Last night, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, took time off from skewering politicians and the media to react to the American Atheists, Inc., lawsuit over a 17 foot tall cross being displayed as an exhibit in the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum. The cross, composed of steel beams found in the rubble of the World Trade Center after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack, was previously displayed at a nearby Catholic Church where it served as, if you’ll pardon the expression, a cross between a memorial of the attack and an object of Christian religious veneration. Because of the latter aspect, the AA lawsuit asks that it either not be displayed, or displayed together with memorials of other faith (and non-faith) traditions.
You can see Jon Stewart’s take on it in the video at left. It’s funny but it’s about as nuanced as most of the press coverage on the subject has been and focuses on a suggestion of petty, mean-spiritedness.
“By the way atheists, why do you give a <bleep>?” asked Stewart. “Why not just think of it as a metal, T-shaped thing? … Don’t think of it as an ode to Jesus the Christian savior, think of it as an homage to Jesus, the Canaanite with the relatively unsuccessful carpentry business.”
Al Stefanelli, Georgia State Director for American Atheists, Inc., wrote an opinion piece today explaining why AA is taking on such an unpopular cause:
While there is a place in our cause for diplomacy in certain situations, it is painfully obvious that in most areas diplomacy has miserably failed. Diplomacy only works when both sides are willing to compromise. While some may choose to remain silent or non-confrontational, there are a growing number of us who have decided that the time has come to no longer sit back and let the theocrats run the show.
The growing problem of the steady inclusion of church and state in the United States needs to be addressed with more urgency than many Atheists are affording it because the problem is increasing at very disturbing levels. As Atheists, we already face an uphill battle for acceptance in the court of public opinion because nearly every singe time we protest one of these violations, we end up, for lack of a better word, crucified. Unfortunately, there is no real way to avoid that.
Asked by this reporter to comment on the Jon Stewart segment, AA’s Communications Director Blair Scott had this to say:
I raised my children with the philosophy of, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you have no right to laugh at others.”
Stewart’s segment was funny and I giggled and laughed. So this is not one of those “it’s all funny until they pick on me” stories. The segment was humorous.
The reality is that Stewart would have had a difficult time being funny if he mentioned the facts and Constitution and the realities of the case. So he had to go for the emotional aspect in order to get a laugh. I get that.
I’m just greatly disappointed that he missed an opportunity to present the facts of this case and support the Constitution. As one friend of mine put it, “This was the first time Stewart has ever disappointed me.”
Funny aside, I hope that Stewart actually understands the case and support the Constitution, because people’s emotions and feelings about this “cross” are irrelevant to the Constitution and the law.
What do you think?
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