Nel's New Day

December 28, 2015

Christians v. Separation of Church & State

The month of December is always the Christian depiction of their being victimized because of their belief that the secular world is trying to take away their traditions—many of them pagan. Much of their myth about the “War on Christmas” centers around nativity scenes. For example, the Daily Caller complained that Nebraska was forced to remove the nativity scene from the capitol in exchange for a display from atheists. Actually, the Thomas More Society, which put up the nativity scene, waited too late to get the available space after December 18.  Seven other groups used the display to demonstrate the separation of church and state, including scale models of a church, a wall, and federal government buildings to demonstrate the separation of church and state. Instead of asking these people if they could leave up their display, the Thomas More Society preferred to go to the press.

nativity founding fathersTexas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered the removal of a nativity scene with the nation’s founding fathers kneeling over a manger that held the Bill of Rights instead of baby Jesus from the state Capitol. The small painted cutout in the basement of the Texas capitol was installed on December 18 with permission for one week, but Abbot said that there was “no obligation to approve displays that purposefully mock the sincere religious beliefs of others.”

florida festivus poleAfter two years of strife in the state about religious displays in their state capitol, Florida Prayer Network decided against putting the manger scene this year. The network’s president, Pam Olsen, should be commended for her a letter explaining that she wanted to avoid the display debate after news of mass shootings and racial tensions. The only display was a six-foot “Festivus pole” wrapped in rainbow colors.

 

 

chaz-stevens-festivus-pole-x750The person who installed the pole, Chaz Stevens of Jupiter (FL), has also received permission to display a “Festivus Pole,” topped by a disco ball, in the Oklahoma Capitol rotunda. Although dating back to 1966, the Festivus celebration became widely known after a 1997 Seinfeld TV sit com in which a character’s father described a holiday including feats of strength and the airing of grievances. Although Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, and Washington also accepted applications for this display, Arkansas denied a request for the Festivus pole.  [Image of Stevens thanks to The Advocate]

zombie nativiity sceneThe best nativity scene story this year may come from Sycamore Township (Ohio) where Jasen Dixon put up a manger scene featuring zombies. Last year he had to take down the display because he didn’t have a permit; this year he was told that it violated the zoning code. Full of Christianity, Fox business host Lou Dobbs said, “I think if you’re going to mock a religion, I’m thinking they should have chosen the Islamic religion.”

Other countries are either protesting government control of the Christian religion or accepting alternatives to it. Icelanders opposed to the state funding of religion are registering as Zuists, a movement that worships ancient Sumerian gods. A bonus is the possibility of a tax rebate. The law requires Icelanders to register their religion with the state, and almost three-fourths are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. The nation’s constitution has declared that this church “shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State.” Over 40 other registered religious groups qualify for “parish fees” paid through the taxation system—about $80 per person for next year.

flyingThe Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, created in 2005 as a protest to teaching creationism in Kansas public schools, now has approval to officiate same-gender marriages in New Zealand. Marriage equality has been legal in that country since 2013. Members of the church wear pasta strainers on their heads and have popped up with this gear on official documents in the U.S. such as driver’s licenses. [A Pastafarian holiday tree – Venganza.org]

In a demonstration of Muslims compassion, a group protected Christians. When Kenyan Al-Shabaab militants tried to separate Christians on a bus to kill them, Muslims, mostly women, told the attackers that they had to kill everyone, not just the Christians. The Muslim women gave the Christian women their hijabs and helped others hide behind bags in the bus. Joseph Nkaissery, Kenya’s interior cabinet secretary, said, “We are all Kenyans, we are not separated by religion.” he said.

In contrast to this act of humanity, the rampant hatred of many people in the United States caused a Christian to celebrate Christmas Day by setting fire to a Houston mosque just one hour after hundreds of worshippers filled the place of worship. The tragedy follows a series of hate-filled attacks that include other fires throughout the country which have increased since the killings in San Bernardino. Many people in the U.S. are supportive of Muslims, but leaders of one political party has announced that any of the 1.6 billion members of Islam–22 percent of the world’s population–would not be welcome in the United States if they control the U.S. government.

In another humanitarian move, one Christian college is bucking the Southern tradition of guns everywhere. While other Christian schools are banning LGBT students and suspending professors for thinking for themselves, Southern Methodist University, one of the top private colleges in Texas, has opted out of the state law allowing concealed handguns on campus. SMU students, faculty, and staff overwhelmingly supported a gun-free campus. Several other private universities in Texas, including Rice and Texas Christian University, but public universities have no choice. The law takes effect on August 1, 2016, the 50th anniversary of a mass shooting that killed 16 people at the University of Texas, Austin. The University of Texas system has over 214,000 students.

Christianity will have much more power in Arizona schools after the state’s Senate President Andy Biggs has selected Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) as chair of the Education Committee. The person in this position acts as gatekeeper for education-related decisions and legislation. As a creationist, Allen believes that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that the condensation trails behind jets are actually poisonous sprays to sicken the nation’s population. According to Allen, all U.S. citizens should be forced to attend religious services. She also interfered with Navajo County Sheriff K.C. Clark’s investigation into accusations that Allen’s son-in-law was sexually assaulting female prisoners. Biggs claimed, “She understands what Arizona students and parents need in our education system.”

(Allen has an interesting background. She won her seat for the first time in 2008 after Jake Flake, former speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and the uncle of U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, was bucked from a horse and broke eight ribs. He died of a heart attack two weeks later. She lost her reelection in 2012 but ran—and won—again in 2014 after state Sen. Chester Crandall was found dead after falling or being bucked from a horse. She supports uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, state funding of a militia run by the neo-Nazi J.T. Ready, anti-Semitic Holocaust denial testimony before the state senate, and elimination of health care for 280,000 with the “reason” that people should do more to take care of their health and avoid seeing doctors.)

In an op-ed piece, Allen explains that the state shouldn’t take Muslim refugees because they follow Sharia law. “Islam is a political system as well as a religious system,” she said to defend her position—highly similar to her own belief that Christianity should control law in the United States because it’s “a political system as well as a religious system.” The new commissioner to Maine’s Department of Education is also a creationist.

As Christians spread ignorance throughout public schools, one 11-year-old student is taking them to task. Brandon Silver wanted to learn about evolution, but the Palm Beach County School District, a public school district in Boca Raton (FL), follows the religious belief of creationism in its science education. Silver’s father, Barry Silver, is a lawyer who filed a lawsuit against the district on November 24, the anniversary of Darwin’s publication of “The Origin of Species.” Speaking to the school board, the 11-year-old said, “Evolution is a very important topic, and it’s the greatest scientific breakthrough ever, so I believe it should be taught.” The United States ranked 27th in the world in science scores by 2012, below Australia as well as most of Europe and Asia. Good for you, Brandon Silver!

July 13, 2014

Christians Ignorant of Ten Commandments, More

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 7:20 PM
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Do you have a bible in your house? If the answer is yes, you live in one of the 88 percent of U.S. households with at least one bible, according to the American Bible Society’s annual “State of the Bible” survey. The average number of bibles in homes is 4.7. The poll found that 56 percent of respondents think that the bible is the actual or inspired word of God with no errors, and over half think that the bible contains everything a person needs to know in order to lead a meaningful life. Over one-fourth said that they read the book daily or at least several times a week.

Surveys about religion are not necessarily trustworthy because people tend to tell researchers what they think the surveyors want to hear. Respondents want to look good. One question to these respondents is to cite the Ten Commandments. A few years ago, Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland couldn’t do this on the Stephen Colbert show although the legislator wanted a law to mandate the commandments be displayed in the House and Senate chambers. The good politician could remember only three.

Biblical scholars know that the Good Book lists two different—and non-matching—sets of these commandments. Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with stone tablets in Exodus 20 but breaks them out of anger and has to get another set (Exodus 34:1). For those of you who have forgotten, these are the first ones:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

And the replacements:

  1. Thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
  2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
  3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.
  4. All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
  5. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.
  6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.
  7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.
  8. Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
  9. The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
  10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.

God’s rewrite allows coveting, killing, adultery, swearing, and bearing false witness. He also didn’t direct people to honor their parents. God’s reconsideration merely ordered people to give Him lots of stuff, take off the Sabbath, and worship only Him with a little dietary advice such as skipping all that leaven and not seething a kid in his mother’s milk.

As long as the Ten Commandments are so ambiguous, Valerie Tarico suggests some different ones:

  1. This above all shall ye take as my first command: Thou shalt treat living beings as they want to be treated. And the second commandment is like unto it:
  2. In as much as be possible, thou shalt avoid afflicting pain or sorrow, which shall be unto thee my signs of ill and evil.
  3. Thou shalt honor and protect all of creation, for I the LORD have created it that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  4. Thou shalt have sexual relations with neither human nor beast who chooseth not freely what pleasures thou mayest offer.
  5. Thou shalt not beat the child, but by admonition and instruction with kindness shall teach both wisdom and skill.
  6. Thou shalt do unto members of other religions and tribes as thou dost unto thine own.
  7. I, the LORD your God, forbid thee to own other persons be they woman, man or child; neither shall ye subject any gender nor race one to another, but shall honor my image in all.
  8. Thou shalt not destroy the lands of thine enemies, nor poison their well, nor salt their earth, neither shalt thou cut their shade tree nor burn their vineyard, nor wantonly slaughter the beast of their field.
  9. Thou shalt wash thy hands before eating and shalt boil the drinking water that has been defiled by man or beast.
  10. Thou shalt ask the questions that can show thee wrong, so that through the toil of many, from generation unto generation, ye may come to discover the great I AM.

A little flowery, but these would have stopped the Inquisition, burning witches, Holocaust, slave trade, and the Iraq War.

Although 60 percent of those responding to the survey can’t name more than five of the commandments, they are also ignorant of much more of biblical instruction. Twelve percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, and almost 50 percent of high school seniors believe that Sodom and Gomorrah are a married couple. Only half know that John the Baptist was not one of the 12 apostles, and 82 percent think that “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse. (This expression, however, can be found in the Quran.) Yet 81 percent of U.S. adults think they are highly, moderately or somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible.

One so-called expert on the bible, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, is convinced that God determined all the U.S. borders. According to Fischer, anyone to crosses in the United States without permission is directly offending the Creator.

Not to be outdone, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins accused President Obama of imposing Sharia law on the U.S. military stationed in Bahrain during Ramadan. He cites a Stars and Stripes story that tells military members how to comply with the area’s local laws: “While not required to fast during Ramadan, in Bahrain, Americans can be fined or detained by local authorities for eating, drinking or smoking in public when off-base during daylight hours.” The Navy is also requiring long-sleeved shirts and blouses with long pants or skirts to be in keeping with local customs.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), still a wannabe presidential candidate, claimed during a radio interview this that anti-gay marriage business owners are being sent to “re-education camps” for refusing to serve gay customers. He even cited a specific Colorado baker who was required to submit a report on how he would prevent future discrimination after he refused to sell a same-sex couple a cake for their wedding reception. No barbed wire, no torture—just a report.

Taxpayers in the United States now support teaching creationism in schools. As this interactive map shows, lax regulations in many states allow taxpayer-funded schools to teach “alternatives” to evolution.  Some of these schools are regular public schools, and others are private schools that receive state tuition voucher or scholarship programs.

One piece of hope from the survey: Between 2011 and 2013, the percent of American adults who believe the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice” has almost doubled, from 10 to 19 percent.

Schools in the U.K. that receive government funding cannot teach creationism as scientific fact. Some of the newly-formed academies and free schools had been teaching “alternatives” to evolution and the Big Bang theory. Some of these schools use the U.S.-based Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) model and textbooks teaching evolution as a lie. (ACE, a popular curriculum in U.S. tax-funded Christian schools) also teaches that homosexuality is a “learned behavior” comparable to the sins of murder and stealing, and that people can avoid AIDS by following the Bible.)

Even more hope comes from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The anti-science fervor in the United States comes almost entirely from fundamentalist Christians who cannot reconcile reality with their bible. In this country, we may have to put up with their stupidity in the media, but the BBC Trust, which broadcasts news around the globe, has issued a statement that it will give more weight to scientific fact that unsupported opinions:

“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences. Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”

Fox network will never stop spreading misrepresentations (aka lies), but perhaps more ethical U.S. media networks may decide to follow suit.

February 9, 2014

Nye Debates Creationist, Fundamentalist Christians Divorce

Ken Ham, left, and Bill Nye, debate science and creationism.The biggest talk in religion this past week is the debate between scientist Bill Nye and Creation Museum Founder Ken Ham (left) about evolution. The thought processes of these two men can be summarized by their answer to just one question—could anything change their minds about their beliefs. Ham said that no one could ever convince him; Nye said that just one piece of evidence could change his position that the universe is evolving. The answers show that Ham started with his conclusion whereas Nye works on the evidence.

The debate demonstrates how useless a debate with creationists can be. Nye used his customary science: Neanderthal skulls that point directly to evolution; layer upon layer of rock formations, each millions of years apart; carbon dating and fossil records; even the impossibility of fitting 16 million species on a single ark made by eight humans with no power tools.

Ham justifies his narrow position by claiming that “we weren’t there, and we didn’t observe it.” Neither was he, so he relies on “the biblical account of origins”—what he calls observational science and historical science. Now is the observation, and the bible is the history. Ham calls radioactive dating “assumptions” and uses biblical genealogy to “prove” that this planet is 6,000 years old.

Despite Ham’s belief in his personal infallibility, his life-size “replica” of Noah’s Ark is hurting for cash with a current shortage of about $30 million. He may be able to deny evolution, natural selection, uranium-lead isotope dating, fossil records, and basic physics, but he can’t deny the financial ruin facing him.

Something else Ham surely won’t believe is a recent discovery by researchers Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef (Tel Aviv University) who used carbon-dating to determine the age of the oldest-known camel bones.  Their investigation shows that camels first came to Israel about the 9th century BCE. The Old Testament places camels in that region at the time of Abraham, considered by biblical scholars as the 20th century BCE.

Dr. Robert Harris, an Associate Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, said through his associates:

“While these findings may have been published recently, those of us on the inside have known the essential facts for a generation now. This is just one of many anachronisms in the Bible, but these do not detract from its sanctity, because it is a spiritual source, not a historical one.”

Several years ago, archaeologist William Dever said:

“We want to make the Bible history. Many people think it has to be history or nothing. But there is no word for history in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, what did the biblical writers think they were doing? Writing objective history? No. That’s a modern discipline. They were telling stories. They wanted you to know what these purported events mean.”

Ham’s belief is even too extreme for right-wing fundamentalists like Pat Robertson. The TV evangelist said, “There ain’t no way that’s possible…. To say that it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense and I think it’s time we come off of that stuff and say this isn’t possible…. Let’s be real, let’s not make a joke of ourselves.”

Robertson’s points were similar to those made by Nye: “Anyone who is in the oil business knows he’s drilling down, 2 miles, 3 miles underground, you’re coming into all these layers that were laid down by the dinosaurs. And we have skeletons of dinosaurs that go back like 65 million years. And to say that it all came around 6 thousand years ago is nonsense.”

Someone might want to point out to Robertson that he and his Christian network sell materials arguing that the earth is 6,000 years old and that the Bible says dinosaurs and humans lived together, a premise of Ham’s museum.

Nye’s goal in debating Ham was to protect children:

“I say that to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe that’s fine, but don’t have your kids do it because we need them, we need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

Parents in the United States are not allowed by law to starve their children’s bodies, but they are permitted to starve their minds.

Pundits in the U.S. were disgusted because Nye gave creationism credibility by debating Ham. On the other side of the pond, however, the audience of Britain’s Christian Today website reports that Nye won the debate: 92 percent of almost 50,000 responses found for “the science guy.”

At this time, adults are teaching these young people a literal version of the bible—at least when it suits the adults’ needs. For example, in their desire to maintain dominion over women, men cite 1 Corinthians 14, in which Paul tells the church of Corinth that women should be silent during the service. Fundamentalists use this verse to deny women the right to become pastor, even to pray aloud during services. Nye’s debate with Ham was not about religion; it was about politics. Ham takes the position that evolution leads to “lawlessness, homosexuality, abortion, etc.”

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) presents this connection between religion and politics in his new memoir, Just Fly the Plane, Stupid!

“The wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice. The husband’s part is to show up during the times of deep stress, take the leadership role and be accountable for the outcome, blaming no one else.”

Pearce refers to the New International Version book of Ephesians, which says wives should “submit to their husbands in everything.”

Evidently many fundamentalist women are not submitting to their husbands. Evangelical Christians have higher than average divorce rates, more so than people in the United States who claim no religion. This research was part of a study by the Council on Contemporary Families at Baylor University on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act to examine changes in the past half century for groups affected by the law.

Other findings:

  • The number of people in the country who do not identify with any religious tradition has grown from three percent to 20 percent.
  • Protestants as a share of the adult population has shrunk from 70 percent to 50 percent, primarily because of the decline of such denominations as Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians which have had their numbers cut in half.
  • Evangelical populations rapidly grew until the early 1990s when the population began to decline.
  • The percentage of Catholics has kept steady, but the ethnic composition has dramatically changed because of increasing Latino immigration.
  • The number of people who affiliate with non-Judeo-Christian religions has doubled.

Another study found that all couples who live in predominantly conservative Protestant areas have higher divorce rates. Religiously conservative states Alabama and Arkansas have the second and third highest divorce rates in the U.S., while religiously liberal New Jersey and Massachusetts have two of the lowest. Atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rates of all.

map_conservative_regional_divorce-650x501

While the GOP tries to woo people back as their followers, the extremist Republicans, like Pearce, are determined to drive them off. Susanne Atanus, an Illinois Republican trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky this year, puts God first. In so doing, she thinks that God controls the weather and put tornadoes and diseases such as autism and dementia on earth to punish people for LGBT rights and legalized abortions:

“God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions,” she said. “Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.”

Mary Helen Sears, a candidate for a Michigan seat on the Republican National Committee, wants to have LGBT people “purged” from the GOP and believes that homosexuality is a “perversion” created by Satan. Her post on the Schoolcraft County GOP website is prefaced by a warning asking readers to “please use your discretion before taking any decisions based on the information in this blog.” For good reason because Sears claims that homosexuals prey on children.  Last month, former state GOP lawmaker Dave Agema was asked to step down from his position with the RNC “for the good of the party” because of his anti-gay comments.

Sears is, according to Macomb Daily columnist Chad Selweski, “if anything, to the right of RNC Committeeman Dave Agema on the political spectrum.” According to Sears, Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory “gave rise to Hitler’s Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy and Stalin’s Russia.”

This is the party that wants to run the country.

November 24, 2013

Judge Strikes Down Pastor’s Housing Tax Exemptions

The annual “War on Christmas” shrieks from the far-right will fade compared to the primal screams regarding to the federal judge decision. Judge Barbara Crabb, Western District of Wisconsin, struck down a 1954 law giving the “ministers of gospel” billions of dollars in tax exemptions for housing. In her decision she wrote that the law  “violates the establishment clause… because the exemption provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”

Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote in a news release:

“Ministers may, for instance, use the untaxed income to purchase a home, and, in a practice known as ‘double dipping, may then deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes. Clergy are permitted to use the housing allowance not just for rent or mortgage, but for home improvements including swimming pools, maintenance and repairs. They may exempt from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their home, particularly benefiting well-heeled pastors. The benefit extends to churches, which can pay clergy less, as tax-free salaries go further.”

In the 1950s, Rep. Peter Mack (D-IL) convinced Congress that pastors should be compensated by the U.S. government for “carrying on such a courageous fight against this [godless and anti-religious world movement].” Churches get billions of dollars each year for their “courageous fight”–$82 billion a year. Religious groups also own property exceeding the value of $600 billion.

As founding father Benjamin Franklin wrote:

“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

Here are some of the places that receive these tax advantages.

Kenneth Copeland: 18-thousand square foot home valued at $6.3 million

Joel Osteen: $10.5 million home

Joel Osteen: $10.5 million hom

 

Benny Hinn: $10 million seaside mansion

Benny Hinn: $10 million seaside mansi 

 Pastor Steven Furtick:   $1.7 million dollar home

Pastor Steven Furtick: $1.7 million dollar home

A ruling from neighboring state Ohiodecided against public school science teacher John Freshwater, who distributed creationist materials to students. After he was told to remove religious items from his classroom, “Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth into the classroom,” according to Justice Maureen O’Connor. He was then fired.

The Ohio Supreme Court decision was 4-3, ruling that the school district had a right to fire him because the First Amendment does not permit him to ignore orders from his employers or display whatever religious items he pleases in his classroom. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools cannot teach creationism as science, but three Ohio Supreme Court justices seem to think that it’s just fine. The judges on this court are elected; six of the seven are Republicans.

Another excuse for ire from religious groups was the “Fiction” sticker on Bibles sold at a California Costco. The store apologized and changed the sticker.

Another apology came from Harvard Ichthus Editor-in-Chief Aaron Gyde for publishing an essay claiming that all the suffering that Jewish people have faced since the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in approximately 70 A.D. came from God and was “just.” The blog comes from a campus “journal of Christian thought.” The essay also argued “the Jews were marked out for destruction when they killed Jesus.”

Marriage equality is wrong according to Russell Moore, president of the Baptist Church’s ethics and liberty commission, and he means equality between men and women.  Women who are not subservient violate biblical law, and men can keep them subservient by not getting “too close” to their wives.

A North Carolina Christian school wants families to cast out LGBT relatives and plans to mandate a pledge that would support this. At Myrtle Grove in Wilmington, the “Biblical Morality Policy” would refuse admission to LGBT children or children with any LGBT relatives at all and expel students if any of their relatives reveal those tendencies. To guarantee that everyone understands, heterosexual families must swear in writing that they will not participate, support, or in any way affirm “sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bisexual activity; promoting such practices; or being unable to support the moral principles of the school.” Myrtle Grove will still receive taxpayer subsidies.

Hobby Lobby, a corporation that sells crafts and claims to be a religious person, wants to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that provide contraceptives for employees. The company itself is not providing these; the insurance companies are doing that. But the owner sees Hobby Lobby as a religious entity.

The president of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, is going farther than fighting the health mandate. He has written a Bible curriculum for Mustang School District (Oklahoma) that he wants adopted for classrooms. Students would sit through units that purportedly examine the Bible’s influence on society. Superintendent Sean McDaniel asked Green to write this curriculum because much of his personal wealth has gone into the promotion of Bible education. With Christian revisionist historian David Barton, Green runs full-page newspaper ads to tell people that the United States is a “Christian nation.” He also has strong ties to Bill Gothard, the leader of an extremist Christian fundamentalist sect, rife with allegations of child abuse.

Gothard thinks he can determine a person’s character by staring into the eyes, that disease has spiritual causes, and that men are the sovereign rulers of the household. His books include illustrations to detail how women should stand, what their hairstyles should be, and how long men’s pants should be. Video of Green describing Hobby Lobby’s “desire to share Christ and Disciple others” is on Gothard’s website.

My favorite evangelical story of the week comes from retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, vice-president of the Family Research Council. According to the Boykin, mainstream Christians are all wrong about Jesus. He’s not weak and effeminate as churches now teach: Jesus is a “man’s man” and a “tough guy.” Because he was a carpenter and stone mason, Jesus “smelled bad” and had “big, bulging biceps, big ole veins popping out of his arms, thin waist, [and] strong shoulders.” Boykin explained:

“We’ve feminized Jesus in the church and the men can’t identify with him anymore; not the kind of men that I want to hang out with, they can’t identify with this effeminate Jesus that we’ve tried to portray.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working hard to fence-sit in the church v. state conflict. During his keynote address at a fundraising event for the Florida Family Policy Council, he claimed that the issue is not worth debating because “God is everywhere” and “doesn’t need our permission to be anywhere.” The conservative organization’s agenda promotes ex-gay conversion therapy, creationism in public schools, and the abolishment of reproductive rights.

On the Catholic side, Springfield (IL) Bishop Thomas Paprocki went through with his “Homily for Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage” 30 minutes after Gov. Pat Quinn signed marriage equality for the state into law. Among other justifications is that marriage’s sole purpose is reproduction. I would think that this would eliminate over half the marriages in the country. Also, the Devil uses same-sex marriage to waste resources because “much of our time, energy and resources are being spent in addressing this issue.” My suggestion: don’t address it.

Paprocki had two armed guards for the crowd of 500. Over 2,000 people attended the ceremony where Quinn signed the bill into law.

The United Methodist Church owes an apology to Rev. Frank Schaefer in Lebanon (PA). After officiating at the marriage of his gay son to another man, he was found guilty of violating church law. Schaefer has 30 days to renounce his participation in the marriage or give up his credentials. His punishment for “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church” ranged from a mild reprimand to being defrocked. Ten years ago, he presided over his oldest son’s 2007 same-sex wedding in Massachusetts. Three of his four children are gay.

July 7, 2013

Religion: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Conservatives want religion taught in school–but just their own. California has a state law prohibiting the teaching of religion in public schools, and a San Diego couple decided that teaching yoga is religious indoctrination. Judge John Meyer in the San Diego Superior Court decided differently, and the Encinitas Union School District can continue to provide yoga as part of its health and exercise curriculum. Yoga, the judge said, is similar to other exercise programs like dodgeball. Encinitas Supt. Tim Baird hopes that teaching yoga to students will decrease instances of fighting and bullying.

At the same time, religious indoctrination is prevalent in Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana, New Hampshire, Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, and several other states. Those opposing this can sign a petition calling for a federal ban on teaching creationism in school. Congress would have to pass any law against this, but the White House could cut federal funding from states that teach creationism in schools.

Many religious groups object to teaching creationism. According to the National Center for Science Education, at least 77 percent of people in the country who belong to the twelve largest Christian denominations belong to churches that support evolution education. A 2009 Pew Poll found that 87 percent of scientists support evolution and 97 percent say all living things on earth have evolved over time. Of a total of nearly half a million U.S. earth and life scientists, only a mere 700, or 0.15 percent, give any credence to creationism.

Federal courts are specific about creationism being theology, grounded in a literal reading of the Bible, not science. Creationists try to slip it into the schools by pretending that it teaches kids “critical thinking” skills, lumping it with other controversies, calling it academic freedom, and calling creationism something else but using the work “science.” Some public teachers ignore the curriculum and skip over evolution for creationism, telling their students that the Bible is more accurate than science.

On another front, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) lambasted the GOP after the last election for being the party of stupid, saying that they could not win elections if they kept the party tent small. Since then, Jindal figured that he had to assimilate the stupidity in order to be a viable GOP presidential candidate. His refusal to accept federal funding denies health care coverage to about 400,000 low-income Louisiana adults. As Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) pointed out,  the state’s overall national health ranking is 49th. Women in the state have lower-than-average cases of breast cancer, but the state also ranks 49th in breast cancer deaths.

When the federal government denied Louisiana funding for a program, however, Jindal got mad. The Young Marine Program, run by the Bossier County sheriff’s office, has a “special emphasis on the love of God” and requires that participants attend church. After Sheriff Julian Whittington refused to make the program open to all, he lost federal funding and believes that his rights are being violated. He said he doesn’t need money for the program; he just thinks that the federal government should give funding to religious programs.

After Whittington sent a letter of protest to the governor, Jindal spoke at the July Fourth “In God We Trust Rally” about how the government overreaches, prayer is not contagious, and freedom of religion doesn’t equal freedom from religion. Jindal, raised Hindu, should understand the unconstitutionality of oaths mandating obligations to “God” and requirements to attend “church.” Maybe conservatives just want a Christian mandate to receive federal aid for anything.

Hobby Lobby will continue its argument that corporations can be religious with the permission of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said that the arts and crafts company can proceed with its lawsuit against Obamacare because it requires that they offer birth control to their employees. The company will not be required to pay fines while the case is pending.

The judges wrote:

“Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable. The question here is not whether the reasonable observer would consider the plaintiffs complicit in an immoral act, but rather how the plaintiffs themselves measure their degree of complicity.”

Hobby Lobby and other companies challenging the contraception mandate claim that the morning-after pill is tantamount to abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in a woman’s womb. In fact, the medication keeps the ovary from releasing an egg before it can become fertilized, thus avoiding pregnancy. The company wants to impose its religious–and non-scientific–beliefs on its employees.

The Family Research Council is working with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and other anti-LGBT lawmakers to legislate an Ex-Gay Pride Month “to recognize former homosexuals.” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), the lead sponsor of the House bill to implement a constitutional ban on gay marriage, has been invited as speaker at the inaugural dinner for the project on July 31. The initiative comes on the heels of the closing of Exodus International, shutting down after over 30 years of “curing” gays and lesbians after its leader, Alan Chambers, realized that there is no “cure.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the man who refused to allow LGBT people into his Catholic Church until they washed their hands, is back in the media again. Documents released last week show that he protected pedophile priests while investigating charges against other priests. Six thousand pages of documents show how the Milwaukee archdiocese regularly reassigned priests to new parishes or paid them as much as $20,000 to leave the church after they were accused of sexual molestation. In addition to the payoff, priests were given a $1,250 monthly pension benefit and health and dental insurance, according to the released documents.

While Archbishop of Milwaukee, Dolan also asked the Vatican for permission to transfer $57 million to a trust fund so that it could be protected against court action. The Milwaukee archdiocese then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, claiming that they lacked the finances to settle claims with the victims. Dolan denied these actions, calling the payoff accusation “false, preposterous and unjust.” This information may explain why Dolan wasn’t chosen Pope last spring.

Things are getting ugly in the world of Southern conservative religion. During his sermon, preacher Jim Standridge, 76, of the Immanuel Baptist Church in Skiatook (OK) called out a congregant for falling asleep. Then he attacked another one: “Where have you been? You’re one of the sorriest church members I have! You’re not worth 15 cents.”  Immediately following that statement, Standridge told the man to stand up, said he loved him, and gave him a hug. The rest of the sermon was peppered with other comments directed at churchgoers. To the man operating the church camera, he said, “If you loved me and submitted to me, you wouldn’t go about establishing your own kingdom in the video room!”

Standridge, a preacher for 50 years, said that he models his discipline of church members on the way that parents should discipline a child. He claims that these members “love and esteem” him.”

Disasters are usually blamed on LGBT people, this time the forest fires in Colorado. On Generations Radio, Colorado pastors Kevin Swanson and Dave Buehner added the state’s liberal abortion laws to the recent SCOTUS rulings legalizing some same-sex marriages as reasons for these tragedies. Their hypothesis is a bit off because the highly conservative city of Colorado Springs was hardest hit. Their belief in the punishment of God would therefore need to arrive at the conclusion that God is punishing the conservatives for their narrowness.

May 5, 2013

Some Science Teachers Fail Students

Students throughout the nation are being taught Bible fiction instead of scientific fact thanks to fundamentalists conservatives. Louisiana seems to be the current leader in its faulty education; at least they’re recently getting the most publicity. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who decried the GOP for being crazy and stupid, seems to have changed his mind, perhaps building up his creds for GOP presidential candidate in 2016. .

When an attempt was made in April to overturn the 5-year-old Louisiana Science Education Act allows science teachers to provide instruction in creationism and belief that climate change is a myth, Jindal pushed to retain the law, asking “What are we afraid of?” Most rational, intelligent people in the United States are afraid of an ignorant generation of people who are taught falsehoods in schools that taxpayers fund.

Jindal should be afraid of something else—loss of state funding. As Louisiana State University’s former graduate dean of science, Kevin Carman, pointed out, “Pseudo-science drives scientists away.”  Students with training in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) can earn the most, but they won’t get jobs in cutting-edge scientific fields with biblical information.

Despite the urging of over 70 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, the state’s Senate Educational Committee voted 3-2 to retain the law to tech biblical information in science class as fact. Jindal joined conservatives in claiming that teaching this false information strengthens education through promoting critical thinking, claiming that students should be allowed to  “make up their own minds.” Maybe about whether the earth is flat?

Jindal has proved himself even farther right than 700 Club televangelist Pat Robertson, who opposes teaching creationism as science. Recently Robertson said that science is right and “if you fight science, you’re going to lose your children.”

Claude Bouchard, a former executive director of the top-notch Pennington Research Center, talked about the loss to students by maintaining the Science Education Act:

“[Students] will continue to believe that the laws of chemistry, physics and biology are optional when addressing the big issues of our time. Unfortunately, this is also not without economic consequences. If you are an employer in a high-tech industry, in the biotechnology sector or in a business that depends heavily on science, would you prefer to hire a graduate from a state where the legislature has in a sense declared that the laws of chemistry, physics or biology can be suspended at times or someone from a state with a rigorous science curriculum for its sons and daughters?”

Peter Kulakowsky, a biotech entrepreneur in Louisiana, recently wrote this to the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“As the director of a biological laboratory in Louisiana, I need enlightened staff. Distracting the state’s students in their formative training [through the Louisiana Science Education Act] only cripples them.”

Scientists and entrepreneurs have pointed out that the present is as disastrous as the students’ futures. Louisiana State University’s former graduate dean of science, Kevin Carman, testified before the state legislature in 2012 that top scientists who left the university cited the Louisiana Science Education Act as a reason. He added that other scientists accepted jobs elsewhere, because they didn’t want to come to a state with a creationism law. “Teaching pseudo-science drives scientists away,” Carman said.

After the passage of the bogus science education law, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology cancelled a scheduled convention in New Orleans in 2011, costing the city an estimated $2.9 million. The organization also launched a boycott of Louisiana, causing the state to become less competitive at attracting conventions.

The boycott for New Orleans was called off after its city council endorsed a repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act and the Orleans Parish School Board banned the teaching of creationism in its schools. With the creationism being taught in the rest of the state, however, New Orleans is having difficulty finding qualified employees in science. Kristin Gisleson Palmer, a member of the city council, said:

“With the New Orleans Medical Corridor poised for tremendous growth, this law also profoundly impacts our ability to fill jobs in the cutting-edge science fields with students educated in our state’s public schools.”

Tennessee has passed a copycat bill, and other states introduce creationism bills every year. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates for intelligent design, is circulating a model bill nationwide with similar bills introduced in Arizona, Montana, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Although the Supreme Court has ruled against teaching religion in public school science classes, teachers still use actual science textbooks and then “supplement” these with biblical fiction.

Private schools are not bound by the SCOTUS ruling which is why a South Carolina private school can get away with this little quiz for fourth graders.

4th-Grade-test

This looks too far-fetched to be true, but fact-checkers have discovered that kids were actually given this test.

protest at teaching fiction as fact in the Blue Ridge Christian Academy in the Greenville area has brought out the rage from the Christian right, as shown by a column from Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis president. He probably feels that he needs to attack the protesters as “atheists” because he sells the DVD used as the basis for the test.

It’s hard to know what else is being taught in the thousands of the nation’s private schools, many of them funded by taxpayers because of the religious right pushing against separation of church and state. They may be showing this video, created by the fundamentalist Faith 2 Action group, that states, “Being gay is three times more dangerous than smoking.”

The video begins with bizarre parodies of Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate called  Heather has Two Cigarettes and Daddy’s Roommate has Lung Cancer. During the reading, the narrator, Janet Porter, compares smoking with homosexuality as health dangers with the latter being far more dangerous.

Pennsylvania is another state where students are being denied a good education, even in advanced placement classes, because 20 percent of science teachers believe in evolution. One of these teachers is Joe Sohmer (Altoona Area High School) who tells students that radiocarbon dating is wrong because the world is less than 10,000 years old. A national survey of 900 science teachers shows that 13 percent agree with Sohmer.

Teachers identifying themselves as creationists, according to the national survey, spend at least an hour of classroom time teaching that creationism is a valid scientific alternative. An unnamed Indiana County science teacher said that he teaches evolution principles “but modified to explain that data can be interpreted differently dependent upon one’s world view.” Duquesne University biology professor David Lampe, who organizes the university’s Darwin Day celebration each February, found that between 25 and 30 percent of freshman biology students have had no instruction on evolution.

Forty-six percent percent of people in the United States believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, a percentage the same as 30 years ago. One-third of the respondents think that humans evolved with God’s guidance, and 15 percent say that human evolution is not connected with God.

Apparently the United States is currently not evolving.

March 24, 2013

Can We Keep the U.S. From Being a Total Theocracy?

Each week Steve Benen writes a segment called “The God Machine” on the Rachel Maddow blog. This week he addressed the “renewed tensions between the religious right movement and the political party that ostensibly fights for its interests.” The focus is on the autopsy that the Republican National Committee released this past week, the “Growth and Opportunity Project.”

“The Republican National Committee this week unveiled a lengthy report, providing an ‘autopsy’ of what went wrong in 2012, and offering a blueprint for how the party can get back on track. The RNC’s vision covers quite a bit of ground, detailing possible plans on procedure, tactics, strategy, outreach, and just a pinch of policy.

“But to an almost surprising degree, the Republican National Committee’s plan is entirely secular. The ‘Growth and Opportunity’ report uses the word ‘Reagan’ six times, but there are literally zero references to God, Christianity, and/or the Bible. For a party that has spent several decades claiming to be the arbiter of morality and “family values,” the RNC’s secularism was unexpected.

“And for the religious right, disappointing. McKay Coppins had an interesting report on this, asking, ‘When the great Republican resurrection comes to pass, will conservative Christians be left behind?’

“To many religious conservatives, the report was interpreted as a slight against their agenda and the hard work they have done for the party.

“’The report didn’t mention religion much, if at all,’ said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. ‘You cannot grow your party by distancing yourself from your base, and this report doesn’t reinforce the values that attracted me and many other people into the Republican Party in the first place. It just talks about reaching out to other groups.’

“Sandy Rios, an Evangelical radio host and Fox News contributor, said the RNC report’s proposals amount to a ‘namby-pamby’ abdication of religious values, and warned that the party could soon lose the grassroots engine that has powered its electoral victories for decades.

“’They should be deeply concerned they’re going to be alienating their base,’ Rios said, adding, ‘It seems to me that the leadership of the party is intent on that course. Most Christian conservatives are not going to be party loyalists over principle, and so the GOP has a lot more to lose than Christians.’

“The RNC’s Sean Spicer defended the report, arguing that the report ignored the religious right because the movement has ‘always done a fabulous job,’ so the party doesn’t see this as an area in need of attention.

“The truth is more complicated, and for the party, more politically perilous.

“Reince Priebus has spent a fair amount of time lately reflecting on 2012, and it seems clear that he sees the Republicans’ culture war as an electoral loser–the American mainstream, and especially younger voters, just don’t hate gay people, reproductive rights, and the separation of church and state the way the GOP base does. To grow the party, Republicans won’t just have to change the way they talk about issues, they’ll very likely to have to change which issues they’re talking about.

“It’s why the RNC’s report also makes no mention of ‘abortion,’ ‘marriage,’ ‘religion,’ or even ‘pro-life.’ These aren’t the issues that will help the party become more competitive on a national level.

“But this is where the Republicans’ identity crisis gets tricky. Reince Priebus wants to use religious right activists as the party’s grassroots base–there just aren’t enough oil company lobbyists to work phone banks and engage in door-to-door activism–but also wants to pretend the religious right agenda isn’t at the core of the party. For the movement, this isn’t good enough.

“Reince Priebus also wants to signal to the American mainstream that his party isn’t dominated by culture warriors, and the GOP’s support for a right-wing social agenda is purely superficial, but Republican policymakers–at the state and national level–continue to focus on reproductive rights and gay rights, either out of sincere beliefs or motivated by a desire to pander to the religious right movement the RNC is content to ignore.

“It’s an untenable, unsustainable dynamic. If Republicans continue to obsess over social conservatism, they’ll struggle as a national party. If they don’t, they’ll alienate the voters they need to compete. The RNC’s report hasn’t papered over this problem; it’s helped put a spotlight on it.”

Meanwhile, religious bills proliferate across the United States.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) has signed a bill that forces schools to give students an open forum to push their religious beliefs on others. Students must be permitted to express their beliefs at school events such as football games or morning announcements as well as organizing religious groups on campus. If a teacher assigns a paper on evolution, students can write about creationism with impunity. They can also refute any other science facts such as human anatomy or climate change.

Although Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear vetoed the “religious freedom” act, the bill goes back for an override vote next week and will probably pass. The bill reads:

“Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A ‘burden’ shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.”

In the past, similar laws have allowed graduate students in social work to refuse services to gay people, schools to fire women for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, pharmacies to not fill prescriptions for birth control, and wedding service providers to shut out gay and lesbian couples.

Other religious takeovers:

Vouchers: Ten states and the District of Columbia allow and in some cases, require that creationism be taught in private voucher schools.

Creationism in public school science classes: This year alone, Colorado, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma have attempted to pass bills requiring creationism be taught or allowing the questioning of evolution in the classroom. Montana State Rep. Clayton Fiscus (R-Billings) is trying very hard to get a creationism-in-class bill passed in that state.

Prayer/Proselytizing in public schools: Last year, Missouri passed their “right to pray” amendment which also permitted students to skip homework that they feel “offends their religious beliefs.”

Exemptions for “Conscience”: Leading the charge is the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a D.C. advocacy group that promotes policy that adheres to “Judeo-Christian tradition.” The EPPC is in the process of forming “religious freedom” caucuses in every state and has been successful thus far in nine states.

“Prayer” caucuses at the state level: Similar to “religious freedom” caucuses, “prayer” caucuses are the pet project of Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA). The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation wants lawmakers to “use the legislative process–both through sponsorship of affirmative legislation and through opposition to detrimental legislation–assist the nation and its people in continuing to draw upon and benefit from this essential source of our strength and well-being.” Thus far eight states have a “prayer caucus”: Maine, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, and Mississippi.

It’s time for people in the United States to decide whether we will allow the far-right evangelicals to turn this nation into a total theocracy.

December 23, 2012

Exorcism, Pentagrams, Climate Change–Sunday Bits

It’s Sunday again, and there’s so much news! We’ll start with a ray of sunshine. Earlier this month, the Orleans Parish School Board [Louisiana] amended their textbook selection with a caveat:  “No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.”

For people not aware of Texas textbooks, the state is such a huge purchaser that publishers often kowtow to that state’s demands—such as “revising” science and history to match what the Tea Party believes. (I almost said “thinks,” but they don’t.)

The pope, who described marriage equality as destroying the very “essence of the human creature,” has given his former butler an early Christmas present. After Pope Benedict XVI visited the jail where Paolo Gabriele was incarcerated following his conviction of aggravated theft in stealing and leaking documents that alleged the Holy See’s corruption, the pope pardoned him. Catholic policy: theft, okay; marriage equality, not okay.

Other parts of Catholic beliefs can be hard to understand. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News fame thinks that Caroline Kennedy, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention about women’s rights, should have had an exorcism for daring to be Catholic and pro-choice. He may have trouble finding a priest to do this. In 2010, the American Catholic bishops met to figure out a way to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. Part of the training is to figure out who really needs an exorcism and who just needs a psychiatrist or pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield (IL) who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.” Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized a return to traditional rituals and practices.

Catholics are not alone in their peculiar beliefs. In a “celebration” of 12/12/12, Brent Troy Bartel carved a large pentagram on the back of his 6-year-old son, claiming he do so “because it is a holy day.” Some people saw the date as significant because it appears only once in every century; the pentagram, a five-pointed star, can be connected to Satanism. Bartel didn’t explain what was going through his mind when he did this.

Two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants think that disasters such as Superstorm Sandy means that the end of the world is near, as predicted by the Bible. The survey from Public Religion Research found others who agree: almost 40 percent of everyone in this country believes this. Even over one-third of Catholics and white non-evangelical Protestants agree. According to 15 percent of the people in the survey, the end of time will occur during their lifetimes, and 2 percent think it will be before the end of 2012. (There’s only eight days left!)

Some of the respondents are hedging their bets. Seventy-five percent of non-white Protestants think that the disasters come from both climate change and the evidence of the Bible’s “end time.”

Over 50 percent of the people in the United States voted for Barack Obama, which may jeopardize their claim to be Christians. According to Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, leader of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Density, during a radio interview on 12/12/12, anyone who voted for the president cannot be a Christian. According to its website, BOND is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to “Rebuilding the Family by Rebuilding the Man.”

The fundamentalists who want a literal reading of the Bible—at least the parts that they like—have possibly found a leader in Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016. He may not know about the end of the world, but he’s not sure when it was created. First, he said that it could have been 6,000 years ago, but then he changed his mind for a more scientific approach.

Rubio does know, however, that kids should believe their parents over their teachers. Teaching students about evolution if their parents don’t believe it is like the strategy of the Communist Party in Cuba, according to Rubio until he decided that some people might not like this analogy. He backpedaled again: “Of course, I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Letting up on the brakes, he moved back to his other position, saying, “We should do nothing in government that undermines that relationship [between parent and child].” Rubio added, “And for me, personally, I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”

Rubio has also talked about how his religious views shaped his policy positions. Homosexuality is a sin, he thinks, but nobody is free from sin. He still opposes marriage equality. Then the science side won out when he said that it has proved that life begins at conception. In his first statement, the one in which he said he couldn’t say anything about how old the planet is because he isn’t a scientist, should have him removed from his position on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

And let us not forget the plethora of religious leaders blaming the recent shooting at Newtown (CT) on those who “take God out of the schools,” the atheists, and the LGBT community.

Notice that there’s nothing about the War on Christmas? That’s a whole blog tomorrow!

August 18, 2012

Louisiana Uses Taxpayer Money to Promote Ignorance

Many states pay religious schools with tax-payer money, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legitimizes the practice, but nowhere is the practice so rampant as in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana since he signed the new law promoting this.

Now families in Louisiana earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $23,000 for a family of four) and whose children attend a “failing” public school can attend private schools using public dollars. A second bill gives tax-payers a 100-percent tax credit for money donated to groups providing vouchers for tuition at religious and other private schools. Jindal is a very religious man as shown by the fact that he exorcised a friend in college when she started acting “strange”—maybe because she was being treated for cancer.

What are the Louisiana youth learning from the tens of millions of dollars that the state gives these 119 private schools, all except one affiliated with Christianity? College sophomore Zack Kopplin did a little research and found that at least 19 of these schools, ones that are collecting almost $4 million in tax-payer money, teach or promote creationism. Many of the Christian schools use Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or textbooks from Bob Jones University Press that include such “scientific” information as the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.

Researcher Rachel Tabachnick and writer Thomas Vinciguerra have examined the curriculum and textbooks and discovered some of these gems of “education”:

Dinosaurs and humans probably lived side-by-side at the same time—Life Science, Third ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

Dragons are real because dinosaur skulls had special chemical-producing glands that may have produced fire and smoke— Life Science, Third ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

The purpose of the Trail of Tears, during which over 4,000 Native Americans died on the forced trek to displace them from their homes, was for God “to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Books, 1994

Africa needs religion;only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government.”—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, Third ed., A Beka Book

“The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.”—United States History for Christian Schools, Second ed., Bob Jones University Press, 1991

“[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”—United States History for Christian Schools, Second ed., Bob Jones University Press, 1991

The Great Depression of the 1930s was not as serious as people might think: “perhaps the best known work of propaganda to come from the Depression was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath…. Other forms of propaganda included rumors of mortgage foreclosures, mass evictions, and hunger riots and exaggerated statistics representing the number of unemployed and homeless people in America.”—United States History: Heritage of Freedom, Second ed., A Beka Book, 1996

The U.S. Supreme Court made fetuses into slaves: “the Burger Court held that an unborn child was … the ‘property’ of the mother (much like slaves were considered property in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford).”—American Government in Christian Perspective, Second ed., A Beka Book, 1997

Satan is the cause of Communism: “Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism.”—American Government in Christian Perspective, Second ed., A Beka Book, 1997

Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson are not worth studying as literature: “[Mark] Twain’s outlook was both self-centered and ultimately hopeless…. Twain’s skepticism was clearly not the honest questioning of a seeker of truth but the deliberate defiance of a confessed rebel…. Several of [Emily Dickinson’s] poems show a presumptuous attitude concerning her eternal destiny and a veiled disrespect for authority in general. Throughout her life she viewed salvation as a gamble, not a certainty. Although she did view the Bible as a source of poetic inspiration, she never accepted it as an inerrant guide to life.”—Elements of Literature for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University, 2001

Students should not study abstract math: “unlike the ‘modern math’ theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute…A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.”—ABeka.com

Gay people “have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.”—Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999, Bob Jones University Press, 1998

“Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.”—Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, Second ed., A Beka Books, 1999

Globalization is a precursor to rapture: “but instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as most globalists believe it will, it will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God’s Word. The Anti-christ will tightly regulate who may buy and sell.”—Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, Second ed., A Beka Books, 1999

The Christian legislators of Louisiana, led by Gov. Jindal, may soon discover that tax-payer money providing the education promoting these myths may also pay for beliefs that they don’t like. One Muslim school has been rejected by the legislature, but this practice may not continue to be successful.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have oversight over the curricula in private parochial schools that accept state vouchers. In essence, they can tell private religious schools that they cannot teach creationism, a place where church and state conflict, something that the First Amendment attempted to avoid.

Valerie Hodges, a legislator who voted in favor of the law, is now horrified to discover that any religious school fits the law, especially because she believes that the state has 1,000 Muslim schools. If more legislators develop the same horror that Louisiana’s children might be taught in religious schools outside the Christian belief, the law may not last long. Meanwhile there is a hearing in October to determine the constitutionality of the state’s new law.

The problem of providing tax-payer money to religious schools is not new. A year ago a study showing that 200,000 young people in 12 states and the District of Columbia were receiving tax-payer tuition, many of them learning intolerance and lies. In addition to being virulently anti-abortion and anti-gay, the textbooks and curriculum teach that government safety nets, regulation, minimum wage, and progressive taxes are described as contrary to the Bible.

The textbooks in private schools demonstrate hostility not only toward other religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and traditional African and Native American religions but also toward other Christians, including non-evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. The A Beka civics text states, “God’s original purpose for government was to punish the evil and reward the good.” The same text describes the ideal form of government. “All governments are ordained by God, but none compare to government by God, theocracy.”

The tragedy of sending young people to private schools because of the assumed failure of public schools is that students do worse with the voucher system. In the oldest voucher system program, Milwaukee’s School Choice Program, students with vouchers perform below the level of public school students. Cleveland shows similar results to Milwaukee’s students. In fact, in some private voucher schools less than 20% of students reach basic proficiency levels in reading and math.

Even public schools in Louisiana trample on the rights of students. Delhi Charter School required all female students who are believed to be pregnant to take a pregnancy test. Those who are pregnant or refuse are forced to be home schooled. After the ACLU stepped in, the school said they would change their policy but did not specify what the new one would be. Expelling pregnant girls has been illegal since the passage of Title IX in the early 1970s, but school officials said they were not aware that they were breaking the law with this policy.

Many people in Louisiana suffer from ignorance. Hodges, who says she wants children to be taught the religion of the founding fathers, is ignorant of the fact that founding fathers were largely Deists, not Christians. Thomas Jefferson knew that democracy depends on a well-educated populace able to reason and publicly debate. Today’s conservatives consider education to be dangerous because it teaches critical thinking and could keep the conservatives from taking over the country. They benefit from intolerance and ignorance.

April 20, 2012

ALEC Becomes Visible, Loses Support

Shrouded in secrecy, an ultra-conservative organization has operated for at least 30 years to destroy the poor and middle class people in the United States until George Zimmerman followed and killed Trayvon Martin, who was armed only with Skittles and an iced tea. Although law enforcement groups opposed the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, people in Florida are permitted to attack a perceived assailant without retreating. John Timoney, former Miami police chief, called the law a “recipe for disaster” and said that he and other police chiefs had correctly predicted it would lead to more violent road-rage incidents and drug killings.

Behind this law is not only the NRA but also the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a collection of wealthy corporations and highly conservative legislators, that exists to prepare ultra-conservative legislative bills that have swept the country as more and more states are held hostage by Republicans.

Once people began to learn about ALEC’s destructive nature, they protested, frequently with on-line petitions against its supporters. At least 12 major corporations, the number growing daily, have withdrawn their donations, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kraft, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Gates Foundation. Petitions are still out there to persuade State Farm Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, and AT&T to drop their support.

The pressure is paying off: ALEC has announced that it will be “eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.” That’s the task force that was behind the controversial voter ID, “stand your ground,” and anti-immigrant laws.

Complaining about “an intimidation campaign,” ALEC claims that its aim is “economic vitality.” Toward that end, they strive to break unions, repeal minimum wage laws, privatize public lands, repeal capital gains and estate taxes, oppose efforts to address human-created climate change, repeal sick day laws, require super-majorities to raise taxes, restrict women’s reproductive rights, and even push laws stating that kids’ eating rat poison is an “acceptable risk.”

In the name of “economic vitality,” ALEC has model laws in the educational field to teach creationism and stop the teaching of human involvement in climate change. Their ultimate goal is to strip public education of all financing,  funding only private religious academies. The Supreme Court allows Arizona to funnel public taxes to religious schools, and Tennessee now promotes creationism and climate change denial in its schools. Denying any involvement in ALEC, New Jersey governor Chris Christie uses its model bills for education “reform” including the use of standardized testing and reforming teacher tenure. ALEC is also in Minnesota working for “torte reform.” 

ALEC distributes hate messages, such as the pamphlets about the “Ten Harms of Same-Sex Marriage” and worse. According to this material from the Family Research Council, marriage equality would result in fewer people marrying or remaining monogamous followed by polygamy.

After the NRA conceived Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law and promoted its passage, the gun-advocacy group brought the bill to ALEC in 2005, when legislators and corporate lobbyists on the Criminal Justice Task Force voted unanimously to adopt it as a “model bill.” Since becoming first an ALEC model and then a law in dozens of other states, the number of homicides classified as “justifiable” has dramatically increased, jumping 300 percent in Florida alone. In 2009, members of the same Task Force approved the model “Voter ID Act,” versions of which were introduced in a majority of states in 2011, illegally denying voters the opportunity to participate in elections.

Members of the now-eliminated Task Force have included for-profit prison providers like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has also served as the co-chair. The ALEC Criminal Justice/Public Safety & Elections Task Force has created model bills that lengthen sentences, dramatically increased incarceration rates, and—of course—privatize prisons, putting more of those inmates under the control of for-profit corporations.

Fifteen years ago, Scott Walker, currently Wisconsin governor, introduced the “Truth in Sentencing” bill passed by the legislature which requires inmates to serve their full sentence without options for parole or supervised release. The law removes incentives for prisoners to reduce prison time through good behavior and participation in counseling as well as eliminating the ability for judges and parole boards to decide that the financial and social costs of keeping a particular person incarcerated no longer furthers public safety goals.

Walker failed to make money for CCA by losing his bid to privatize Wisconsin prisons, but Arizona Republican Rep. Russell Pearce was more successful when he collaborated with CCA to privatize half the immigrant detention centers at the same time that he persuaded the state legislature to pass the ALEC “model” immigration bill that became SB1070. An immigrant contesting their deportation can wait up to a year for a hearing, even though many of those detained have not committed a crime and have no criminal record. Taxpayers give CCA $122 per day for each detained immigrant in these centers. Pearce is known nation-wide because of the successful recall against him.

ALEC also made money for the for-profit bail bond industry’s trade association, the American Bail Coalition (ABC), through ALEC’s anti-immigration laws. An immigrant facing removal in some cases may be released on bond and will often pay a commercial bail bondsman for  release. Immigration bonds are usually between $5,000 and $10,000 although the bond can be much higher. A for-profit bail bondsman who receives 10 percent of that bail as a nonrefundable fee can collect significant profits for doing very little. ABC has called ALEC the industry’s “life preserver.” After the dissolution of ALEC’s Criminal Justice/Public Safety & Elections Task Force, ABC moved over to the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force.

In one specific way, ALEC affects almost everyone in its attempt to raise prices for Internet use. Although ALEC’s restrictive bill  failed to stop the public broadband system in Lafayette (LA), the “model” remains in ALEC’s library. Lafayette’s system offers Internet speed at a 750-percent cheaper cost to users than rival Cox’s service at the lowest tier. If the corporations that run ALEC get their way in the future, you will never have cheaper and faster Internet service.

While ALEC tries to keep Internet subscribers paying top dollar, they use it to protest what they perceive as “unfair” treatment, sending their message out to conservative bloggers of how to defend ALEC. In addition to its false claim of transparency, it also touts its “diversity of thought … a non-partisan resource”: ALEC leadership has one Democrat and 103 Republicans. Because of the closed-door policy, constituents don’t know that corporations write and approve ALEC legislation. Bloggers were told that ALEC will soon launch a website called “I Stand with ALEC.” (Until it comes up, you can find real information about ALEC at a website exposing their activities.)

Sounding virtuous about its work, ALEC said, “America needs organizations like ALEC to foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way.” ALEC Task Force meetings are closed to the press and public and take place behind closed doors. The Koch brothers are large donors to ALEC; they well understand the importance of opacity.

Unfortunately, ALEC is not unique in the land of blueprint legislation, borrowing bill prototypes or model bills from a central national entity and then adapting them for introduction in statehouses. People who notice that the women’s anti-reproductive rights legislation sweeping Republican states pretty much look alike can thank Americans United for Life (AUL) that took over from ALEC in this area. Behind this organization is former Mike Huckabee staffer Charmaine Yoest and former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson, who now claims “that Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with Satan.” Johnson is also behind Komen’s defunding Planned Parenthood. Not much has been said about their funding, but they certainly seem to have clout.

As The Nation reports, conservatives in ALEC think everything in government should be “demonized, starved, or privatized.” That’s probably true for all conservatives.

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