 28, 2005:

[Mike] Doublin, 53, has been charged with the murder of [his longtime friend Gale] Yarbrough. . . .

Yarbrough, Doublin and [witness Paul] Powell — who had all been drinking — were the only people inside the shop building at the time of the shooting, Cooper said. Powell said Yarbrough and Doublin had been drinking whiskey there for several hours, Cooper said. . . .

Powell said the two men started fighting after Yarbrough said he didn't believe in God, the Masons or church and then wouldn't leave Doublin's residence, Cooper said. . . .

Doublin had [an] . . . estimated his blood alcohol reading was about .20 at the time of the shooting. . . . .

I'm always hesitant to infer much from isolated incidents such as these ones. I didn't think, for instance, that the apparently gay-bashing murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and the racist murder of James Byrd were particularly telling about the amount or intensity of anti-gay hatred or racist hatred in America. What we know about such hatred we know from other sources, not these particular incidents. (Aside: I don't want to get into the controversy which later surfaced about whether the murder was in fact motivated by Shepard's homosexuality; I haven't followed the matter that closely, and it's not particularly relevant to my basic point here.)

Nonetheless, such incidents are concrete reminders of the hostility that we know is present; and to the extent that they are covered because of this, it seems to me that these murders of those who don't believe in God should be covered as well. The levels of hostility to atheists cited in earlier posts on this blog here, here, and here provide abstract statistics (not of murderous hatred, of course, but of hostility nonetheless, just as surveys that show that many people view Jews unfavorably or would refuse to vote for Jewish candidates are evidence of hostility towards Jews). The two murders here provide the concrete examples. A quick search, incidentally, suggests that the cases received no coverage outside their local newspapers.

Finally, I agree that these cases are somewhat different than the Shepard and Byrd killings — they involve friends, and killers who were either mentally ill or drunk. But if one friend murdered another when drunk because the other was gay, or because the other was a Jew who refused to accept Jesus Christ, I think we'd still think that this is indicative of bigotry: The drunkenness, we'd suspect, likely didn't create the hostility, but rather removed the inhibitions against acting on that was already there.

Thanks to Neil Reinhardt for the pointer to the first of these incidents.

Larry Darby, Holocaust-Denying Atheist Alabama Attorney General Candidate,

is in the news again (thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer); for more on this fellow and his remarkable views about the Holocaust, our "Zionist-Occupied Government," and more, see here.

Holocaust-Denying Atheist Candidate for Alabama Attorney General Gets 43.5% of the Primary Vote:

That's the remarkable Larry Darby, who was seeking the Democratic nomination; the election results are here. I don't know whether I should (1) be sad that 160,000+ voters were willing to vote for a Holocaust denier, (2) be happy that they were willing to set aside the candidate's atheism (I doubt that many voted for him precisely because he's an atheist), (3) assume that few voters were paying much attention to more than a tiny handful of issues in the race, or (4) just be glad that he didn't win.

UPDATE: An interesting analysis of the race based on county-by-county results, in a comment to a Concurring Opinions post.