July 1, 2015

Confederate Flags and Free Expression

Picture of the Confederate flag flying behind ...
Picture of the Confederate flag flying behind the Confederate Soldier Monument on the Statehouse Grounds in Columbia, SC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There seems to be a great deal of confusion around the Confederate flag issue. I have seen more than a few people claiming that a state government removing the flag from public property somehow infringes on their personal right to free expression or that a business deciding to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise does the same. I'm writing this post in an effort to clarify a few of these misconceptions, as well as to make my own position as clear as possible.

Your right to free expression has nothing to do with what a business decides to sell (or not sell) or with what symbols a local, state, or federal government decides to promote. This does not necessarily mean that businesses should stop selling items with the Confederate flag on them or that governments should remove the flag; it only means that these decisions do not have anything to do with your right to free expression. I'll attempt to highlight the relevant distinctions below.

June 29, 2015

Changing Our Minds

Habits of Minds
Habits of Minds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many skeptics, atheists, and/or freethinkers pride themselves on their willingness to change their mind on the basis of reason, evidence, or other new information. This should be a source of pride and should be far more common than it is. After all, we are the ones who often claim that we are not beholden to any sort of dogma, tradition, or authority. This leaves us free to follow the evidence without being locked into maintaining views that are inconsistent with reality. It also grants us the room to change our minds as we identify the shortcomings of our previous positions.

We skeptics, atheists, and/or freethinkers should not only be willing to changes our minds; we should celebrate it when others do so. Again and again, we say that this is how reasonable people are supposed to behave. If the Bigfoot skeptic was presented with solid evidence supporting the existence of such a creature, we would expect him to change his mind and acknowledge that such a creature could be real. If the third-wave feminist was presented with clear evidence calling commonly cited rape statistics into question, we'd expect her to stop repeating them as if they were 100% accurate. When we encounter someone who willfully disregards the evidence to maintain a belief (e.g., creationists, climate science deniers, GMO opponents, users of homeopathy), we tend to be critical. We seem to expect that rational people will allow themselves to learn, changing their minds based on the evidence.

June 27, 2015

Obergefell as a Tipping Point

Oblique facade 3, US Supreme Court
By Daderot (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
The news out of the Supreme Court this week (i.e., Obergefell v. Hodges) was fantastic and long overdue. Congratulations and thanks to every person who has been working to bring about marriage equality in the U.S. I have long expected that I would see this happen in my lifetime, but I wasn't sure how long it would take. Yesterday was a great day for equality!

So why didn't I join almost every other atheist blogger in posting about this big news here at Atheist Revolution yesterday? Good question. When news of the ruling broke, my thoughts immediately turned to Mississippi. You see, all of my LGBT friends who do not live in Mississippi live in states that already allow same-sex marriage. When I heard the news, I thought of those here in Mississippi and what this means for them. I thought about how we have yet another example of how the thoroughly Christian people of Mississippi refuse to do the right thing until the federal courts force them to do so. I decided to express myself at Mississippi Atheists instead of writing a post here.

June 26, 2015

Parent Sues Indiana Teacher for Segregating Atheist 2nd-Grader

Balanza de la Justicia
Balanza de la Justicia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Suppose that you are the parent of a 2nd-grader attending public school. Your child and his or her classmates are playing on the playground shortly before lunch. One of the children asks your child if he or she goes to church, and your child says no. Your family does not attend church because you do not believe in gods. Pretty straightforward, isn't it? Just one problem: the classmate who hears this from your child takes offense and complains to a playground supervisor who reports the incident to a teacher.

This is the point in the story where things take a dark turn. The teacher asks your child if he or she told a classmate that he or she does not believe in gods. Your child says yes. The teacher then interrogates your child about his or her religious beliefs, the religious practices of your family, and whether he or she "believed that maybe God exists." After all of this, the teacher segregates your child from the rest of the class for three days, making him or her sit alone during lunch and prohibiting him or her from interacting with the other students.

Unfortunately, the situation I've just described is not hypothetical. According to reporting by Rebecca S. Green in The Journal Gazette, this is what has been alleged in a federal lawsuit brought by the parent of a 2nd-grade boy against a teacher at Forest Park Elementary School in Indiana. The suit, filed by the ACLU of Indiana, alleges that the teacher violated the constitutional rights of this student.

June 25, 2015

Time For 'In God We Trust' To Go

Flickr - USCapitol - "In God We Trust" Plaque

When you walk into a building owned and operated by your city, county, state, or federal government, you generally do so for a reason. Unless you work there or are just sightseeing, you have almost certainly come to this building for a specific purpose. There is some service provided in this building that you need. You are here to accomplish something, and that means that avoiding the building is probably not feasible. You are there because you need to be.

Now suppose that you walk into this government building one day and one of the first things you see is a sign of some sort that says, "In God We Trust." As you probably know, this has been the official motto of the United States since 1956. Despite several legal challenges from church-state activists, courts have repeatedly upheld it. Hopefully, an interesting new approach using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will finally succeed where the others have failed. But the sign is there now, right in front of you as you enter the building.

When you imagine yourself in this situation, standing there and looking at this sign in the government building where you have come to accomplish something, what thoughts pass through your mind? How do you feel as you stand before this sign?

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