Nel's New Day

May 17, 2015

Religious Persecution from the Christian Side

Christian leaders in the United States are still reeling from the latest survey from Pew Research Center regarding religious affiliation in the United States. Completed every seven years, the poll discovered that the number of people not affiliated with any religion is up over 40 percent during the last seven years from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent. At the same time, evangelical Protestants have shrunk about one percent, and Catholics have gone down about three percent. Mainline Protestants have decreased over three percent. Almost six percent of people in the United States identify with a non-Christian faith, an increase of 1.2 percent.

religious landscapeThe greatest increases of nonaffiliated people were those born in the 1980s—about one-third of the population—and those born in the 1990s—rising to 36 percent. A surprising change was also found by the Christian polling company Barna Group. In the last 22 years, the percentage of women atheists and agnostics rose from 16 percent to 43 percent. One assumption for this change is that these skeptics regard Christian churches as “places that have ugly views, such as wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on people by religious authority figures, mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action.” Good guess!

When two gay men recently met with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), they may have honestly thought that they could have a reasonable dialog with the presidential candidate. Cruz said about his visit, “I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen it, but this is what it means to truly be a ‘big tent Republican’ instead of a panderer.” The “tent” was short-lived. Last week Cruz said that the Democratic Party has “gotten so extreme and so radical in its devotion to mandatory gay marriage that they’ve decided there’s no room for the religious liberty protected under the First Amendment.” Time for LGBT people to leave the GOP tent.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (T-TN) complained about this non-existent victimization at the recent “Freedom Summit” in South Carolina. When asked about Christian persecution, she said, “You know, there have been several lately. There’ve. Um. I can’t give you a specific [pause] right off the cuff.” She shrugged, said “I’m sorry,” smiled, turned away, and then looked back at the camera to finish, “Yeah. Thanks.” Tennessee, Blackburn’s home state, has a law prohibiting atheists from holding any public office.

After his disastrous performance in trying to answer questions about the Iraq War last week, Jeb Bush came up with the example of a florist discriminating against a gay couple as “the best example” of Christians facing persecution in the United States. He said that the country needs to be more “tolerant” of her viewpoint that the LGBT community doesn’t deserve equal access to business services. This statement follows an earlier expression of his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker delivered a typical misinformed perspective on Christian persecution this past week. Her reference to how Roger Ailes’ Fox network protects Christians shows the source. She wrote:

“Why can’t the Little Sisters of the Poor suck it up and sign off on the Affordable Care Act’s demand that their insurance policy include contraception funding? Ditto Hobby Lobby, the family-owned craft business that prevailed in its Supreme Court fight to not fund insurance covering contraception that destroys embryos.”

No one ever demanded that the Little Sisters include contraception in its insurance, just that the group sign an application for a waiver. It refused. The for-profit Hobby Lobby was comfortable with birth control as long as Hobby Lobby made enough money from their stock in drug companies that sold these to women. The Satanist religion is now trying to protect women from the government’s interference in their health care. If Parker believes in lack of persecution for religion, she will also be supporting that, especially because she wrote that “the state should always go to extra lengths to protect religious liberty whenever possible.”

Parker claims that Hillary Clinton would “crush the individual’s [interests] in necessary to advance women’s rights” because she advocates women’s unfettered access to “reproductive health care and safe childbirth.” Parker added, “By contrast, Jeb Bush, who will become the GOP nominee if Republicans are smart, [said] it’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow and outdated….” (Depressing yes. Also true.)

The 40,000 students in the Clovis (CA) United School District will not be oppressed by religion after Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black ruled that the religion-based abstinence-only sex education isn’t really sex-ed. Because of this religiously mandated curriculum, the United States faces high rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

Black concluded that programs dedicated to pushing abstinence rather than “medically and socially appropriate sexual education” are depriving students of “an important public right. The ruling is long overdue. California law prohibited schools  from medically inaccurate or biased information in sex-ed courses since 2003. An example of teaching in the Clovis district is that a non-virgin woman is like a dirty shoe. While failing to provide information about birth control and condoms, abstinence-only programs also compare people who have had sex to chewed up gum, used tape, dirty chocolate, and glasses of spit. “This is the first time that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate,” Phyllida Burlingame, director of Reproductive Justice Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the decision.

The ruling against using abstinence-only curriculum as sex ed may be heading for the Supreme Court along with Wal-Mart’s argument that the religious beliefs of their shareholders cannot guide the products that it sells. The Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby decided that corporations can avoid following laws because of its “religious beliefs,” overriding an argument from 44 lawyers that “allowing a corporation … to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation.”

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month against the Trinity Church, concluding that shareholders can’t impart their religious beliefs onto a corporation. Wal-Mart, one of 2012 CNN’s top nine “religious companies” in the U.S., refused to let its shareholders vote on whether the company should sell products that “might endanger public safety, hurt Wal-Mart’s reputation, or offend ‘family and community values’ which they believe are ‘integral to Wal-Mart’s brand.’” Wal-Mart and the federal court decided that the shareholders have no religious rights like Hobby Lobby does. The church had sued Wal-Mart because it sells products such as weapons used in mass shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Maybe SCOTUS, Jeb Bush, and Kathleen Parker would agree with the shareholders because of their religious beliefs. Or maybe not.

Fundamentalist Christians may be shifting their belief that religion should control the U.S. government. Just five months ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) wanted leaders from the faith community to “rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values.” He calls for “pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance.” The GOP wants religious leaders to guide public debate.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini - RTR4URKU

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini – RTR4URKU

That was before Pope Francis decided to sign a treaty recognizing a Palestinian country. At that point, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said, “It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that’s what the Church is supposed to do.” The conservatives have been upset about the pope’s progressive positions on climate change, Iran nuclear talks, Cuban diplomacy, economic inequality, and pay equity for women, but advocating a Palestinian state drove them over the edge.

Conservatives support religion in government as long as it’s their own religion. Any other time, religious leaders should stay quiet.

April 21, 2015

Abstinence Sex Ed–One Person Can Make a Difference

alice dregerAlice Dreger, professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University, has been banned from her freshman son’s high school after she sat in on his abstinence-only “education.” During the class, conducted by a visitor from Sexually Mature Aware Responsible Teens (SMART), she sent the following tweets:

 

 

  • They’re teaching “abstinence stories” that worked and non-abstinence” stories that “led to consequences.”
  • The visitor-teacher is telling my kid abstinence education reduces premarital sex. My kid is trying to show her studies that dispute that.
  • She’s being completely condescending. “You can look up anything on the internet” Then refers him to site on abstinence education!
  • The regular health teacher in trying to shut my kid up referred to “LGBYT.”
  • The whole lesson here is “sex is part of a terrible lifestyle. Drugs, unemployment, failure to finish school — sex is part of the disaster.”
  • Now a story about a friend who OD’ed and “was a vegetable 11 years. Tore their family apart.” FFS. Welcome to sex ed.
  • “I finally met a great girl who was brought up in abstinence, and her life was so much better. I put her on a pedestal above everyone else.” (from the visitor leading the class)
  • “You’ll find a good girl. If you find one that says ‘no,’ that’s the one you want.” (also from the leader)
  • She’s now telling story of condom box in which EVERY SINGLE CONDOM HAD A HOLE.
  • “We are going to roll this dice 8 times. Every time your number comes up, in pretend your condom failed and you get a paper baby.” (activity from leader)
  • Paper babies are being handed out to EVERYONE. They have ALL HAD CONDOM FAILURE AND THE WHOLE CLASS IS PREGNANT.
  • “I’m going to collect the babies that you don’t want. We recycle them.”  (leader)

As these tweets demonstrate, the goal of “abstinence-only” is to frighten students, shame anyone who has sex, put down females, and lie to the audience. East Lansing High School Principal Coby Fletcher’s statement to the Lansing State Journal defended his school’s lesson plan because it teaches contraception with its emphasis on abstinence. Dreger pointed out that high school teachers are not necessarily responsible for the horrifying lesson plans in sex ed because lawmakers mandate abstinence-only lesson plans, and schools hire abstinence-only “mercenaries who travel from district to district peddling their bogus (often times overtly religious) agendas.” Dreger is an authority on sex education, but she was banned from school property for saying “fuck” within earshot of students.  The class leader also accused Dreger’s son of “ambushing” him for bringing a copy of an article giving factual information about abstinence-only sex education programs.

Dreger’s 45 tweets went viral, partly through the efforts of Salon and Vox. In the Lansing State Journal, Judy Putnam accused Dreger of having “a mission to criticize from the outset.” Putnam also wrote, “Personally, I don’t have a problem with abstinence education.” The columnist defended the teacher’s claim that condoms have an 18-percent failure rate. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, “With consistent and correct use, condoms have a failure rate of 2 percent. The typical use effectiveness rate is about 18 percent.” That rate comes from the lack of understanding in how to use condoms, and students aren’t receiving this information.

The federal government spent $1.3 billion on abstinence-only sex education between 1996 and 2009 although a federally funded study in 2007 found the approach had no effect on when students started having sex, whether they had safe sex, or how many partners they had. That was the year that funding for abstinence education tripled to $176 million over the year 2000. Congress has just voted to extend funding for the abstinence education through 2017.

Eighty-six percent of schools still teach abstinence as the best method of avoiding pregnancy and STD prevention. Three states—Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah—require that teachers tell students about the health hazards of homosexuality, and Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas mandate that schools emphasize homosexuality as an unacceptable lifestyle. Students receiving comprehensive sex education are more likely to be white, urban, and higher-income whereas black, rural, low-income, and single-parent students are least likely to have any sex education. States that emphasize abstinence have higher teen pregnancy rates. Other statistics are available here.

SexEdMaps4

After Dreger’s tweets went viral, Michigan state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. took notice of Dreger’s tweets. State law does not mandate any sex ed in public schools, but those that are offered require stress on the false idea that “abstinence from sex is a responsible and effective method of preventing unplanned or out-of-wedlock pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease and is a positive lifestyle for unmarried young people.” Hertel, who serves on the Health Policy Committee, had already met with a student group at East Lansing High School to talk about the problem. After Dreger tweeted her frustrations, Hertel said that he’s especially concerned that the group hired to provide the abstinence presentation that Dreger attended because of its ties to an anti-abortion group. SMART is connected to the Pregnancy Services of Greater Lansing, a right-wing “crisis pregnancy center” that attempts to dissuade pregnant women from choosing an abortion.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) have a well-documented history of misleading patients about sexual health issues.  While receiving state funding and teaching abstinence-only sex ed, they downplay the effectiveness of birth control, exaggerate the risks of having an abortion, and tell women that they shouldn’t be having sex outside of marriage. Hertel said, “I think that those groups don’t have a great record when it comes to the truth, and I think that using them as a paid expert in our classrooms is a bad situation.”

A year-long investigation of California CPCs discovered that they provide no option except to stay pregnant. In 91 percent of the centers, investigators were told—wrongly—that abortions led to increased chance of breast cancer, fertility, miscarriage, of “post-abortion depression” resulting in suicide. Others were told that they didn’t need abortions because the chance of a “spontaneous abortion” or miscarriage is 30-50 percent—another lie. Information about different kinds of birth control gave no benefits, instead listing only risks, negative side effects, and resulting “medical abortions.” As in the class that Dreger viewed, investigators were told that the way to not get pregnant was to “stop whoring around” because birth control is not healthy.

CPC workers used gruesome and graphic language to frighten women, claiming “they might puncture your uterus and vacuum your fallopian tubes shut” during abortions. One investigator was told that some women are dilated too fast and might continually miscarry because the cervix wouldn’t close. In one case, the CPC required an ultrasound, and the subject was told that her IUD was a fetus. The same situations are prevalent throughout the United States.

Students at East Lansing High School plan to pursue the issue too, joining other students in the country who are beginning to demand medically accurate sex education. In 2013, Katelyn Campbell, a West Virginia high school student, made national headlines in 2013 after protesting a “slut-shaming” abstinence education course, and last year, a Canadian school dropped its course on sexual purity after a teen filed a complaint after it.

 

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