Archive for the “Separation of church and state” Category

Specifically concerning separation of church and state in the U.S.

'One Nation, Under God: Remember, if you don't believe in God, you're not a REAL American. Keep prayer and God in school, where they belong!' / Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: University of GeorgiaIn case you haven’t heard, militant Christianism is alive and well in the US of A. Yes, even in the 21st century, a strangely medieval form of Christofascism is doing just fine, thank you — even though its sanctimoniously-enraged adherents insist, repeatedly (despite the facts), that Christianity is being wiped out and all Christians in the US are in dire peril of being slaughtered at any moment.

Or something like that. I think. Yeah, I know it sounds extreme, but they certainly believe all that. And they believe it fervently … so how could it possibly not be true?

Naturally, these folk focus on the future. Yes, they focus on the future they sincerely — but delusionally — fear (and lie about), the one in which Christianity no longer exists, because of vicious, evil “secular progressives” in concert with their (supposed) friends the radical Islamists; and they focus on the future they earnestly desire, one in which Christianity is alive and well, and their form of it is worshipped uniformly by everyone in the world (after first being made into the national religion of the US).

In order to bring about the latter future, the one they would love to bring about, they work hard at getting their Christianism into schools, assuring (they think) that the next generation will worship their Jesus the way they demand he be worshipped by everyone. It’s a game they’ve played for decades, and have persisted with, in spite of setbacks like Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington S.D. v. Schempp (1963). Little things like the rule of law don’t matter to American Christianists; they work for Jesus, you see, so they need not worry about such petty concerns.

This explains why the good Christianist folk of the good Christianist state of Arkansas passed a good Christianist law ensuring the good Christianist public-school students all see a good Christianist slogan* constantly. KARK-TV in Little Rock explains their good Christianist impulse (Archive.Is cached article):

The official motto of the U.S. written across our money and monuments could soon appear on the walls of Arkansas public schools.

A new law [cached] states elementary and secondary schools shall display a framed picture or poster of “In God We Trust” above an American flag in their libraries and classrooms.

The article includes a quote by a good Arkansas Christianist affirming the good Christianists’ desperate need for this law:

“It should be there,” said Sharon Sumpter from Mulberry. “We need to turn more back to our religion, our roots and why our country was founded.”

“If you take ‘In God We Trust’ out, I mean that’s basically telling them God’s dead, you know?,” said Doug Wilburn from North Little Rock.

This insane piece of drivel practically screams “illogic.” To be clear, Ms Sumpter: No, not seeing “In God We Trust” constantly does not — in fact — tell us that your God is dead. It just fucking doesn’t — and that you think it does, constitutes proof of your religionistic derangement.

The article goes on to explain the mechanism by which the good Christianists who wrote and passed this good Christianist law hope to make it legal:

Taxpayers won’t be fronting the bill for the new displays.

Act 911 states they either have to be donated from a private organization or purchased with funds made available through voluntary contributions to the local school boards or the Building Authority Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

Oh, and it’s not only schools that must display “In God We Trust” all over the place:

The law also requires the motto to appear in any public building that’s maintained or operated by state funds.

Whew! That was close! I was afraid, for a moment there, that only public-school kids in the good Christianist state of Arkansas would constantly be confronted by that good Christianist slogan*; I can be comforted knowing that any good Christianist in Arkansas who spends time in any state-funded building will be comforted by the constant sight of a good Christianist slogan*.

I sure am glad I don’t live in Arkansas. But if I did, it wouldn’t matter. I do not trust in the Christianists’ God — or any other, for that matter — nor will I ever do so, no matter how many times I’m told I must. I just won’t. And there’s absolutely nothing that American Christianists can do about it.

Nor can they change the fact that there are non-Christianists in the world … yes, even in their own precious and holy “Christian nation.” Waaah wah waah, little babies. Waah wah!

* I say “In God We Trust” is a “Christianist” slogan, because — well! — that’s exactly what it is! It was first put on US coins during the Civil War due to a religious impulse. It was later added to paper currency as the Cold War heated up, at the instigation of the Knights of Columbus.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Austin Cline/About.Com, aka ThoughtCo; Original: University of Georgia.

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'One Nation, Under God: Remember, if you don't believe in God, you're not a REAL American. Keep prayer and God in school, where they belong!' / Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: University of GeorgiaI’ve blogged a few times about Bible classes in public schools. The nation’s Christianists have long agitated against the Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, which forbid the reading of Bible passages or reciting the Lord’s Prayer in public schools. Even decades later, militant Christianists throughout the country are still fighting back against that decision. They’ve consistently whined that Abington ripped the Bible out of public schools — which isn’t true — and have repeatedly pushed to get more Bible classes in more public schools throughout the country.

The reality is that lots of school systems have “Bible-as-secular-literature” courses. But many of them still run afoul of Abington. An example is the Mercer county, WV school system, which has a Bible course running through many grades, beginning in elementary school. The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed suit to end Mercer county’s Bible classes this past January (WebCite cached article). The FFRF’s complaint shows how the program’s lessons are more like Sunday-school religious lessons than “Bible-as-secular-literature.” After some wringing of hands over the last few months, as the Bluefield (WV) Daily Telegraph reports, Mercer county schools have decided to suspend the program for a year while they review its content (cached):

Mercer County’s Bible in the Schools program is being suspended for next year, providing time for a review of the optional class for elementary and middle school students.

Members of the board of education approved the suspension last night at their regular meeting.

“Since the Bible class is an elective, I would like to include community members and religious leaders along with our teachers in this process,” said Dr. Deborah Akers, superintendent of schools. “In order to conduct a thorough review, we need to allow at least a year to complete the task. Therefore, I am recommending that we suspend the elementary Bible classes until this review is completed.”

The way the schools got around the law on this is, as I see it, moderately clever. Their “Bible in the Public Schools” program is administered by the school system, but funded by private donations, with those funds paying the program’s teachers. They also say it’s an “elective,” but virtually every student takes it, which is undeniable evidence that it’s not actually an “elective” at all.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph ran a second story to reassure readers this wasn’t necessarily the end of the program (cached). Rather pathetically, it lamented “the loss of jobs” due to the year suspension:

Although Mercer County schools administers the program, Pelts’ group raises money to pay the seven teachers, who will now be out of their jobs at least for next year.

“Right now, the loss of jobs for our teachers is heartbreaking,” said Pelts. “Our primary and immediate emphasis is to honor and show appreciation to our Bible teachers.”

The group raises almost $500,000 a year to pay for the program.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a staggering sum of money for a private fund to raise, just to pay for Bible classes in one Appalachian county. As of 2015, Mercer county’s population is a mere 60,000 or so. I can’t imagine those residents can consistently raise half a million dollars a year, just among themselves. It doesn’t seem plausible. Outside groups must be paying for this program.

If I may crib from my earlier remarks on this topic: As someone who’s studied the Bible, both as sacred and secular literature, I don’t dispute that “Bible-as-literature” classes add value to public schools. There’s no doubt whatever about that! Biblical allusions are common in other literature and art, and some of the Old Testament books serve as tremendous examples of etiology. Kids can certainly use this as a foundation for understanding other works.

The problem I have with public-school Bible classes is, I don’t trust the people — generally, devout Christians — who create curricula for, and teach, them. Many are motivated by a desire to proselytize. Even if they set out with the intention of keeping these classes completely secular, will they be able to resist the temptation to turn them into religious instruction? The ardency with which some of them have pressed to get such classes into public schools makes me question how truly committed they are to a secular approach to the Bible. I particularly find it suspicious that half a million dollars is spent annually, in little Mercer county, WV on this effort. That kind of money makes the whole thing appear very suspicious.

Photo credit: Austin Cline, Licensed to About.Com; Original Poster: University of Georgia.

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US flag with cross instead of starsBrace yourselves for even more religious politicking in the US. While campaigning for president, the Groper-in-Chief had said he would “destroy the Johnson amendment” (WebCite cached article). That’s the regulation which bars non-profit entities — of which churches and religious organizations are one type — from engaging in partisan politics.

The sniveling crybabies who comprise the Religious Right have agitated against this rule for decades. That it exists hasn’t prevented them from constructing a very powerful, religiously-propelled political engine … but that hasn’t stopped them from bellyaching about it. What’s more, it hasn’t stopped some of them from endorsing candidates without being punished by the IRS (which generally is afraid of enforcing it).

The New York Times reports that tomorrow, the National Day of Prayer, the Apricot Wonder will start making good on that promise (cached):

President Trump plans to mark the National Day of Prayer on Thursday by issuing an executive order that makes it easier for churches and other religious groups to actively participate in politics without risking their tax-exempt status, several administration officials said.

Taking action as he hosts conservative religious leaders Thursday morning, Mr. Trump’s executive order would attempt to overcome a provision in the federal tax code that prohibits religious organizations like churches from directly opposing or supporting political candidates.

The move is likely to be hailed by some faith leaders, who have long complained that the law stifles their freedom of expression. But the order is expected to fall short of a more sweeping effort to protect religious liberties that has been pushed by conservative religious leaders since Mr. Trump’s election.

Churches and other religious groups have whined for years that the Johnson amendment somehow “violates” their rights and gets in the way of their “free speech.” This, however, is completely untrue. It’s a lie straight out of the pit of Hell. All a church has to do, if it wants to endorse candidates and campaign for them, is to forfeit its tax exemption. Once it’s done that, it can politick to its heart’s content! There’s nothing — other than greed — preventing them from doing so.

The United States of Jesus is on its way, folks. You read it here first!

Photo credit: CJF20, via Flickr.

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Unsplash, via PixabayThe Commonwealth of Kentucky has an awful lot of problems … or so I thought. I mean, last I knew, it’s home to some of the most impoverished counties in the entire US (WebCite cached article). It’s taken decades for Kentucky to devolve into its current dismal status. Yes, it’s been hurt by the loss of coal production, but no, this wasn’t caused by the coal-hating Barack HUSSEIN Obama; coal jobs have diminished steadily since the 1980s, under presidents of both parties.

But it seems the Bluegrass State has solved all of its problems, including the deep poverty of its eastern reaches, because Frankfort has moved on to dealing with problems it doesn’t have: Namely, not enough Bible-thumping. As the Christian Post reports, Kentucky’s governor bravely signed a bill that establishes a foundation for Bible classes in the commonwealth’s public schools (cached):

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin recently signed a bill into law that authorizes public school boards to allow schools to offer elective Bible literacy courses and provides state guidance to help establish such classes, local news outlets have reported [cached].

According to the Ohio County Monitor, Bevin, a Republican, has signed House Bill 128 into law, which provides guidance to schools as they begin offering students the ability to sign up to take Bible courses.

The bill, which was introduced by Rep. DJ Johnson, passed overwhelmingly in the state’s senate 34 to 4 late last month.

The CP article includes obligatory references to the historic nature of the Bible and how important it is to civilization and yada yada yada. It even included this claim:

“Additionally, studies show that students that have a higher level of Bible literacy also tend to have higher GPAs,” [Republican representative DJ] Johnson continued.

No citations to these “studies” are provided, and I’m willing to bet either that no such thing exists, or they were commissioned by religious groups, in which case their results are suspect at best.

The article also points out the classes designed as a result of this law are to be “electives” only. The problem is that large swaths of Kentucky are packed with militant Christianists, so in many schools these “elective” classes won’t really be “electives”; nearly all kids will take them as a matter of course, and the few who dare not do so will be harassed and bullied. Yes, it will happen, no matter how vehemently the people promoting these classes insist they won’t permit it.

As someone who’s studied the Bible both from a religious and secular perspective, I don’t deny that secular Bible-literacy courses can have value for kids. The problem is, will the folks who teach these classes be willing to limit themselves to a secular approach? Will they have the restraint not to use them as an opportunity to proselytize? I’m not sure all of them will be able to resist the temptation to do so.

Really, what’s going on here is a kind of Bible-worship, or treating the Bible as though it were an idol. The people behind this law think that exposing kids to it will magically make them Christianists just like themselves. They really need to stick crowbars into the Bibles they long ago slammed shut, though, and actually read them for once … because it contains admonitions against idolatry and other forms of magical thinking.

At any rate, allow me to congratulate the Commonwealth on its achievement. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with Kentucky any more, and all that’s left is the passage of laws to promote Bible-reading. Well done, Kentuckyites! You must be so proud!

Photo credit: Unsplash, via Pixabay.

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PsiCop animated modification of original photo of Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, via WBTV / Original URL: http://www.wbtv.com/story/22057943/ten-commandments-on-display-at-sheriffs-office-causing-controversyThere are a lot of Christians who think the Ten Commandments are the pinnacle of human morality. They view them not only as the rules everyone should live by, but they think of them as having a kind of magical power to make everyone better and more moral. Or something. I guess. That’s why many of them want to post the Ten Commandments everywhere. Supposedly, being constantly confronted by the Decalogue will turn every American in to an upstanding, law-abiding citizen.

Only, all too often, it turns out this isn’t actually the case. As the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, TN reports, one particular Decalogue champion turns out to have been anything but law-abiding (WebCite cached article):

Former Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold pleaded guilty Wednesday to three of 14 counts stemming from a two-year criminal investigation into illegally profiting from inmates through a company selling electronic cigarettes.

Arnold pleaded guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion. Each count carries up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, supervised release of not more than three years and a $52,500 restitution payment from electronic cigarettes revenues from the JailCigs business to the county.

Now, the DNJ article doesn’t mention it, but as the Friendly Atheist points out, former Sheriff Arnold just happens to have been a major proponent of spreading the gospel of the Ten Commandments, just a few years ago (cached). At that time, he’d openly defied an earlier court order, on the pretense that he is required to do so because “In God we trust” is printed on our currency, and because “[the Ten Commandments] were the founding principles of this country.” Or something. I guess.

As I always do in cases like this, I like to point out that, for Christians, putting up Decalogue monuments (or plaques, or signs, or whatever) is incredibly problematic. First, it’s an expression of public piety, which Jesus explicitly forbid his followers ever to engage in. Second, one of the Ten Commandments is, itself, a prohibition against idolatry; depending on one’s sect, it’s either part of the First Commandment, or it’s the Second. But, given that Christians are generally unwilling to follow the words of their own scripture, I guess it’s just too hard for them to stop posting the Ten Commandments all over the place. The poor little things, they just can’t help themselves … right?

I expect Arnold and his supporters will, no doubt, consider his corruption — which he admitted in court — a kind of insignificant aberration. After all, I’m sure they’d tell me, “he’s not perfect, just forgiven.” So hey, it doesn’t really matter if he fails to live up to the faith he supposedly follows. Right? Once he’s out of jail, Arnold might even go on the Christian lecture circuit, propounding his past “sin” of corruption to his co-religionists and touting his “fallen” status as a kind of perverse credential of piety. Such is how Christianity works … as freakish as it seems.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: PsiCop animated modification of original, via WBTV.

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A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree / Mark K., via FlickrThe “peasants with pitchforks” moment in Killeen, TX I already blogged about, just ratcheted up a notch. The Christofascist attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, sued the Killeen school district over its order to remove a Christian poster from a public school. As the Houston Chronicle reports, a Texas judge ordered it be put back up (WebCite cached article):

A state district judge on Thursday ordered a “Charlie Brown Christmas’ display at a Killeen school restored after it was ordered taken down over a biblical message that educators said could be offensive.

After an hour-long hearing, Judge Jack Jones ruled that the door display featuring the Peanut character Linus, and his explanation of why Christmas matters, should be put back up with an added line: “Ms. Shannon’s Christmas message.”

Note the supposedly clever, legalistic workaround which (the judge thinks) will allow Ms Shannon to skate out from under the longstanding principle that government entities in the US can’t promote religion. And that is, by calling it merely “Ms. Shannon’s Christmas message” — as though it’s just a personal message from her to individuals. Unfortunately that doesn’t actually work, since this is still a government facility, and any poster within it constitutes government promoting something (in this case, Christianity). It’s a transparent maneuver.

The Chron article includes a standard Christianist whine:

“Religious discrimination towards Christians has become a holiday tradition of sorts among certain groups,” Paxton said in a statement after the judge’s decision.

Boo hoo hoo! Listen up, Kennie, and the rest of you militant Christofascists: No one is “discriminating” against you in cases like this, where overt Christian messages are removed from government property. No one — I repeat, no fucking one! — is preventing you from worshipping your Jesus any way you see fit, nor is anyone keeping you from celebrating Christmas in your homes, businesses, or churches.

Christmas has never been outlawed, anywhere in the country. It. Just. Hasn’t. Fucking. Happened. (Since colonial times, anyway.) So stop your fucking whining and crying that it has.

It’s time for you, Kennie, and the rest of your bellicose, whiney, paranoid Christianist pals, to fucking grow the hell up for the first time in your lives and stop claiming persecution that doesn’t exist. I get that you want to be persecuted for your Jesus. Really, I understand it. I was once a fundie like you, and I get it. Honest! I really am aware that this desire is deeply embedded in the psychopathology of your religion. But you have to stop fucking deluding yourselves over it and lying about it to others.

Oh, and about this whole business of celebrating Christmas in as public a manner as possible … were you aware, your own Jesus clearly and unambiguously ordered you never to express your piety in public? By all rights, were Ms Shannon truly following the teachings of her Jesus, she would never want to put up a Christmas display at all! It’s unChristian! Just saying.

Oh, and yes … in all likelihood, I do know more about your own religion than you. So I am in a position to explain to you what it teaches, and to point out when you’re brazenly defying those teachings.

Photo credit: Mark K., via Flickr.

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Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Shopping / Kit Cowan, via FlickrOn the heels of my post about an unusual variation on the annual “war on Christmas” in Texas, comes another story on that trope from the Lone Star State. The local school system in Killeen, TX ordered the removal of a hand-drawn poster, based on A Charlie Brown Christmas, from a classroom door. The Killeen (TX) Daily Herald reports on the resulting “peasants with pitchforks” moment (WebCite cached article):

Nearly 100 people and four news outlets — including Austin’s Fox News affiliate — crammed into Killeen Independent School District’s board room Tuesday to weigh in on the fate of a religious Christmas poster.

After more than an hour of discussion, the board decided, in a 6 to 1 vote, to uphold the district’s decision to remove the “Charlie Brown Christmas” decorations Dedra Shannon put up on her door at Patterson Middle School in Killeen.…

The door decoration in question was inspired by a scene in the Peanuts classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” in which Linus van Pelt stands on a stage and recites a biblical passage describing the Christmas story: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

The people’s revolt over this was inevitable, in a state which is — in many ways — the buckle of the Bible Belt (er, the Bobble Bayelt). These people are fucking pissed! Their reactions included vague threats:

The removal of the decoration sparked nearly 500 comments on the Killeen Daily Herald’s Facebook page and became state and national news over the past five days leading up to Tuesday’s meeting.

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, who is now Dedra Shannon’s legal representative, had much to say about his displeasure with the board’s ruling.…

Prior to the board’s decision, Saenz warned the board of his intentions if they did not allow the poster back up on campus.

“Allow the Charlie Brown poster to go up. If not, we will be forced to take other action,” he said.

Wow. I mean, just “wow.” The article goes on to quote people who vomited any number of childish and irrational objections. Among the complaints was that the poster doesn’t coerce anyone to be a Christian; and that soon, merely saying the word “Christmas” will be outlawed. Both are untrue! Putting Christian scripture on the door of a public school classroom does constitute an endorsement of Christianity by a government entity, and implicitly marginalizes those who aren’t Christian. Also, removing this poster from a public school classroom door cannot and will never lead to the saying of “Christmas” being banned. That’s just an infantile whine.

To be clear: No, celebration of Christmas is not being outlawed anywhere in the US. No, removing this one poster from a public school classroom door cannot and will never prevent any Christian from celebrating Christmas however s/he wants in his/her own home, business, or church. It just won’t!

It’s time for the good Christian folk of Killeen to fucking grow the hell up, for the first time in their sniveling little lives, and quit their childish beefing. For that matter, it’s time for all American Christianists to just fucking stop already with the incessant, persecutorial Christmas whining. Take your Christian martyr complex and shove it!

Photo credit: Kit Cowan, via Flickr, based on A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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