Nel's New Day

December 21, 2014

Hope for Freedom from Religion

Congress gave the country several lumps of coal in the holiday stockings—loss of pensions, threatened taxpayer bailouts of banks, more government peering into everyone’s private life, 10 times more campaign donations, environmental cuts, etc. Those who want a separation of church and state in the United States have received  a few goodies at the end of 2014.

In the House, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) “introduced a resolution to protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas for those who celebrate the holiday. The resolution also disapproves of efforts to ban references to Christmas. We must not allow those who chose to take offense to shut down the religious celebration of every other American.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State gave an excellent rebuttal to Lamborn’s resolution. Lamborn didn’t say how much money he wanted from the federal government to enter the “War on Christmas.” This is the third year that Lamborn has done this and the third year that the resolution went nowhere.

A Kansas organization, Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE), claims that evolutionary biology should be prohibited in public-school science classes because evolution is part of a “non-theistic” religious agenda. Fortunately, U.S. District Daniel Crabtree threw their illogic out of court. COPE disapproves of the new science standards, teaching both evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts, because such education leads “impressionable” students “into the religious sphere by leading them to ask ultimate questions like what is the cause and nature of life in the universe – ‘where do we come from?’”

After decades of blaming sexual assault victims for their abuse, officials at Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) is now considered wrong for its “blaming and disparaging” attitude, in reports from 56 percent of 381 current and former students and employees who said they knew how the school dealt with these cases. Victims who reported incidents or sought treatment have been penalized in the past and told not to report the assaults to the police, an illegal action by the university. University officials told those who were children when people in their church assaulted them that speaking out would hurt the Christian cause.

Two years ago Bob Jones hired Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to complete the investigation but fired them after the school disagreed with the investigation’s direction. Criticism led the school to rehire GRACE. The new president, Steve Pettit, acknowledged that “we failed to uphold and honor our own core values.” He is the first person outside the Jones family to head the university since it was founded in 1927.

In addition, the investigators recommended taking action against the university’s chancellor from 1971 to 2005, Bob Jones III and removing James Berg from his position as head of the counseling programs. GRACE also recommended overhauling the university’s policies on sexual assault, outsourcing victim counseling, offering assistance to past victims, reviewing old complaints to find those that should have been reported to law enforcement, and halting the use of counseling booklets and videos developed by some university officials.

The Kennesaw (GA) City Council has decided to approve a mosque after trying to stop it from opening in a shopping center storefront. The reversal came after a 150-minute with the city attorney and mayor. No reasons were given for the shift in votes, but they may have anticipated an expensive lawsuit. Protesters to the mosque said they were afraid of Muslims’ using the mosque as a center for violent acts of terrorism against Kennesaw residents.

Thanks to a conservative Supreme Court, states may be required to allow a wild variety of displays—including ones from the Pastafarians (who wear colanders on their heads) and the Satanic Temple—beside Christmas nativity scenes endorsing Christianity. Last year, Florida refused a Satanic Temple request to show an angel falling into a pit of fire at the capitol next to Christian displays, but this year the organization is back with its lawyers.

Thirty years ago five conservatives on the Supreme Court held that cities can finance religious displays when Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that Christ in a manger served “legitimate secular purposes.” He disagreed with dissenting justices who claimed that he had equated holy figures with “Santa’s house or reindeer.” Five years later, six justices ruled that a menorah doesn’t endorse religion, that it is just a celebration of “the winter-holiday season, which has attained a secular status in our society.”

The message has been that religious displays are legal if the government doesn’t favor one religion over another. The position was made even clearer in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, which ruled that the school must fund all student publications because it funded a Christian one. Government institutions aren’t allowed to stop some groups or individuals from expression if they open a forum for a specific category. In short, officials who don’t want Satanic Temple displays shouldn’t allow any religious displays.

The Supreme Court went even farther in last year’s Hobby Lobby case when it ruled that beliefs, such as IUDs causing abortions, don’t have to be factual—or even sincere. Plaintiffs just need to claim that this is their belief. That ruling leaves the state of Florida with no legal argument to stop the Satanic Temple’s display or the Pastafarians or any other group that professes a religious belief. Even secular humanism is a religion because secular humanists say it is. Ho! ho! ho!

Last year Adam Fraley was pressured to leave his position as choir director at the First United Methodist Church in Alexandria because he is gay. A new pastor was hired with the provision that he would reinstate Fraley, but he reneged after he took over as minister. David Steele, a former lay leader who had attended the church for 60 years, asked Mantor to reconsider his position on Fraley, and Mantor relieved Steele of his position. The Methodist church does not allow LGBT people to be ordained as ministers, but church leadership is authorized to make decisions about their participation in other roles. The Alexandria church, founded in the late 1800s with its current location built in 1901, will close on December 31. Mantor said that the membership had been declining, but 80 percent of the congregation, most of them over the age of 60, left in support of Fraley.

After Pope Benedict attacked the U.S. nuns six years ago because they only took care of the poor and needy, the 50,000 nuns in 341 religious orders may have come out on top. The former pope wanted them to attack abortionists and LGBT people, but the nuns continued with its focus to actually help people, particularly the poor. Benedict assigned a Seattle bishop to control them while the nuns continued their good works.

A new report from Pope Francis praises the women for their social and educational work while asking them to keep to the Church teachings. There was no specific criticism, however, and the report largely skipped over the investigation’s controversy. Another positive part of the report was its statement that women have more input into decisions that affect them.

Two years ago, Michigan GOP legislators set out to destroy the state in its lame duck session, causing a great deal of anguish to many people. This year, the state House passed a law allowing anyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to discriminate against LGBT people in any way that they wanted. Fifteen senators, including one Democrat, asked the Senate Majority Leader to take up the bill that passed the House, but passing it requires 20 votes. The bill is now dead–at least for this year.

Elizabeth Sheppard won a scholarship after she stood up for her beliefs. When her high school economics teacher compared atheism to smoking cigarettes, she recorded him. He claimed that atheism was against human nature and that “the mind rejects the concept of atheism” just like the body rejects smoking. The following week he taught a lesson advocating prayer for a positive state of mind. Her essay for the scholarship application stated, “His actions were unconstitutional and were not related to economics at all. This was economics class, not Sunday school.”

Her message, like the other stories, is that people should not be able to force their personal religion on everyone else. Thanks for all the people who support this position.

February 16, 2014

Schools, Law Push Religion on All  The GOP loves to rant about the “nanny state” with its seat belts, child seats, and other protective laws. Now the same party wants parental notification not only abortions and birth control but also curriculum that includes the teaching of evolution. A new bill in Missouri would require schools to notify parents if “the theory of evolution by natural selection” was being taught at their child’s school and give them the opportunity to opt out of the class. Parents could pull their children out of biology classes if they disapproved.

Thus far, no state has a science parental-notification law. State Rep. Rick Brattin said that modern biology is based “as much faith and, you know, just as much pulled out of the air as, say, any religion.” He calls himself a “science enthusiast” and “a huge science buff.”  His bill would also require schools to “make all curriculum materials used in the district’s or school’s evolution instruction available for public inspection … prior to the use of such materials in actual instruction.”

Three other states—Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia—have also introduced anti-evolution legislation ranging from a “debate” over evolution versus creationism to mandate that intelligent design be included in biology curriculum.

Once religious lawmakers take over biology, they may move on to mathematics:

1175ckCOMIC-bible-math While Christians are trying to protect student from evolution, they don’t mind bullying them. In Lousiana’s Savine Parish, a teacher promoted her personal Christian beliefs by agreeing with students that a Buddhist student is “stupid” for not believing in God and encouraging his classmates to laugh at him. When the child’s stepfather complained, the superintendent pointed out that they were in the “Bible Belt” and that the child could either change his faith or go to another school where “there are more Asians.”The ACLU is suing the school board because of the abusive behavior toward the child.

The religiosity of the public school went beyond the teacher. A large picture of Jesus hangs over the school entrance, a Bible verse is on the electronic marquee, and religious images and messages are displayed throughout the school. Official prayers led by the principal or teachers are routinely in class and school events, and school officials distribute religious materials to students including the New Testament and cartoons that denounce evolution.

These public schools seems to be following the curriculum of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), founded over 40 years ago and claims to have  6,000 schools in 140 countries. These schools are supported by taxpayer funding because of the voucher system. In separate cubicles, students silently complete workbooks (PACEs) complete with cartoons.

Basic ACE premises:

Classrooms are segregated.


Girls dress modestly—very modestly.


Young women perform only traditionally “feminine” activities.


Non-Christians are evil.


People must blindly obey.


Religion would also be strengthened in Alabama schools if conservative legislators have their way. A proposed bill would require public schools to use the first 15 minutes of the day to read a prayer presented in Congress. The description of the bill is “study of the formal procedures followed by U.S. Congress” which must include “a reading verbatim of one of the opening prayers” given at the opening of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. Almost all the chaplains of the U.S. House and Senate have been Protestant ministers. Last year one guest chaplain delivered a Muslim invocation. In 2007, a Hindu invocation elicited protests from Christian conservative groups.

 South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee legislators are joining Alabama lawmakers to “put prayer back in schools.”

One of the first bills to move out of the Arizona state Senate committee would permit religious discrimination against LGBT people. Senate Bill 1062, introduced by GOP Sen. Steve Yarbrough of Chandler, would extend the protection of the state’s free exercise of religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.” A corporation could refuse to hire anyone who wasn’t a Christian and block LGBT individuals from almost any business or service.

For many years, student victims of sexual abuse at Bob Jones University were encouraged not to report the crimes that looked bad for Christianity. The administration called victims liars and sinners. Many staff members and former students hoped the policy would be changed after the school hired a Christian consulting group two years ago to consider changes to the school’s policy.

The university has now fired the group with no warning or explanation just as it almost completed its investigation. University president and great-grandson of the school’s founder said that Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) “had begun going beyond the originally outlined intentions.”

GRACE, founded by Billy Graham’s grandson Basyle J. Tchividjian, includes lawyers and psychologists among its leaders and specializes in advising churches and other Christian organizations on addressing abuse. Although unaffiliated with any denomination, Bob Jones University follows a strict fundamentalism that believes Graham, Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell are too secular.

The Catholic World is still trying to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, but Notre Dame is having trouble with a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. During a heated exchange, Judge Richard Posner told one of the school’s lawyers that he couldn’t continue his arguments if he kept interrupting and failing to answer the judge’s questions.

At one point, Posner asked attorney Matthew Kairis whether birth control was “a mortal or venial sin.” Notre Dame is appealing a lower court ruling that ordered the school to contract with third-party providers for contraception as part of health care coverage. Its third-party provider, Meritain Health, emphasized that Notre Dame was not the provider of contraception coverage. Another lawyer, Ayesha Khan, pointed out that Notre Dame didn’t object to the third-party provision until a conservative network of alumni called the Sycamore Trust protested.

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases about for-profit companies claiming religious exemptions from allowing contraception coverage from third-party health care providers. In the cases of Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby Stores, Catholics for Choice joined 29 other faith-based organizations in filing an amicus brief opposing the two companies from imposing their religious beliefs on others.

Jon O’Brien wrote that the groups “show unequivocally that people of faith support contraceptive access and true religious liberty for all.” He added, “The Supreme Court must answer a critical question: will the religious liberty of women workers and female dependents be respected, or will employers be allowed to trample upon the consciences and lives of their employees?”

That answer will determine the direction of the United States in religious freedom for all, not just fundamentalist Christians.


Rethinking Before Restarting

the way of improvement leads home

reflections at the intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life

© blogfactory

Genuine news

Civil Rights Advocacy

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

AGR Daily News

Quaker Inspired, Evidence Based, Art And Science Of Sustainable Health Plus Success - How To Create Heaven On Earth - Education For Seventh Generation Rainbow Warriors


Res ipsa loquitur - The thing itself speaks

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and activists.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

Rainbow round table news

Official News Outlet for the Rainbow Round Table of the American Library Association

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

A Book List from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: