An interesting example of the bellwether principle: all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, a dozen people suddenly send PZ Myers links to a story about an American atheist couple who were prohibited from adopting a child because of their lack of religious beliefs — from 1970.

As Myers writes:

Yeesh — now I discover this is old news, from 1970. Why did so many people suddenly send this in to me, anyway?

Good question. The story was on reddit, and digg, and probably other sites as well. It was the second most emailed story on the Time website. Is there a Pip on the Internet?

Silly question. Of course there is.

The story might be nearly forty years old, but it is still relevant today:

Judge Camarata denied the Burkes’ right to the child because of their lack of belief in a Supreme Being. Despite the Burkes’ “high moral and ethical standards,” he said, the New Jersey state constitution declares that “no person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience.”

Hmm… one wonders what would happen should somebody decide that Almighty God demanded human sacrifice? Sounds like New Jersey would be the state to move to.

Judge Camarata was concerned that atheist parents would prejudice or prevent the child from freely choosing a religion. Judges are generally quite intelligent, trained in law, well over the average in IQ, but notice that they can still have mental blind spots. Camarata no doubt would not have batted an eye at the thought that religious parents, be they Baptist or Catholic or Jewish or Methodist, prejudice or prevent their children from freely choosing any other religion. At least for religions he approved of.

The ruling against the Burkes was reversed in 1971. I imagine that part of the reason for the reversal was the very next clause of the law, which Camarata conveniently didn’t quote: “…nor under any pretense whatever be compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his faith and judgment”.

Like Richard Dawkins, Myers believes that the religious indoctrination of children is a serious problem, a real form of child abuse. The typical reaction from the more… excitable… Christians and Creationists has been hysterical claims that Dawkins wants to steal your children if you take them to Sunday School. Myers says:

Now we can understand it all as a perfect example of projection: if you don’t take your children to Sunday school, the Christians will try to take your children away.

[…] I hadn’t known that theists had in the past tried to remove children from atheists. No wonder some freaked out at Dawkins’ description of religious indoctrination as child abuse…again, it’s projection.

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