Archive for the “Separation of church and state” Category

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

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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Indiana State Police Car / Indiana State Police, via Indianapolis StarNote: There’s a little more to say about this story; see below.

As I’ve frequently discussed, the problem with religions is that there’s really nothing supporting anything they teach. Since they all move in the world of metaphysics, it’s generally impossible to confirm them. Believers in a religion, therefore, are usually left foundering in a sea of insecurity. They have few means to relieve this insecurity.

The most common such tactic is communal reinforcement; i.e. they all get together and collectively reassure each other that their religion is true. This might seem like a form of social circular reasoning, and a virtual open-door to delusion, and it is … but it’s a remarkably effective way of relieving the insecurity of adhering to a package of metaphysics.

Even so, it can only provide just so much reassurance. After all, if one looks around and sees the very same people (e.g. the members of one’s own church) all the time, the apparent confirmation they offer each other begins to seem hollow. It’s necessary to expand that pool of mutual-reassurers from time to time; and what’s more, the process of convincing someone to join a religion s/he hadn’t been part of, is another kind of confirmation that can be extremely compelling.

Hence, a lot of religions put a strong emphasis on proselytizing, and some of their followers can essentially become addicted to it. A great example of this is an Indiana state trooper, as WXIN-TV in Indianapolis reports, whose compulsion to proselytize during traffic stops has left him unemployed (WebCite cached article):

Indiana State Police terminated a trooper Thursday after a second complaint in 18 months that he was preaching to citizens after stopping them for traffic violations.

State police say this was in direct violation of an August 2014 counseling statement where Senior Trooper Brian L. Hamilton, 40, was told in writing, “During the course of his official duties, S/Trp. Hamilton will not question others regarding their religious beliefs nor provide religious pamphlets or similar advertisements.”

The most recent traffic stop happened in January of this year, but Hamilton was sued in September of 2014 in a similar case, which was settled.

That’s right, this is Hamilton’s second ride on this particular merry-go-round. He was already caught once doing something he shouldn’t, was documented as having been instructed not to do it again, but then proceeded to do it anyway.

As one would expect in cases like this, Hamilton is defiant and unrepentant:

FOX59 spoke with Hamilton over the phone after news broke of his termination.

“Oh well…I’m just following what the Lord told me to do and you can’t change what the Lord tells you to do. So if the Lord tells me to speak about Jesus Christ, I do. And that’s why they fired me so that’s where we’re at,” he said before disconnecting.

Yes, it’s true, he is doing what his deity instructed in what is known as “the Great Commission”:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

So that provides Hamilton a ready excuse for indulging his compulsion to reassure himself of the veracity of his unfounded religion. It also provides him what he will consider justification for him proselytizing during traffic stops — as a Christian, by this scripture, he’s been explicitly instructed to spread his religion. He and his lawyers will, I’m sure, sue the state of Indiana on the grounds that his “religious freedom” was infringed, and the Great Commission, I’m equally sure, will be their Exhibit 1 in that case.

The problems with what Hamilton did are myriad, though, and are quite obvious. Quite aside from simply offending people who don’t want to be pelted with his Christianity during a traffic stop, it places those he stops in untenable positions, and can create conflicts of interest. First, someone who has no intention of doing so may promise Hamilton that s/he will go to his church, just to get out of a ticket; but what happens a few weeks later when s/he hasn’t shown up? Hamilton has that driver’s information, and could track him/her down later. I dare not think how that might work out! Second, what happens if the driver responds some other way, such as saying s/he won’t go to his church (whether because s/he isn’t religious, or is already committed to some other faith)? That driver risks offending Hamilton so that, perhaps, he might treat him/her more harshly. Moreover, what would Hamilton have done if he’d stopped someone who attended his own church? Might he have let that driver go without taking any action?

Put simply, Hamilton’s proselytizing compromises his job and, in turn, how the Indiana State Police relate to the public. It’s just not something they can tolerate.

In addition to suing Indiana over his firing, I also predict Hamilton will also go on the Christian lecture circuit, whining to rapt church audiences how he was fired for Jesus and simply because he “offended” people. His Christianist audiences will, no doubt, sympathize, and wonder what the problem is; why shouldn’t drivers want to hear Jesus’ gospel during traffic stops? After all, Hamilton is just looking out for their mortal souls and providing them what they need. How dare he be fired for having “offended” people?

I won’t even address the (poor) ethics of proselytizing to a captive audience … which is what a driver whom Hamilton has stopped, is. Christianists generally dismiss this particular issue; they happily proselytize in all sorts of closed settings, such as in prisons, schools, etc. It never occurs to them that it’s an underhanded tactic.

These Christianists won’t understand — or worse, will simply refuse even to begin to comprehend — what I explained above, which is that “offending” stopped drivers is the least of the problems which result from what Hamilton did. All they care about is their precious Jesus and making sure everyone else worships him as they do. Because really, what this boils down to is, Christianists are both selfish (seeing things only in their own way and never through anyone else’s perspective) and infantile (always demanding they run things whereas no one else is permitted to have any say in anything, ever).

P.S. I love how proselytizers like Hamilton always assume people have never heard of their Jesus … as though someone could have lived in the US for at least 16 years (thus being eligible to drive) yet never have heard of him. No American of driving age can possibly fail to know about Jesus, period. So why do Hamilton and his ilk think they have? I’ve never understood this assumption.

Update: Former trooper Hamilton truly is the unrepentant militant Christianist I’d assumed he is, as this story by WRTV-TV in Indianapolis reveals (cached). He’s a “soldier for Jesus” who’s simply following the commands of his Almighty. The poor little thing just can’t help but shove his Jesus down the throats of drivers he stops. Also, as I’d assumed, he clearly has a cadre of supporters who are just as unrepentantly militant as he is. I expect an uproar over his firing.

Photo credit: Indiana State Police, via Indianapolis Star.

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Gutenberg Bible, Lenox Copy, New York Public Library, 2009. Pic 01Note: There’s been a little news about this; please see below.

The people of the great Bible Belt (or should I say, Bobble Bay-elt) state of Tennessee are at it again. Because their precious Christianity is under attack or something, they’ve decided they need to act to protect it. What Tennessee needs, they think, is more God. Toward that end, as NPR reports, the TN legislature has approved a law to make the Bible the state book (WebCite cached article):

In what is believed to be a first, the Bible could be adopted as a symbol of Tennessee, after the Legislature narrowly approved a bill designating “the Holy Bible as the official state book.” The measure now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Critics called the proposal both unconstitutional and sacrilegious,” Nashville Public Radio reports [cached]. “They also pointed out there are many versions of the Bible, none of which are specified in the resolution.”

The Senate version of the legislation, HB 0615 [cached], was sponsored by state Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, who noted the importance of the Bible in Tennessee’s history — both in its role as a historic record of important family milestones and as the heart of the state’s multimillion-dollar Bible-printing industry.

I’m not aware that the presence of well-known religious publishers in Tennessee required the state government to make the Bible the state book … but what the hell could this cynical, godless agnostic heathen possibly know about anything this important? Southerland dismisses the obvious state promotion of religion angle inherent in this story:

Responding to criticisms of the bill, Southerland said the Bible is not only about religion but also about ethics, economics and other matters. He drew part of that response, he said, from a study Bible.

“What we’re doing here is recognizing it for its historical and cultural contributions to the state of Tennessee,” Southerland said.

Lots of books have made “historical and cultural contributions to” Tennessee and other states. That doesn’t mean the state should actively promote any of them. If a book has made enough of a “historical and cultural contribution,” then no recognition should be required at all!

The law doesn’t state which Bible, exactly, is the state book. Theoretically this means it avoids sectarian conflicts (since Catholics, for example, might object if a Protestant Bible version were to have been named the state book). But it would still seem to exclude Jews, as well as anyone else who doesn’t revere the Christian Bible. So it does have a sectarian effect nonetheless.

Tennessee’s governor and attorney general have both expressed reservations about this law, so it’s not clear it will be signed or implemented. A similar effort died in Lousiana. But even if it dies, the TN legislature shouldn’t have wasted its time on this religiofascist lunacy.

Update: It turns out that passing this law was a waste of time. Governor Bill Haslam vetoed it (cached).

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Noah's Ark toys / ariesa66, via PixabayFor ages, Christianists committed to a literal reading of the Genesis creation legend have worked diligently to force others to believe in it the way they do. It’s never enough for them that they believe in it; they require everyone else’s agreement, too. Anything less is directly harmful to them … somehow. I have no idea how, but they’re convinced of it, and they act accordingly.

Toward that end they’ve been trying to ram their Creationism down school kids’ throats, for decades. That teaching religion in public school is unconstitutional hasn’t really been enough to stop them. Many Christianists go so far as to deny the unconstitutionality of it, even if they’d scream and holler like banshees if a public-school teacher taught — say — the Slavic creation myth rather than the Genesis Creation story. Even so, courts haven’t seen things this way, so Creationists have had to devise other tactics to get their religion into schools … such as by calling it “Creation Science” (which it’s not, because there’s no “science” in it), or “intelligent design,” which also doesn’t work.

Courts have generally seen through these charades, too. But that hasn’t stopped Christianists from keeping up the effort to force their beliefs on school children. Oh no. They just keep at it, relentlessly. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports, a Democratic state senator in Louisiana recently took up this cause (WebCite cached article):

State Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, made the case for teaching creationism in schools Tuesday night (March 29).

“Scientific research and developments and advances in the last 100 years — particularly the last 15, 20, 10 years — have validated the biblical story of creation,” the freshman state senator said.

Milkovich, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said archeologists and scientists have verified the origin story of the Christian Bible. He said archeologists had found the remnants of Noah’s ark recently. A study of rocks had verified that the earth was created in a week, Milkovich said.

This is a bold-faced, brazen, out-&-out lie. Science has not, in fact, “validated the biblical story of creation.” Not at all, and not even in the slightest way. Noah’s Ark has not been found. The recent “discovery” Milkovich mentions is — as it turns out — a big fucking hoax promoted by a pro-Flood crank (cached). And that’s not the only Noah’s Ark discovery hoax that’s been perpetrated over the last few decades (cached).

Lies, lies, lies, lies, lies! All lies!

I have to add Milkovich to my “lying liars for Jesus” club. He’ll be in good company there, even if most of his fellow politicians in that assembly are Republicans rather than Democrats like himself.

I’m continually amazed at the shamelessness of militant Christianists like Milkovich. They lie, and lie some more, and lie even more, on and on and on, and they do so openly and with the approval of a large segment of the public. They literally cannot be shamed into stopping, because they have none. They’re doing “the Lord’s work,” you see, so that makes their lies OK. Or something. I guess. I mean, they must think their Jesus wants them to lie for him. No?

Photo credit: ariesa66, via Pixabay.

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Yoga woman / via PixabayFor the last few years there’s been a backlash among American Christians against the practice of yoga. Back in 2010, Al Mohler (of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) declared it un-Christian, citing its Hindu roots, and claiming that blanking one’s mind is something Christians can never do. (Yes. For some reason.) There have also been lawsuits over yoga in schools. Yoga’s origins as a Hindu philosophy are undisputed, but as its practiced in the US, it has very little to do with that religion.

Still, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, that hasn’t stopped some devout Christian parents in Georgia from objecting to it in one of their schools (WebCite cached article):

A group of parents at a Cobb County elementary are upset over the school’s use of yoga and other mindfulness practices for students because they believe it endorses a non-Christian belief system.

School leaders at Bullard Elementary held a meeting recently with parents to address the “many misconceptions” over the issue that “created a distraction in our school and community,” according to an email to parents from Bullard principal Patrice Moore.…

As a result, the school is making changes. When yoga moves are used in classrooms, students will not say the word “namaste” nor put their hands by their hearts, according to the email. The term and gesture are often used as a greeting derived from Hindu custom.

When coloring during classroom teaching breaks, students will not be allowed to color mandalas, spiritual symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Granted, there’s a lot of BS out there about the word “namaste.” I’ve heard New Agers translate it as “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” So yeah, for some folks, it has religious connotations. But with that said … all of that is excess baggage. “Namaste” comes down from Sanskrit, and is just a simple greeting, the equivalent of “hello” (its exact translation, if you must know, is “I bow to you”).

As the AJC article explains, yoga programs have popped up in schools around the country. I’m not sure how helpful it is, but unless there’s a lot more overt religiosity involved than what’s been described here, I just don’t see how it could be viewed as promoting Hinduism or undermining Christianity. It’s just a form of meditation.

Also, as the article mentions, one of the Christianist parents’ bogeymen here is their whine that — supposedly — Christian prayers aren’t allowed in public schools. They forget that prayers (from any religion) are definitely allowed … it’s just that school personnel can’t lead them. And they forget that yoga isn’t prayer (at least, not as it’s being done). Really, this is just another manifestation of their phony persecution complex.

Hat tip: Raw Story.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

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