Atheist Cop – by Steve Schlicht

“Fear not the long arm of the law…”

That was the contrite title of my introduction post at IIDB way back in 2002 to try to quell any misgivings lurkers may have had for those in my chosen career path (a rather well-intentioned but flawed forewarning now that I have the benefit of hindsight).

Looking back over the intervening years I have to say that I’ve changed a bit. One remaining constant has been not being able to fully reconcile being a police officer who is also an atheist in a predominantly religious society; or being an atheist who is also a police officer, at a non-religious website. It is a constant refrain and one I know seems very much like a man tilting at windmills, but “me” nonetheless.

Clearly, it is a position very difficult to explain fully when trying to find camaraderie and support in either world. One I’ve learned to cope with and one I really hope to clarify within this venue that Octavia was so gracious to offer me. To be forthright, I know cops can be narcissistic jerks just as I know that I can’t fix that. I also know that I won’t be able to convince many people (atheists or otherwise) that there are those in my profession who are really in it for the best of intentions. But what I can do is not be that jerk on the street when it counts and regardless of the fact that no one even notices. There, that’s a distracting tangent out of the way for some who know me and so, I’ll move on to the topic at hand.

My own personal perspectives regarding human liberty and religious refutations have become stronger and more confident over the past six years. To be sure, I’ve learned that to really get a point across to those of an opposing view one must remain civil and rational and charitable. Of course, actually refuting religious claims can be perceived as automatically heretical so there is really only so much one can do to be considered “polite and civil”.

Now, this doesn’t mean I accept the same level of appeasement as reflected in my original introduction at IIDB from “way back when” which you will read shortly, as my current view is a bit more steadfast when it comes to countering claims and being motivated to do so. Naturally, it can also be said that I’ve learned that a dash of satire and sarcasm does help to dispel some of the topic redundancy as well, but I digress.

For now, let’s turn back the years and check out my old introduction post found at the welcomed extraction from the matrix:

“I’ll begin with a personal confession as a law enforcement officer. At times I get this feeling that I am a misfit among misfits when I correspond with other freethinkers/atheists/humanists/naturalists. My experience has been that we are by nature individualists and wary of anything authoritarian. It is my hope that this brief intro will reduce any possible rancor and engender a more open level of contact.

I have lurked for awhile and have never met a more comfortable board brimming with personality and honest character. The SecWeb has been like a warp engine of rational thought, humor and debate.

As an eleven-year veteran violent crimes detective for a relatively small (100,000) community, I do not have to argue the atheist ‘morality’ issue often. If it is brought up, my record as a happily married, father of three well-behaved and loving children is ample ammunition against such attack.

My personal experience with the ‘only god can judge me’ christian criminal offenders may also make its way into any morality or behavior argument. But, as I have been told by my, obviously omniscient fundie sister-in-law, they were not truly christian and may still find salvation for their horrendous acts and be accepted into heaven if they sincerely accept Jesus into their hearts (Just like Dahmer, I often suggest. Have a nice time.).

Of course, I like my paycheck, so I do have to allow for some of the more superstitious rituals in order to keep the boat from rocking. Oath-taking comes to mind initially wherein my honesty is equated with the magic incantation “so help me god”. Search warrants also require me to end the underlying facts portion with “affiant, therefore, hopes and prays that a warrant will be issued”. Since these words are non-issues to the case anyway and the judges seem to go for it, my feeling is that the end justifies the means (gathering of evidence and removing the offenders from the community).

I further make the distinction that since the term ‘god’ is not specific, it can then be aptly applied to the power of the active natural universe in plain view. You may then infer that this grants me the label “pantheist”. I have no problem with that at all. I also find silence, stillness and inner contemplation is useful to maintain a healthy mental state and relationship with others. I do not think that anything supernatural is occurring during this meditative non-action and do not ascribe to any particular method or zen school of thought regarding the matter.

Oh, yeah, my great-uncle was the late Roman Catholic Bishop Robert E. Tracy of Baton Rouge, LA of the Vatican Council II. My mother was a nun who left the convent, had an affair with a married man and became pregnant, fled to California where I was born, then returned me to her mother where I was raised in the staunch Roman Catholic milieu…not much else to report from that angle, though…

Thanks to all for being out there.”

Yeah, reading that post again, I do relive the excitement of finding “others out there” who were intelligent and clear in their views and vocal in expressing them. It’s nice to think that people have found similar enlightenment thanks to internet communities like IIDB.

Now, becoming vocal was initially problematic both personally and professionally and it took quite some time to attain the skills necessary to actively refute the religious assertions so prominent within my community and family. These claims are vast and vague and dependent upon “interpretation” and, as I have come to say, very much like trying to juggle water with those who have quite obviously no problem with promoting unsupported mystical-magical thinking. In any event, there were certainly many failings in my temperament early on which led to further misunderstanding and communication “black outs”.

Risks, some even unintentionally reckless, were definitely taken with close relationships at first because that was where my own experiences with “outing” were made. Truth be told though, it was worth the risk and life has changed for the positive since taking the stand and being pro-active.

Beyond my personal experiences with family (many of which are recounted at the IIDB in assorted threads if one is bored enough to look them up) I took it upon myself to begin the long and difficult journey of refuting religious claims when they arose in public and at work (only when necessary) as a representative of city government.

To be sure there is a vast minefield of general orders and policies in place that prevent full expression as a law enforcement officer who has no belief in God(s)ess(es). Many of which I wholeheartedly agree with, by the way, for everyone with strongly held socio-political views in this line of work. The issue is sort of like a “Prime Directive” for me which is purposeful, though exceptions can be made under certain highly refined circumstances.

That said, for me it became apparent that very few of these policies and orders were going to be applied to those officers and employees who used their position and city equipment to represent religious dogma and claims while on duty.

Well, to make a long story even longer, it was against my principle to remain silent in light of these transgressions and not return considerate point by point refutations via email or even in settings while decked out in the finest of police regalia.

It was oftentimes that my practice of doing so became one of consternation from upper management who would consistently allow leeway to the practitioners of their own particular worldview aka “religion” (being Christianity in South Mississippi, for those unaware) while being critical and even coercive toward my own which only really became known in response to some prayer request, touted faith-based jail program or some deeply flawed and bigoted claim regarding atheism/atheists.

These meetings were kept polite and civil and each time my case was made I found new support among other employees (mostly Catholics or “nominal” Christians) who had been, up until then, satisfied to just roll their eyes and scoff at religious email spam or requests for officer prayer meetings, etc. Over the years it even became an ever exciting experience for others to receive these emails as they awaited my timely and well-articulated response.

To this day I receive a vast majority of positive comments regarding how the refutations are framed and, for want of a better term, how courteous I am for the person while making my points very clear.

Of course, there is still a dark foreboding that I have to be more “careful” as an atheist in how I deal with public displays of expression because, as was true then as it is now “I like my paycheck, so I do have to allow for some of the more superstitious rituals in order to keep the boat from rocking.”

The story of the Emperor and his clothes has never been as personal as now.

I also have to say that the compartmentalizing of life has been the most difficult, but most necessary, practice in my view. Certain relationship areas are off-limits and city policies don’t apply to my proactive practices everywhere. I must use care when I do make published comments and it must be crystal clear that all views expressed are not representative of the city I work for nor the community in which I live. Still, it is necessarily topical to actually identify as a police officer as behavior and “morality and ethics” are so often the case du jour against atheists.

My own views are as a person and not an employee. The trouble can be that as an employee I am still a person and where that line is drawn is very critical. I am not often so linear, however, the job really requires it and it doesn’t come easy.

Interesting situations also often arise in real terms for me that put principle to the test.

Am I required to follow my principle to be vocal in refuting the concept of a supernatural being beyond space/time, an afterlife or a mysterious “Plan” in the context of notifying a family member of the brutal murder of a loved one?

The short answer is “no”, but not because it can be considered “rude” or “uncaring” because I do care for both people who are suffering the immediate loss of a loved one as well as those atheists who are so often misrepresented, mischaracterized and mistreated by the core of religious adherents who don’t mind using death as a tool for advertising their bill of goods.

There is a time and a place for everything obviously and we each must gauge our own situational limitations.

Most importantly, my responsibility as a police officer in the line of duty is to protect and serve and collect evidence, facts and circumstances. Whatever religious or political claim someone wants to make is irrelevant to my job, when I’m “on the job”.

Now, when it comes to court testimony and oath-taking, my views are different than the 2002 representation I once had. To be sure, I will request a secular oath or affirmation and, if required, express my perspective on the issue and address the issue of applicable state and federal statute.

In closing, I just want to openly, clearly and sincerely state that the most important lesson I’ve learned over the past years as an “out” atheist and as a police officer is that it is so very important to build and maintain a community of support for atheists. That’s right “atheists” and on that element alone because, yes I am fully aware, we all have an assortment of other views, positions and perspectives regarding socio-political issues that may differ…but we honestly do need the foundation and commonality that bridges those gaps and provides a comfortable haven.

We must meet, share and help each other in this world so that others can experience the knowledge that they are not alone, not despised and are equally valuable members of the human family.

Expression is key to that goal and I will leave you with some links to personal examples of how this has been and can be accomplished:…es-comment.htm


Now, I just have to find a way to feel accepted as a vocal atheist in an overtly religious community that applies the broad brush of their own raw generalizations to what that means and also be accepted as a vocal police officer in an overtly non-religious community that does so as well.

Thanks for your interest in my perspective and please take care of each other.

Steve Schlicht

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