In Florida, Atheists Told They Can’t Wear Shirts That Say “One Nation, Indivisible” at City Council Meetings!

A grotesque violation of the First Amendment is taking place in the city of Cape Coral:

And here’s another report on the story:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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27 Responses to In Florida, Atheists Told They Can’t Wear Shirts That Say “One Nation, Indivisible” at City Council Meetings!

  1. hoboduke says:

    Enforcing a dress code that bars tacky propaganda T shirts seems okey to me. Why must we endure patriotic pap that offends those are ashamed on our power war mongering history? We know that God has not blessed this land, and we must accept the errors from our past. If these shirts were made in China, then it would be okey to wear the Chinese flag.

  2. Christ's Angel says:

    Until one accepts the All-Loving God through His Only-Begotten Son Jesus Christ, one is not entitled to food, drink, clothing, and/or shelter in good conscience. According to the title void of actually viewing the video, atheists get a taste at a Council Meeting what apostasy deserves 24/7. That is not violation of the 1st Amendment, it is therapy for atheists.

    Your recent denials of atheists blog seemed much better, though I haven’t finished reading that one either.

    • There’s the compassionate and forgiving Christian spirit I’m always hearing so much about.

      • concerned christian says:

        There are dress codes for Public meetings, Courts, Schools, you name it. Those in charge can apply them any way they like, and you have the right to complain if you want. That’s the American way. Did you forget the recent uproar when students were asked to remove shirts with American flags on them, to avoid annoying Mexican-American students.

      • santitafarella says:

        I don’t agree with people not being able to see things—Mexican flags on shirts (or American flags), depictions of Muhammad, an atheist tee-shirt. Adults are not children who need to be protected from messages. And in this case, the council did a political thing—they initiated prayer at the beginning of their tax payer supported meetings. You don’t get to assert religion in one context and then deny the ability of those tax payers present in the audience to register a public response of opposition (if they so choose). Otherwise, give the atheists an exemption from paying their city taxes.


    • Perhaps you are not aware that America was founded as a secular nation? “Therapy for Atheists?” Those needing therapy are the ones accepting the ridiculous mythology of Christianity.

      • hoboduke says:

        What famous atheists participated in the continenttal congress or signing of the Declaration of Independence? The first English colonists were religous zealouts who chose possible death in the wilderness over a life of religious persecution in England.

      • santitafarella says:


        It depends on how you define atheist. In a pre-Darwinian period, when design arguments carried greater weight (as they certainly did in the 18th century), intellectuals not thrilled with Christianity called themselves Deists. Jefferson, Paine, Franklin, etc were all anti-monarchial, non-Christian philosophes who, when pressed on religious questions, made very minimal commitments. Their intellectual sources were democratic and philosophic Athens and Republican Rome, not monarchial and religious Jerusalem. America was the New Repubic, not the New Jerusalem.


      • JCR says:

        I made no claim that there were atheists. What I wrote, since you seem to have missed it, is that “Perhaps you are not aware that America was founded as a secular nation?” and here is a definition, just to help.

        And the very nature of America’s first immigrants coming BECAUSE of religious persecution is a good part of why America was founded as a secular nation.

  3. concerned christian says:

    Freedom of expression is just one of the many gifts given to us by the founding fathers, but sadly its current interpretation by the legal system is quite twisted. By now everyone understand how to play the legal game; you appoint federal judges who agree with your ideology, they in turn will set the legal rules that tell us that your interpretation of the law is the right interpretation. To avoid this charade, I would rather give the majority in any community the right to conduct its business the way they see fit without nit-picking every minor detail. If you don’t like it in Cape Coral, there are hundreds of cities which will fit your style from San Fransisco to Miami.

    • santitafarella says:

      Human beings interpreting the law, like the poor, will always be with us. Your solution to balkanize the United States (liberals move to one part of the country, conservatives to another) is, in my view, to give up. It’s a horrible model for other countries as well (as the Christians fleeing Iraq attest). The answer is to guarantee universal human rights with an insistence on the individual. Herderians who want to enforce social conformity on individuals, driving their consciences into closets, are going to have to be pushed back against. I applaud the self respect that the atheists in Cape Coral demonstrated, standing against conformity and authority—and questioning it. The city’s silly mayor doesn’t have to like it, but he does have to abide by the First Amendment. This is, afterall, America, and that means there are no kings. Period.


    • Clearly, you have no idea why our nation was founded as a Republic. You should look it up.

      • concerned christian says:

        That’s exactly the point. States and local communities have their rights. Federal Government intervention should be reserved for major issues. Federal Government can interfere to grant minorities equal rights, but Federal Government telling a small community that if you ever dare to display a nativity scene or the Ten Commandment in your local court you will be punished is the most outrageous and should I borrow Santi’s words “A grotesque violation” of common sense!

      • santitafarella says:


        States and local communities do not have rights. Individuals have rights. And it is no small matter to take away the rights of individuals to free expression, or to take tax money from an individual and use that money to support religious sectarian prayers to Jesus (or any other deity). You may not like it, but our country’s constitution clearly separates church and state, and it does so precisely so that everyone can exercise his or her conscience exactly as he or she sees fit. That means not coercing others or having government officials formally establishing a norm of conformity on religious matters.

        In America, you can pray whenever and wherever you want—or not pray at all. Or wear a shirt that says you don’t pray. You just can’t force others to do what you’re doing, or take their tax money to enable what you’re doing.


  4. concerned christian says:

    Interpretation of the first amendment is a great question, one answer is to see how it was applied over the years since it was introduced. Obviously there were many things like school prayers which were considered acceptable until recently. What’s happening now is that people are using the court to dismantle every last link to our our Judeo-Christian heritage. These actions triggered a reaction by Christians who became more aware of the value of political involvement, and start playing the legal game. It would have been better for everyone if we use common sense and learn where to draw the line, so we can all get along.

    • santitafarella says:


      The law is not a game, and if you treat it as one, wearing people down who are trying to maintain their own private emotional and intellectual boundaries, you begin to erode the integrity of conscience—an individual’s right to say no to cultural homogeneity. Your demand that others treat Christianity as a privleged religion in America—and as something that non-Christians must be coerced into compliance with or fall into silence concerning—or even leave!—erodes not just the freedoms of people like me, but your own freedom. What makes this country a flicker of hope for the world is its experiment in individualism and heterogeneity. It’s a nation model different from the Herderian conformist one that other nations adhere to. You, as a Christian, ought to use the American model to your advantage by maximizing voluntary association, without interference, among Christians like yourself. Jesus never forced anybody to do anything. He invited. And Jesus commanded his followers to pray in secret—‘not as the hypocrites do.’ How did contemporary Christians ever get the idea that collective public prayers wedded to political power please Jesus?

      Isn’t that weird?


      • concerned christian says:

        I will just address one issue, those who play the legal game are mainly liberals who keep telling us that the constitution is a living document you read into it whatever whimsical rules you want. So politically motivated judges can turn the system upside down as they like. Conservatives have been complaining about this new interpretation of the constitution but I guess ultimately you end up playing by the rules even if you don’t like them.

      • santitafarella says:

        Well, I would call what you are describing the following: postmodern conservative nihilism in the service of power. It’s the path of Machiavelli, not Jesus, and it turns religion into irreligion and a farce.


    • @Concerned

      I find it interesting that you wrote

      What’s happening now is that people are using the court to dismantle every last link to our our Judeo-Christian heritage. These actions triggered a reaction by Christians who became more aware of the value of political involvement, and start playing the legal game.

      and then

      I will just address one issue, those who play the legal game are mainly liberals who keep telling us that the constitution is a living document you read into it whatever whimsical rules you want.

      I would challenge you to find ANYTHING in our constitution referencing our Judeo-Christian heritage. Quite to the contrary, the constitution is exceptionally clear that America is a secular nation of all religions and no religions and that establishing religion with the context of the government is forbidden. Yet, for your ramblings that it is liberals playing whimsically with the constitution, it is you, a conservative, attempt to redefine America. Somehow, the clear secular definition of America which is unambiguously contained in the first amendment, the noticeable absence of a mention of God, Christ or Christianity from the constitution, inspires you to decide that America is beholden in some way to a Christian heritage.

      As usual, it is those “liberals” rewriting America. Yet your evidence of this is how conservatives are attempting to cast America as a Christian nation. That is pretty amusing. And, if you would like the words of our actual founders, you can see that America was NOT founded to be a Christian nation by reading the history of the Treaty of Tripoli and the Federalist Papers.

      • concerned christian says:

        Instead of going in circles here are the facts: Yes the constitution did not endorse any religion and yes there is a wall of separation in the first amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” but also there was the tenth amendment “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” And while you could say that there was no mention of God in the constitution, God is mentioned in almost every State constitution. So my question is how to square the first, and the tenth; the US Constitution and the State Constitutions? That could be a long discussion, and definitely it will be more than just ramblings about liberals and conservatives. Here’s a link to God in State Constitutions.

      • @concerned

        Actually, even this is addressed rather nicely in the Constitution. It is called the Supremacy Clause

        This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

        The Constitution reigns supreme. State constitutions that violate the first amendment are, themselves, unconstitutional. I would think that the mere mention of God is not enough to consider them unconstitutional, there are definitely some state constitutions that are unconstitutional. As evidenced by the N Carolina constitution which states that elected officials must believe in God.

        Recently, an atheist was elected. The religious wing nuts tried to get him tossed out because, technically, he is not allowed to be elected and would not swear the oath to god. The state DA is avoiding this like the plague because it is indisputably unconstitutional and they want to save tax payers the time and money of trying enforce an idiotic section of their state constitution.

        I am wondering, did you really not know that the federal constitution is supreme? It strikes me as odd that you would be going after an argument of what is American and what is constitutional without actually having read our constitution and presenting two arguments that are so clearly defined within the constitution.

  5. concerned christian says:

    OK, but what do you think about the constitution? is it a living document or should we limit its interpretation to basic rules, and if we need to go beyond that we need to go the route of constitutional amendments, or leave the decision to the states. One glaring example; would you agree with the Court decision that a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

    • santitafarella says:

      The constitution is an Enlightenment document, with an Enlightenment understanding of human liberty and rights. Insofar as the Enlightenment vision extends liberty, that is how I would hope that judges would interpret it—respecting the document’s 18th century Enlightenment values based in individual liberty, and expanding that liberty to everyone (like gay people). To the degree that states seek to subvert Enlightenment individualism via appeals to the 10th Amendment, I would oppose that. As for abortion, I have not given its relation to the constitution sufficient thought to give an intelligent opinion. I think it will be interesting to see how the supreme court deals with the health care mandate. I’m ambivalent about it. I generally like to see the government restrained in its powers of coercion.

      I’m increasingly dubious of grand national narratives. The Constitution, with its separation of powers, is the document that keeps the country, in my view, from going off the rails—it keeps everything in check. So no, I don’t want to see its function or meaning shifting over time, becoming Orwellian. I want its 18th century Enlightenment sensibility steering 21st and 22nd century America. Individual liberty is never going to become dated, and the countries in the world that are oriented to it will lead the future.


  6. concerned christian says:

    I did not only read the Constitution, I read many historic documents of that time, now I am reading the autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, which while short in pages, has many details about the wheeling and dealing involved in discussing issues such as slavery and also how the Declaration of Independence was edited. In regard to our current discussion, my point is that there are important issues that we should address and trivial issues that we should ignore. You do not stick to legality if you want to be a good neighbor, should I call the police every time a neighbor has loud music after 9 PM; obviously I can do that but will ultimately have my neighbor as an enemy. Similarly should someone bring a lawsuit every time a religious symbol, especially Christian, was introduced to a public place, yes they can and make many Christians angry. Nit-picking is the sure way to loose friends.

    • I generally agree with you, but this article is about Christians getting upset that Atheists are not using the word god. It seems that Christians can complain and be just as bad neighbors as anyone else.

      I do agree with you that, generally, people get too upset about stupid stuff. The 10 commandments outside of a courthouse, for instance. Our legal system is built on an accumulation of knowledge from far back. The basic tenets of truth predate far predate the 10 commandments, but showing them as a part of our justice system is entirely accurate.

      Conversely, saying “under god” I strongly object to. This is the oath of fealty to our nation. Our nation which, BTW, guarantees us no establishment of religion. The oath forcing an acknowledgement of a faith seems a crystal clear violation of the first amendment. Add to it that “under god” was not even in the pledge until the religious right started screwing things up in the 40s and it makes it even less palatable.

      • concerned christian says:

        That is a nice way to end the discussion, we are converging on a middle of the road position, and that’s good. I agree with you that Christians sometimes make a big issue about little things, but to be fair, if you compare Christians in the West with followers of any other religion such as Islam, you will find that Christians are much more open minded and accepting to other believers outside their faith.

      • Very true. Living in a Muslim nation .. scary!

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