To the editors:
When Michael Glab showed up last Friday to be my guest on the weekly show, Illinois Atheist Television News Forum, which I host, the first words out of his mouth were, “Well, what did you think about the pack of lies that I wrote about you?” I responded, “That’s exactly what I thought of the article [“Atheist & Son,” July 6, 1990], that it was a pack of lies.” During the television show, I asked him why the article contained so many false statements. He responded, “On our next show, perhaps we’ll have a forum on the literary device known as, ‘exaggeration.'” I responded, “Oh, that’s what this article is! I call it a ‘pack of lies,’ like you said at the house!”
Mr. Glab also claimed the article was an exercise in hyperbole. Hyperbole is a statement which is not true, but is made to sound impressive or to emphasize something. With such a knack for writing character assassinations consisting of the big lie, Glab should be writing stories for political negative campaign artists, not respectable newspapers like the Reader.
I thought that newspaper reporters were supposed to report the truth, or at least, try to report the truth, and do so with balanced coverage. Occasionally, newspaper articles contain information that is incorrect because the reporter inadvertently got his facts wrong. This is the first time that I have ever heard of a reporter admitting that he flat-out intended to substitute exaggeration and hyperbole for the truth and pass off these false statements as the truth throughout an entire article.
“Atheist & Son” seemed to be a libelous smear, which consisted of 39 false statements embellished by 106 negative innuendos. Virtually every characterization about my objectives and my personal life were false, just as the writer intended. Perhaps I should sue the Reader for libel, but since I’ve always liked the Reader and its policy of letting the little guy place free classified advertisements, I’ll skip the lawsuit and go with this response instead. Your free classified advertisement policy goes along with my personal philosophy of doing a good deed every chance one gets with no regard to having the favor returned. That philosophy is why I have, throughout my entire life, volunteered time and money to not-for-profit organizations, such as American Atheists.
Glab’s article begins with a series of negative innuendos which falsely imply that I regularly bring my son along to media appearances such as interviews at radio stations. The truth is that I avoid including my son in media relations whenever possible. This is my battle, not my son’s, and he is not being asked to fight this battle for me. The WGN situation was due to the fact that my son had accompanied me downtown that day on personal business. I had picked him up at school when class let out so that he would not be home alone. What a bad father I am to place my kid’s needs ahead of my own! The WGN producer reached me on the car phone after we were already downtown and asked if I could stop by the station in a couple of hours to be interviewed live in the studio. There was not enough time to drive from the Loop to Buffalo Grove through rush-hour traffic and return, so my son happened to go with me to the radio station on this one rare occasion. Glab implied that this rare occurrence was part of a regular pattern of supposedly turning my son into a puppet for atheism. Neither my son nor I are interested in having him put on a stage.
Even the photographs used in the article were intended to falsely imply that my son is being used to fight my battle. When an editor for the Reader called me to set up a photo session to take a picture to accompany the article, I offered to provide a photograph of myself or permit the Reader to take their own picture of me. It was the Reader that insisted that my son be included in the photographs, perhaps to substantiate the false premise that my son is being used. Next time, I’ll stick with my better judgment and just say, “No,” to publications that insist on dragging my son into photographs. I would rather the story not run than see my son dragged into my battle.
Glab follows up the opening smear with five patently false statements about my intentions.
Glab wrote that I “want to destroy the Boy Scouts.” I’ve asked the Boy Scouts to drop their policy of excluding atheist children from their programs. How is asking for an end to discrimination against atheists an attempt to destroy Boy Scouts?
Glab insinuated that I am attacking the constitutionally guaranteed civil rights of citizens to freedom of religion when he falsely stated that American Atheists and I are “trying to stop people from praying in schools.” In fact, I am doing precisely the opposite. All American Atheists and I are doing is insisting that government officials not force atheists to pray. Every person is free to pray in public school any time the person wants. We just don’t want the government to tell people when to pray, what to pray, how to pray or even if they should pray. In contrast to Glab’s insinuation, my office has frequently received telephone calls from children and parents whose right to pray has been obstructed by school officials. The victims of this discrimination know that I am a champion of the Bill of Rights, not an attacker of the Bill of Rights. I have on several occasions informed school officials on behalf of these parents and students that children have a right to pray any time they want, so long as they are not disrupting classroom instruction. These school officials have been told by me to leave those kids alone.
Glab falsely stated that I am “trying to stop people from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.” Once again, Glab is completely wrong. I’m trying to get the government to repeal the law which requires my son to state that there is a god every school day. The Illinois School Code, Chapter 122, Section 27-3, states in part, “The Pledge of Allegiance shall be recited each school day by pupils in elementary educational institutions supported or maintained in whole or in part by public funds.” I have gone to federal court claiming that it is a violation of my son’s constitutional rights to be required by law to say that there is a god at the beginning of each school day. How can I raise my son to be a good little atheist when the State requires him to say that there is a god every day? In an attempt to de-criminalize atheism, I have asked that the law be declared unconstitutional. My son should not be regarded as a criminal for refusing to comply with a government order that requires him to say that there is a god every school day. In a country with freedom of religious opinion, how can you pass laws requiring atheists to say that there is a god every single day? In a country with freedom of speech, how can you pass laws providing for mandatory speech? Other students are free to recite the Pledge if they choose to do so. Early this year, I met in Washington, D.C., with the staff of the United States Senate and House Subcommittees on Civil and Constitutional Rights, asking them to draft legislation for consideration by Congress which would repeal the anti-atheist law from 1954 that added the antiatheist “under God” editorial to the Pledge. Atheists would then be able to join our fellow Americans in demonstrating our strong patriotism by participating in a Pledge of Allegiance, not a Prayer of Allegiance. In what way does that constitute trying to stop people from reciting the Pledge?
Glab falsely stated that American Atheists and I are “trying to stop people from worshiping, for Christ’s sake!” In a world of religious fanaticism, those are fighting words to many people. The facts are that American Atheists and I are trying to protect people’s right to worship or not worship, as they choose, and Glab knows it. The only way, however, that freedom of worship can be maintained is if the government remains scrupulously neutral on matters of religion.
Glab falsely stated that my beef with United Way for funding the Boy Scouts was because, “according to Sherman, the United Way promises, when seeking donations, to fund only nonsectarian organizations.” That is totally false. I made no such representation about United Way policy. The Chicago Tribune published my letter to the editor in its Sunday, June 3, 1990 edition. That letter said, in part, “It makes no difference to American Atheists if a United Way affiliate agency is secular or sectarian. The only criterion is that programs and employment be provided without discrimination.” The United Way policy manual requires that, if an agency receives United Way funds for their programs, “the agency shall operate without discrimination in the delivery of human care services and in the employment of agency staff.” American Atheists and I have asked the United Way to stop funding the Boy Scouts because Boy Scouts refuses to enroll or employ atheists and is therefore ineligible to receive United Way funds. My beef with United Way is not because they fund sectarian organizations. My beef is because the United Way promises atheists that our donations will fund only those programs that provide service and employment without discrimination against atheists, but the United Way then turns around and gives our atheist money to Boy Scouts, which has a policy of “no atheists allowed.” Atheists do not wish to subsidize anti-atheist discrimination.
Glab tries to perpetuate the false impression that my son is being used by inventing a story about my son and me posing for photographers wearing hats that say, “atheist.” No such hats even exist, so how could we have been posing for photographers with such hats? The story is total fiction, designed to embellish a myth that my son is being dragged into my battles.
Glab was so desperate to smear me that he even invented a “tenuous bond” between my parents and me. Dragging a false story about my parents into the article is a low blow. I have a normal, loving relationship with my parents. My parents have, however, said that they do not wish to comment to the press about my activity. It is a dirty smear to imply that their desire to not comment on my activity implies a tenuous relation.
In what may be the worst attempt of all to defame my reputation through the use of false information, Glab writes, “Even though his actual title is executive director, Sherman often introduces himself as the group’s spokesman. It is not humility alone; it seems he’d rather be the flack than the boss any day.” As usual, Glab’s information is totally false. Here is my business card, issued by the national headquarters of American Atheists. What does it say, Michael Glab? I gave you one of my cards the first time I met you. Can’t you read? It even includes the address of the national headquarters right on the front, so you could check your facts for authenticity. The March, 1990, edition of the monthly national magazine, The American Atheist, includes an article written by Madalyn O’Hair, Chairman of the Board of American Atheists. The article is about the Mayor of Waukegan using tax dollars to pay for expenses of a prayer breakfast fund-raiser for a religious mission. One paragraph begins, “Robert I. Sherman, the American Atheist national spokesman, was immediately on the situation.” I’ll have to let Mrs. O’Hair know that Michael Glab has determined that I am the executive director of American Atheists. Unfortunately, there is no such position as “executive director” at American Atheists.
Glab was worse than just wrong. He didn’t verify his facts about me before he printed them. Glab exacerbated the situation by smearing me with his snide follow-up remarks which were based on inexcusable factual errors. When you accuse someone of being a liar, as Glab accused me in the paragraph about my title, you had better get your facts straight. Glab had his facts wrong. He had made no effort to get them right.
Glab was so incompetent in his reporting that he couldn’t even get my automobile license plate correctly after seeing my car over a dozen times. Glab reported that my license plate is “ATHEIST 1.” Since when do Illinois license plates contain nine letters and spaces instead of the legal maximum of seven letters and spaces? While that particular error was not libelous, it if typical of how virtually every paragraph of Glab’s story contained false information which was used to justify what seems to be a libelous smear. It is, of course, much easier for a reporter to lambast somebody for what a person stands for if the reporter falsely represents what the person stands for.
What is Rob Sherman really like? Here is how one reporter described me: “Interesting, fascinating . . . A nice sense of humor . . . You’ve challenged in your time various cities and villages. The list goes on and on. I saw some of the city symbols. I was surprised! I had never thought that there were so many Christian cross references on municipal logos. Apparently you got some good results out of Kane County. There have been good results with a lot of the things that you’ve done . . . You defend the right of anybody to worship as they please . . . I was quite impressed by the way you work with government officials to try to remove state/church separation violations. You had a very friendly, and a very professional relationship with these people and, as you know, in my speaking about you to people that I know, other reporters and so forth, there’s sort of an air of, ‘oh, him,’ ‘oh, Sherman, him,’ like he’s not important, but in truth, when you’re dealing with people on your business and day-to-day basis, people take you quite seriously, because you’re effective . . . I was pleased to have met you and I was pleased to have worked with you on the story . . . You are a good father who takes great pains to see that your son is taken care of . . .” Who is that mystery reporter who says all of those complimentary things about me? Why, it’s that same Michael Glab who smeared me in the Reader article. He said all those things on the Illinois Atheist Television News Forum. If you want proof that Glab said those complimentary things about me, watch the Illinois Atheist Television News Forum this Sunday at 5 PM on Continental Cablevision Channel 19 in Northwest Cook County. So why didn’t he say those complimentary things in the Reader article instead of attack, lie, smear, attack, lie and smear again? And why didn’t the Reader verify the seemingly libelous allegations before they were printed?
The article about me in the Reader demonstrates just how widespread anti-atheist bigotry is in our society. Even a respectable newspaper like the Reader feels that it is acceptable to print a smear job if the subject is an atheist. The same edition of the paper had a cover story about a Jewish family. Since Judaism is now politically acceptable, the story was written in a sensitive manner with a favorable photograph. Since the government is constantly attacking atheism, people feel that it is OK to engage in bigoted attacks on atheists. The sooner the government begins to respect the wall of separation between state and church, which is required by the Constitution, and the sooner that the government begins showing equal respect for atheists that it shows for god-believers, the sooner that anti-atheist discrimination and bigotry, as epitomized by Glab’s smear, will subside.
Robert I. Sherman
American Atheists, Inc.