April 30, 2008

Support the Military Religious Freedom Foundation

With Spc. Jeremy Hall, the atheist soldier who filed a lawsuit to protect his religious freedom, finally getting some media attention, I have been repeatedly asked what we can do to support him. I recommend supporting the Military Religious Freedom Foundation by making a donation and/or helping to publicize their advocacy on behalf of soldiers like Hall. They have been instrumental in making sure Hall's story is told and in bringing this important lawsuit.

I am pleased to see the outpouring of support Hall has received in the secular community. I am also encouraged by a spike in the number of searches I am seeing on Hall. These data suggest that his story is leading many who have not yet explored atheism to investigate more. As people learn more about Hall, they may begin to understand the plight of atheists in the United States.

In addition, Hall's case should remind those who need reminding that atheists do serve in the military. Much like civilian atheists, they often experience discrimination and bigotry at the hands of the Christian majority. But their position is far more precarious than that of most civilian atheists. Just imagine being surrounded by heavily armed Christians determined to convert you! That the U.S. military would promote such evangelism is despicable as well as unlawful.

Simply put, the goal of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is:
...to ensure that our government does indeed adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of the Constitution; that it leads by example (source: About the Foundation by Mikey Weinstein)
Sadly, the notion of the United States leading by example has become difficult to imagine, particularly given our current administration. Still, this is the noble goal to which we should aspire, and it is fortunate that we have groups like the MRFF to serve the watchdog function. They deserve our gratitude and support.

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Update on Florida's Christian License Plates

Florida's proposed Christian license plates now appear unlikely. The "I Believe" plates were removed from legislation headed to the governor's office for approval. Not surprisingly, the same license plate design is also being considered in South Carolina and seems to be having more success there. I will be surprised if we do not see this plate design approved soon in some state.

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April 29, 2008

National Day of Reason May 1

May 1, 2008, is the National Day of Reason. It is a good day for nonbelievers to celebrate our membership in the reality-based community. However, the day is really about reaching out to others through active involvement in one's community. That is, actually doing something to make a difference.

According to a press release from Atheist Alliance International:
The mission and purpose of the National Day of Reason is to inspire the secular community to be visible and actively involved in community projects. Atheists make a point of showing how only human endeavors can help improve the lives of fellow citizens, not only on the National Day of Reason but each and every day. Atheists' actions echo the 19th Century Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll, in his famous quote, "Hands that help are better than lips that pray."
To observe the National Day of Reason, the Atheist Alliance International will host blood drives in many communities. The Friendly Atheist also suggests that making a donation to one's favorite secular organization is a great way to observe the day. This will be particularly appealing for those of us who will be stuck at work all day.

Unlike the National Day of Prayer (or as I like to call it, "the National Day of Doing Nothing") which will be held the same day, volunteers for the National Day of Reason are not required to sign a faith statement certifying that they are extremists (see Friendly Atheist).

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April 28, 2008

Florida's Christian License Plates

The the Florida Legislature is considering a new specialty license plate drivers can order that explicitly promotes Christianity. The plate shows a Christian cross in front of a stained-glass window and says "I Believe." Why not? We already have a "Choose Life" plate here in Mississippi which can be ordered by those who oppose reproductive rights for women.

You may be surprised to hear that my initial thought on this matter was, "So what? Let 'em have their plates." They already have their anti-gay and pro W stickers, their Jesus fish, and the like. I even see vehicles with confederate flag emblems regularly. What is one more offensive symbol?

Of course, I realize that this is a church-state issue in that we are talking about the state government selling these license plates. I agree that this does make the Florida plates quite different from the examples I cited above. They are not appropriate and should be opposed.
The problem with the state manufacturing the plate is that it "sends a message that Florida is essentially a Christian state" and, second, gives the "appearance that the state is endorsing a particular religious preference," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
Yep. That is the problem here and precisely what makes this different than some nutjob slapping a Jesus fish on his or her car.

What is particularly telling is Rep. Kelly Skidmore's statement that this would open the door to the state having to have plates for all other religions. I'm glad she is opposed to the Christian plates, but I hope this is not the only reason for her opposition.

Even better is the admission of the "I Believe" plate's sponsor that he would oppose an atheistic "I Don't Believe" version. Evidently, state promotion of religion is fine as long as it is your religion they are promoting.

H/T to The Carpetbagger Report

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NYC Atheists Protest Pope's Visit

President Bush certainly rolled out the red carpet for the Pope, raising troubling questions about preferential treatment for Christian leaders. The mainstream media coverage I saw was extremely positive, and although I can't say I went out of my way to look for coverage of this story, I certainly did not encounter anything about those protesting the Pope's visit. Finding this story about the NYC Atheists and their protest in New York University's student newspaper was an unexpected treat.

According to Kate Ray, NYC Atheists were protesting "the politics of the Catholic Church and recent anti-atheist comments made by the pope." Good for them. I'm glad somebody was calling attention to these issues of which the mainstream media has been woefully inadequate.

It is not that big media paid no attention to what the Pope had to say about the evils of atheism. Rather, they covered this as if it was somehow uncontroversial. At least they could have pointed out that the Pope does not seem to understand that atheism is not Communism. Or perhaps they could have asked him whether he thought atheism was also responsible for Nazism. At least that would be something to which he would have first-hand experience!

Rich Sander, one of the organizers of the NYC Atheists' peaceful protest was quoted as saying, "He said atheists are the source of evil and injustice in the world. It's highly unethical if the pope can do that."

I'm not sure I see much difference between the sort of hate spewed by the Pope and that of Christian extremists like James Dobson or McCain buddy John Hagee. If we are going to continue to provide First Amendment protection for hate speech, then the Pope should have an equal right to spread his message of intolerance. But this also means that we in the reality-based community have the right to oppose it.

It was also nice to see that the NYC Atheists' protest had a secondary goal of increasing public awareness of the atheist movement. This is certainly a worthy goal, and the group should be applauded for their efforts.

For more about the NYC Atheists and their efforts, see the NYC Atheists Blog.

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Carnival of the Godless #90 at No More Mr. Nice Guy!

The 90th Carnival of the Godless is up at No More Mr. Nice Guy! Check it out for some good atheistic reading.


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April 26, 2008

Foxhole Atheist Jeremy Hall Finally Gets Media Attention

I imagine you are already familiar with the story of the brave atheist soldier, Spc. Jeremy Hall, and his lawsuit against the Department of Defense for violating his religious freedom by promoting a culture of fundamentalist Christianity. After all, it has been making the rounds on the atheist blogosphere for some time now. I am happy to announce that Spc. Hall is finally going to receive the big media attention he deserves. First, his story was presented in The New York Times, then CNN, and now he will appear during tomorrow's "Sunday Morning" on CBS News.

You may recall that Hall started receiving serious threats from his fellow soldiers soon after his lawsuit was announced and that recent reports suggest that this continues. Perhaps shining the media spotlight on this case will finally bring Hall a reprieve. He deserves better than this, as do his non-Christian colleagues in the United States military.

For more on this and related topics, see:
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Limbaugh Calls for Riots at Democratic Convention

Freedom of Speech is a vital liberty, but I always thought that speech inciting violence was not protected. It appears that notorious right-wing windbag, Rush Limbaugh, has called for riots at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Rather than seeing his Republicans lose, he'd rather provoke his audience to violence. If this poll is at all representative, it appears he has lots of company. Isn't inciting riots a crime?

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American Ethical Union to Join Secular Coalition

The Secular Coalition for America is growing to nine member organizations now that the American Ethical Union has voted to join. This means more staff, donors, and activists being added to the Secular Coalition. For more, read the complete press release below.

Washington, DC – The Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying organization which protects and advances the rights of nontheistic Americans, has just welcomed a new member organization. This expansion of the Coalition follows other growth milestones: the hiring in March of its second full-time lobbyist; the doubling of its e-activist base in the last year; and unprecedented annual contributions from across the country.

On Sunday, April 20, 2008, the American Ethical Union (AEU) voted to become the ninth member organization of the Secular Coalition for America.
The AEU is the umbrella organization for ethical culture societies across the United States.

The vote was held at the AEU’s 93rd Annual Assembly in Austin, TX. Both the Coalition and AEU believe that every individual has the right to worship – or not worship – according to conscience, and that a secular government provides the best protection for all Americans to practice – or forego – religion and faith. The Coalition’s dual mission of increasing the visibility and status of nontheistic viewpoints in the U.S. and protecting the secular character of government are goals which are shared by its member organizations. “By joining this coalition,” said Ron Solomon, Treasurer of AEU and also Treasurer of the Coalition, “the American Ethical Union enhances the already impressive voice that the Secular Coalition for America has developed in Washington and enables the American Ethical Union to be part of an important effort by nontheists of all persuasions to help maintain the constitutionally prescribed separation of church and state in America. There is a real need in the nontheistic community for building bridges between our organizations and we are proud to be a part of that effort.”

Coalition member organizations are established 501(c)3 nonprofits that represent humanists, freethinkers, atheists and other nontheistic Americans, including those serving in the military. According to Lori Lipman Brown, Director of the Coalition, “the American Ethical Union is a wonderful and welcome addition to our coalition. Their commitment to ethical action and programs brings reason-based ethics to families and the general public. I am confident that the American Ethical Union will be an equally powerful and positive force within our coalition. We are honored to count them as a partner.”

The Coalition is enjoying other kinds of expansion as well. The Coalition’s main function is to lobby Congress and make the voices of its diverse constituency heard. To that end, it alerts interested citizens via e-mail and asks them to contact their elected representatives concerning votes and legislation. In the last year, the number of subscribers to the Coalition’s e-alerts system has doubled, and response rates are climbing:
for example, the Coalition’s recent call for action on House Resolution
888 (which promotes an American Religious History Week, among other things), saw a response rate 500 percent higher than some previous alerts.
More than 100,000 Americans have referred friends, family and colleagues to the Coalition’s lobbying report for 2007.

Regardless of which political party holds the majority in Congress, there remains outreach to be done on Capitol Hill and the Coalition recently hired a second full-time lobbyist to support that work. On March 31, 2008, the Coalition was pleased to welcome Ms. Sasha Bartolf to its staff as a legislative associate. Ms. Bartolf comes to the Coalition from Congressional Quarterly, where she contributed to CQPolitics.com, Politifact.com, CQ Weekly, and CQ Healthbeat as a writer and researcher.
Previously, she was a lobbyist and public policy writer at the government affairs firm, Impact NJ. At the Secular Coalition for America, her responsibilities are Congressional lobbying, grassroots advocacy and research.

The hiring of Ms. Bartolf was made possible due to the growing number of donations the Coalition has received. For each of the last three years, the Coalition has exceeded its own fundraising goals, allowing it to hire a new staff member each year since 2005. The 2008 budget is twice that of
2006 as a result of the support of individual donors and the growing proportion who are monthly contributors.

*****

The purposes of the American Ethical Union are to promote the knowledge, the love and practice of right living in all the relations of life; to join its members into a religious and educational fellowship in an effort to advance the moral growth of humanity through study, social action and spiritual consecration; to bring into close fellowship of thought and action all existing ethical culture societies and such other ethical societies, ethical humanist societies, and other organizations as may be established and admitted to the AEU; and to facilitate the growth of the ethical movement. Ethical societies are nontheistic, neutral and humanist in emphasis. www.aeu.org

The mission of the Secular Coalition for America is to increase the visibility and respectability of nontheistic viewpoints in the United States and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. The Secular Coalition for America was founded in 2002 as a 501(c)4 advocacy organization whose purpose is to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., the staff lobbies the U.S. Congress on issues of special concern to its constituency. www.secular.org

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April 25, 2008

Christian Belief and Mental Illness

Institute of Mental Health 8, Nov 06
Institute of Mental Health 8, Nov 06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The boundary between religious belief and mental illness can sometimes be fuzzy. It is common for persons suffering from some forms of mental illness to have religious content in their delusions or obsessions, and this can be a complicating factor in effective diagnosis and treatment. Still, beliefs which may seem quite unusual to most of us are almost never sufficient for psychiatric diagnosis.

Sam grew up in a small town in the Midwest and was raised in the same fundamentalist Protestant denomination of most of his neighbors. Faith was an important part of his life, not because he was particularly devout but because it was the context in which he grew up. His childhood was fairly ordinary, but he was never what his parents would consider a typical child. Sam was always much quieter and more introspective than his brother. He struggled in school, had difficulty making friends, and was never the athlete his father sought.

Sam was 14 when his father died, and this affected him greatly. Within two years, he would drop out of high school and take a job at a gas station near his home to help support his family. Sam's brother, 3 years his elder, had graduated from high school and received a scholarship to attend a state college, leaving Sam and his mother behind.

Sam had some mechanical aptitude and was soon able to secure a better paying job as an auto mechanic. He was living on his own by 19, as his relationship with his mother became increasingly distant. Some would later say that Sam's mother had experienced a series of "nervous breakdowns." Sam spent much of his time reading a Christian bible and watching TV.

Over the next few years, Sam became increasingly quiet and withdrawn. He had civil relationships with his co-workers, but he rarely accepted their offers to go out for a beer after work. He attended church regularly, but even there, he seemed more distant. His pastor reached out to him a few times, but Sam struck him as little more than socially awkward. There was something off about him.

Nobody knows exactly what sent Sam over the edge. It was such a gradual process that there was no way to identify any one trigger. It might have been his mother's failing health, although he rarely saw her by this point. It might have been the alcohol, for he had been drinking more lately. In any case, Sam's functioning began a gradual process of deterioration. He became increasingly obsessed with his bible, continued to retreat inward, and grew careless at work. His appearance became increasingly disheveled, and his hygiene suffered.

After a loud argument with his pastor, Sam was asked not to return to church. This argument, prompted by Sam's conviction that humanity was failing to follow the law laid down in Leviticus, ended with him accusing his pastor of being "a fake" and "an agent of Satan." This would be the beginning of Sam's legal troubles.

Sam became convinced that his god considered mixed fiber clothing sinful. He had seen the hate-mongers on TV condemning homosexuality but could not understand why they ignored the rest of Leviticus. He started harassing shoppers of the largest clothing store in town, eventually entering the store and damaging racks of mixed fiber clothing. He was arrested dozens of times, convicted often, and given antipsychotic medication which he refused to take. The local mental health system was ill-equipped to handle Sam, and he continued to slip through the cracks.

There are people like Sam in every community. They often bounce in and out of the legal and mental health systems, neither of which are particularly well-equipped to deal with them. There mental illness does not always have religious overtones, but when it does, this can make friends and family members less likely to seek mental health treatment. Some may see them as mentally ill; others may think that they are being good fundamentalists.

When mental health professionals look at Sam's case, it is the functional impairment that stands out rather than the what he believed. Generally speaking, beliefs that do not lead to severe distress or impairment in functioning, even when clearly delusional, are not considered sufficient for psychiatric diagnosis.

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April 24, 2008

Progressive Christians: Allies in Opposing Christian Extremism

They may spend more time bemoaning the "evils" of secularism when someone gives them a microphone, but Christian extremists also view progressive Christians as their enemies. Many go so far as to call them "fake Christians" even though it is usually their politics on which the disagreement centers. We atheists must be careful about not lumping all Christians together. In a fairly religious country such as the United States, we can find important allies against Christian extremism among many in the so-called Christian left.

I am no longer surprised to discover that I have more in common with some progressive Christians than I do with some atheists, including certain atheist bloggers who will remain nameless. Yes, there are some truly good people out there who contribute to the progressive Christian blogosphere and who would make fine allies in many of the struggles in which atheists are engaged. For some noteworthy examples, check out A Religious Liberal Blog and CrossLeft.

Many progressive Christians believe in maintaining separation of church and state, and they generally have as little respect for Christian extremism as we do. Sure, it would be nice if they would speak out more against it, but some are. Besides, I value their contributions in other areas, such as social justice and the environment.

I know that some atheists, including me at times, have trouble with people who believe absurdities. This can be an obstacle to be sure, and there are others. However, I think there are many ways we can work with progressive Christians to accomplish shared goals without getting bogged down in trying to convert one another. Making the world a better place is a worthwhile enough goal that we should be able to get beyond one's motives for wanting to do so.

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April 23, 2008

Christian Privilege in the Public Schools

A student at Capistrano Valley High School in California has accused his AP European history teacher of making disparaging remarks about Christianity in class. This really is a shame. The teacher needs to realize that when truth and Christianity collide, Christianity must prevail. But sarcasm aside, bigotry, and this includes anti-Christian bigotry, has no place in the schools. Is this a case of bigotry or something else entirely?

According the FaithNews Network, Chad Farnan, a Christian student, has accused history teacher, James Corbett, of making remarks hostile to his religion. This sounds serious. bigotry is almost as deplorable in the public schools as it is in state government. So what exactly did Corbett say?
The Christian student cites an incident from last December when Corbett stated that conservatives do not want women to avoid pregnancies because that interferes with God's work. In another statement, recorded by Farnan, the teacher claimed that when people put on their "Jesus glasses," they cannot see the truth.
I have a difficult time seeing how Corbett's alleged remarks, even if Farnan's allegations are true, constitute hostility to Christianity. The first comment concerning conservatives seems accurate to this observer, and if anything, would reflect on conservative politics rather than Christianity. The second comment is difficult to evaluate without context, and this brief report provides no information about the context in which such statements were made. According to Farnan's attorney, Corbett frequently makes comments along these lines. Another alleged example:
He's said things like 'Aristotle argued that there has to be a god. Of course, that's nonsense.'
Nonsense that there has to be a god? Well, yeah - of course this is nonsense! It does not sound as though Corbett is saying anything negative about Christians here at all. If Christians (or anybody else) wants to believe that there are gods, so be it. This is very different from saying that there has to be one or more gods.

Farnan's attorney says,
At stake really is a Christian student's rights to go to public school and be able to express their faith and hold their faith without being discriminated against in the classroom.
How was Farnan discriminated against? Even if he was mocked, and it does not appear that Corbett's alleged comments come close to even that, it is not at all clear how this qualified as discrimination. Was Farnan graded down solely for being Christian? That would certainly be discrimination.

No, the case seems to be about Christian privilege in the schools more than anything. Farnan's side appears to believe that the Christian beliefs of Christian students should be respected at school. By "respected," they appear to mean that Christian students should never be exposed to anything that leads them to question their beliefs, evidence which might contradict their beliefs, or even mild criticism of their beliefs. Why? Because they are Christian. This does not sound very much like education, does it?

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April 21, 2008

When Will Atheists Achieve Equality?

Equality was a core principle of the Civil Rights movement, a movement with which most Americans would comfortably express agreement or even admiration. America's oldest Civil Rights organization has accepted atheism as a Civil Rights issue, however, many Americans remain unwilling to do so. Equality remains an unfortunately elusive goal for atheists in America.

Stellar1 at de-conversion recently asked, "What if I behaved toward Christians like they behave towards me?" This is certainly an intriguing question in this context. Some of Stellar1's points:
However, I have to say that I am so very tired of having other people’s religious beliefs shoved in my face. I do not behave in that manner about my agnostic view and think it arrogant for Christians to think I care about their belief system.

For example, I wonder what Christians would think if Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris got on television on a continual basis to make emotional pleas for money to finance the spread of their atheism?

As for those Christians who gather outside concerts to pass out tracts to get me saved, I wonder what they would think if I stood outside their churches and pass out literature on atheism to those leaving the building?
Never mind that it would not occur to most atheists to do these things. The question is how Christians would respond if we did them. It is a question for which I suspect you already have an answer in mind. But it also signals that we have not yet achieved equality in the eyes of many.

The fact that Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) was not immediately forced out of office for expressing anti-atheist bigotry from the floor of the Illinois State Legislature also indicates that we atheists have not yet achieved equality with our Christian neighbors. Just imagine what would have happened if Rep. Davis had said that it was dangerous for children to know that Christianity existed! This should be a real eye-opener for all non-theistic Americans.

The question in my mind now is whether it is possible for atheists to achieve equality as long as Christianity persists. I certainly hope so, but I am troubled by barriers to accepting atheists inherent in Christian dogma. If Christians are unable to acknowledge the worth of atheists, can we ever achieve true equality?

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April 20, 2008

I Was Wrong: Why We Must Discuss Expelled

After receiving a few e-mails from readers of this blog asking why I had been silent on the recent Expelled debacle, I tried to explain myself by saying that I felt like the topic had been adequately addressed by others and that I was reluctant to contribute to controversy for fear it would help the film. I was wrong. Expelled is something we in the reality-based community, atheist or not, must be discussing.

Why the change of mind? I wish I could tell you that PZ Myers opened my eyes with his call on bloggers to help boost the placement of the Expelled Exposed website in search results for Expelled. While I am trying to help that goal here, this was not what brought me around. I also wish I could say that it was the seemingly endless series of posts on Panda's Thumb about the film, but I actually began to find those annoying after awhile and stopped reading.

While pouring myself a cup of coffee this morning, it just suddenly hit me out of nowhere - I live in a country where there is so much resentment over evolution that it was deemed necessary to make a propaganda film, cloaked in the garb of science, to lend credence to creationism. In 2008, there are still creationists right here in America! This is newsworthy, and demands attention.

With Expelled, creationists are deliberately trying to mislead the public by making the foundation of modern biology seem controversial when it is not. By dressing creationism up in scientific clothing, they seek to present it as a valid hypothesis which mainstream science is neglecting. Rather than openly complaining that science is destroying their religiously-derived worldview, they find it necessary to pretend that mainstream science is somehow biased against their "scientific" alternative.

Before we dismiss this as pure rubbish and conclude that it has no hope of succeeding, I'd like you to consider one possible analogue: what Fox "News" has done in the world of media. Look at how Fox has managed to convince many people that the mainstream media has a liberal bias, despite volumes of evidence to the contrary. By offering themselves up as "fair and balanced," they claim to occupy the real center. We all know that they are actually the extreme right, but the mainstream media has been unable to oppose them effectively and has actually migrated more toward the right themselves. I'm not saying that the ID stuff is truly parallel, but I do think we better perceive it as a real risk.

I am happy to live in a country where my fellow citizens have the freedom to create a vile propaganda film such as Expelled and where those few who choose to see it may freely do so. What worries me is that the average citizen is so far removed from the scientific community, due to relatively poor science education, widespread religious delusion, and an embarrassingly poor effort on the part of many scientists (myself included) to make science more accessible to the public, that a film like this may be able to do real damage. This film cannot be shown in our public schools. To do so would be akin to showing children professional wrestling and telling them that it was real.

I am also worried that Expelled both reflects and may help fuel bigotry toward atheists. By attempting to link Darwin, atheism, fascism, and even the Holocaust, we end up with an anti-atheist hate film as well as a pro-creationist propaganda film. This is truly a Christian extremist's wet dream!

Following Atheist Ethicist's excellent suggestion, I will be donating to the National Center for Science Education.

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April 19, 2008

Children Victimized by Polygamists to Remain in State Custody

CNN is reporting that Judge Barbara Walther, the judge at the polygamist custody hearing, found sufficient evidence to keep the hundreds of children removed from the Yearning for Zion ranch in state custody. She also ordered DNA testing for all the children so as to identify their biological parents.

A spokeswoman for Child Protective Services was quoted as saying, "This is not about religion -- this is about keeping children safe from abuse."

It seems to me that it is about both. Of course, child abuse is what prompted state involvement in the first place. Still, I think it would be naive to insist that the case is not also about religion.
The ranch raid stemmed from a series of phone calls in late March from a 16-year-old officials referred to as Sarah, who said she had been beaten and forced to become the "spiritual" wife to an adult man.
Child abuse certainly, but child abuse based on particular religious beliefs. As we have seen again and again, religious belief has a way of facilitating certain crimes by persons in position of religious authority.
Also testifying Friday was child psychiatrist and state witness Bruce Perry, who said FLDS children are taught that disobeying orders leads to eternal damnation and have little opportunity to learn how to make independent choices.
Cases like this are important for a variety of reasons, including the obvious one that they may be necessary to remove children from abusive environments. I can only hope that one of these reasons turns out to be that this case will have a deterrent effect for other religiously-motivated child sex offenders. There should be no religious exemptions for those who abuse children.

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April 18, 2008

Demanding Accountability To Protect Future Generations

Parents, I have a question for you. What do you suppose would happen if you attempted to raise a child without any sort of accountability - no discipline, no enforcement of rules, no consequences of any kind? Is it safe to say that your child would likely get into some trouble and end up poorly adjusted? Wouldn't you expect that the total absence of accountability would lead to chaos? And in this case, wouldn't it be difficult not to blame the parent for the child's behavior?

Dear readers, I submit to you that you and I are more responsible than we'd like to admit for the chronic incompetence and criminal behavior of George W. Bush, America's child-in-chief. For refusing to demand impeachment and allowing our elected representatives to look the other way on Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, torture, and a seemingly endless list of atrocities, we have been lousy parents.

It is small consolation that Bush's approval ratings have reached new lows. When I advocate impeachment, I am thinking as much about the future as I am the present. We've allowed Bush to do far worse than Nixon could have imagined, and this has set a terrifying precedent for future administrations. With Watergate, we communicated loud and clear that Nixon's behavior was unacceptable and that he should be held accountable for it. By holding him accountable, we insured that Presidents would not become kings but would have reasonable checks on their power. W has changed all that, and now our inaction and apathy borders on criminal complicity.

I call on anyone who still gives a damn to vote for whichever candidate wins the Democratic nomination. I do so not only because I see McCain as little more than a third Bush term but also because this is the only chance we have at making sure that the key players in the Bush administration are tried for war crimes. For the welfare of future generations, we must make an example of this administration. We must sent a clear signal that this will not be allowed to happen again. Not on our watch.

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April 17, 2008

Polygamist Custody Hearing Begins Today

The subject of parental rights when it comes to raising children to believe harmful falsehoods is not an easy one. It is tempting to argue that parents should have the right to raise children in their belief system, regardless of how ludicrous their belief system might be. And yet, the idea of Islamic extremists raising children to hate America and embrace terrorism is difficult to condone. Few like the idea of generation after generation growing up to be religious extremists, racists, or even mere idiots. And so, all eyes now focus on Texas, where a custody hearing begins this morning to determine what will happen to over 400 children removed from the ranch of a polygamist Mormon sect.

The proceedings themselves should be interesting given the sheer scope of the case. The 416 children removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch will be represented by 350 volunteer attorneys, requiring multiple locations linked by closed-circuit television. But the thought-provoking implications of the case are the real draw.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon group notorious for their continued practice of polygamy, owns this ranch. Followers insist that the allegations of sexual abuse which prompted the removal of the children are false. The spectre of religious persecution is likely to be raised.

Should society permit 16 year-old girls to be married to polygamists more than three times their age? What if such marriages occur on the basis of one's religious beliefs? Does that matter? Should it matter? These and other questions will be in the minds of many observers.

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Introducing The Atheist Spot: Digg For Atheists

I used to think that services like Digg and Reddit would be very helpful in boosting blog traffic and reaching a wider audience. I continue to utilize them but do so with somewhat less enthusiasm. Frankly, their impact on my traffic and readership has been minimal (primarily because most of what I write gets no love there). Naturally, I was a bit skeptical when I ran across a new service, The Atheist Spot, that seems to be similar to Digg and Reddit but entirely focused on atheism.


Now that I have been playing around with The Atheist Spot for a bit, I think it has real potential. Much like Digg and Reddit, users can submit their own content or that of someone else they find particularly inspiring. The community of users can vote up or down each contribution and view the top rated contributions.

Given the highly focused content (i.e., material likely to be of interests to atheists), the user base will be a fraction of that more general services. This means that the potential to attract diverse readership through the service is probably fairly limited. At the same time, The Atheist Spot may provide an excellent opportunity to attract the type of reader likely to stick around.

Traffic considerations aside, what I have already come to appreciate about The Atheist Spot is that it gives me a quick glimpse into what is going on in the atheist blogosphere and mainstream news media that is likely to be of interest to my readers. As such, it offers some great ideas for post content. Of course, I also like the fact that I can use it to vote up posts from bloggers I respect or news stories I think deserve a wider audience.

If you have not yet visited The Atheist Spot, give it a try. I'd be interested to hear your impressions and how you think we might be able to help the developers build an audience for their service.

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April 16, 2008

When Christians Want You Dead

Despite embarrassingly little attention by the mainstream media, news of Rep. Monique Davis' anti-atheist bigotry created quite a buzz in the atheist blogosphere. For many of us, it highlighted how far we have yet to go. That an elected official would feel comfortable making such a statement and possibly escape without consequences struck many of us as more than a little surprising. And yet, I think most of us are aware that the anger and blatant bigotry Rep. Davis expressed toward us is unfortunately commonplace.

I recently stumbled across a disturbing post at STR: The Freedom Blog in which a letter was praised by the blog's author as "wise." Here is the letter to which the blogger proudly posted and described in positive terms:
Dear Shelley,

Seriously, does anybody ever cry at an Atheist’s funeral?

I mean, since Atheists believe in evolution which means they think that people are not humans but animals. To an atheist the loss of a person is no different to the loss of a rat or a cow. Since Atheists are nothing but miserable Liars, Cowards and Murderers, after all, why would anybody in their right mind weep over the dead rotting corpse, or bone chips and ashes (that get mixed together with those of others from the crematory) of a worthless dead Atheist?

And what epitaph do you engrave on an Atheist’s grave marker? Perhaps some kind of pagan symbol? A Playboy center-fold or some secular approved text like: “Here lies the only good Atheist, which is a dead Atheist”. What else is there say? Nothing at all. No last words, no last rites, no flowers, no anything.

Every time an Atheist dies, the world is better off as a result of that dead Atheist being dead, & its damned God-forsaken soul burning in the fiery pits of Hades. :)

Which begs another related question, do Atheists cry at funerals? If so, why? Since Atheists hate God, and they hate Family, and they hate America, who are they crying for?

It is true: The only good Atheist is a dead Atheist.

Daniel Joseph Min
Far from expressing outrage over the bigotry, misinformation, and pure hatred dripping from this letter, the blogger had this to say in response:
Daniel, to be honest, I’m not even sure if atheists would bother with funerals, burials or even cremation if they didn’t have to. Since they believe in Evolution they believe that bodies should be left to be destroyed by wildlife even if this causes a potential health hazard. That’s just one of the many ways that atheism can seriously damage your health.
I hope this blog is some sort of tasteless joke, but I'm not so sure. Anybody know?

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April 15, 2008

Foxhole Atheist Jeremy Hall Threatened Over Lawsuit

I have posted previously about Spc. Jeremy Hall, the brave atheist soldier who is suing Maj. Freddy Welborn and Secretary of Defense Gates for violating his religious freedom (see Army Violates Religious Freedom and Foxhole Atheists Stand Up For Religious Freedom). Hall started receiving serious threats, including those involving "fragging," shortly after the lawsuit was announced. Reports are now emerging that Hall's situation has not improved.

Hall, currently stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, continues to receive threats over the lawsuit he brought to stop the religious discrimination he was facing in the Army.
Hall says he faces the animosity because he is an atheist and is suing the Department of Defense. He alleges it permits a culture that pushes fundamentalist Christianity.

He says he does not feel safe his unit.
It seems like the men and women serving in America's armed forces should be able to focus on the many dangers they face in combat without having to worry about being harmed by their fellow soldiers simply because they do not share a popular religious delusion. I applaud Hall's bravery in speaking out against the infusion of evangelical Christianity in the military. I sincerely hope that he does not have to pay for this stand with his life.

H/Ts to Deep Thoughts and Friendly Atheist

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April 14, 2008

Rep. Davis Must Issue Public Apology

Calling Rob Sherman to apologize for her bigoted tirade was a step in the right direction, however Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) still owes a public apology to the millions of American atheists to whom her public comments were also directed. I'd like to offer a brief explanation about why this is necessary and suggest a way out of this mess for Rep. Davis.

A public apology is necessary because Rep. Davis' comments were made public on the floor of the Illinois Legislature and because they were relevant to all American atheists and not simply to Mr. Sherman. According to a recent press release issued by the American Humanist Association:
"Such a purely private apology, even when publicly reported, misses the point," declared Lipman today. "What Monique Davis said was an offense to all nontheistic people, including humanists like me, not merely an offense to a single atheist. And her words were uttered publicly, so only a public apology will suffice.
I agree. A public apology is necessary. But is is sufficient? Would this atheist be willing to move on and stop calling for Davis' resignation if she did issue a sincere public apology? Yes, I believe so.

After additional reflection, I have reached the conclusion that this would be enough for me and that I would be willing to stop calling for her resignation if she were to issue a sincere public apology in which she did more than offer excuses about her emotional state and instead followed in the footsteps of Don Imus, Mel Gibson, and Michael Richards. I realize that not all atheists would be satisfied with this, however. As the AHA press release points out:
"But this [a sincere public apology] won't mean that the godless now enjoy a level playing field. We still have a ways to go. Had Representative Davis' remarks been directed at Jews or Christians instead of atheists, she would have been forced to resign."
So, yes, I'm saying that I would be willing in this case to accept something less than what I know Christians or Jews would demand. I'm not interested in retribution; I simply want some evidence that Rep. Davis has acknowledged her bigotry and is going to do something to correct it.

For other thoughts on this important story, see:
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April 13, 2008

Deformed Indian Baby Worshiped as Goddess

Joshua, a reader of this blog e-mailed me this bizarre story out of India about a baby born with two faces who is now being worshiped as the reincarnation of a Hindu goddess. Before we in America point and laugh at what seems like such an absurd example of superstition, we must remember that we are surrounded by people who claim to believe equally ridiculous things in the name of their religion (i.e., Christians).

As Joshua points out, there are some parallels between this story and the Christian nativity story.
Jesus was not born deformed, but his birth was accompanied by supernatural occurrences (The appearance of an unusually bright star. - More than likely, an exceptionally bright convergence of several planets.) which led people to believe he was a god. And in many Roman Catholic churches in Italy and Spain you'll find paintings and statues of Jesus "the child god" raising his hand to bless the observer. Yet you probably won't find a single Christian who wouldn't balk at the notion of this Indian baby being a goddess.
Joshua also notes that there is an extremely sad side of this story:
The sad part about this Indian child is that while her physical condition heightens her need for love, bonding and emotional security, her parents' and neighbours' superstition will only put her under undue psychological pressure and into emotional isolation.

This is another example of how extreme (or extremist) faith can actually endanger people's well-being and even their lives.
Assuming this child lives, it seems there is little hope of a normal life. I hope American Christians think twice about dismissing this whole thing as primitive superstition without first examining their own. Failing to do so would only compound an already tragic story.

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Carnival of the Godless #89 at Rational Response Squad

The 89th Carnival of the Godless is up at Rational Response Squad. I know that some of you have negative opinions of the Rational Response Squad and how they present themselves, but I encourage you to check out the carnival regardless. There has to be room under this atheist tent for all sorts, right?


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April 12, 2008

My Expelled Dilemma

I have received a few e-mails from readers expressing surprise over my total silence up to now on the Expelled film. I can't say I blame them. Virtually every other atheist blog has been reporting on the film, exposing its many lies and the bizarrely restrictive screenings. In fact, part of the reason I've steered clear of it is that so many others have covered it so well that I wasn't sure what I could add. However, I have also avoided the topic of the film because I do not want to do anything that might help its publicity. Let me explain.

The box office success of any film will go a long way these days to determining whether others like it are made. Publicity, even bad publicity, goes a long way toward impacting box office success. I am convinced that it is far worse for a film to be ignored than it is for it to become controversial.

I had no interest whatsoever in seeking The Da Vinci Code or The Golden Compass until Christians protested these films, and I can think of many similar examples over the years. I simply figure that I might enjoy anything that would make Christians this upset. Even if I do not end up liking the film, I feel better for demonstrating that will not give in to Christian boycotts.

It is unlikely that I will see Expelled anytime soon. I have read enough about it on other blogs to be fairly sure that I would find little value and that it would just make me mad. I do not particularly want to help create buzz for it either. I have no problem with those who have been making it a controversial film, but I choose not to do so.

What do you think? Am I wrong to ignore it?

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April 11, 2008

Rep. Davis' "Apology" Is Not Enough

Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) finally apologized to atheist activist Rob Sherman for her tirade of bigotry. She was reportedly stressed over learning about the death of a Chicago are public school student, somehow excusing her behavior. Sherman has accepted her apology and forgiven her. So is this matter closed now? Not just yet.

Initially, I thought I could join Rob Sherman in agreeing to forgive Rep. Davis. I have certainly said things I later regretted when under periods of great stress. Then again, I would expect to face consequences for public expressions of bigotry, regardless of how much stress I was experiencing at the time. Like others, I am able to control my impulses and exercise reasonable judgment, even in periods of distress. Rep. Davis can believe what she wants, but even if her expression was a stress-related lapse in judgment, I'm not sure how this excuses it.

Rep. Davis' tirade remains newsworthy for how it was largely ignored by the mainstream media. After Eric Zorn broke the news with his article in The Chicago Tribune, the story was basically ignored outside the atheist blogosphere. Even now, Countdown With Keith Olbermann and a handful of A-list blogs are the exceptions to the absence of coverage. This story did not get the attention it deserved.

I think it is fairly obvious to all observers that what prevented a massive public outcry and media blitz in this case was that Rep. Davis' bigotry was directed toward an atheist instead of a member of virtually any other group. Can you imagine what would have happened if her outburst had been directed at a Jew, Muslim, or even a homosexual?

Had her comments been directed toward another religion, I have little doubt that she would have been forced out immediately. The outrage would have been far less had her comments been directed at a homosexual, but I am still convinced that the public response would have been far greater than what we saw in this case.

Now there is some question about whether Rep. Davis' apology was really more of a non-apology. Atheist Ethicist recently pointed out that Davis only apologized for yelling at Sherman and not for her expression of bigotry. Moreover, she has not addressed those she insulted. Remember, telling Sherman that he had no right to be there because of his atheism was a message to all nonbelievers. This was both bigoted and blatantly anti-American. I'm not sure it is time to let go of this one just yet.

If you would like to contact Rep. Davis and let her know what you think, here is her contact information:
http://www.ilga.gov/house/Rep.asp?MemberID=1148
1234 West 95th Street
Chicago, IL 60643
(773) 445-9700
(773) 445-5755 FAX
E-mail: mdavis@hdsmail.state.il.us
H/T to Pharyngula

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Nonbeliever In Church Series

My esteemed colleague and fellow Mississippi Atheists contributor, Oliver, has been inspired by Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) to begin a series of posts reporting on his experience at various churches in the South (mostly Mississippi). The most recent post in Oliver's Non-Believer in Church series is absolutely terrifying and reminds me that we still have much work to do in opposing Christian extremism.

Oliver's description of the manner in which the pastor at First Free Will Baptist Church worked his congregation into a frenzy and told them that abortion and homosexuality were sins certainly fits with the "old-fashioned preaching" the church advertised. However, this extremist went an additional step, extolling his congregation to speak out against these sins even if they had family members involved in them. And we wonder why life can be so difficult for homosexual teenagers!

The pastor Oliver encountered here embodies the "stereotype" many atheists have of the bible-beating Christians that thrive here in the South. Sad to say, there is more than a little truth to this depiction.
He wanted to bring the Bible and prayer back into our schools. He warned his congregation that if they tried to bring the Bible into schools, the government would oppose them, but do not worry: God will be on side of God, and God's side always wins. Everything the preacher said was shouted. The people shouted "Praise the Lord!", "Praise Jesus!", and "Amen" though all of this. The preacher was talking fast and loud and everyone had their hands up in the air. I felt like I was at a cattle auction without any cattle.
I commend Oliver for his courageous reporting. I'm not sure I could do it, and yet, I am glad that someone is willing to do so. Not having been raised into fundamentalist Christianity myself, I have much to learn about its inner workings. I will certainly be following Oliver's series with great interest.

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April 10, 2008

Council For Secular Humanism Calls For Rep. Davis' Resignation

The Council for Secular Humanism has issued a press release calling for the resignation of the bigoted Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago). I applaud them in being the first national freethought organization to do so and hope others will join the call. I have provided the full press release below.

Council for Secular Humanism Deplores Intemperate Comments from Rep. Monique Davis; calls for Davis to resign

(Amherst, New York) --Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat and member of the Illinois legislature, stepped egregiously over the line when she verbally attacked atheist activist Rob Sherman for his religious unbelief during his testimony April 2nd to the House State Government Administration Committee, says the Council for Secular Humanism.

Sherman had been testifying before the committee that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s plan to donate one million tax dollars to Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago was unconstitutional when Davis launched into a diatribe against atheists, asserting that atheists did not have a right to present testimony to the legislature.. Challenging Sherman, Davis wondered aloud, “I don’t know what you have against God….some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings.” Affirming that the people of Illinois believe that there is a God, Davis went on to suggest that the philosophy Sherman was spreading was “extremely dangerous.” “It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists,” shouted Davis. After Sherman thanked Davis for sharing her perspective with him, Davis shot back, “Get out of that seat …You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.”

The Council for Secular Humanism is appalled by Davis’s apparent belief that atheists and other nonreligious individuals are not entitled to the same rights and liberties as other citizens.

Ronald A. Lindsay, director of the Council for Secular Humanism’s First Amendment Task Force, is calling for Davis to resign. “In informing Sherman that he had ‘no right’ to be there merely because he was an atheist, Davis confirmed that she is not willing to be a representative of all her constituents, regardless of their religious beliefs,” said Lindsay.

“She is unfit to serve in her office, just as a representative who told a Jew or a Hindu to ‘get out of that seat’ would be unfit to serve. If she does not resign, the Illinois House has an obligation to expel her,” continued Lindsay.

Sherman, after being told repeatedly by Davis to get out of his seat because he was an atheist commented that he felt like Rosa Parks, “who also was told, get out of that seat and arrested when she didn't give up her seat on the bus to a white person.”

The Council for Secular Humanism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization promoting rational inquiry, secular values and positive human development through the advancement of secular humanism. The Council, publisher of the bimonthly journal Free Inquiry, has a Web site at www.secularhumanism.org

####

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April 9, 2008

Rep. Davis Should Apologize Or Step Down

What do you think will happen now that the story of Rep. Monique Davis' bigotry has been picked up by at least some major blogs and mainstream media outlets (see Friendly Atheist for video from Countdown With Keith Olbermann)? I think she should issue a sincere apology or step down, however, I won't hold my breath for either. I think this is an important story worth tracking, so I'd appreciate any relevant links you might find on recent developments.

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The Smokescreen Of Atheism

It is rather depressing to see that even in the America of 2008 politicians can gain mileage from scapegoating atheists. Scapegoating a minority, no matter how distrusted or despised it may be, suggests that many Americans have learned little from history. Perhaps the revisionist history pushed by Christian extremists has something to do with this, but that can be addressed in another post. For now, I simply want to suggest that atheism is often used as a sort of smokescreen behind which to conceal unpleasant truths, rally support, and perpetuate ignorance.

Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) may seem like an unlikely source for anti-atheist bigotry, but her words indicate otherwise. In discussing atheist Rob Sherman's efforts to preserve the separation of church and state, Rep. Davis had the following exchange:
Davis: I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy — it’s tragic — when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school.

I don’t see you (Sherman) fighting guns in school. You know?

I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.… What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous–

Sherman: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

Davis: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure that if this matter does go to court—

Davis: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.
Not exactly what I'd expect to hear from a Chicago Democrat. This is clearly anti-atheist bigotry, but it is more than that. By blaming atheism for society's ills, Rep. Davis escapes the responsibility she might have as a politician. She gets to rally support among the majority of Americans who hate atheists. She also gets to ignore the subject of Sherman's efforts - protecting the Constitution. As she makes Sherman into the enemy, the focus shifts away from the unlawful infusion of religion into government she evidently supports.

H/Ts to Friendly Atheist and Change of Subject

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