"Seven in Heaven Way" Controversy

This post in no way is an endorsement of FOX News. I think FOX is incredibly biased and Hannity, especially, is way off track. I watched "Hannity" because Michael De Dora was on the show. I thought that this would be clear from this post and countless jabs at FOX on my Facebook profile, but I suppose I was mistaken.

Sean Hannity, on his show last night, discussed controversy regarding the "Seven in Heaven way" sign that is supposed to commemorate NYC firefighters who died on 9/11. One way or another, Michael De Dora was invited to speak on Hannity's show in a ' fair and balanced debate' that was almost nothing more than a shouting match of people talking over others. De Dora wasn't able to say much because Hannity and the ACLJ representative kept speaking over him. FOX News is really painful to watch.

I'm certainly no accomodationist (I've been involved with a church/state battle of my own centering around a nativity scene) and want atheists to present worthwhile legal challenges that are very necessary, but I wouldn't advocate challenging this street sign. While anything can make bad PR for atheists and almost anything atheists can lead to atheists being vilified, challenging this street sign, I think, has little to no positive promise. I part ways with American Atheists here, disagree with their press release, and have many of the same concerns that are highlighted in Matt Dilahunty's post. I won't detail my objections here, but rather will focus on the Hannity segment. You can simply look at Dilahunty's post because he beat me to the punch. Feel free to click the previous two links in order to better inform yourself of the situation surrounding the issues discussed on the Hannity show.

Around 0:56, Hannity makes an inappropriate appeal to emotion and distorts the issue. Hannity says, "What's the world coming to when we can't even commemorate the ultimate sacrifice." No one is saying that the firefighters can't be commemorating, but rather the complaint is that "Seven in Heaven way" is a religious commemoration.

At 1:32, Hannity says,

"It seems that those on the left are not happy until we actually remove the name of God from the public square. We can't have nativity scenes, kids can't mention God in their [sic] valedictorian address, and you can't have this honor for these brave men that nobody except a few people that don't even live on the street are offended about. Why? Where's your tolerance?"

Nativity scenes and mentioning of God in valedictorian addresses are separate issues here, but nonetheless Hannity conflates them and makes it seem like 'people on the left' are at war with religion. Many on the left, actually, aren't atheists who want to 'remove the name of God from the public square.' Whether or not people on the left want to remove the name of God from the public square really has no bearing here regardless. Hannity mentions that people who don't even live on this street are complaining...so what? People don't need to live on a street to object to the name of the street. If a street were named [insert racial slur here] street, would complaints of those who don't live there be invalid? This also isn't an issue of 'tolerance;' if the law is broken and people object, it's not a matter of intolerance. Surely, if people wanted to implement Sharia Law, objecting to this would not be intolerance and Hannity wouldn't accept "where's your tolerance" as an objection to the objection. More specifically on the matter of the street sign, questioning the legitimacy of something isn't intolerant.

De Dora responds saying the family has every right to commemorate the firefighters and Hannity interrupts, "I didn't ask you that. I asked you where's the tolerance of people on the left and why is this your mission to push God out of the public square."Hannity seemingly forgot his own statement because, above, he says, "Why can't you have this honor for these brave men..." and asked what the world was coming to because we couldn't "commemorate the ultimate sacrifice."

Around 2:25, after De Dora mentioned that the "mission" was separation of church and state, Hannity asks De Dora where that comes from and says that separation of church and state is not in the constitution. Here's the 'old routine' once again... while the constitution doesn't explicitly state 'separation of church and state,' the establishment clause and the intentions of the founding fathers are and should be understood by reasonable learned people as intending to keep religion out of the government. The constitution also doesn't state that automatic armor-piercing weapons are illegal in the hands of civilians even though the constitution speaks of the right to bear arms. Everything isn't written out for you, Sean.

At 2:51, the ACLJ representative says, "What religion is being established here? Do you believe [...] that by saying Seven in Heaven way [...] you've established what, a national religion in the United States?" More word play here... the first amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." This doesn't only mean, when interpreted, that "the government is not allowed to create a national religion." "Respecting an establishment" is key here. Violations of the Establishment Clause occur when the government favors one religion over another religion or religion over non-religion. In ACLU of New Jersey vs Schundler, for example, the court noted, "[I]t remains clear that government celebration of one particular religion, or even more than one religion, can constitute government endorsement of religion that violates the Establishment Clause." Whether or not Seven in Heaven Way constitutes government endorsement is the issue here, not whether a national religion is being established (like FOX News wants you to believe).

At 3:40, the ACLJ representative states, "What national religion is put in place by saying Seven in Heaven." More word play and missing the point...

At 4:45, the ACLJ representative levies a personal attack by saying, "You know it and I know it"[talking about the soundness of his arguments] "That's why the atheist association is not showing up tonight." Earlier in the segment, at 1:20, Hannity said that the New York Atheists group was not able to show because of a previous commitment. Regardless, them not showing up doesn't entail that their argument is a bad one. According to their event calender, the NYC Atheists actually had an event planned! So what if they didn't show up...they have De Dora to talk to.

Part 2:

At 0:07, Hannity mentions our "founding document," the Declaration of Independence. De Dora rightly responds and says, "that has no [legal] binding." The word "creator" in the Declaration, anyway, is a deistic god...and isn't a founding document in the way that the United States Constitution is.

At 0:40, the ACLJ rep says, to De Dora, "Everytime you say it's not establishing, it's not endorsing ... you've gone through every Establishment Clause document and so far it doesn't violate any of them." This mischaracterization of De Dora's argument is a really inaccurate. When does De Dora say that this street sign doesn't endorse religion? What does it mean when he says "you've gone through every Establishment Clause document."

at 1:37, Hannity says, to De Dora, "You're not a lawyer, are you ... it's clear that you don't understand the Establishment Clause." De Dora responds, "Are you a lawyer?" This is one of the funniest parts of the 'fair and balanced debate' because De Dora calls Hannity out on what I call the 'military superiority fallacy' in which one unjustly tries to exclude someone from a discussion because he or she doesn't have a certain qualification or experience. Anyway, while De Dora is no lawyer, he has a master's degree in political theory.

The rest, unfortunately, is merely a shouting match of De Dora being strong-armed by Hannity and the ACLJ representative while Hannity accuses De Dora of intolerance.