Nel's New Day

September 8, 2013

Working for Separation of Church and State

The Pledge of Allegiance is back in the news, after the 9th Circuit Court ruled three years ago for the 11 states in its jurisdiction, that the pledge does not represent a government endorsement of religion. This time, the case is in Massachusetts where the Commonwealth’s highest court is hearing a case, asking that the Pledge wording revert to its past form without “under God.” The pledge worked quite well for over a half century throughout both world wars until 1954 when Congress thought that the word “God” would protect the country from the Red Menace of the USSR Communists.

Fox “News” host Dana Perino, said that if atheists don’t like having “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, “they don’t have to live here.” She might be upset if she knew the pledge’s background. It came into being after Francis Bellamy’s words were used in 1891 as a device to sell U.S. flags to public schools as a premium for subscriptions to the magazine Youth’s Companion.   Co-founder of the Christian Socialists, Bellamy championed the “rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources” and supported public schools—two issues which Fox opposes.

Another ray of hope this week came from Oklahoma where the Tulsa Public School District is defying Christian leadership by abandoning abstinence-only programs. This year schools will use comprehensive sex education in grades 7, 9, and 11. The abstinence-only state has the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, and nearly half of all these pregnant teens don’t graduate from high school. Without the necessary education, they can’t get good jobs which causes a higher rate for welfare in the state. About one-fourth of young unmarried mothers end up in poverty, also a cause of teen pregnancy.

For every dollar that Okahoma sends to the federal government, the state receives $1.36, making Oklahoma a welfare state. A look at the ranking of states receiving federal funding reveals that the vast majority of conservative states are welfare states; only Texas pays more than it receives. In these states that spend millions on failed abstinence-only programs, students don’t know how to protect themselves from HIV, STDs, or unwanted pregnancies, costing the federal government more money.

Two stories about drag queens in the news this week are downright fun.  Jose Sarria, known as the Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement and Empress Jose I, died last month at 90 and left the agenda for his funeral service at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Female titleholders from his Imperial Court, which he created in 1965, were to wear “black/dark full length (understated) mourning attire, crowns, shoulder length veils covering both crowns and one’s face” along with “black gloves (opera length if wearing short sleeves).”  Males titleholders were “respectfully requested to wear dark suits, crowns and white gloves.” Ten limousines and six buses brought mourners to “a sensational and inspirational graveside ceremony” where Sarria was sent off with full military honors, a band concert, and a song from drag performer Donna Sachet. He was buried next to self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States, Joshua Norton, who died in 1880. It was the event of the season.

sarriaSarria served in the United States Army during World War II. Under five feet tall, he was too short for the height requirement, but he got into the Army Reserve after the attack on Pearl Harbor by seducing a major on the condition that the major approve Sarria’s enlistment. From there he was called up to active duty. When Sarria ran for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961, he was the first openly gay man to run for office. Although defeated, he became a powerful voice for gay rights.

The Advocate provided a wonderful photo spread including Sisters-of-Perpetual-Indulgencex633The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and elected city officials. Other photos are available on Google.


Other drag queens are planning an action at the Westboro Baptist Church headquarters in Kansas. Planting Peace, an anti-hate nonprofit group for equal rights, plans a drag show at its Equality House on October 26. The facility, painted in rainbow colors as a symbol for peace, compassion, and positive change, is located across the street from Westboro’s Topeka buildings. The event will be called the “Drag Down Bigotry” walk-a-thon.

Filmmakers Lara Zizic and David Turner are premiering their film Mission Congo at the Toronto International Film Festival this Friday, and Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network isn’t pleased. CBN is considering legal action against the depiction of Operation Blessing and how it diverted charitable activities to Robertson’s mining projects. Although volunteers for the international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) performed the vast majority of work to save Rwandan refugees, CBN claimed the credit, and Robertson raised millions of dollars. He continues this charade despite the official investigation accusing him of “fraudulent and deceptive” claims for running an almost non-existent aid operation.

Some of the most damaging criticism of Robertson comes from former aid workers at Operation Blessing, who describe how mercy flights to save refugees were diverted hundreds of miles from the crisis to deliver equipment to the televangelist’s diamond mining concession. The documentary shows how dredges, used to suck up diamonds from river beds, were delivered hundreds of miles from the crisis in Goma to a private commercial firm, African Development Company, registered in Bermuda and wholly owned by Robertson. The pilot said that of the 40 flights he flew into Congo, just two delivered aid, and the others were connected to the diamond mining. He had the words “Operation Blessing” removed from the tail of his airplane.

Revelations of Robertson’s fraudulent Congo activities were initially exposed in the Virginia newspaper, the Virginian Pilot, in the 1990s. Robertson has a history of mining controversies in Africa when he supported the then president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, during that country’s civil war without revealing at the time that he had an $8 million investment in a Liberian gold mine. Taylor was already indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal at the time and was later convicted of crimes against humanity.

Another church group has been exposed for its racism. The Freedom House Church wants “only white people” as greeters, according to a pastor, Makeda Pennycooke. He explained that “first impressions matter” and the church needs “the best of the best on the front doors.”

Obamacare may be linked with Syria when the U.S. House returns. On Washington Watch, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) talked to Family Research Council head Tony Perkins about the importance of defunding Obamacare. Jordan’s suggestion was to hold the budget and debt ceiling raise as leverage (aka blackmail); Perkins one-upped him by saying that the president should choose between funding Obamacare and funding a war in Syria (aka blackmail). Personally I vote for Obamacare!

Separation between church and state is getting even thinner after the Southern Baptist Convention banned members from taking part in weddings, counseling sessions, and couples retreats for same-sex couples. The Convention provides the greatest number of active-duty military chaplains.

American Family Association’s Sandy Rios has already given up on any hope of winning in Syria. Her position is that intervention is doomed because homosexuals and pregnant women have taken over the U.S. military. Another self-proclaimed Christian told his radio flock that people who attend gay weddings should tell the grooms “they shall both be put to death.” Kevin Swanson recommended holding up a sign with  Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man sleeps with a man as he sleeps with a woman the two of them have committed an abomination and they shall both be put to death.”

AugustaColorado’s first gay Speaker of the House, Mark Ferrandino, and his partner, Gret Wertsch, have adopted a daughter, and even a conservative blogger congratulated the couple. Not so former state Sen. Dave Schultheis (R-Colorado Springs) who posted a comment calling the adoption “perverted” and “deliberate child abuse.”

And just because it’s Sunday, we’ll end with the Catholic leadership, this time Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s interview with the Washington Times, controlled by the Unification Church. One of his issues dealt with David Letterman’s joke: “I am telling you if there is anything kids can’t get enough of it’s a 76-year old virgin. Come on, world youth day, or as the Vatican calls it, a salute to altar boys.” Paprocki thinks that this is just plain bigotry and ignorance because the Catholic Church’s success in dealing with the situation:

“For one thing it shows the ignorance of someone who identifies the Catholic Church and, particularly the priesthood, with sexual abuse. Certainly, we have had our unfortunate share of scandals and sin and the church is dealing with that. I would venture to say that of any institution in the country – perhaps in the world–I don’t think anyone is dealing with it as responsibly as the Catholic Church has. So public figures like that continue to point their finger at the Catholic Church and say you have a problem with sexual abuse and people are ignoring where most sexual abuse is taking place. It’s occurring in families. It’s occurring in schools.”

Paprocki’s blinders led him to claim that the main force behind child sex cases was “none other than the devil.” He also claimed that voting for Democratic candidates will doom a person to Hell and said that country is now a “pagan” culture no different from the era of the Roman Empire which oppressed and martyred Christians. He did overlook the fact that the church leaders have neither corrected the problem nor given appropriate restitution to the victims. With the Pope’s permission, they just move all their money into a safe place—the cemetery fund.


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