Archive for the “Separation of church and state” Category

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

Mississippi State Capitol buildingThe nation’s Christianists continue to confuse “religious liberty” with “the power to force everyone to believe what they believe.” The Mississippi legislature is no exception. As the AP reports via NECN, both houses of that august, religionistic body have passed measures to promote school prayer under the aegis of “religious liberty” (WebCite cached article):

Supporters say bills to guarantee religious freedom in Mississippi public schools are meant to ensure students can talk about spiritual beliefs and aren’t deprived of their rights.

But some supporters also say the measures would legalize prayer before school audiences, and that makes people who advocate for separation of church and state uneasy.

Both the state House and the state Senate have passed versions of the Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties Act. The chambers must agree on a single bill before anything would go to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant. The Senate version represents the first time the chamber has passed such a bill, improving chances that it will become law.

The bill is ostensibly predicated on the Religious Right’s decades-long whining and bellyaching that school kids aren’t allowed to pray or talk about religion or express their beliefs. Those things are not true. In fact, a lot of praying goes on in schools all around the country, every single minute of every school day. It comes, for example, in quickly muttered prayers such as, “Please God, let me pass this algebra exam!”

Look, I get that the Christian Nationers are none too happy about Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), along with various other decisions that ended prayer in public schools. And I also get that they’re Christians, and therefore can’t help but view themselves as being oppressed for Jesus. But facts are facts, and they’re not allowed to make shit up just ’cause it makes them feel better to do so. Formby is very clearly a lying liar for Jesus.

Even so, at least some of the bills’ supporters are not lying about their motives, and admit they’re not about “liberty” at all:

But it’s clear that advocates for the measure, especially those outside the Legislature, believe it would clear the way for student-led prayer before groups.

“People ask me if this is a step toward getting prayer back in schools. I think this is THE step to get prayer back in schools,” said Paul Ott, who hosts religion-flavored radio and television programs about hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

Because, you know, nothing says “religious liberty” quite like forcing a school full of kids pray when you order them to. Right?

Photo credit: Allstarecho, via Wikimedia Commons.

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MeditatingDespite the fact that it’s relatively common … and mostly done in a completely non-religious way in the occidental world … there are Christians out there who can’t get over yoga. They don’t understand that, while it did originate within Hindu religious tradition, yoga can be — and almost always is — non-religious. They object to it anyway, just because they think they can.

A couple years ago I blogged about evangelical theologian R. Albert Mohler going on a tear against it, but he’s hardly alone. As the (UK) Telegraph reports, some Christians in California are suing their local school district because it plans to have yoga as part of the phys-ed curriculum (WebCite cached article):

The Encinitas Union School District plans to offer yoga instruction at all of its nine schools from January, despite a protest by parents who say they believe it will indoctrinate their children in Eastern religion.

The growing popularity of yoga is forcing US public schools to address the question of whether it is a religious practice or simply exercise.

The parents have their reasons … which are incomprehensible:

Mary Eady, a parent who has pulled her child out of yoga classes, said the pupils were learning to worship the sun and it was “inappropriate in our public schools.”

I’m not sure how or why Ms Eady thinks yoga is “sun worship.” She might be referring — perhaps — to something like Surya Namaskara, which might be called a yoga practice … however, it is, at best, a subset of yoga, and is certainly not the entirety of yoga.

It’s actually not uncommon for fundamentalist Christians to dismiss or condemn things they dislike as “sun worship.” They similarly dismiss Islam as “moon worship.” I’m not sure why, but they do.

In any event, as I blogged previously, these Christians forget that a lot of the meditative practices which are part of yoga, also happen to be traditional within Christianity … particularly in the monastic and mendicant movements. In other words, they’re condemning something that can also be found within their own religion. The meditative practices of Christian monks, friars, nuns, etc. may not be something these fundamentalist Christians are personally familiar with, but they’re no less “Christian” than any of their own rites or practices. That they’re ignorant of their own religion’s traditions, is the real problem here.

Photo credit: RelaxingMusic, via Flickr.

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Charlie Brown Christmas Tree ShoppingIt’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and already this is my third post in this year’s edition of the annual delusional “war on Christmas.” A school in Arkansas planned a field trip to see a live performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The problem is, it was going to be in a church. KARK-TV in Little Rock reports on this attempt to trot public-school kids into a church so they can be proselytized (WebCite cached article):

A longtime holiday show, beloved by children, inadvertently sparked a controversy in Little Rock over the separation of church and state.

It happened when some teachers at Terry Elementary school sent letters home offering to shuttle first and second graders to see a stage version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Agape, a local church.

“We’re not saying anything bad about Charlie Brown,” said Anne Orsi, a Little Rock Attorney and Vice President of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers.

“The problem is that it’s got religious content and it’s being performed in a religious venue and that doesn’t just blur the line between church and state, it over steps it entirely.”

As is typical of such cases, the church used the old “We’ve always done it, so we should always be able to do it, forevermore!” defense:

Some of Agape staffers did say they have held holiday productions for students in the past and no one raised concerns about those shows.

Sorry but no. As I blogged previously — and repeatedly — that Christianists have been getting away with this kind of crap, doesn’t actually make it acceptable. It just means they managed to get away with it. Note that, usually, this kind of defense doesn’t work in other venues. For instance, someone caught for speeding can’t respond with, “But officer, I’ve always driven that fast down this road! I’ve been doing it for years! You can’t give me a ticket, now! You must let me continue speeding!” It just doesn’t work … and the Christianists who use these appeals to tradition damned well know it.

The article contains the station’s video report, that I can’t embed here, but it mentions an important aspect of cases like this: The fact that kids and parents who object to this sort of thing often go along with it anyway, out of fear their kids will be harassed if they choose not to. That’s how Christianists have been getting away with it for as long as they have; they use bullying tactics against anyone who dares not knuckle under to their religiosity. That’s not to their credit, and I’m fairly sure their own Jesus wouldn’t approve of it. Yet they do it nevertheless.

Christians, just fucking grow the hell up and stop using Christmas to ram your Jesus down everybody’s throats … OK? Is that too much to ask of you?

Full disclosure: I’m of the generation that grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas annually. I still find it amusing, its religious content notwithstanding. Nevertheless, it’s unacceptable to present to kids in public school, and taking them to a church to see it just makes the situation all the worse.

Photo credit: From A Charlie Brown Christmas / KIT, via Flickr.

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In this file photo taken on Dec. 17, 2011, pedestrians walk past a Christmas display in Santa Monica, California. Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images file.We have yet another entry in the annual Christian whining session that is the putative “war on Christmas.” This one is taking place in Santa Monica, CA, and involves a court case being brought by churches there to get their sacred nativity onto city property. The AP via NBC News reports on their effort to use the courts to commandeer public property so they can proselytize (WebCite cached article):

Damon Vix didn’t have to go to court to push Christmas out of the city of Santa Monica. He just joined the festivities.

The atheist’s anti-God message alongside a life-sized nativity display in a park overlooking the beach ignited a debate that burned brighter than any Christmas candle.

Santa Monica officials snuffed the city’s holiday tradition this year rather than referee the religious rumble, prompting churches that have set up a 14-scene Christian diorama for decades to sue over freedom of speech violations. Their attorney will ask a federal judge Monday to resurrect the depiction of Jesus’ birth, while the city aims to eject the case.

The article relates the backstory here over Vix’s sign and the reason the city decided not to allow any holiday messages on city property. The churches claim their freedom of speech and worship has been wiped out in Santa Monica:

The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee argues in its lawsuit that atheists have the right to protest, but that freedom doesn’t trump the Christians’ right to free speech.

But there’s no reason they need public land for this:

The city doesn’t prohibit churches from caroling in the park, handing out literature or even staging a play about the birth of Jesus and churches can always set up a nativity on private land, Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schachtner said in an email.

The churches’ problem, of course, is that they truly are free to put up all the nativities they want … on private land. In all the caterwauling over city-hall nativities that takes place every year around the country, not one Christian has ever been able to identify the exact reason why nativities must be on government land and cannot be on private land. The best they can say is something along the lines of, “We’ve always done it, so we should always be able to do it forevermore.” That, however, is fallacious reasoning; specifically it’s an appeal to tradition. That something has always been done — or that it has always been believed — cannot and will never make it right or grant it veracity. Just a few centuries ago, for example, slavery was a “tradition” that most societies permitted; but obviously we no longer think that way. Likewise, it was once thought that the sun revolved around the earth, and not the other way around. That they were “traditional” did not make slavery right, nor did it mean the geocentric model of the solar system was correct.

Fortunately the judge who heard the churches’ case was not taken in by their claims. She ruled that Santa Monica is within its rights not to allow seasonal displays on city property (cached). The churches will, no doubt, appeal this decision. But they will still be wrong when they claim that their religion requires nativities to be on only on city property and that their faith prohibits them anywhere else. All the sanctimonious whining, crying and bellyaching in the world can’t change that.

As I usually do in cases like this, I’m also going to point out that making a public spectacle of their desire to celebrate Christmas, is an unabashed — and unmistakable — violation of Jesus’ own injunction against any and all forms of public piety. I suggest they stick a crowbar into their precious Bibles, crack them open a bit, and read their own Jesus’ words on the subject:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-6)

There, Christians … you’ve read it, now grow the hell up and just fucking do it already. OK?

Photo credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP – Getty Images, via NBC News.

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KLTV-TV / Freedom From Religious Foundation banner, in Henderson county TexasIt looks like the annual “war on Christmas” is starting up. That’s the periodic bout of sanctimonious Christofascist weeping and wailing about a supposed effort underway to abolish the celebration of Christmas in the US. Their problem is, no such effort exists. No one in the country is seriously trying to prevent Christians from celebrating Christmas, or any other holiday. What has been happening — and what Christianists object to — is an effort to prevent them from using government to promote Christmas as though it’s a requirement that everyone, Christian or not, celebrate it along with them.

The good Christian folk of the good Christian county of Henderson in the good Christian state of Texas have decided to take a stand in this annual (non-existent) “war on Christmas.” KLTV-TV reports they’ve decided not to allow an atheist banner on the county courthouse lawn (locally-cached article):

An East Texas county is denying an atheist organization’s request to display an anti-religious banner on the courthouse lawn this Christmas.

There’s a backstory here, which is as follows:

In fall 2011, the Henderson County Courthouse Nativity scene gained national attention when the Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded the county take the display down or let them put their own display up.

Last December, a banner paid for by the Freedom From Religion Foundation was placed on the courthouse lawn. It read “there are no Gods” and that “religion is but myth.”

Just minutes later, Henderson County deputies took the banner down. Soon after, the Freedom From Religion Foundation started fighting to put it back up. A formal request to display the banner was submitted to the county earlier this year. This week, that request was officially denied.

“We did not feel that the banner was consistent with the theme of Christmas and our decorations that we have enjoyed for many years,” says Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders.

What the good Christian folk of the good Christian county of the good Christian state of Texas have decided to place on their courthouse lawn, this year, is the very same good Christian nativity scene from last year:

In a matter of weeks, the Nativity scene display will sit on the courthouse lawn where pumpkins and hay bales are now. The other three corners of the courthouse lawn will adorn secular decor, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation says Henderson County is still violating the constitution.

They justify it with the following laughable idiocy:

The county remains firm that their variety of decorations keep them in compliance with federal law.

“Overall it is a secular display. We have everything from lights to Christmas wreaths to garland… a Santa house to Santa Clause, deer, elves and gnomes,” says [Henderson County Attorney Clint] Davis.

A display that contains a nativity scene — including the baby Jesus, the supposed founder of the Christian religion — cannot and will never be “overall secular.” No fucking way! To make such a claim is ridiculous on its face. Whoever says such a thing can’t fail to be aware that s/he is lying. This places attorney Davis, and the other good Christian folk of the good Christian county of Henderson in the good Christian state of Texas, squarely in my lying liars for Jesus club.

That an attorney would lie about this display, in order to rationalize breaking the law of the land, is unacceptable under any circumstance. That a judge would orchestrate the breaking of the law of the land, is even worse. Will these Christofascists stop at nothing in order to push their dour, fierce religionism on everyone else?

I close with a reminder to all the good Christians out there who love to make a big fucking deal of how they celebrate Christmas, that your own Jesus himself clearly and specifically ordered you never to engage in public displays of piety like this. It’s unbiblical of you to do it (see Mt 6:1-6 among other passages inside your own Bible). So just fucking cut the shit already, OK?

Photo credit: KLTV-TV.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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Foursquare / St Raphael Catholic Church, El Paso, TXIRS regulations are clear that all non-profit entities — of any and every possible sort — are not allowed to engage in politicking. This includes campaigning on behalf of a candidate, endorsing them, telling members whom to vote for, and so on. Among the types of non-profit entities that fall under this injunction, are religious groups — ranging from large denominational organizations, to multi-church councils, to religious universities and schools, to religious orders, to congregations, and even down to single-pastor ministries. These rules are simple and clear; there are no exceptions; there isn’t a lot of mystery about them; and anyone who applies for tax-exempt status damned well knows them.

Despite this, from time to time, some religionist with a bee in his/her political bonnet will decide to break this rule and tell his/her followers whom to vote for. The El Paso Times reports on a Catholic parish that appears to have done just that (WebCite cached article):

A local Catholic church appears to have violated IRS rules — and Catholic doctrine — by endorsing a presidential candidate in a church bulletin.

St. Raphael Catholic Church on the city’s East Side might have violated an Internal Revenue Service rule that prohibits tax-exempt churches from taking sides when it comes to candidates seeking political office in its Aug. 5 bulletin.

“I am asking all of you to go to the polls and be united in replacing our present president with a president that will respect the Catholic Church in this country,” the end of the entry in the bulletin says. “Please pass this on to all of your Catholic friends.”

The parish’s pastor has evaded questions, but his diocese has not, and agreed this is problematic, not only because it’s against IRS rules, it also Catholic doctrine itself:

But the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, which oversees St. Raphael, acknowledged in an email that the entry in the bulletin was inappropriate.

“Churches and other nonprofits are strictly prohibited from engaging in political campaigning/endorsement of a particular candidate,” said Deacon Carlos Rubio, vice chancellor of the diocese. “The Diocese of El Paso is aware of this requirement from the IRS and mindful that it does not violate such norms.” …

The primary U.S. church document on the Catholic Church’s role in politics is called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It says the role of bishops, priests and deacons is to teach fundamental moral principals that provide the framework for decisions such as how to vote.

“In fulfilling these responsibilities, the Church’s leaders are to avoid endorsing or opposing candidates or telling people how to vote,” the document says.

The article goes on to show the bulletin’s language is linked with the U.S. Catholic bishops’ struggle with the Obama administration:

The passage in the bulletin lists the number of employees of Catholic schools and hospitals in the United States, and it appears to be in response to Obama’s mandate that health plans offered by those employers cover birth-control medication for women who want it. Catholic doctrine opposes artificial means of birth control.

So while the diocese may have conceded that St Raphael in El Paso did something it shouldn’t have, I don’t see how it can possibly have been surprised by such a thing. The Christofascist bishops have gone to war with President Obama and are very clearly opposed to him. They’ve used various means — including lawsuits — to express their fury over his refusal to let them run the country and control people’s lives. Somehow, they think this deprives them of their religious liberty. (Yes, they really, actually do think that everyone — Catholic or not — is required to defer to them. Always, everywhere, and without question. They cannot and will never permit anyone to disobey them … and they’re happy to pitch fits then they think someone is doing so.)

Even though this bulletin clearly violated IRS rules, I don’t expect that agency to do anything about it. Generally they’re lax about policing that particular rule, and rarely come down on religious groups that violate it. Revoking a religious group’s non-profit status is a once-in-a-decade event for them. Yes, the IRS will “investigate” — whatever that might entail — but eventually the agency will decide nothing really happened, and that they won’t take any action.

Photo credit: Foursquare.

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Godless Atheists Menace Western, Christian Civilization: Godless Atheists & Godless Sodomites Imperil Everyone | Image © Austin Cline; Original Poster: National Archives | via About.Com) It was only a matter of time before some enraged religiofascist windbag blamed the Supreme Court decision upholding the healthcare reform law on those wicked, insolent atheists. This one comes to us courtesy of William J. Murray, the son of famed atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair, who as an adult converted to fundamentalist Christianity. Since then he’s waged his own personal war against the vile forces of atheism. The religiofascist outlet World Net Daily reports on his stretch of reasoning (WebCite cached article):

In an interview with WND, Murray spoke of the Engel v. Vitale case as one of the key Supreme Court decisions that inevitably led to the federal government getting involved in health care. …

“Though it wasn’t as far-reaching and it didn’t affect the lives of everyday Americans as much as this case did today, the case (Engel v. Vitale) was a precursor to the case that removed Bible verses and prayer from school,” said Murray, whose book, “My Life Without God,” documents what his young life was like growing up with a committed communist like O’Hair as his mother.

“The 1963 case was one of the troika of cases that worked to destroy the basic family unit,” Murray explained. “One of the striking things about Obamacare is that it was pushed and promoted out of its necessity because of the breakup of the family. There is no one to take care of the family, because of this.

Did you catch that? Because prayer was taken out of public schools in the 1960s, this somehow prevents families from taking care of themselves. Yes, that’s what Murray thinks: Not only that families no longer take care of themselves, but that the government actively prevents them from doing so.

I must have missed it, because I have yet to see the jackbooted thugs of the federal government barging into people’s homes and pointing their guns at heads of families who manage their own affairs. Have you? Murray must have, because he seems fairly sure it’s happened in every single household in the country. Apparently.

As with most World Nut Daily articles, this one contains links to Murray’s putative “tell-all” memoir of how horrible it was for him to have endured growing up in one of those wicked atheist homes. The article serves as little more than a sales-pitch for the book to all those religiofascists who read it and are hooked by Murray’s irrational and fact-deprived message.

For the record, there is nothing inherently wrong with atheism or any other form of non-belief. In a (supposedly) free country such as this one, we’re free to be non-religious if we wish to be. Religiofascists like Murray are likewise free not to like the fact that non-believers exist … but too bad for them, that’s as far as it can go. For them to lie about non-belief — and to actively campaign to use government to coerce non-believers into believing (cached) — are both wrong, and must not be tolerated.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Austin Cline (Original Poster: National Archives), via About.Com.

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