Nel's New Day

November 9, 2014

Christians Attempt to Subsume Freedom in U.S.

When I write my weekly blog on religion, I worry that I’m obsessed with it. At least one newly-elected senator shows that I’m right to be worried about the growing flood of intolerant Christians.  For example, James Lankford, Oklahoma’s GOP senator-elect, who plans to use his Christian bible to make decisions:

“I look at Nehemiah and how he handled things when he stepped into Jerusalem. It was that the people were in disgrace and the wall was broken down, but the two things that he focused in on was the constructive side of things and the debt. Half of the Book of Nehemiah is just getting the people out of debt, so they could actually take on the other things.”

Think Progress gave the award for most extreme election winner to Colorado’s state senator Gordon Klingenschmitt with his history of attempting to run the country according to his personal Christian beliefs.

In a prayer “against the enemies of religious liberty”—anyone who disagrees with him–he said, “Let their days be few, and replace them with godly people. Plunder their fields and seize their assets. Cut off their descendants. And remember their sins. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

He blessed Lowes Home Improvement stores for stopping its advertising on the TV show All-American Muslim, which is nothing but Islamic propaganda.” According to Klingenschmitt, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act promotes beastiality, and “federal bureaucrats will enforce Obamacare to exterminate the elderly, systematically.” He tells everyone to get a gun, “sell your clothes and buy a gun.”

Klingenschmitt is big on exorcisms: “I said, “You foul spirit of lesbianism, this woman has renounced you, come out of her in Jesus’ name,’ and she began to wrestle with that and suddenly her eyes began to bug out and then she began to weep, and weep, and weep as the Holy Spirit forgave her sins.” He also performed one on President Obama long-distance on his television show when he tried to remove “the demon of tyranny who is using the White House occupant … to oppress us.” In his book, The Demons of Barack H.Obama, Klingenschmitt claims he discovered fifty demons “ruling” Obama , including the dark spirits of “sexual abuse,” “genocide,” “paganism,” “witchcraft,” and “homosexual lust.” Klingenschitt’s overriding policy is that “only people who are going to heaven are entitled to equal treatment by the government.”

Another example of the merging of church and state is Ava Maria (FL), billed as a utopia where kids are safe, neighbors are friends, and life is good. Created in 2005 by Domino Pizza’s founder, Tom Monahan with Barron Collier companies, it’s a place where then-governor and possible future presidential candidate Jeb Bush described it as “a new kind of town where like-minded people live in harmony between faith and freedom.” That’s because Monahan intends to create the city “according to strict Roman Catholic principles”—no sale of pornography, any contraception (including condoms), and X-rated channels on cable TV. Monahan also created the Ave Maria University and the Ave Maria School of Law where Justice Antonin Scalia had “significant input” in the law school’s curriculum.

The ACLU started paying attention to the religious control of Ave Maria when Naples Community Hospital negotiated with Ave Maria to open offices in the town. That process brought the questions that all Catholic control brings: would the hospital respect an order of Do Not Resuscitate? what advice and referrals would a rape victim get? would she get information about abortion of emergency contraceptives? Eventually Ave Maria did not get a Naples Community Hospital satellite because the health center refused to restrict the availability of birth control, abortion, and abortion referrals.

As Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State pointed out, Ave Maria is not an anomaly. Among insular religious communities attempt in the U.S. are Zion (IL), founded in 1901; Rehoboth (DE), founded in 1873; and Ocean Grove (NJ), founded in 1869. Although these municipalities are now secular, other such as Kiryas Joel (NY), Hildale (UT), and Colorado City (AZ) still exert religious authority over their residents.

“Historically,” Boston adds, “one of two things typically happens in places run by religious denominations. First, outsiders often move in and change the character of the area. Secondly, these communities tend to be riven by internal dissent.” In Hildale and Colorado City, run by polygamist Warren Jeffs before his 2010 imprisonment on child endangerment and sexual abuse charges, so-called “outsiders” have had to contact the FBI and Department of Justice because they were denied housing and public utilities.

Police in another Utah town, St. George, closed down a party because people were dancing without the permission of the city council. Organizer Jared Keddington had even gotten a permit from the council, but the police said that it was missing pages that Jeddington had not received that stated the party could not allow “random acts of dancing by patrons.”

Kiryas Joel, 50 miles north of New York City, is an enclave of over 22,000 Hasidic Jews. The New York ACLU learned in late 2012 that the town planned to make a public 283-acre park into a sex-segregated play area restricting boys and girls according to the town leaders’ religious law. Fifteen months later the suit was dropped after the town removed signs mandating the separation of genders.

Frederick Clarkson, senior fellow at Political Research Associates, quoted Thomas Jefferson when he talked about whether a town can take away individual rights: “Are you as free to go out of a church as you are to go into one? Or are you a captive of the company store?”

Determined to keep students ignorant, the Gilbert School District in Arizona voted 3-2 to tear out pages from the biology book used in the schools Advanced Placement curriculum. The offending portion of the textbook describes methods of contraception and includes Mifepristone, also called RU486, that can terminate pregnancies in their early stages. Members of the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom objected to this information and claimed that it violated a state law requiring schools to emphasize childbirth and adoption over adoption. One of the minority said that the textbook “discussed biological principles and in a very understandable way.”

The ACLU protested the censorship, and a state Department of Education official agreed that the textbook doesn’t violate the law. Texas also wants censorship about climate change, affirmative change, and segregation while trying to teach students that Moses inspired modern American democracy. Last year, the Kentucky governor used an executive order to provide accurate science standards in public schools after the legislature tried to do away with these.

Actions in West High School in Tracy (CA) invite a challenge to school policies. Assigned to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance, Derek Giardina, 17, received detention and a considerably lowered grade after he omitted the words “under God,” added to the Pledge in 1954. A California high school is practically begging to be sued in court after school officials punished a student for reciting the Pledge of Allegiance without the words “under God.” The school demanded the “traditional way,” used for less than half the time since a Christian Socialist wrote the Pledge in 1892.

Arizona’s GOP Rep.Trent Franks has also gained notoriety by warning that ISIS will succeed because “the secular left” in the United States is diluting the country’s Christian heritage. He claims that secularism is telling people in the United States that they can’t wear crosses, say “God bless you,” and show Bibles. According to Franks, a lawsuit is trying to take religious icons from tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery. In fact, the United States government has approved 65 religious symbols for engraving on markers in national veterans’ cemeteries.

In a reversal of Christian beliefs in Florida, even Jesus would be arrested in Fort Lauderdale if he tried to hand out loaves and fishes. Ninety-year-old Arnold Abbott was arrested and is facing 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for giving food to homeless people. This didn’t stop the man who has been giving food to the homeless for 23 years; he was back, doing the same thing, after his arrest. As Stephen Colbert pointed out on his show, this is the same town where police ignore college students drinking, puking, and partying with abandon every spring.

Neo-Confederates in Mississippi, the poorest state in the Union, are trying to declare the state Christian and English-only, designate “Dixie” as the official state song, and require preservation of Confederate symbols at the University of Mississippi. The proposed initiative also establishes a Confederate History Month and a Confederate Memorial Day. Its rationale is that “the Holy Bible is acknowledged as a foremost source of her founding principles, inspiration, and virtues. Accordingly, prayer is acknowledged as a respected, meaningful, and valuable custom of her citizens.”

Meanwhile, a federal district court in Oregon has declared that Secular Humanism is a religion, defined as “an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces.” Humanism may end up the same special rights as traditional religions. California’s West High School might want to take notice.

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.

September 15, 2013

Religious Views Can Remove Rational Thought

Imagine how the conservative Christians in the United States would react if a Muslim decided to burn almost 3,000 Bibles. Yet one Christian almost burned 2,998 Qurans, supposedly one for every victim of the 9/11/01 attacks. Fortunately, Polk County (FL) sheriff’s deputies arrested 61-year-old Terry Jones and his 34-year-old associate pastor, Marvin Sapp, Jr., as they were towing a large barbecue-style grill filled with kerosene-soaked Qurans to a park.

Last year Jones planned to burn one Quran on 9/11, although he changed his mind. His congregation burned a Quran in March 2011, and last year Jones promoted an anti-Muslim film. All three events brought violence in the Middle East. After the Quran burning, hundreds of protesters stormed a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan and killed seven foreigners, including four Nepalese guards. Military officials told Jones that his actions put U.S. service members in danger.

Another book controversy occurred last week in Texas, a state known for revising the social studies curriculum—and the history of the United States—because of demands from conservatives. Now a group of creationists on the review panel want to adopt biology textbooks with the conservatives’ version of science.

Reviewers claim that evolution is only a theory. One of them, a dietician, wrote, “I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.” Jimmy Gollihar, of the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, noted that the panel features anti-science activists who “not only lack any credentials but seem not to understand basic science.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that creationist pseudo-science is legally impermissible in public school science classes because it violates the separation of church and state. But the reviewers will, no doubt, persevere. The next public hearing is in two days, followed by a decision in November. The Texas Education Agency refuses to tell what changes, if any, the publishers have agreed to make in response to the reviews from the panel. 

Texas’ decision impacts textbooks in the entire nation. Because the state purchases so many textbooks, publishers tend to print what they want and sell the same ones to the rest of the country.

Bible literalists understand that if people learn and grow, that they will abandon their childlike beliefs and learn more complex ideas. One of these people is Ed Suominen, raised in a small Lutheran sect called Laestadianism, one of the most conservative of all 32,000 Christian denominations. After Suominen went to the University of Washington and became an engineer, he discovered the power of natural selection through computer work with electrical and digital systems. He chronicled his journey away from Biblical literalism  in An Examination of the Pearl and followed that with Evolving Out of Eden.  

J.K. Rowling has finished writing her Harry Potter series, but three young women from Arizona, under the tutelage of Rev. Bob Larson, are convinced that the spells are real. They have gone to London, “the center of witchcraft,” to exorcise the demons. They have vowed never to read the novels and want to help UK teenagers defend themselves “by reciting the spells in the Harry Potter books.”

A radically conservative Catholic group called “Fix the Family”  are following fundamentalist evangelical Christians in their attempt to turn the clock back at least six centuries. In a self-identified desire to strengthen the family and thereby create a stronger society, they have determined males and females should follow strict gender roles. For example, Raylan Alleman has written an article called “6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College”:

  • “She will attract the wrong types of men.” Going to college will force women to be the primary breadwinner, supporting the man who won’t work.
  • “She will be in a near occasion of sin.” Sex releases hormones that keep the woman from seeing the man’s faults; couples should have sex only during marriage when women won’t criticize husbands because sex keeps them from seeing the men’s faults.
  •  “She will not learn to be a wife and mother.” Colleges don’t teach homemaking skills.
  • “The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.” Only males should be allowed to accrue debts.
  • “You don’t have to prove anything to the world.” Women shouldn’t need to give in to societal pressures, just to the religion’s pressures.
  • “It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.” Because college is expensive, parents might try to restrict the number of their children through the “sinful” approach of contraception of sterilization.
  • “She will regret it.” But maybe she won’t!
  • “It could interfere with a religious vocation.” Alleman writes that many seminaries and religious orders don’t take people with large, unpaid debts.

Alleman did get upset about the criticism and tried to justify his statements:

  • Education: College has nothing to do with education although college is necessary for the family provider depending on the vocation.
  • Female oppression: “Husbands and wives are of equal dignity, but with different roles…. Since the purpose of a college degree is for a job, it becomes unnecessary for our daughters to have such a credential.  My personal impression is that the day-to-day grind of a job is below the dignity of women.
  • Women’s opportunities: Getting a college degree often makes a young lady feel an “obligation” to use it, to make money.  Often her husband doesn’t want to see it go to “waste.”
  • Help if a husband dies or leaves: A  woman needs to have something to provide income in case her husband dies, becomes disabled or leaves her. The first 2 issues can and should be resolved with insurance, which is very affordable for young couples who may be vulnerable to these VERY remote possibilities, which is why it is so affordable.  …  As for the husband leaving her, the possibility of being left in such a state would make a woman MUCH more careful about the man she decides to marry.

Alleman would be disturbed about studies showing that atheists are more likely to stay married, be honest, and  evangelical Christians are more likely to divorce than those with no religion. The Northeast region has the lowest divorce rate whereas the Bible Belt has the highest. According to Federal Bureau of Prisons numbers, Christians commit more crimes per person than atheists, who commit fewer than the followers of any religion. In the U.S., the “more religious a state’s population, the higher the crime, STD and teen pregnancy rates.” The same results come from a comparison of countries: more religious people means more crime, more sexually transmitted diseases and higher teen pregnancy rates.

Personality-wise, science indicates that atheists are “less authoritarian and suggestible, less dogmatic, less prejudiced, more tolerant of others, law-abiding, compassionate, conscientious, and well-educated.” In a word, based on scientific research, atheists are moral. The truth is that adherence to a belief in right and wrong doesn’t require a belief in God, and the admirable lives of countless non-believers proves it.

I do have trouble understanding the Christian morality in which religious leaders rape children and are then freed. For example, the Iowa pastor and youth counselor Brent Girouex, 31, claimed that he was trying to “cure” teenage boys of their “homosexual urges” by having sex with them. His plea must have worked in court because his sentence was reduced from 17 years in prison to sex offender treatment and probation. After he confessed to having sex with four underage boys, eight more have said Girouex sexually violated them.

Girouex claimed he could rape away the gay by “praying while he had sexual contact” with the boys, all in an effort to keep them “sexually pure” for God. He told police that “when they would ejaculate, they would be getting rid of the evil thoughts in their mind.”

At least his wife didn’t swallow his excuses. Erin Girouex said,”I don’t want [my children] anywhere near him.” She wants to divorce him, but her husband wants to see his four children. At this time, the court has ordered a twice-per-month visitation schedule, supervised by his own mother.

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!

November 25, 2012

Religion Struggling with Its Government Takeover

I find religion to be a peculiar belief because it rules most of the world, including parts of the United States, and yet people have such vast diversity in beliefs. People don’t even know how often they attend a religious institution. According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Americans identify with an organized faith group, making the people in this nation more deeply religious than in many other countries including those in Europe. But are people in the U.S. as religious as they say? NPR’s science correspondent Shankar Vedantam looked into this theory.

Although 45 percent of the people say that they regularly attend a church or other religious service, Philip Brenner’s study of their activities through a self-reported diary indicates that only 24 percent of the people actually do this. Perhaps they want to represent themselves as religious. This almost double over-reporting of regular attendance is in sharp contrast to very little over-reporting among people in Western Europe.

Perhaps because they want to look religious, many people in the United States tolerate the intrusion of religion into government matters, similar to the stocks in Puritan New England. States that diligently pass laws preventing the Sharia, the Islam moral code, in their law, are comfortable using Christianity in laws preventing abortion and marriage equality and in sentencing convicted felons.

Judge Mike Norman (Muskogee County, OK) sentenced 17-year-old Tyler Alred to church attendance for ten years—nothing more. Alred was convicted of manslaughter after he killed the passenger in his car when it collided with a tree. Although Alred’s blood alcohol level was under the legal limit, by law he was driving under the influence because he was a minor.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles (Rock Hill, SC) did send Cassandra Tolley to prison after her conviction, but he added a provision to the eight-year sentence: mandatory bible study and a summary of the Book of Job. Tolley drove down the wrong side of a road and hit a car head on, seriously injuring two men. Her blood alcohol content was over four times the legal limit.

Fortunately, Gordon Klingenschmitt is no longer a Navy chaplain, especially after “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. His claim is that that people who vote to support same-sex marriage are like those who wanted to crucify Jesus Christ. When asked if the election shows a movement toward “enlightenment” and that Jesus might approve of marriage equality, the chaplain responded that the interviewer confused “the Holy Spirit with a demonic spirit.”

In quoting Romans 1:32, Klingenschmitt said, “‘Knowing the judgment of God that those who commit such things, homosexual acts, for example, are not only worthy of death, not only for those who do them, but for those who have pleasure in those who do them.’” None of the 18 most common versions of this verse mentions homosexuality. In fact, that word does not appear in the bible.

The former chaplain also practices exorcism and has a new book—self-published—called The Demons of Barack H. Obama. When reminded that people in the military are supposed to support elections and democracy, Klingenschmitt said, “The only election in the New Testament was the election to crucify Jesus and let Barnabas go.”

With the winter holidays bearing down on us, the fundamentalist Christians are again lamenting the loss of Christmas. Pat Robertson got a head start when he said, “Christmas all over again. The Grinch is trying to steal our holiday. It’s been so beautiful. The nation comes together. We sing Christmas carols, we give gifts to each other. We have lighted trees and it’s just a beautiful thing. Atheists don’t like our happiness, they don’t want you to be happy, they want you to be miserable. They’re miserable so they want you to be miserable.”

Like Karl Rove, Robertson was stunned when President Obama won re-election. Last January he said that God had told him who the winner would be, but there seemed to be static in that communication. In talking about his confusion, Robertson said, “So many of us miss God, I won’t get into great detail about elections but I sure did miss it, I thought I heard from God, I thought I had heard clearly from God, what happened? You ask God, how did I miss it? Well, we all do and I have a lot of practice.”

The fundamentalist Christians have had a hard year. First they couldn’t get the candidate they wanted. Texas Gov. Rick Perry looked good back in the summer when he participated in a big rally in his state, but his odd behavior led them to conservative Catholic Rick Santorum who equally alienated most people. Mitt Romney survived only because he said very little and shifted with the wind.

The fundamentalists also failed to get any of the Catholics except the bishops riled after the free contraception kerfuffle. The “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign against President Obama was overshadowed by the “Nuns on the Bus” that showed the hypocrisy of Paul Ryan and the bishop leadership. In the end, 50 percent of Catholics voted for President Obama over the 48 percent that chose Romney.

During the crucial last month, fundamentalist candidates openly and frequently showed their ignorance. Senate Republican candidates Richard Mourdock (IN) and Rep. Todd  Akin (R-MO) helped people understand how extreme the conservative radical theology is. The candidates not only lost but most likely took others down with them.

In addition, fundamentalist Christians failed to turn out for this election, possibly because of the confident rhetoric from conservative pundits on Fox and other stations proclaiming Mitt Romney as a shoe-in for the presidency. Despite Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition that sent illegal voter guides to Ohio churches, the president improved his standing by three points with white evangelicals in that state over the 71 percent to 27 percent margin John McCain won four years ago.

The final blows for fundamentalist Christians were the loss of the presidency and the Senate and the wins for marriage equality in three states. Minnesota was a fourth state that refused to further legitimize bigotry. Even the massive “Vote Biblical Values” ad campaign from famed evangelist Billy Graham failed to stop the groundswells of support among other religious groups for marriage equality.

Far-right religious figures had earlier understood that they were losing the war against marriage equality. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, reiterated this position when he said that the Religious Right should focus less on abortion and gay marriage and more on issues such as immigration reform, poverty, and increasing adoptions and foster care opportunities. We’ll wait to see if they go so far as to allow same-sex couples to participate in their grand schemes.

Meanwhile, the Church of England is having trouble with its own war on women after its laity rejected women bishops. Although the action was approved by the synod’s houses of bishops and clergy, only 324 synod members in the House of Laity voted to approve the ordination of women bishops, six short of the required two-thirds majority. As Williams said, “We have, to put it bluntly, a lot of explaining to do.” The next vote will probably not come until 2015.

 

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.

March 23, 2012

Anti-Choice People Get Crazier

How crazy can anti-choice people become? Just when you think you’ve seen it all ….

Members of an anti-choice group performed an exorcism outside a women’s clinic in Ohio last Sunday. Priests got permission from the Rev. Steve J. Angi, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, to perform the “exorcism of locality,” designed to drive evil out of a place, rather than out of a person. Participants read the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1886, that states, “Seize the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the devil and Satan, bind him and cast him into the bottomless pit, that he may no longer seduce the nations.”

While the Catholics are exorcising “locality,” Republican legislators are becoming more and more outrageous. In Arizona Rep. Terri Proud wants a bill to force women witness an abortion before they can have the procedure. An Alaskan bill requires women who opt for abortions to prove in writing that the fetuses’ fathers approve of the procedures.

To keep women from having abortions, both Arizona and Kansas are considering bills giving women’s doctors the legal right to lie about health issues regarding both the pregnant women’s and the fetuses’ health. In a 20-9 vote, the Arizona Senate approved a bill, sponsored by Nancy Barto, that prevents lawsuits if doctors fail to inform women of prenatal problems. The Kansas bill goes further, permitting doctors to outright lie outright if they discover a medical condition that could affect a pregnant women or fetus. Nine other states already have “wrongful birth” laws on their books allowing doctors to withhold information from pregnant women.

Idaho State Sen. Chuck Winder clearly states the arrogant attitude that many Republican legislators have toward women. While discussing his mandatory ultrasound bill, he said, “Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”

Gov. Rick Perry (TX) stated that he can take money from Planned Parenthood because the Tenth Amendment allows him to do anything with federal money that he wants. Between the withdrawal of state and federal funds from Planned Parenthood, over 300,000 Texas women in poverty can no longer receive health care. Texas also has a 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound requirements for abortions. The Texas Observer has published a story about the pain that these laws cause for women carrying fetuses with irreversible medical conditions, an article that every Republican should be required to read.

Utah’s governor signed the bill that demands a 72-hour waiting period before women can get abortions. The rationale behind lengthy waits seems to be that women will change their minds if given enough time … or perhaps not meet the short window of time during which women can get abortions.

The trend against women, however, seems to be slightly reversing. Tennessee is thinking about not requiring the publication of the names of doctors’ who perform abortions although the women’s identity could still be obvious. The change comes from the only physician in the legislature, a Republican who wants to protect at least doctors if not women.

The Idaho House is backing off forced ultrasounds after the Senate passed the bill 23-12 with five Republicans voting against it. The cancellation of a House committee hearing gives the impression that the bill may have died. After the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would force doctors to lie to their patients by telling them legislature-specified statements that abortions give higher risks for breast cancer, legislators decided to take the bill back to committee so that it could be reconsidered. Abortions do NOT give a higher risk of breast cancer.

Arizona’s bill requiring women to tell their employees why they want contraception has already passed the House, but it’s being amended by its sponsor, Rep. Debbie Lesko, who pulled it from the Senate Rules Committee. The intent to return to committee is to work on amendments—what kind wasn’t disclosed. Gov. Jan Brewer said she was concerned that women might be “uncomfortable” with the bill.

Utah governor Gary Herbert vetoed a bill banning public schools from teaching about contraception in health education classes.

Women are still fighting back. Project TMI is still posting on legislators’ Facebook pages across the nation.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), which has been almost invisible in the past few years, has tackled the bust of Rush Limbaugh being sculpted for the Missouri state capitol. The state chapter’s program, “Flush Rush,” has sent hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to Steven Tilley, the state House Speaker responsible for inducting Limbaugh in the Hall of Famous Missourians. Tilley’s justification for keeping Limbaugh in the capitol is that the Hall is “not called the Hall of Universally Loved Missourians. We’ve inducted people like John Ashcroft, Warren Hearnes, and Harry Truman. They certainly had their detractors.” Apparently at least one Missouri Republican compares Limbaugh to Harry Truman.

Because of its opposition to Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is losing affiliate officers and events. Another group—one that’s pro-choice and spends more of its funding helping women prevent breast cancer—would better suited to take its place.

Conservative legislators are also more reluctant to fight in other areas such as same-sex marriage. Two-thirds of the New Hampshire House voted to keep its 2007 same-sex marriage law in a 211 to 116 vote. Republicans hold 189 seats in the House; they could easily have passed the bill.

Even with this trend, the country trends farther and farther to the right. There must a tipping point somewhere!

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