Nel's New Day

August 18, 2019

Oppose Fundamentalist Christian Opposition to Democracy

Much has been said about the connection between mass shooting and white supremacy, but people are more cautious in discussing its connection to Christianity. Activist Sandy Rios, activist for extreme conservative Christianity, claims that criticism of white supremacy is an attack on Christianity. In her radio program, she defended the Nazis for murder of white people because they selected those who didn’t qualify for the superhuman race. She added:
“When the left is talking about white supremacism, they’re talking about the roots of this country. They’re talking about Christianity. They’re talking about hard work, about capitalism and free-market values. They’re talking about everything that has made America what it is. That’s what they mean.”

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded on with the ideology that black slavery and white supremacy are the basis of the Christian faith. The white supremacist Ku Klux Klan has always been a Christian organization. Christians allowed Nazi Germany to take control and murder people because most German Christians supported the Third Reich even in the face of mounting evidence of its evil. Throughout Europe, millions of Christians still support fascist regimes just as early Christian sects were loyal to authoritarian leaders.

Centuries ago, Rome misinterpreted the Gospels to remove blame for Jesus’ crucifixion from Romans and move it to the Jews. Throughout time, the myth that Jews killed Jesus accelerated into Catholic genocide of Jews during the Holocaust. A racist, anti-democracy culture came from people who grew up in strict, pious households disparaging tolerance and free speech. Nazis despised feminism, homosexuality, and abortion while following a patriarchal lifestyle with discipline and conformity. Their elections reflected their belief that an authoritarian strongman would “make Germany great again”; religious Germans repeatedly voted for anti-democracy candidates. As Christians supported Hitler and his policies, he became stronger, and the minority weaker. Not even Hitler’s mandatory sterilizations of minorities and the mentally ill lost his Catholic leaders.

Michael Gerson writes about how Christians find their worship of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) in opposition to Jesus’ spiritual education. For example, only 25 percent of white evangelical Christians accept the responsibility to help refugees, compared to 65 percent of those not affiliated with a religion. The majority of conservative Christians promote cruelty, corruption, and hypocrisy, not the people who consider themselves non-Christians. Gerson proposes that these Christians take their talking points from Fox, talk radio, and DDT with a blasphemous worship of political idols. They side with white supremacists, making them difficult to identify as Christians.  

Christian TV host Leigh Valentine claims migrant children in DDT’s concentration camps are “God-haters,” “unclean,” “debased,” and “criminals.”

DDT-supporting West Virginia state senator Paul Hardesty reported that at least three of his constituents called to complain about DDT’s profanity—“using the Lord’s name in vain”—at a recent rally in Greenville (NC). Although many of DDT’s listeners focused on the “send her back” chanting, others were disturbed by his frequent use of “g—damn” and other profanities. Hardesty hasn’t heard back from DDT after he wrote him to “reflect on your comments and never utter those words again.” Hardesty said:

“I think this president needs to be president to all of the people and realize that kids look up to him and adults look up to him. Carrying that type of language from behind the presidential seal is offensive.”

Two pro-DDT pastors expressed dismay about his use of “bullsh—” at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in March. He bragged about going “off-script” and then littered the remainder of his speech with cursing in front of an audience with young people. Yet some evangelicals support DDT despite his multiple divorces, infidelities, and inability to discuss religion. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says that DDT’s language is not a deal-breaker despite its front-and-center appearance in his campaign and since his inauguration. Evangelicals who turn against DDT think racism and cruelty are no problem, but his language is offensive. All sin—sexual assault, adultery, rape, murder, corruption, lying, etc.—is forgivable except swearing.

In the 16th century, one Catholic priest, Diego de Landa, destroyed the Mayan language and culture through the forced adoption of the Intolerance Meme that declares worshipping gods other than the primary one is a sin but justifies murder, slavery, forced conversion, racism, destruction of other religions, etc. Furious because the Mayans incorporated the Catholic god into their religion, Lana started the inquisition that tortured and killed Mayans throughout the Yucatan region. By 1720, not one person alive understood the meaning of the Mayan hieroglyphs. Landa was punished by house arrest in Spain, but only for an inquisition without authorization, and then promoted to Bishop of Yucatan in Central America.

DDT is not unique among presidential candidates in his swearing: Joe Biden makes slips, and Beto O’Rourke and Tulsi Gabbard use profanity. But they haven’t been elected to the highest office in the country, and they don’t count on the religious right for votes. In 2016, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for DDT, and 61 percent of the voting bloc approve of the country’s direction—22 percent higher than the general population in the conservative Rasmussen poll.

According to Melissa Mohr, author of a book on swearing, DDT’s swearing was initially acceptable because his blunt statements gave him a sense of authenticity and came from “a deep well of real feeling.” On the other hand, the use of profanity for shock value, according to one of the pastors, “does raise questions about the president’s respect for people of faith.”

Recent developments show Christian collectively pushing the theocratic “dominionist” ideology in government through unconstitutional state-mandated “religious liberty” policies: 

Six weeks ago, federal prosecutors decided to retry humanitarian aid volunteer Scott Warren for aiding migrants on the southern border after his first trial ended in a hung jury. Following the words of Jesus, Warren gave food, water, clothing, and shelter to people on the Arizona desert, a belief that can put him in prison.

The VA announced new “religious liberty” policies against religious minorities by putting bibles in the public POW/MIA “missing man” displays. As justification, it cited the Supreme Court decision that allowed a cross to represent 49 men from Prince George County (MD) who died in World War I.

Frederick Clarkson reported to the House about Minnesota state legislators threatening to cut the entire budget for the Minnesota Historical Society if they didn’t drop all education and changes that don’t support the Christian nationalist concentration on only their “Judeo-Christian heritage.” Their insistence came from Project Blitz that prepares a package of Christian-only bills at the state level that promote discrimination. The lectures about the myth of the U.S. founded as a “Christian nation” were privately funded, but Project Blitz still wanted to block them.

The dominance of Israel over U.S. legislators has returned with DDT’s attacks on Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), both Muslims. Tlaib also has Palestinian heritage. Christian fundamentalists support Israel, hate Palestinians, and believe that Jews are going to hell if they don’t become fundamentalist Christians. Evangelicals need to eradicate the Palestinians so that Jews can gather on their land and must convert before the beginning of the great millennium, the golden age when Christ reigns on earth. In addition, Christian nationalists want the U.S. to be a white Christian nation. Therefore, the Christian fundamentalist position on Israel is selfishly religious and racist—not political.

Evangelical worship for DDT gives a bad name to all Christians—and all religious people. When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX) told Fox and Friends that the shooting was a warning from God, Matthew Martin-Ellis wrote a piece for the Christian publication The Relevant describing Patrick’s comment as “logically indefensible.”

A group of at least 17 church leaders, united under the name Christians Against Christian Nationalism, is opposing the Christian nationalists’ attacks on other faiths and attempts to make the U.S. a fundamentalist theocracy. The coalition asserts:

“Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution.

“Christian nationalism … provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.

“Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the state and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian.”

These leaders warn about the threat to both Christian faith and democracy if church and state don’t remain separate. They reject the idea that being a “good American” requires being Christian and argue against the privilege of Christianity by the State.

June 29, 2019

Supreme Court Moves to Eliminate Democracy

The debates took up much of the media air last week, but the Supreme Court decisions are what will permanently change democracy in the United States. The two biggest one came out Thursday, the last day of the session so that the conservatives could quickly get out of town. Chief Justice John Roberts now has a one-two-three punch against voting with his three major decisions to suppress the vote. In the first, Citizens United, Roberts gave donors the right to give unlimited amounts of “dark money” to political candidates. His elimination of the almost 50-year-old Voters Rights Act made sure that states could keep minorities and the poor from voting in the states that were usually inclined to discriminate against these populations.

This Thursday, Roberts guaranteed that politicians can select their own voters instead of the constitutional position that voters should pick their candidates, and courts can’t stop gerrymandering even if it promises partisanship. Roberts’ swing vote in Rucho v. Common Cause blocking federal courts from preventing the most aggressive partisan gerrymandered districts that computers can create. In a circular pattern, Republicans pick districts so that the districts will pick Republicans.

The conservative majority used the excuse that some acts can violate he Constitution but are beyond the judiciary to determine any violations. Roberts’ reasoning that courts cannot require states to draw legislative maps somewhat proportional adversely twisted the definition of “proportional representation” for voting, meaning legislative representation should track electoral results. He allows states where Democrats win 54 percent of the vote to give Republicans 65 percent of the legislative seats, and he skipped the part of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits states from denying anyone “equal protection of the laws.” The First Amendment also prohibits viewpoint discrimination—aka gerrymandering. For elections, Roberts views the amendment narrowly while he uses it for unlimited expenditures to influence elections.

The swing vote in Department of Commerce v. New York, Roberts voted against the conservative four justices. The racist policy by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) to rig the census by requiring all people in the U.S. to answer a question of their citizenship provided more voter suppression by shrinking districts with Latinx, designed to allocate congressional seats in a way that “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” The U.S. census is ordered for all “people” in the nation, not citizens or legal residents.

Experts testified that the citizenship question “could seriously jeopardize the accuracy of the census,” because “people who are undocumented immigrants may either avoid the census altogether or deliberately misreport themselves as legal residents.” Meanwhile, legal residents “may misunderstand or mistrust the census and fail or refuse to respond.” The Census Bureau “calculated in January 2018 that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census was likely to lead to a 5.1% differential decrease in self-response rates among noncitizen households.” The purpose of the census covers a lot of territory from determining the number of legislators, both state and federal, and the amount of federal funding for different areas.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied about the question’s inception and reason and falsely claimed that it was necessary to help the DOJ enforce the remaining portion of the Voters Rights Act. Evidence, however, “showed that the Secretary was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while Commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process.” This evidence suggests that “the Secretary had made up his mind to reinstate a citizenship question ‘well before’ receiving DOJ’s request, and did so for reasons unknown but unrelated to the VRA.”

Although Roberts voted that the question had to go back to state courts for another look, he denied that it should be removed because Ross didn’t follow a federal law requiring a three-year notice to Congress about “the subjects proposed to be included, and the types of information to be compiled.” The ruling did not state that the decision was “substantively invalid” but that “agencies must pursue their goals reasonably,” and “reasoned decisionmaking under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action.” Remanded back to the New York district court, the Supreme Court decision overturned a ruling that the question is “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedures Act and upheld the constitutionality of a citizenship question under the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution. The ruling determined the question legal if the Commerce Department can come up with a good enough reason.

DDT is so furious about the citizenship question decision that he wants to (unconstitutionally) delay the census until he gets his way. Supposedly, census forms printing must be started next week to complete them in time, but Commerce Department could wait until October 31 to start printing the questionnaire if it can get “extraordinary resources” allocated by Congress.

In a filing last Monday, Maryland District Court Judge George Hazel stated the evidence “potentially connects the dots between a discriminatory purpose—diluting Hispanics’ political power—and Secretary Ross’s decision” to add a citizenship question with the argument that DDT violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Although the Supreme Court decision may stop the Maryland lawsuit, it can reappear if Ross returns with new reasons.

DDT’s court continues its pattern: conservative decisions are sweeping ones that change laws; liberal ones are narrow with little relief except in one specific situation.

In the census decision, Justice Clarence Thomas, on the court thanks to Joe Biden’s refusal to listen to women’s statements about Thomas’ sexual harassment, called Judge Jesse Furman a conspiracy theorist for challenging Ross’ lies. Earlier, Thomas had raged about sending a case back to Mississippi for a sixth time in Flowers v. Mississippi because, according to Thomas, prosecutors can strike minorities from a jury on the basis of their race. Neil Gorsuch joined Thomas in his position. Last February, Thomas announced he wants to overturn New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 ruling sharply restricting public figures, including government officials, to sue for defamation and get rid of Gideon v. Wainwright, requiring states to provide public defenders for indigent defendants. Gorsuch agrees with that position too. To Thomas, abortion rights equals eugenics.

After another Supreme Court ruling last week, police no longer need a warrant to draw blood from an unconscious person suspected of drinking while driving. Gone is the requirement of a person for an invasive procedure that overturns the 2013 Supreme Court ruling a violation of the Constitution for a nonconsensual blood draw without a warrant in a DUI case.

The 40-foot Christian cross will remain on a traffic median near Washington, D.C. according to six Christian and one Jewish Supreme Court justices. Catholic Justice Samuel Alito wrote that Christian crosses have “secular meaning.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, dissenting with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, read her disagreement from the bench. [I’m guessing that the Supreme Court would not consider a “secular” Jewish star of David or Islam crescent to replace the “secular” cross.]

The Supreme Court refused to hear a lower court ruling against Alabama’s 2015 abortion law banning “dilation and evacuation,” a common procedure during the second trimester. The high court’s inaction left the law struck down, but it won’t avoid abortion cases forever. Earlier this year, it left in place the requirement for disposing of aborted fetal remains through burial or cremation because of the “sanctity of life.” Nothing about miscarriages. The high court also refused to hear a case from two Kansas men convicted of violating federal law regulating silencers.

In Gamble v. United States, the Supreme Court on Monday also reaffirmed a 170-year-old exception to the Constitution’s double-jeopardy clause, leaving an opportunity for states to prosecute DDT and his campaign officials for issues already prosecuted federally.

In one sane move, Roberts was the swing vote in Kisor v. Wilkie to not overturn a 75-year series of SCOTUS decisions permitting agencies’ reasonable interpretations of their own regulations.

The Supreme Court has started its docket for the upcoming year with a case determining what happens to 700,000 DREAMERS living in the United States because of DACA. Three appeals courts and a district judge have ruled that DDT had no rationale for his attempt to close a program that protects from deportation young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Other cases include one from Bridget Kelly and Vill Baroni, convicted of participating in gridlock near the George Washington Bridge and a Montana ruling invalidating a state program offering tax credits for funding scholarships at private schools, including religious schools.

In a 5-4 decision exempting a public access television channel from constitutional requirements, Brett Kavanaugh wrote:

“It is sometimes said that the bigger the government, the smaller the individual.”

Although Kavanaugh didn’t cite his source, the false statement was tracked to the Ayn Randian Atlas Society, refuting Roberts’ common claim that the Supreme Court is not political. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) clearly stated that blockades of Supreme Court nominees are only for Democratic presidents. He smirked while he told an audience that he would “fill it” if a vacancy on the high court appears next year. No longer should “the American people have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.”

June 9, 2019

Give Me Deism!

From the Church and State publication, dedicated to religious freedom for all, comes a post by author Travis Haan, originally published on The Wise Sloth.  

“There are at least 4,200 religions in the world today, and countless more have been lost to history. It’s obvious there’s a 0% chance all of them are the true word of God. Some thinkers have speculated that each religion is at least a little divinely inspired and holds a piece of the puzzle left to us by God to put together. But the only way to come to that conclusion is to ignore huge tracts of doctrine in each religion. Ultimately, none of them are compatible. If any religion is true, there’s only one.

“This means at least over 6 billion people alive today believe in a religion that was written 100% by human beings and 0% dictated by the creator of the universe. A belief system written by human beings that has no bearing on the factual nature of reality is mythology. The cold, hard truth of reality is that the vast majority of the people alive today believe in mythology and dogmatically refuse to even consider the possibility that’s true. So if you believe in religion, there’s automatically a 99% chance you believe in mythology. If you refuse to question your beliefs, there’s no way for you to know if they’re true, which increases the chance that you believe in mythology to 99.9%. This number is increased to 99.99% if your religion contains any of the following:

1: Human sacrifices

2: Moral values that reflect the needs and wants of a specific primitive culture

3: Instructions to hurt, kill or look down on other people

4: Reasons to look down on yourself

5: A pyramid-shaped authority structure

6: Scientifically inaccurate statements

7: Magical beings, powers or events that no longer exist

“Some people have speculated that it doesn’t matter what religion you believe in as long as you believe in something that gives you meaning, instructions and peace. But believing in something that isn’t real is the definition of insanity. It’s not okay to be insane just because you like it because it holds you and society back.

“Believing in mythology is counterproductive if for no other reason than it’s a waste of time. It keeps you busy going through meaningless motions while ignoring real world issues that have real consequences to you and the rest of mankind. Your life and everyone else’s would be improved by you focusing on real problems.

“To this, you might reply, ‘But how can we know how to live without religion?’ Remember that most of the world doesn’t believe in religion; they believe in mythology. So the real question is, ‘How can we know how to live without mythology?’ If mythology is just a belief system made up by humans, and you’ve spent your whole life living according to those rules, you already know the answer. We can make up our own ethics, and in fact, that’s what we’ve been doing all along. We just haven’t been honest with ourselves about it. If taking personal responsibility for your own ethics sounds scary or haphazard, consider that mythologies can contain horrible rules that can lead you to hurt yourself or others, which makes it all the more imperative you question your beliefs.

“This is especially true if you absolutely insist on believing one of our religions is the divine truth. Everyone wants to believe that their religion is the right one, but at least 6 billion people are dead wrong in their faith. Statistically, you’re probably one of them. The only way you or anyone else can find the right religion is to scrutinize yours objectively. This may sound like heresy, but it’s probably not a coincidence that you were created with the capacity for reason, skepticism, doubt, and logic. For the billions of people who believe in mythology, it’s a necessity. If your religion can stand the test of truth, there’s no danger in putting yours to it. If your religion can’t stand the test of truth, objectivity is the only way you’ll ever free yourself.

“Your quest for truth isn’t just about you. Most religions encourage you to convert nonbelievers, and even without actively proselytizing on the street corner, you passively send out the message that people should join your faith just by living according to it. If you believe in one of the religions that are mythology, you’re leading unwitting victims into a trap. If enough people in one area buy into mythology, one way or another, their beliefs are going to determine social norms and even laws. This has a harsh real-world impact on people who don’t believe in that particular brand of mythology. Another danger of spreading mythology is that some people will inevitably latch onto the most violent, oppressive, absurd rules within that belief system and use them to justify hurting other people. So before you go spreading the good word, it’s imperative that you make sure it passes the most rigorous test of truth, not just for your sake but for all of ours.”

Most of the Founding Fathers likely supported Haan’s position because they were Deists—people who believe that the supreme being is like a watchmaker who created the world as a machine but doesn’t intervene in people’s lives. Rejecting religion’s supernatural beliefs, Deism stresses the value of ethical conduct.

As a Deist, Thomas Jefferson studied the New Testament in Greek, Latin, French, and King James English and revised it, leaving the philosophy of Jesus and omitting all the miracles. He published his work in 1820 when he was 77 and called it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Gone were the stories such as feeding the multitudes with two fish and five loaves of barley bread; he finished with Jesus’s entombment but skipped the resurrection. His book is now at the Smithsonian.   

The strong belief of Deism during the 18th century negates the common Christian myth that the United States was “founded” on Christianity. Many of the U.S. founders determined that experience and rational thought determine people’s beliefs instead of religious mythology. They typically referred to “God” as the “creator.” With the influence of Deism, people saw little reason to pray, attend church, read the bible or follow such rites as baptism and communion.  For example, George Washing refused to take communion.

Thomas Paine called Christianity “a fable” in The Age of Reason”; as protégé of Benjamin Franklin denied “that the Almighty ever did communicate anything to man, by…speech,…language, or…vision.” He wrote:

“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and in endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”

Evangelical Christianity—like other fundamentalist religions such as Islam—is based on superiority, control, subjugation of women, and the acquisition of worldly goods. Its personal morality sees nothing wrong with killing people as long as the “right people” die. It sees no value in helping others if they aren’t the “right people.” As a tribal society, evangelicals select those who they will support and throw everyone else on the garbage heap. The belief has no relationship to the teachings of Christ.

An examination throughout the world shows that the most fundamentalist and religious countries cause the greatest difficulty. Christianity can be as negative and violent as Islam; both religions are nationalism and parochial. The misbegotten belief of one “chosen” people or religion leads to perpetual war from fear that one will lose that “exceptionalism.” Am example is Israel, a new apartheid state oppressing all others based on race and tribe in the same way that South Africa did in the past. For anyone to claim this disaster, however, brings accusations of anti-Semitism, just as calling for religious freedom in the United States produces hand-wringing of discrimination against Christians.

The mythology of extremist religious beliefs:

“We’re chosen, special and enlightened, and only we have The Truth.”

“The Truth” carried to extremes means nuclear war and a dystopian future, caused by religion. People in the U.S. who call for their personal “freedom” focus on taking freedom from others in their belief that only they deserve what they want. They use mythology to revert to the Puritan beliefs that brought people from Europe to the northern parts of America in the early 1600s. Once in control, the fundamentalists eradicate democracy and human rights—except for themselves—in a determinaton that they should control the entire world while destroying the planet.

Deism remained popular until the 19th century when Christian fundamentalism left Europe and began to take over the United States. Until then, the new nation retained its “wall of separation between church and state.” Now the legal barrier between a small group of Christians and the freedom of everyone else is being knocked down, brick by brick.   

It’s time to return to the Age of Enlightenment and Deism before the world is destroyed.

January 6, 2019

Christians Lead the Way to Making DDT King

Day 16 of the government shutdown: On the day that the debacle caused by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) ties for the third-longest shutdown in history, U.S. lawmakers on the Mexico border are rejecting DDT’s wall in favor of technology and staffing at legal ports of entry for improved security and crossing times. DDT offered $400 million for these purposes but still demands $5 billion for his wall.

Part of Mike Pence’s job as vice president is to swear in newly-elected senators, and the far-right Christian evangelist is the first VP to swear in an openly pagan and bisexual person for the chamber. Even more horrifying for Christian conservatives was Kyrsten Sinema’s use of the Constitution for her swearing in. When she saw the photo marking for “spouse,” Sinema asked, “Can we get a spouse?”

People who think that the Constitution begins with the Second Amendment—skipping freedom of press, religion, assembly, etc—were resentful when they thought Rashida Tlaib, the new representative from Michigan, who they claimed was sworn into office on a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. One person wrote a concern that Muslims will “both receive a security clearance given to congress members.” Another one sputtered in a tweet:

“This is a disgrace of epic proportions. It is also unlawful. I am disgusted for every soldier who ever gave their life to protect our Constitution!!! I feel sick.”

Not much has changed since the fury of then Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) carrying the same Koran during his swearing when he became the first Muslim in Congress.

Representatives, unlike senators, simply raise their hands while swearing to support the Constitution of the United States. The House member with the longest continuous service, in the 116th Congress Don Young (R-AK) with 46 years of service, swears in the duly-elected Speaker who then swears in the other members en masse. A book of choice, whether it be a bible or koran, is used for photographs with the Speaker after the general swearing in.

Although many conservatives claims America only for Christians, Islam came to the continent in the 17th century with the West African slaves. Thomas Jefferson bought a Koran when he was 22 years old, 11 years before drafting the Declaration of Independence. He criticized Islam as well as Catholicism for “stifling free enquiry” because both religions tied religion to government, yet he supported the rights of believers. His private notes paraphrase the English philosopher John Locke’s 1689 “Letter on Toleration”:

“(He) says neither Pagan nor Mahometan (Muslim) nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.”

Jefferson copied Locke’s ideas in writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

“(O)ur civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.”

Drafted in 1777, the Statute became law in 1786 and thus the basis for the U.S. Constitution’s “no religious test” clause and the First Amendment.

In Jefferson’s 1821 autobiography, he affirmed that the failure to add the words “Jesus Christ” to his legislation’s preamble proved the application of his Statute to be “universal.” Therefore religious liberty and political equality cannot be exclusively Christian but protect “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” “Universal” includes every one of every faith or non-faith.

Jefferson also welcomed the first Muslim ambassador, one from Tunis, to the White House in 1805. Because it was a time of Ramadan, Jefferson changed the time for the state dinner from 3:30 pm to be “precisely at sunset” to recognize the ambassador’s religious beliefs.

The month of Ramadan celebrates when Prophet Muhammad is believed to have first received revelations from God by fasting from sunrise to sunset. Each year, the event begins ten or eleven days earlier than the previous year, beginning on May 6 in 2019. Beginning in 1966, the White House commemorated Ramadan for two decades with an iftar dinner that broke the fast at night; DDT chose to ignore Ramadan in the first year after his inauguration.

While DDT’s supporters completely reject the Islam religion, they compare his election to the anointing of King Cyrus by God, a nonbeliever used by the faithful, as told by Mark Taylor, a former firefighter in The Trump Prophecy. Evangelical author Lance Wallnau, also in the film, said, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

DDT’s anti-Christian and anti-democratic attitudes make him popular with Christian nationalists who claim to follow the constitution and Founding Fathers while preferring autocrats and kings. Ralph Drollinger, the White House evangelist leading Bible study groups, has made “king” into a verb, i.e., “Get ready to king in our future lives.” DDT follows King Cyrus by making himself above the law, for example his most recent claim that he will build the wall with no authority from Congress. DDT’s evangelical followers also want only a king—no queens. Drollinger maintains that the Bible allows only “male leadership.” Even people who question his sexual language and behavior think that he’s a miracle sent from Heaven to lead the United States to God. To them, resisting DDT is resisting God. The current leading Christian movement in the U.S. today is unbending, authoritarian, patriarchal, and paranoid; it is an attack on democracy.

A sample of the far-right Christian sects and movements supporting DDT:

POTUS Shield: Televangelist Frank Amedia, leader of these self-described “warriors, worshippers, and watchmen,” insists that God visited him before DDT’s inauguration to ask him for a protective shield of prayer around DDT because he was sent to create a Christian fundamentalist takeover of the government. Members are Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council, and Lou Engle, promoter of the Ugandan “kill the gays” bill—among other hate policies. One of their goals is doing away with Islam.

People of Praise: Predominantly Catholic, the group incorporates Pentecostal practices such as speaking in tongues, and requires members to swear an oath of loyalty to the group. Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who sits on the 7th Circuit Court and on DDT’s short list for a Supreme Court justice appointment, belongs to this group believing that women must submit to male authority. The terms “handmaid” and “handmaiden” to describe women are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, popularized in the 1990 film and 2017/2018 television series.

Quiverfull: This movement within fundamentalist Protestant Christianity claims that preventing a pregnancy is a sin and that all contraceptives are tools of the Devil. Christian wives, who must be submissive to their husbands, should have as many children as possible. Author Nancy Campbell called the womb a “weapon against Satan.” Kathryn Joyce wrote:

“If just eight million American Christians began supplying more ‘arrows for the war’ by having six children or more, they propose that the Christian Right ranks could rise to 550 million within a century.”

Wives are not allowed to have bank accounts or email addresses with their husbands’ permission, and they are to be always sexually available to their husbands.

Project Blitz: This coalition of Christian fundamentalist activists floods state legislatures with bills promoting a theocracy with the hope that a few may succeed in passing. Model bills come from the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) playbook under the guise of “religious freedom.” Five states have passed “In God We Trust” bills mandating that the phrase be on public buildings, schools, and public vehicles include police cars. Other bills could provide proclamations that move religious teachings into schools through something like a Christian heritage week, followed by anti-LGBTQ bills to promote “biblical values concerning marriage and sexuality.” Christians are to rule the United States with their far-right vision, according to Project Blitz; all other people are second-class citizens.

WallBuilders: Founder David Barton, also active in Project Blitz, is a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party and director of Keep the Promise PAC that supported Sen. Ted Cruz’ 2016 presidential campaign. A history revisionist, he teaches that separation of church and state is unconstitutional and that the government should be based on strict biblical law.  Barton has advised Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Sam Brownback, and Mike Huckabee and regularly appeared on Glenn Beck’s Founders Fridays radio broadcasts. God established national borders, according to Barton, who opposes any immigration. In 2010, he tried to keep Martin Luther King, Jr. from Texas textbooks because “only majorities can expand political rights.”

Through the National Prayer Breakfast, far-right Christians connected with Russia to maintain the GOP leadership of the United States. Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, explained the background for the National Prayer Breakfast and its connection to Russia:

“It’s run by a private, sectarian, fundamentalist organization called The Fellowship and The Family that believes in precisely this kind of action. In fact, the long-time leader of the organization has called it quiet diplomacy, back channel, back door interactions between international leaders, that they use the prayer breakfast to bring them together. As recently as a year ago, the current leader, Doug Burleigh, was predicting alliance between [President Donald] Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. He predicted that at a Russian prayer breakfast.”

Russian Maria Butina, recently admitted to being a Russian spy, allegedly sought to influence U.S. officials not only through organizations such as the National Rifle Association, but also by exploiting the National Prayer Breakfast. Butina was denied entry into the United States until the NRA pushed through a visa for her. The affidavit stated that she intended to use the prayer breakfast to “establish a back channel of communications” between influential Russians in the U.S. with power U.S. citizens. This year, the Breakfast had the biggest group of any country. One of the Russians formally invited was sanctioned two months after the prayer breakfast.

Christian evangelicals are leaders of the movement to involve Russia in making DDT king of the United States with his support from Pence and the GOP base.

May 28, 2018

Rights’ Relief from Courts – Sometimes

Democracy from people often comes from court decisions. After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suspended democratic action by blocking any discussion for President Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court Justice, SCOTUS moved away from people’s rights with Neil Gorsuch’s nomination by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Fortunately, the Supreme Court makes fewer than 100 decisions per year while courts across the nation can rule on constitutional rights in thousands of cases.

Recently, five Supreme Court justices removed rights from workers when five justices determined that employees must settle disputes through individual arbitration behind closed doors rather than through class action in open court. The decision worsens an earlier ruling allowing corporations to avoid class-action lawsuits from consumers. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg read part of her dissent from the bench:

“The court today holds enforceable these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts — including the provisions requiring employees to litigate wage and hours claims only one-by-one. Federal labor law does not countenance such isolation of employees. Trying to arbitrate such claims individually would be too expensive to be worth it, and “the risks of employer retaliation would likely dissuade most workers from seeking redress alone.”

Federal labor law permits employees to work together in improving their conditions and fight low wages, harassment, and discrimination, but the court states that companies can use arbitration clauses, forced on employees if they want the job, to ban joining together in legal actions. Employees must now fight individually against violations of minimum-wage laws, refusal to pay overtime, and requirements to work off the clock. Few private attorneys will take cases for so little money.

The day after this Supreme Court ruling, the National Labor Relations Board delivered an opposing position, that employees have the right to organize, bargain collectively and “engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” According to the Board’s interpretation of Section 8, an employment agreement requiring employees to resolve disputes by arbitration or on an individual basis is an unfair labor practice. The question now will be what opinions supersede others.

In a Supreme Court’s decision that states can legally bet on college and professional sports, Justice Samuel Alito said that each state has the right to act on its own if Congress does not regulate sports gambling. Next year, the Supreme Court will hear a case on when federal law trumps state law.

After churches in Morris County (New Jersey) received almost $5 million for repairs, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution forbids using public money for religious purposes. A year ago, the Supreme Court allowed taxpayer monies to be used for repair of a church’s playground in Missouri, but the ruling did not address houses of worship. The case may go to the Supreme Court.

A federal court in California ruled Friday against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in deciding that the agency violated privacy laws by using the Social Security Administration to analyze loan forgiveness for students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges. The court ordered debt collection from defrauded students to stop after DeVos stated that only part of federal loans would be forgiven. DeVos is supporting other for-profit colleges. She appointed the dean of DeVry to head a team to investigate these schools, including DeVry. She has also frozen protections for students and reduced loan forgiveness relief for students defrauded by these schools.

Gavin Grimm, a transgender student, fought for years to use the bathroom in high school, and a federal judge ruled the school officials of Gloucester County (VA) violated his constitutional rights for stopping him from using the bathroom matching his gender identity after the 4th Circuit Court sent the case back to the lower court.

Judge Orlando Garcia, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, ruled that the state must comply with the federal National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”) (or “motor voter” law) and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Construction on the final 18 miles of the Bayou Bridge pipeline in St. James (LA), located in an area called Cancer Alley, has been halted after a judge ruled that state regulators violated guidelines in issuing a coastal use permit. Town residents would have no way to evacuate after an explosion or other pipeline failure emergency, a fact not considered in the state’s permit. The company building the pipeline faces a legal challenge for its U.S. Army Corp of Engineers permit through the Atchafalaya Basin, a National Heritage Area and massive river swamp. The 5th Circuit Court began to hear this case the beginning of May, but pipeline builders are already cutting down old growth cypress trees.

DDT cannot block people from his Twitter account, according to a federal judge who wrote:

“The President presents the @realDonaldTrump account as being a presidential account as opposed to a personal account and, more importantly, uses the account to take actions that can be taken only by the President as President.”

DDT can mute people’s accounts so that he doesn’t have to look at their comments.

Another DDT sign came down when a New York State judge ruled that the name “Trump Place” can be removed from a high-rise condo. The bad news is that the condo cannot change its name, and the sign will stay until two-thirds majority of the condo association agrees to remove the signs. DDT’s name has already been removed from three Manhattan buildings and hotels in New York, Toronto, and Panama.

A New York appeals court refused to allow DDT to stay a defamation case by Summer Zervos regarding her claim that DDT sexually assaulted her. At this time, DDT can be deposed in the case, and lawyers can proceed with pretrial discovery, including demands for documents. In addition, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said he’s vetting two more women on their claims that DDT gave them large hush-money payments. Zervos will subpoena documents from the Trump Organization about DDT’s alleged mistreatment of women, recordings from the archives of the president’s former reality show, and surveillance footage from the hotel in which Zervos says she was attacked.

The third federal judge has ruled against DDT over cuts to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. The judge wrote that ending grants two years early was “arbitrary” and “capricious.” The 73 organizations receiving grants will have to follow DHS’ new requirements to focus on abstinence programs for continued funding while the eight suing organizations will not.

White supremacist Jacob Scott Goodwin has been found guilty of malicious wounding, nine months after he battered a young black man in a Charlottesville (VA) garage before his victim, 20-year-old DeAndre Harris was attacked by other white supremacists who broke his arm and injured his spine. Other attackers are awaiting trial. At the same event, another white supremacist deliberately drove into a crowd, killed Heather Heyer, and injured more than another dozen people. Two days after Goodwin’s guilt was established, white supremacist Alex Michael Ramos was found guilty of “malicious wounding” in the same attack. Both men face 20 years in prison. Two other men face trials for the assault.

Muslim-American Yonas Fikre is suing the government for putting him on its no-fly list to blackmail him into being an FBI informant to provide information about his place of worship, Portland’s largest Sunni mosque. His lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, has asked a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court to continue the suit that had been dismissed after the government removed Fikre’s name from the list stopping him from returning to his home in the U.S. Judges were irritated by the DOJ sudden offer to stop the appeal by promising that Fikre won’t be put back on the list for the same reasons as in 2010. They asked why the DOJ does not think that Fikre deserves declaratory relief after his marriage was destroyed and his business was disrupted. Mayfield has been awarded a $2 million settlement after the FBI wrongly arrested him as a suspect in the 2004 Madrid train bombings and subjected him to the same unconstitutional actions as the government did to Fikre.

Ben Carson, HUD Secretary, is the next cabinet member to be sued. A rule requiring communities to examine and address barriers to racial integration established in 2015 mandated assessment of local segregation patterns, barriers to fair housing, and planning to correct the problems. Carson called desegregation efforts “failed socialist experiments” and suspended the rule. The lawsuit asserts that Carson did not provide for public notice or comment opportunity. Carson said that the process was too burdensome. In addition, the lawsuit claims that HUD violated its duty to guarantee that federal funds promote fair housing—for example, giving millions in HUD grants to white suburbs in Westchester County that refuses affordable housing.

The next branch to be covered is the legislature.

June 5, 2016

Conservative Governments Push Christianity with Taxpayer Funds

North Carolina’s law that forces all communities to maintain the lowest minimum wage and discriminate against veterans gained fame for keeping transgender people from the restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identities. Far-right religious conservative leaders are taking pride in proclaiming their determination to keep their version of Christianity in laws. For example, that state’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest made the following statement on a far-right conspiracy theorist’s radio show. He justified HB2, the discriminatory measure, because “we have a lack of moral compass in our country right now, we’ve taken our eyes off God in America, we have turned our back on God, we have forgotten God in a lot of ways, so the moral compass is broken here.”

Forest continued by explaining that these discriminatory laws “discriminate against behavior, not against people.” He compares them to traffic laws: “If I want to go out and drive 95 miles an hour down the interstate in North Carolina because I feel like doing that, I don’t have the right to do that. It doesn’t mean the law is discriminating against me, it’s discriminating against my behavior of wanting to drive 95.” His logic is problematic: traffic laws aren’t created because people have “turned their backs on God.” The other piece of his illogical statement is that a car’s speed has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation or identity. Forrest also blamed the media for the entire controversy.

Phil Bryant, governor of Mississippi, is also busy defending his state’s new discriminatory law:  “About 60 days ago, it seemed as if all of the secular, progressive world had decided they were going to pour their anger and their frustration—their friends in the media willingly joining with them to bring all that they could upon the governor of the state…  How dare them [sic]. How dare them [sic].” He finished by stating that he was willing to be crucified for his beliefs against transgender people using the appropriate bathrooms.

In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a proclamation in April encouraging “all Iowans” to participate in a statewide Bible-reading marathon, a declaration that the ACLU argues is unconstitutional. The marathon is scheduled for four days starting on June 30 and located in front of all 99 state courthouses. The declaration also states that “the Bible is recognized as the one true revelation from God” and that  “I, Terry E. Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby encourage all Iowans to read through the bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.” The “Lemon test” for constitutionality, taken from the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman , establishes three criteria for government action:

  1. Does the government action have a secular purpose?
  2. Does the government action have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion?
  3. Does the government action foster an excessive entanglement between government and religion?

Violation of any one of the above violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which prohibits the promotion of one religion over another. Both Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas objected to the Lemon test, but Scalia is gone from the court.

Mike Robertson, the mayor of Beebe (AR), has selected the celebration of the nation in its freedom from religious and other domination by Britain, to pay for a gospel band at the 4th of July festivity. His letter encouraging people to attend the concert read in part: “Their goal for the evening is to usher in the presence of god and to celebrate the Christian message. They feel privileged and honored to enjoy the freedom to honor Christ with any and all of their abilities.” Robertson’s justification of using taxpayer funds for a religious concert is that people can just stay home if they don’t approve.

Two years ago, Beebe approved a small temple in a garage, thinking that it was Christian, but then falsely claimed the zoning laws would prevent worship on that property after they found out that the temple would be pagan. Robertson’s justification of using taxpayer funds for a religious concert is that people can just stay home if they don’t approve. Beebe is also the town of under 10,000 where tens of millions of blackbirds have died in multiple years, possibly because of its fireworks during a temperature inversion. Or maybe God-created events against the city’s bigotry.

Not every government rejects all religions except Christianity. Philadelphia has followed New York City in adding two Muslim holy days to the school calendar. Students will be given the days off for Eid al-Fitr, celebrated following the month-long observance of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which marks the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham in Judaism and Christianity) to sacrifice his son for God.  In the upcoming school year, Eid al-Adha falls on September 13 and Eid al-Fitr on June 25, a Sunday.

The 2016-2017 Philadelphia school calendar has already been drafted so students and staff who wish to celebrate the two holidays will have excused absences. After that the Philadelphia school district will send the holiday dates to the School Reform Commission, which oversees Philadelphia’s public schools. These holidays vary each year as Muslims follow a Lunar calendar. Philadelphia is also exploring how to make the two holy days city holidays.

bible emoji

My favorite story of today! Emojis have popped up—briefly—almost everywhere, but they may have hit the ultimate location—the Bible.  Now available is the newest bible translation, Bible Emoji: Scripture 4 Millennials. This project follows The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less … Now with 68% More Humor, published in 2013. Jana Riess’s four-year project translates the holy book into tweets; she sent out one tweet per chapter every day.

The creator of Bible Emoji used the translation engine Lingo Jam to automatically translate all 66 books of the Bible. The person chose about 80 emojis from Unicode and 200 corresponding words, linking each with words that are often repeated in the Bible. About 15 percent of the total character count of the biblical text was replaced with modern slang.

The anonymous author of the emoji version who represents himself or herself on Twitter, @emojiBible, shows God as a smiley face. The six-month project had a few glitches. One respondent suggested that the author might be wrong in emojing  “in the beginning angels created the stars & the earth.”

The emoji bible is an excellent example of how Western culture tries to colonize Africa, South America, and the Inuit communities. The bible emoji for prayer hands fails to represent cultures that pray without outstretched hands, and emojis of supernatural figures—angels, the devil, the halo, etc.—are pop Western cultural depictions.

Someday, texting will be passe, and people will communicate completely with emojis. Unfortunately, miscommunication will most likely be even more rampant as opposite little critters can look almost exactly alike. The same thing may happen in the emoji bible.

April 17, 2016

Christian Arrogance

As the number of Christians in the United States shrinks, those remaining seem to become more and more arrogant about their superiority. They fail to understand that “freedom” means that not everyone has to agree with their beliefs as in the U.S. Constitution that separates church and state into the First Amendment.

our god is biggerBrittany Taylor has decided that Troup Independent School District (TX), supported by taxpayer funding, should provide Bible verses in its website. Enraged when a verse was removed, she made T-shirts for students reading “my God is bigger than your God.” The verse read, “As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him.” Her recourse was to make T-shirts for students that read “Our God is bigger,” making a childish argument that “my God is bigger than your God.” The website kept the meaning of the verse:

“As the giant moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him. In Troup ISD we work to engender the spirit of attacking the problems that present themselves day in and day out. Teaching the students to run to meet the giants in their lives is a goal we fully embrace. Welcome to the Troup ISD web site. We trust that you will be able to find everything you are looking for and remember, you are always welcome at Troup ISD.”

GOP presidential candidate John Kasich followed the same pattern of Christian religious arrogance in his recent campaign trying to win over the hearts and votes of New Yorkers. Meeting haredi Orthodox Jews, students  of the Talmud, in a Jewish bookstore, he decided to school them about the meaning of the text that they study. Kasich asked, “They sold [Joseph] into slavery, and that’s how the Jews got to Egypt. Right? Did you know that?”

During another campaign stop at a Brooklyn yeshiva, he argued with Torah scholars about whether Abraham or Moses is more important to the Jewish people. Kasich disagreed with their position and said, “What are you talking about? Get outta here! The story of the people are Abraham—when God made a covenant with Abraham, not Moses.”

At the Shmurah Matzoh Bakery, Kasich also expounded:

“You know who I like? I like Joseph. And I like—you know who Joseph is? I like Joshua. You like Joshua? How about Elijah? You like him? He had a tough time there. He said ‘why am I having such a tough time,’ and you know what God told him? ‘There are a lot of people having tougher times than you.’ Why do I like Jacob? Well, because I think he was a pretty good guy. You don’t read about many of his flaws.”

Not satisfied with making a fool of himself already, he explained the parallels between Christianity and Judaism in the blood of the lamb that protected Jews from the plague in Egypt and “Jesus Christ, [who] is known as the Lamb of God … that saves all of us.”

Uriel Heilman of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked that Kasich abstain from giving Christian Bible lessons to Jewish voters:

“Talking about Christ’s blood during a visit to Borough Park? Oy vey. Please, somebody, prep this guy Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn want to hear about food stamps, affordable housing, Medicaid. Ix-nay on the Jesus-nay.”

The most recent blatant projection of religious arrogance, however, comes from Dennis Hastert, U.S. House Speaker for eight terms. His strong religious belief is demonstrated by his undergraduate college experience at Wheaton College, a school that bans “homosexual behavior” and accepts “conversion therapy,” even a half-century after Hastert graduated. As Speaker, Hastert assured the Christian Coalition that he would lead the GOP drive to pass a federal marriage amendment that would enshrine marriage between a man and woman in the U.S. Constitution. He also added increased funding for abstinence sex education, saying, “More kids need to be taught to just say no, that doesn’t just apply to drugs, it also applies to sex before marriage.” Before Hastert spent 20 years in Congress, he was known as a “pillar of the community” where he was a high school wrestling coach.

Hastert was chosen as Speaker when the GOP needed someone sexually squeaky clean while they impeached Bill Clinton for adultery. Newt Gingrich was outed from Speaker as a serial adulterer—the problem that the GOP used for the impeachment—and proposed Speaker Bob Livingston resigned after his own adultery was exposed. Hastert lived the “family values” lifestyle—or so the GOP thought.

In the 1990s, John Diluloi, who became George W. Bush’s first director of the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, created the myth that young black men were “super-predators.” At that time, Hastert leaped on the bandwagon to extend the myth to sexual predatory gays who would destroy “traditional” marriage. Shortly before he became a representative, he said, “We must continue to be proactive warding off pedophiles and other creeps who want to take advantage of our children.” Hastert kept a file in his office on “Homosexuals” including smearing gay men with the sexual predator stamp. The file contained policy statements from conservative groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council that has worked to promote discrimination against LGBT people. One piece described teens supposedly lured into sex by adult gay men.

In 2003, Dennis Hastert, while Speaker of the House, said that “it is equally important to stop those predators before they strike, to put repeat child molesters into jail for the rest of their lives.” If Hastert had succeeded with his wish, he would be going to prison for the rest of his life. This year, Dennis Hastert was revealed as a “super-predator,” molesting at least four boys including one who was 14 and another who took his own life. Hastert also put a La-Z-Boy chair outside the locker room showers at Yorkville High School so he could watch young boys “horseplay,” according to Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter, who attended Yorkville High School in the 1980s. The coach claimed that it was to keep the boys from fighting.

Hastert may spend six months in prison for obstructing an FBI/IRS investigation into illegal bank withdrawals–but not for sexually molesting male minor children. The statute of limitations in Illinois for his sexual behavior is only three years so he goes free on any of these charges.

Through his lawyer, Hastert has apologized for “misconduct” and “harm.” The lawyer’s spin is that the 74-year-old man, longest serving Speaker of the U.S. House, has been punished enough because he is “humiliated.” Hastert’s attorneys are seeking a sentence of probation without prison time. Hastert claims that he doesn’t remember what happened and “deeply regrets that the episode occurred.” His defense team contends that Hastert merely “brushed” the genitals of a student in 1974 which might not constitute sexual misconduct. Despite Hastert’s bad memory, he paid $3.5 million to the ex-student from money he got from “interesting” real estate deals. And also despite Hastert’s bad memory, the team wants a reduction in sentencing because their client has accepted responsibility for his misdeeds.

Hastert’s sentencing on April 27 may not go well for him: a judge stated that the former Speaker’s false statements made to investigators last year about the sexual molestation will be used as a factor because the conduct is only a year old. Hastert calls his victim an “extortionist” which also doesn’t sit well with the judge. The recommended sentence for Hastert’s offense is six months or less, but it carries a maximum of five years in prison. He admitted guilt last October as part of  plea bargain to avoid publicity, but the accusations have gone viral because of his denials. One of the victims and the sister of another who committed suicide may testify at the sentencing hearing.

Hastert is a religious man; he will surely hope that his apologies will get him off. If not that, then pity for his health and age—and the fact that he’s an important white man. This is an example of a political leader who wants everyone in the nation to follow his Christian religion.

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!

December 6, 2015

‘Good News’ Clubs, Bad News for Kids

Almost a century ago, an evangelical organization started what would become “The Good News Club” to teach children ages 4-14 about its form of fundamentalist Christianity. Now the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) has a 5-year curriculum from the Old and New Testament and trains instructors around the world.  Four years ago, CEF had 3,560 Good News Clubs in U.S. public schools with another 42,000 worldwide, and the number of proselytizing clubs has exponentially grown.

After the Supreme Court declared in Good News Club v. Milford (2001) that its clubs could meet in public schools, CEF launched an “Adopt-A-School” program to recruit evangelical “church partners” to open clubs in public elementary schools and train their volunteers. The goal is to “have a Good News Club in every elementary school in America.”

A major problem of the movement is that its goal of moving religion into schools violates the constitutional mandate for separation of church and state. In a speech given to the Dallas Theological Seminary on February 20, 2007, CEF President Reese Kaufmann touted their win in Milford as the sanction to “pray with [children] in the classroom to receive Christ.” He added that people have the freedom to “go back into the [65,000] schools and take the Word of God and teach the Word of God to children at that early age.”

The basis of this movement is that secular public schools are hostile to religion and that living in a diverse society with a secular form of government is wrong. CEF leadership has said that schools are “acts of war” on the U.S. population; one leader said he sees a “mushroom cloud” over the schools.

Flyers entice children into asking their parents if they can participate, and the benign promises of “interdenominational religion” falsely lull parents into signing the permission slips. CEF promises an hour of fun activities and pizza and good Christian Bible verses. Operating on school campuses gives the program an appearance of school sanction with its cloak of authority and safety, and CEF convinces parents that youth, not adults are running the clubs. Children are given candy and other treats to recruit their friends.

Another serious problem with the program is that its curriculum reinforces a belief in a vengeful god who demands complete obedience. Preschoolers are told that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to Hell.” According to the trainers of the Good News Club, “any child that doesn’t give their life to Christ is going to be tortured in Hell for eternity. So to respect a parent’s right to keep their child from being saved would simply be immoral on our part.” The Good News Club curriculum has over 5,000 references to sin, over 1,000 references to Hell and punishment, and only one reference to the Golden Rule.

The instructional process of the movement is to teach children that they are intrinsically evil, that God knows how bad they are and will punish them forever for their “sinful nature.” Children who say that they believe in Santa Claus, for example, will be “separated from God forever in a dark place of punishment” unless they believe exactly what the Good News Club tells them to believe. According to one Good News Club lesson:

“Others may think that you are a good person, but God knows what you’re really like on the inside. He knows that deep down you are a sinner – you were born that way.” (Patriarchs, page 33)

Another lesson hang a signs with the word “sin” around the child’s neck and tell them that “all have sinned and deserve God’s punishment for sin, which is death, separation from God forever.” Each lesson uses a black heart to vividly symbolize a child’s inner self, showing children their inner blackness. “You were born with darkness in your heart because of sin,” says one lesson on blind Bartimaeus. “Your heart (the real you) is sinful from the time you are born,” exclaims a lesson on the golden calf.

In another activity, a child as young as five years old is singled out, presented with an envelope, and told that inside is something that they earned. Following discussion, the child opens the envelope and discovers the word DEATH written on a piece of paper. The teacher tells the child, “You have earned death—separation from God forever in a terrible place of punishment.” Children learn that “even the good things you do aren’t good enough. The Bible says those things are like filthy (dirty) rags….”

The CEF procedure controls through fear and abandonment issues, feelings of shame, doubt, and inadequacy that carry on into adulthood. The Good News curriculum teaches through a form of emotional abuse, religious bullying, and intimidation—“incompatible with mental health,” according to a psychologist. The end result is a negative self image, preoccupation with sin, and aversion to critical thinking.

The Good News Club’s sponsor CEF, now centered in Missouri, is not connected to local churches. To gain access to a public school, Good News Clubs claim to be a mainstream, multi denominational Bible study group; however, only fundamentalist churches are permitted to participate. The Clubs pay for training and materials, promise to use only the CEF teaching materials, and sign an agreement with CEF’s 15-point Statement of Faith (with beliefs like Biblical inerrancy, salvation not by good deeds but by faith alone, and the damnation of unbelievers to the Lake of Fire for conscious, eternal torture). Mainstream Christian churches such as Episcopalians and Presbyterians are not welcome. Local churches benefit through recruitment of “unchurched” elementary school children and their parents.

Since Milford, the Good News Clubs have been prevented from meeting during the school day, but some schools believe that the Supreme Court ruling means allowing the clubs after school unless all clubs are banned. School districts are caught between permitting a toxic group to meet or disallowing all enrichment.

Journalist Katherine Stewart has written about this religious movement in The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children (Public Affairs Books). She became interested in the subject when she heard parents talking about the faith-based bullying and the message that Good News Clubs send.

Katherine Stewart wrote:

“I don’t have a problem with kids talking about their religion with their friends at school. But I do have a problem with five- and six-year-old children being deceived into thinking that their school favors a particular religion. I object to parents being misled by a group that uses nonthreatening labels like ‘non-denominational’ and ‘interdenominational’ to recruit their children to a form of religion that the parents may not subscribe to. I object to an adult-led club commandeering the public resources, in the form of taxpayer-subsidized space, in order to spread their sectarian beliefs. And any group that promotes bigotry and hate has no place in public schools.”

Communities—including Seattle, Denver, and Portland (OR)—have organized against the proselytizing of the Good News Club. Stewart explains that parents can oppose the message of this movement through anti-bullying or tolerance programs that include issues of faith-based bigotry. Two groups in Rochester (NY) have started their own after-school programs: a Young Skeptics club featuring science, logic and learning activities, and the Better News club. Both programs follow the assumption that “it’s more important to teach children how to make belief decisions for themselves, rather than accept claims presented to them without thinking critically about those claims.”

Although Good News Clubs can be monitored by members of the public if a school policy requires that all such community groups using school facilities be “open to the general public.” When people attempted to do this in New York, the CEF state leader called the police who came, checked the policy, and then left the monitors undisturbed.

Another method to protect children is a school policy protecting them from psychologically and emotionally harmful after-class activities.  This link gives advice on creating and implementing such a policy.

Extensive information about the Good News Clubs with an overview of public forum, student speech, and other caselaw regarding the ability of schools to deny facilities to organizations that threaten the emotional, psychological, and intellectual well-being of children is available here: file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Sue/My%20Documents/Downloads/Protecting%20school%20children%20from%20emotional%20&%20psychological%20harm.pdf.

Appendix A provides guidelines for drafting a child-protective facility use policy, including several alternative provisions, and Appendix B has a Model Facility Use Policy.

 

October 18, 2015

World Didn’t End, Benghazi Arguments Continue

October 7, 2015 has come and gone, and people reading this are still here despite the predictions of the E-Bible Fellowship. Their website’s explanation for the mistake reads in part:

“The world today is populated by a generation of people that has outdone all past generations for wickedness. It tends to view a “passed date” for its end as some sort of victory and celebrates it as though it means it will now never end. And yet, the truth is that the world is in its death throes. A date of destruction given to the world (like October 7th, 2015) is like a man with a terminal disease that was given a short time to live his Dr. The man passes the 6 months (or year) he was told. Yet the prognosis hasn’t changed. He’s still terminally ill. It’s still certain he will die from his disease. It’s just a matter of when that remains in question.”

There have no posts since that one on October 8. Unfortunately, the congressional control of climate deniers gives a sense of validity to the planet’s “terminal disease.” Meanwhile the United States struggles to loosen a grip by fundamentalist Christians.

Muslims may inadvertently cause fundamentalist Christians to separate church and state. In Tennessee, conservative legislators want to prohibit “anything deemed ‘religious doctrine’ ” for public school students in ninth grade or younger after parents complained about the content of world history curriculum. Teachers were teaching about the Five Pillars of Islam in order to “provide historical context about the influence the religion had on regions of the world.” And about Islamic role in introducing algebra and influencing the Renaissance. The resolution of “no religious indoctrination” in schools will be very enlightening.

First, Rowan County (KY) Clerk Kim Davis refused to allow anyone in her office to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Then she spent five days in jail and said that her staff could issue the licenses although they wouldn’t be legally binding because she changed them. Now she’s totally caved: her lawyers admit that they are binding. Meanwhile federal judge David L. Bunning has ordered Kentucky’s Democratic governor Steve Beshear to decide if the altered marriage licenses are valid.

A bike lane is impinging on a Washington, DC church’s “religious liberty” because fewer parking spaces” “would place an unconstitutionally undue burden on people who want to pray.”

Televangelist Pat Robertson usually has an answer for everything—frequently “send me money”—but one viewer took him aback. “Why have you undergone surgeries if your faith would be enough?” prompted Robertson come up with some non-answers before he said, “I don’t know what else to say. If you have enough faith … maybe I don’t have enough, but I have enough for other people.”

Herb Titus, a dominionist Christian Reconstructionist attorney, has declared that the United States has changed its immigration policy and gone against the Bible. Immigrants can come only from countries that are based on Christian principles because the United States would otherwise “become a kind of multicultural society,” according to Titus. He said, “We had a carefully designed policy for many years to allow as immigrants into the United States only those people from countries that have a Christian-principled culture.” What he bases his beliefs on, no one seems to know. The U.S. has had quotas, but they were based on nationality. Barring all Asians from emigrating was not based on religion, but ethnic background.

A federal judge seems to be supporting Titus in acting unconstitutionally. Texas health officials are denying birth certificates to immigrant families with U.S.-born children, and U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman has denied an emergency injunction to recognize identification cards issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the U.S. Before 2013, these documents were acceptable to receive birth certificates. The immigrant rights lawyers represent 28 adults and their 32 children. Without birth certificates, the children could be considered criminals and deported. The newborns could not even receive baptisms without birth certificates. The 14th Amendment guarantees the right to citizenship for children born on U.S. soil, and the parents have documentation from the U.S. hospital where the children were born.

Evangelical pastor Rob Schenck has taken on Sarah Palin in a documentary, The Armor of Light, about gun violence and the question of whether a person can be both pro-life and anti-gun safety. One scene shows Palin telling a NRA audience not to waste ammunition on a warning shot. She criticized Vice-president Joe Biden for this advice and said, “Gals, you know that nowadays, ammo is expensive. Don’t waste a bullet on a warning shot.” In the film’s voice-over, Schenck wonders about the “ethical dimensions of having a constant, defensive posture.” He said, “When pastors, preachers, bible teachers, ignore these questions, it creates a vacuum. And other voices fill that vacuum.”

I admire Pastor Schenck for addressing this issue, but he’s going to have a difficult time persuading the people who think that they have the right to shoot anyone at any time because of their skewed sense of reality. An example of this is the Alabama KKK. In an interview with the BBC documentary, KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy, a KKK member explained that the Nazi Holocaust concentration camps were actually “summer camps” for Jewish people instead of death camps.

“These death camps, they gave the so-called people that were being killed cigarettes, there was coffee, there was a movie theater, a library, even a swimming pool in Auschwitz. And if you’re going to sit there and kill all these people then how come all these things would be in there?”

Stunned, the interviewer asked the KKK member what the Jews were doing in Auschwitz. “Swimming” was the answer. “And working. Because they didn’t want to do any work, and what Hitler was trying to do was he was trying to teach them to work, trying to rehabilitate them, if you will.” Asked where he heard this, the Klan member said, “It’s all history.”

And now all the television viewers in Great Britain will know how stupid “Amuricans” are.

Sunday is almost as well known for political interviews as for religion, and CNN’s Jake Tapper hit the ball out of the park in his interview with Jeb Bush. Raw Story described this follow-up to Donald Trump’s comment that George W. Bush was president during the 9/11 attacks. There was nothing false about Trump’s statement, but Bush has taken great umbrage at the insinuation that Bush was responsible for the disaster.

Tapper asked Bush how he could blame Hillary Clinton for the attacks in Benghazi while exonerating his brother George W. from any blame for the 9/11 disaster. Told that “my brother … kept us safe,” Tapper asked if Bush’s loyalty to his brother “might be in some ways a political or policy liability blinding you to mistakes he made.” Tapper continued by asking how Bush could “make the jump that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are responsible for what happened at Benghazi.” Bush was unable to find an answer, but Tapper asked why terrorists were not responsible for the four deaths at Benghazi if they were those solely responsible for the 3,000 deaths on 9/11. Bush said, “They are!”

Bush has a problem: either he admits that his brother was inept in protecting the country by ignoring intelligence about Osama bin Laden’s attacking the U.S., or he is forced to admit that Clinton and the Obama administration aren’t liable for the Benghazi attacks. (This exchange was omitted in reports from CNN and The Hill about Tapper’s interview with Bush.

Equally enlightening about the Benghazi select committee was the discussion on Meet the Press when Andrea Mitchell responded to Rep. Mike Pompeo’s (R-KS) statement about Clinton relying on former advisor Sidney Blumenthal’s intelligence. “That is factually not correct… I cover the State Department. That is just factually not correct,”Mitchell said. Pompeo tried to put down Mitchell—and failed—but he said nothing when Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) said that the committee doesn’t “know what this committee’s supposed to look for. Apart from damaging Hillary Clinton, it has no reason for existence.” The clip is worth watching.

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