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Miss Manners, Judith Martin, Published May 19 2012

Righteousness, rudeness a popular combo

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have a couple of very vocal families of atheists in our neighborhood. I recognize that their personal beliefs are none of my business, and that freedom of religion means freedom to choose non-belief as well. I respect their right to live as they see fit, to refuse donations to charities whose mission they do not support, and so forth.

The problem that I do have is in their response to people of any faith. In our small city, religious organizations frequently host fundraisers in support of their charitable and educational endeavors. These events include dinners, carnivals and so forth, and church members can regularly be found handing out fliers in public areas of the city.

Not content to say, “No, thank you,” and move on, my well-educated adult neighbors choose to express outrage at being approached and to mock and insult the intelligence and the beliefs of the volunteers.

I see similar behavior from staunch members of either political party in our town, with people who have a differing point of view being treated like idiots and publicly embarrassed. I find the attitude that freedom of speech and of thought belongs only to those who say and believe the “right” things to be terrifying.

Is there a polite way to intervene and protect the dignity of someone who is simply trying to do what they believe is right, and that they have the legal right to do?

GENTLE READER: If only. Righteousness and rudeness are a popular combination these days, which is odd because there is nothing right about rudeness.

Whatever the cause, rudeness puts its advocates in the wrong. It also damages any cause. Miss Manners doubts that your neighbors want to plant the idea that lack of respect for other human beings is a tenet – or an inevitable result – of atheism. But that is what they are doing.

Still, it would be rude of you to chastise them. What you can do in defense of those they embarrass is to say, “I believe that their religion would require them to respect you and allow you to express your beliefs.”

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.