Archive for the “Separation of church and state” Category

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

Noah's Ark finds dry landIn a time when the Religious Right is screaming to high heaven over government spending of any sort, there’s one project not one of them is speaking up about. A Noah’s Ark theme park is going to be built in Kentucky, with the assistance of commonwealth tax abatements. The New York Times reports on the Kentucky government’s latest proselytization effort (WebCite cached article):

Facing a rising tide of joblessness, the governor of Kentucky has found one solution: build an ark.

The state has promised generous tax incentives to a group of entrepreneurs who plan to construct a full-size replica of Noah’s ark, load it with animals and actors, and make it the centerpiece of a Bible-based tourist attraction called Ark Encounter.

The project’s main proponent doesn’t give a shit about the “separation of church and state” issues inherent in this, even though they’re obvious to everyone else:

Since Gov. Steven L. Beshear announced the plan on Wednesday, some constitutional experts have raised alarms over whether government backing for an enterprise that promotes religion violates the First Amendment’s requirement of separation of church and state. But Mr. Beshear, a Democrat, said the arrangement posed no constitutional problem, and brushed off questions about his stand on creationism.

“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” he said at a news conference. “They elected me governor to create jobs.”

Actually, Governor, they didn’t elect you governor in order to create jobs at any cost. They elected you to perform the job of governor, and that job requires you to live within the boundaries of the Constitution.

You remember the Constitution, don’t you? You Rightists are always yammering and howling about it. Well — try obeying it for once. OK?

Beshear’s lie that this is not an example of Kentucky promoting religion, places him in my “lying liars for Jesus” club. Congratulations on finding yourself in such glorious, pious company, Governor!

(Yes, I’m aware Beshear is a Democrat, and he might once have been liberal to some degree, but he typically does things according to the Religious Right’s whims, so as far as I’m concerned, he’s a definite Rightist.)

The group behind this project, by the way, is Answers in Genesis. They’re the people who previously brought you the laughable Creation Museum, and who also have claimed that non-believing teens are all murderous sociopaths, eager for a chance to grab some firearms and blow away everyone else. Yeah, they’re a wonderful bunch, too.

Photo credit: JonnyBaird.

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Ten CommandmentsBy now I must sound like a broken record, reporting on the myriad ways that Texas Christians are trying to ram their fierce religiosity down the throats of that state’s school children. It’s an old story that I’ve blogged about many many times already; I can only assume I will have to keep blogging about it for the next several years at least.

The latest example of this phenomenon comes in the form of a law being proposed by a Texas legislator, which — he no doubt hopes — will get the Ten Commandments into public schools around the state, as reported by the Fort Worth Star Telegram (WebCite cached article):

State Rep. Dan Flynn hopes to ensure that any Texas teacher who wants to can display the Ten Commandments in a classroom.

Flynn, R-Van, in East Texas, recently filed a bill that says school board trustees may not stop copies of the commandments from being posted in “prominent” locations in classrooms.

Calling it a “patriotic exercise,” Flynn said the bill is geared to teach youths about history and principles.

Flynn blathers on idiotically in support of his proposal:

“This is necessary to protect teachers who have the desire to establish that the country’s historical background is based on Judeo-Christian traditions,” he said. …

“For too long, we’ve forsaken what our Judeo-Christian heritage has been. Our rights do come from God, not from government.”

Flynn’s bullshit about the US being “founded on Christianity” — or a euphemism such as “Judeo-Christian traditions” — is, of course, a lie. The US was not “founded on Christianity.” It was established as a secular state, from the very beginning. Its body of laws is not based on the Ten Commandments, it’s based on English common law, which in turn was based on the customs of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples. The Decalogue, in any event, is not a collection of civil laws, but rather, is a ritual purity code.

Flynn is just another Christian theocrat trying to turn his religion into the law of the land and force it on everyone, merely because he believes himself entitled to force it on everyone. All I can say to him is what I say to every other theocrat: You want me to believe what you believe, and live as you want me to live … then you’re just going to have to make me. Go ahead. I dare you to give it your best shot. Come on. Lock and load. What are you waiting for?

Like little children, Flynn and the other the religiofascists in Texas just keep throwing tantrums repeatedly until they’ve worn down the opposition. They scream and cry and wail and weep and screech and moan and kvetch and rail and holler and stamp and fume and yell, over and over again … and when they’ve finished, they just start up all over again. Well, I don’t plan to cave into their Christofascism … and neither should you. This is a free country — it should stay free, and for everyone, not just militant Christianists.

Hat tip: Mark at the Skeptics & Heretics Forum at Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: No Matter Project.

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Ken Buck, courtesy of Ken Buck for Senate Web site ( turns out that more than one GOP Senate candidate opposes separation of church and state and believes it to be unconstitutional — even though a long sequence of Supreme Court decisions has decided that it is. The latest Christofascist to make this declaration is Ken Buck, who’s running for US Senate from Colorado, as the Washington Post reports (WebCite cached article):

Colorado Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck has questioned the separation of government and religion, drawing criticism from Democrats who last week chided another tea party candidate for the same view.

Buck’s opponents have been circulating a clip of him from a 2009 GOP forum in which he won applause from a conservative crowd at Colorado Christian University when he said the Constitution doesn’t require church and state to be separate.

“I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state. It was not written into the Constitution,” Buck said on the video. “While we have a Constitution that is very strong in the sense that we are not gonna have a religion that’s sanctioned by the government, it doesn’t mean that we need to have a separation between government and religion.”

As with Christine O’Donnell, who spewed similar views during a debate, Buck’s campaign is defending his words:

Buck hasn’t said anything public recently about the issue. His spokesman, Owen Loftus, said Wednesday that Buck’s belief stands.

OK, so now we know Ken Buck is a Christofascist, if not a dominionist or Christian reconstructionist.

All I can say to Mr Buck is this: Hey Ken, if you want this American to become a Christian, you’re just going to have to make me one. Go ahead. Do your worst. I dare you to give it your best shot. I’m ready for whatever you decide to do in order to force me to become the Christian you think I must be.

In case anyone is not clear on the matter, as I explained previously, separation of church and state IS most certainly Constitutional … not merely because the Supreme Court has decided it is, but because that’s what the writer of the First Amendment, James Madison, himself said it meant!

Photo Credit: Buck for Colorado Web site.

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Christine O'Donnell addresses the crowd during meeting of the '9/12 Delaware Patriots' at the Bowers Beach Fire Hall, September 1, 2010, in Bowers, Delaware. (Gary Emeigh/MCT)I’ve already blogged about the militant Religious Rightist and walking train-wreck, Christine O’Donnell, who’s running for US Senate from Delaware. As one might expect, she continuously spews Religious Rightist talking points. Recently she hammered away at one which is especially used by theocrats. The New York Times Caucus blog reports on her caterwauling (WebCite cached article):

Christine O’Donnell, the Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware, on Tuesday appeared to question whether the First Amendment to the Constitution imposes a separation between church and state.

Here, the Times is much too circumspect and generous toward O’Donnell. It cannot reasonably be said that she only “appeared” to question whether separation of church and state is called for. The truth is that she did, in fact, very clearly question it.

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Ms. O’Donnell asked [her opponent, Democrat Chris Coons], according to audio posted on the Web site of WDEL 1150 AM radio, which co-sponsored the debate.

I’m no Constitutional scholar, nor even a lawyer, but I can answer that. Those words are not in the Constitution at all … but that admission does not mean the Bill of Rights does not call for it. Her audience, of course, knew this:

The audience at the law school can be heard breaking out in laughter.

It’s quite clear — from these words which she said, of her own volition — that Ms O’Donnell does not think “separation of church and state” is Constitutional. However, that hasn’t stopped her campaign from backing away from this position:

Matt Moran, Ms. O’Donnell’s campaign manager, wrote in a statement after the debate that “Christine O’Donnell was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts.”

“She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution,” Mr. Moran said.

But there is no rational reason for her to have pointed out that those words are not in the Constitution, except to suggest that “separation of church and state” is not Constitutional. This attempt at backpedalling, then, simply doesn’t work.

For the record, the man who wrote the First Amendment, James Madison, clearly stated his intentions; he definitely wanted there to be a “wall” dividing church and state, even if he did not happen to have included the phrase when he wrote it. Here are his own words on the subject (cached), written a couple decades later (c. 1817), providing his perspective on the principle and on a couple of ways he believed it ought to have been applied (all spellings per Madison’s original text):

The danger of silent accumulations & encroachments by Ecclesiastical Bodies have not sufficiently engaged attention in the U. S. … If some of the States have not embraced this just and this truly Xn principle in its proper latitude, all of them present examples by which the most enlightened States of the old world may be instructed; and there is one State at least, Virginia, where religious liberty is placed on its true foundation and is defined in its full latitude. The general principle is contained in her declaration of rights, prefixed to her Constitution: but it is unfolded and defined, in its precise extent, in the act of the Legislature, usually named the Religious Bill, which passed into a law in the year 1786 [i.e. the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom]. Here the separation between the authority of human laws, and the natural rights of Man excepted from the grant on which all political authority is founded, is traced as distinctly as words can admit, and the limits to this authority established with as much solemnity as the forms of legislation can express. The law has the further advantage of having been the result of a formal appeal to the sense of the Community and a deliberate sanction of a vast majority, comprizing every sect of Christians in the State. This act is a true standard of Religious liberty: its principle the great barrier agst usurpations on the rights of conscience. …

Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?

In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation.

The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority] shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. …

Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy, than erect them into a political authority in matters of religion. The object of this establishment is seducing; the motive to it is laudable. But is it not safer to adhere to a right pinciple, and trust to its consequences, than confide in the reasoning however specious in favor of a wrong one. …

Religious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings & fasts are shoots from the same root with the legislative acts reviewed.

Altho’ recommendations only, they imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers.

The objections to them are 1. that Govts ought not to interpose in relation to those subject to their authority but in cases where they can do it with effect. An advisory Govt is a contradiction in terms. 2. The members of a Govt as such can in no sense, be regarded as possessing an advisory trust from their Constituents in their religious capacities. They cannot form an ecclesiastical Assembly, Convocation, Council, or Synod, and as such issue decrees or injunctions addressed to the faith or the Consciences of the people.

To be clear, then, Madison — the author of the First Amendment — believes that Congressional and military chaplaincies are impermissible, as are executive proclamations of thanksgiving and holy days.

Also, I will reiterate Madison’s opening line in this document, which outlines what he addresses in the rest:

The danger of silent accumulations & encroachments by Ecclesiastical Bodies have not sufficiently engaged attention in the U. S.

He was concerned that “Ecclesiastical Bodies” were encroaching on the states … and considered that the First Amendment, which he had written, was supposed to have prevented it. I’m not sure how much clearer this principle can be. Even if the First Amendment does not contain the precise phrase “separation of church and state,” there can be no doubt — based on what Madison himself had to say about the matter — that this is what he had intended it to provide.

The bottom line is that Ms O’Donnell is wrong to want to have it both ways: She wants to convince Religious Rightists, especially of the dominionist/theocratic variety, that she opposes separation of church and state, yet at the same time concede to the rest of the country that the courts have, in fact, ruled that it does exist, even in spite of that exact phrase not being found in the Constitution. But this is irrational. She cannot logically hold both of these positions … even if she would like to.

Photo credit: Gary Emeigh/MCT via Christian Science Monitor.

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Hypocrites Are Us (aka Hypocrites R Us)Yet another example of the pot calling the kettle black, can be seen in the Religious Right’s yammering and whining about how the current administration uses its faith-based office. CNN reports on their whining, and on the White House’s reaction (WebCite cached article):

The White House pushed back Friday against allegations that President Barack Obama’s faith office is abusing its power for political gain. …

The White House response came after former Bush aides publicly criticized the conference call, saying it was an example of Obama abusing the office to win political support from religious leaders.

Yeah. As though no Religious Right president — such as George W. Bush was — would ever have done anything of this sort!

“According to the White House website, the faith-based office exists ‘to more effectively serve Americans in need,'” Jim Towey, who directed Bush’s faith office, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month. “I guess that now means Americans in need of Democratic talking points on health care.”

“Do we really want taxpayer-funded bureaucrats mobilizing ministers to go out to all the neighborhoods and spread the good news of universal coverage?” he continued. …

This week, another Bush official – former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson – spoke out against the office under Obama.

“I was involved in the faith-based office at the Bush administration and I think (Obama) has abused that office in political ways,” Gerson told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “doing outreach on healthcare and other federal initiatives instead of focusing on what religious-based charities can do for the poor.”

Towey and Gerson are fucking hypocrites, since they know damned well that the administration they worked for did pretty much the same thing … using churches and clergy to move social issues. Allow me to point out — as I have a million times already, but find I must repeat anyway, since Christians seem not to want to know it — that the founder of Christianity specifically, clearly, unambiguously and explicitly ordered his followers never to be hypocritical … ever, under any conditions. Hypocrisy is forbidden to all Christians. Period.

Yet, they don’t seem to be able to stop being hypocritical. And … in spite of their unwillingness or refusal to live as their own Jesus told them to live … they claim the right to tell everyone else how they should live. That only compounds their hypocrisy.

At any rate, the criticism here merely underscores the inherent problem with presidential administrations using “faith-based” offices to mobilize churches: It’s wrong. Just plain wrong. Let churches be churches, and let the White House be the White House. It’s better for religion, and it’s better for the country, if we do that.

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Sharron Angle, GOP candidate for US Senate from NevadaSharron Angle, who’s running for the US Senate in Nevada against current majority leader Harry Reid, recently was interviewed by a Christian radio host. In the course of the interview she revealed herself as a militant Christian religiofascist. The Las Vegas Sun reports on this interview, which — until the Sun took note of it — had gone under the radar of the media (WebCite cached article):

And [Angle said] these programs that you mentioned — that Obama has going with Reid and Pelosi pushing them forward — are all entitlement programs built to make government our God. And that’s really what’s happening in this country is a violation of the First Commandment. We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.

Here, Angle reiterates the laughable whine of Georgia Congressional candidate Ed Martin that government — or more specifically, President Obama — is getting between Christians and their deity.

I never fail to be amazed at the amount of sheer power these people attribute to things other than God … when at the same time they claim their God is all-powerful and can never be overcome or thwarted by anything.

That assumes, of course, that their objections to government are rational. The truth is that they’re not. Neither Sharron Angle, nor Ed Martin, nor anyone else in the Religious Right objected to entitlement spending while George W. Bush was in office and the Religious Right controlled Congress. Their objections to government only made themselves apparent as they began to lose power — first in the 2006 mid-term elections when they lost control of Congress, and more seriously in 2008 when they lost the White House.

In other words, it’s nothing but sour grapes … and it’s childish. Well, boo freakin’ hoo, Ms Angle.

Hat tip: Religion Dispatches.

Photo credit: TPM.

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The First Cathedral, A Megachurch in Bloomfield Connecticut, during Sunday Morning Praise and WorshipAbout 6 weeks ago I blogged about Enfield (CT) Public Schools and their religionist determination to proselytize to high school graduates and their families by holding commencements for its two high schools in a church in nearby Bloomfield. As I expected, a federal judge has prevented this arrangement. The Hartford Courant reports on this decision (WebCite cached article):

A federal judge on Monday ruled that Enfield High School and Enrico Fermi High School will not be able to hold their graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall heard closing arguments last week in a legal challenge that five Enfield residents — two high school seniors and three parents — filed to block the town from renting the 3,000-seat mega-church in neighboring Bloomfield. The graduations are scheduled for June 23 and 24.

“By attempting to ‘neutralize’ the First cathedral by covering up many (albeit not all) of its religious images, Enfield Public Schools unconstitutionally entangles itself with religion,” Hall wrote in her decision dated Monday. “And … by requiring a graduating senior — or parent of one — to enter First Cathedral in order to be able to participate in his or her graduation — or to watch their child graduate — Enfield Public Schools has coerced plaintiffs to support religion.”

Although the Courant story discusses the religious imagery in First Cathedral, and inadequate attempts to cover it up, that isn’t the only problem cited. Another claim that Enfield Public Schools have made is that they cannot locate any alternative facilities for the same price; thus, by comparison, First Cathedral is their only available choice. In her decision, however, Judge Hall points out that the school board’s attempts to find alternatives were insincere:

The Board’s evaluation of alternative venues in March and April 2010 does not appear to be an open-minded consideration of legitimate available alternatives. First Cathedral was never included in the written comparisons offered at either the March 23 or April 13, 2010 Board meetings, and the minutes of those meetings reflect no discussion as to First Cathedral’s actual price or amenities. Furthermore, the Board was aware that several locations offered similar accommodations for graduation ceremonies at a price less than the $32,000 budget. The rental fee for Symphony Hall, for example, totals $11,400 for both schools — a figure that is at least $5000 less than the rental fee charged by First Cathedral. Although the facility seats 2611 graduates and spectators would likely require Enfield Schools to limit each graduate to eight (8) tickets each, it was deemed “that should not be a huge issue.”

Chairman Stokes noted that there were other ways in which Symphony Hall did not match First Cathedral in meeting particular criteria that the Board was looking for, but the Board never generated a concrete list of the precise criteria that needed to be met. Indeed, certain requirements that Chairman Stokes claims the Board believed a venue had to satisfy seem designed to eliminate First Cathedral’s competitors. During the May 24, 2010 hearing, for example, the court asked Stokes, “What size is a minimum size that you think makes a facility acceptable?” Chairman Stokes replied, “I think that being able to have unlimited seating where anybody can come in and celebrate with their families is probably where I have leaned to.” When the court inquired further and asked what constitutes “unlimited seating,” Stokes replied, “In this case here it is about 3000 seats.” First Cathedral’s seating capacity is 3000.

Looks like the board’s putative “search for alternatives” was cleverly skewed so as to arrive at the predetermined result. This means it was not a genuine “search” and thus, by claiming to have actually “searched” for alternatives when they never intended to permit the graduation to be held anywhere else, Enfield Public Schools is guilty of disingenuity.

This places them into my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

Something else that ought to be noted is that the chairman of the Enfield school board, Greg Stokes, is the pastor of Cornerstone Church, a Protestant evangelical church in East Windsor CT (just south of Enfield) (cached version of page). First Cathedral in Bloomfield is also — you guessed it! — a Protestant evangelical church (cached version of page). I wonder, Pastor Stokes … could there possibly be a conflict of interest here? Maybe? Ya think? Hmm.

Let’s see: Dishonesty, and failure to admit to an obvious conflict of interest … yep, Chairman Stokes has managed to live down to all my expectations of fundamentalist Christians. Way to go, Pastor Greg!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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