Nel's New Day

September 1, 2013

Freedom from Religion Looking Up

This sign made me laugh out loud; I still smile when I look at it. From St. John’s Anglican Church in Niagara Falls, Ontario (Canada): “Jesus had two dads and he turned out just fine!” The photo got over a million hits in its first two days of posting.

two dads

Down under in the tiny town of Gosford (Australia), the Anglican Parish church leader Father Rod Bower created this sign: “Dear Christians, some people are gay, get over it, Love God.” Nearby New Zealand has legalized gay marriage, and the Parliament made be considering a similar action in New South Wales, Australia. 

r-GOSFORD-ANGLICAN-large570

Bumper stickers also have a certain wry humor. Two examples:

  • Religion: You can’t start a war without it.
  • Thank God for the secular United States.

Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert missed the “secular.” The man who pushed through the anti-abortion bill at “heartbeat” over the governor’s veto, said that he ignores the will of his 80,000 constituents because “there’s only one vote that matters and that’s when I stand before the Lord at the judgment seat.”

Religious leaders might think that their god had a vote at the Kentucky-supported Creation Museum that purports people lived at the same time as dinosaurs. An employee was struck by lightning last month while getting guests to leave a zip line attraction during a thunderstorm. The 1,700 feet of cable suspended 150 feet above the ground were put into the museum last spring because the entertainment facility was losing customers.

After raging against the Supreme Court’s ruling against DOMA, Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins has explained that this decision is no big deal—that SCOTUS didn’t really help marriage equality.  “[It] “only struck down Section 3 of the law: this means people in same-sex ‘marriages’ who live in states that allow it, can receive federal marriage benefits–technically, once you get beyond the bluster of Justice Kennedy, the ruling accomplishes nothing more.”

Here are some samples of the “nothing more.” The IRS is extending federal tax benefits to all same-sex married couples no matter which state sanctifies the ceremony. A federal judge struck down the VA’s decision not to provide benefits to same-sex couples. Six counties in New Mexico are legally providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the Pennsylvania AG won’t stop one of the state’s counties from doing the same thing. And that’s in just two months after the downfall of DOMA.

Televangelist Pat Robertson has finally said something so outrageous that his own Christian Broadcasting Network edited the episode out of their program. According to the host of 700 Club, gay men in cities such as San Francisco have special rings that cut people when shaking hands in order to spread HIV/AIDS. Robertson said he “regret[s] that my remarks had been misunderstood, but this often happens because people do not listen to the context of remarks which are being said. In no wise [sic] were my remarks meant as an indictment of the homosexual community or, for that fact, to those infected with this dreadful disease.” There is no evidence for his outrageous malignant remarks.

People on Facebook may see less vitriolic comments today because of  a proposed boycott. Conservatives claim that they have been “unfairly targeted” by Facebook that supposedly blocked their accounts and censored them when they were “simply expressing their beliefs.” Some of the “blocked” statements were a hit list of liberal politicians to be executed, threats on the life of the president, and people who want unfettered ownership of guns promising to kill anyone who might thwart their wishes.

Conservatives’ approaches toward debating is swearing at people, calling them names, spamming accounts, trolling pages, and being otherwise annoying until complaints force Facebook to enforce its policy against bullying and harassment. Last July Fox News pundit, Todd Starnes, was banned from Facebook for such behavior—but only for 12 hours.

Hate Speech is against Facebook policy. That includes comparing the poor to animals (although Iowa’s GOP Rep. Steve King gets away with it), using crude racist language for the President of the United States, emitting hate toward liberals, Muslims, immigrants, women, LGBT people, et cetera.  The boycott will be welcome; too bad it won’t last longer.

Bradlee Dean is a continuing example of hate speech. Last week, he claimed that homosexuals are responsible for half the murders committee in large cities, citing John Martagh as his source. The quote actually comes from a 1992 newspaper column by an evangelist who never gave any evidence for his crazy assertion.

Another smear campaign is directed at Daniel Hernanez, an elected member of the Sunnyside Unified School District in Pima County (AZ).  Four of the five board members are undergoing a recall, two for supporting the current school superintendent and the other two for opposing him.  A flyer used Hernandez’s photo and these words:

“Put a REAL Man on the Sunnyside Board. Daniel Hernandez is LGBT. We need someone who will support Sports and cares about our kids. We don’t need someone who hates our values. RECALL Daniel Hernandez TODAY.”

Hernandez was then-Rep. Gabby Giffords’ (D-AZ) intern and helped save her life after she was shot almost three years ago. His opponents need 1,300 signatures by December 14 to get the recall vote on the ballot. His opponent is blaming Hernandez for the flyers and said that the superintendent shouldn’t be judged on his financial and legal issues.

Evangelist Matt Pitt, 30, is now delivering his rousing messages from to young Christians from inside the county jail after being arrested for impersonating a law enforcement officer. Authorities named the Alabama preacher an honorary sheriff’s deputy and gave him a badge and identification card. In June Pitt told a Birmingham resident that he actually was a deputy sheriff when he confiscated an abandoned rifle. A year earlier Pitt was arrested for using blue emergency lights to speed around other cars. He was recently ordered to take a drug screening.

The New Jersey changed its mind about a vanity license plate after the DMV received bad publicity. Despite the plethora of anti-abortion and pro-Christian license plates across the nation, David Silverman was refused a plate that said “ATHE1ST” because it was considered “offensive.” The day after he appealed and tweeted about the situation, the DMV reversed the ruling, blaming a “clerical error” for its refusal.

Another governmental entity also needs to change its position. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has been putting citizenship applications of Muslims on hold for years, according to an investigation by the ACLU of Southern California. The agency’s secret screening program of eligible, law-abiding immigrants from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities, called Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP) was not approved by Congress. Yet since 2008, CARRP ordered immigration officials to deny applications on the basis of “national security concerns.” After lengthy periods of time, most applications are denied without explaining why.

An example is 50-year-old Tarek Hamdi, a legal resident who came to the United States as a teenager. Married to his college sweetheart, an American citizen, he has raised four daughters, worked for decades in the United States as a civil engineer, and paid taxes. Hamdi’s application for U.S. citizenship was rejected because of an annual tithing to an Islamic relief aid organization. The organization was charged with defrauding its contributors, but Hamdi’s application was reviewed for 11 years instead of the customary six months.

In 1952, Congress said in the Immigration and Nationality Act that “[t]he right of a person to become a naturalized citizen of the United States shall not be denied or abridged because of race,” thereby abolishing racism from the naturalization process.

Last week, I wrote about the tax-exempt status of U.S. religious organizations. On August. 19, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that a case presented by Freedom from Religion Foundation against church electioneering may proceed, and U.S. District Barbara Crabb gave FFRF standing in its lawsuit against exempting churches from annual accountability requirements.

In a third case, FFRF was given standing and is awaiting a decision over its challenge of the 1954 federal “parish exemption” law—uniquely gifting “ministers of the gospel” with the right to deduct church “housing allowances” from taxable income. This case is also before Judge Crabb. She wrote that FFRF has been injured:

“The government is relieving an ongoing burden from some taxpayers on the basis of religious affiliation. It is not plaintiffs’ belief’ that gives them standing. Rather, it is their status as organizations that are burdened with requirements not imposed on churches.”

All 501(c)(3) organizations except churches must file the expensive annual Form 990 with the IRS, publicly reporting on disposition of donations, financial oversight policies, salaries of top employees, fundraising versus mission or management, etc. Trying to shut up FFRF, the IRS offered them clergy tax breaks for leading an atheist organization. FFRF said thanks, but no thanks. They want transparency, not money.

The FFRF lawsuits will be interesting to follow.

jon stewart

 

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