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Atheist Excommunicated From American Atheists Organization
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PARSIPPANY, NJ - A tearful Michael Newdow sat silently as the sentence of excommunication was read by a representative of the five-atheist panel. At issue were Newdow's words to the Supreme Court in his Pledge of Allegiance case. (Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, case no. 02-1624) At one point in the hearing, Newdow reportedly said, "How in God's name can we as a nation, with the State's blessing, allow others to indoctrinate our children into their beliefs?" "We support Mr. Newdow's right to bring his case to the court," said American Atheists spokesman Ron Barrier, "But his invocation of 'God's name' and references to 'blessings' are more than we as a body can tolerate amongst our ranks."

"It was a figure of speech," explained Newdow, "I was under a great amount of stress, and it just slipped out. I'm here because I'm an atheist, and because of my defense of my position as an atheist, I'm no longer allowed to call myself one. The irony is beyond belief." Under the bylaws of American Atheists, Newdow has seven days to appeal the ruling. If the ruling stands, his name will be stripped from the membership rolls, he will not be spoken to by another member, and his 10% discount card will no longer be honored.

"Religious groups have always held the right to exclude members -- often called 'shunning' -- even when other, secular, groups were forced to be more open," explained religious historian Wendy Doniger, "The American Atheists are a de facto religious organization. They are the 'church' if you will, for those sharing Mr. Newdow's beliefs. I've found that contrary to what you might expect, the majority of members so shunned do return to the fold, as I expect will be the case with Mr. Newdow."

The American Atheists organization was not so optimistic. Explained Barrier, "Once a person has shown a proclivity for anti-anti-God rhetoric, it is unusual for him to return to the good thinking that led him to us. It is much more likely that such a person would become an Evangelical, 'Born-again', or something of the like."

"God, I hope not," responded Newdow.
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