Responding to the frank anti-atheist bigotry exhibited by Elizabeth Dole’s campaign for re-election to the US Senate, Kay Hagan has accused Dole of making slanderous attacks on her faith. In a press conference to confront the accusations made against her, Hagan noted:
Let’s get right to it. Elizabeth Dole should absolutely be ashamed of herself. I don’t know what things were like when she grew up in North Carolina, but the North Carolina I was raised in would NEVER condone this kind of personal slander. I can’t begin to tell you how upset I am that she has attacked my Christian faith…
At their core, Americans aren’t Democrat or Republican, red or blue – they’re Americans, plain and simple. We ALL love our country, and we all value the role of faith in American life.
Heman Mehta at Friendly Atheist thinks Hagan’s choice of words was unfortunate.
Let’s be clear about this: It’s not slanderous or pathetic to be an atheist. Hagan’s just saying it’s slanderous and pathetic to lie about your opponent in order to win an election.
I’m not happy with her choice of words. She could have used the opportunity to say that, while atheists make up a vital segment of this country, she is a woman of faith. In the heat of the moment and the political stress she must be under, though, I can understand why she said what she did.
Alonzo Fyfe at Atheist Ethicist has a more critical view of Hagan’s response.
Hagan isn’t making the claim that atheists are Americans too and have a right to present their views to perspective political candidates. She is not saying that the fault of Dole’s advertisement is that Dole is lying and promoting bigotry and hatred. She, in effect, endorsed the hate and answered, “How dare you accuse me of not being just as bigoted against atheists as you are! You take that back!”
Kay Hagan had an opportunity to confront the bigotry her opponent has tried to wield for political gain, but chose, instead, to validate it. She should be ashamed of herself. Those in the secular community who have lent their support to Hagan as a result of Dole’s tactics must not become apologists for this more subtle form of bigotry, and must address it as forcefully as possible. Who knows – attacks on Hagan’s campaign by atheist groups might actually help her in the polls, too.