Tag Archives: religious liberty

Fifty Years After Abington School District v. Schempp, Church & State Still In A Struggle

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photo of Ellery Schempp in 2012
Ellery Schempp – His protest of required Bible reading in his High School lead to the case Abington School District v. Schempp being decided in 1963

On June 17th 1963, the US Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision that supported the separation of church and state in public schools – Abington School District v. Schempp. Even 50 years after the decision, we seem to have to fight the same battle over and over again. That is what happens in the struggle for civil rights. You have to be vigilant or they can be taken away. We need to celebrate dissenters like Schempp and we all need to try and emulate his activism.
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Fred Phelps can be a douche at funerals

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This week the US Supreme Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church can picket military funerals. Fred Phelps, leader of the church, and his merry band picket funerals in order to advance their sick anti-gay religious agenda. Even though their brand of picketing is tasteless and offensive, the Supreme Court was right to rule in their favor.

For the past 20 years, the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church has picketed military funerals to communicate its belief that Godhates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particu-larly in America’s military. The church’s picketing has also con-demned the Catholic Church for scandals involving its clergy. Fred Phelps, who founded the church, and six Westboro Baptist parishion-ers (all relatives of Phelps) traveled to Maryland to picket the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq inthe line of duty. The picketing took place on public land approxi-mately 1,000 feet from the church where the funeral was held, in ac-cordance with guidance from local law enforcement officers. The picketers peacefully displayed their signs—stating, e.g., “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “America is Doomed,” “Priests Rape Boys,” and “You’re Going to Hell”—for about 30 min-utes before the funeral began. Matthew Snyder’s father (Snyder), pe-titioner here, saw the tops of the picketers’ signs when driving to the funeral, but did not learn what was written on the signs until watch-ing a news broadcast later that night.

(d) Westboro addressed matters of public import on public prop-erty, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of lo-cal officials. It did not disrupt Mathew Snyder’s funeral, and itschoice to picket at that time and place did not alter the nature of itsspeech. Because this Nation has chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that public debate is not stifled, Westboro must be shielded from tort liability for its picketing in this case. Pp. 14–15.
580 F. 3d 206, affirmed.

SNYDER v. PHELPS

As long as Phelps follows the normal process for picketing – like staying on public property – then even his offensive speech can’t be censored.

As Blair Scott at American Atheist wrote:

It is easy to get caught up in the emotion and want to deny the Westboro Baptist Church any opportunity to speak their mind and enjoy their Constitutional rights. It is even easier to get swept away in the emotion of a military funeral and want to deny their constitutional rights just this one time or in this one instance. Constitutional Rights do not work like that. What judge or government entity gets to choose when and where your constitutional rights get to be overridden and denied? What does your local atheist group do when you are denied a permit because it might offend someone?

SCOTUS Rules Phelps and WBC Can Protest Funerals

As much as it pains me to say, I agree with the court.

How to fail to shut up an Atheist

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I saw the title to a blog entry, How to Shut Up an Atheist if You Must, and felt compelled to read it. Being a non-believer I needed to see what if anything the author wrote would actually shut me up. I can rest easy as nothing he commented is new nor will it shut atheists up.

Doug Giles starts out with a throw down to the non-believer:

The atheist’s days of running circles around the Christian with their darling questions are drawing to a close. Yes, the fat lady just wrenched herself off her humongous backside, has cleared her throat and now is fixin’ to sing the finale on the atheist’s ability to have fun with their specious little fairy tales at the Christians’ expense.

Giles then lists several “points” that “will be especially beneficial for high school and college students to draw upon when their secular anti-God fuming delirious instructors start railing against God and Christianity.”

1. When the prissy anti-Christs tell you the Bible stands in the way of science, inform them that the greatest scientific geniuses in history were devout Christians-and scientists from Newton to Einstein insisted that biblical religion provided the key ideas from which experimental science could develop.

While it is true that many scientists are believers, it doesn’t follow that biblical religion developed experimental science. In fact Einstein wrote:

As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the inalterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship. These ideals religion attempts to attain by exerting an educational influence on tradition and through the development and promulgation of certain easily accessible thoughts and narratives (epics and myths) which are apt to influence evaluation and action along the lines of the accepted ideals.

It is this mythical, or rather this symbolic, content of the religious traditions which is likely to come into conflict with science. This occurs whenever this religious stock of ideas contains dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which belong in the domain of science. Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims.

Religion and Science: Irreconcilable?

“Dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which belong in the domain of science” What is more dogmatic than supporting that a “God” created the Earth and Darwin is full of crap.

Next Giles writes:

2. When the pissy God haters tell you the Bible condones slavery, you can remind them that slavery was abolished only when devout Christians, inspired by the Bible, launched a campaign in the early 1800s to abolish the slave trade.

The Bible does support slavery – see Exodus 21:2-6 or 1 Timothy 6:1 There is nothing against slavery in the Bible so those who fought to abolish the slave trade were doing it not because the Bible told them to but because they felt it was the right thing to do.

3. When the screechin’ teachers tell you the Bible has been proven false by archaeology, hark back and show them that each year a new archaeological discovery substantiates the existence of people, places and events we once knew solely from biblical sources, including the discovery of the Moabite stone in 1868, which mentions numerous places in the Bible, and the discovery of an inscription in 1961 that proves the existence of the biblical figure Pontius Pilate, just to name a few.

I don’t know of anyone who has said that archaeology has proven the Bible false. Many of the places and people mentioned in the Bible probably did exist but there hasn’t been actual proof that the Bible is an accurate history of those places, people, and events. It is a collection of stories that were passed on by word of mouth for hundreds of years before they were written down. Many of the stories, including the story of a messiah born of a virgin birth etc…, can be found in the storytelling tradition of cultures never exposed to Christianity directly. The Bible isn’t a first person account nor even the recorded history of first person accounts of the people and events and so it shouldn’t be used as historical proof.

4. When they get sweaty and tell you that the Bible breeds intolerance, refresh their memory with the fact that only those societies influenced by biblical teachings (in North and South America, Europe, and Australia) today guarantee freedom of speech and religion. Period.

What about Exodus 23:24 “Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.” or Leviticus 24:23 “And Moses spake to the children of Israel, that they should bring forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stone him with stones. And the children of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.” or Deuteronomy 4:34 “Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?”

The problem with Giles conclusion is there isn’t a connection between people supporting freedom of speech and religion and the Bible. The text of the Bible doesn’t support either. It wasn’t until the founding of the United States – by men who were Deists – that there was real freedom of speech and religion. All other examples came after us. If such a notion had come from the Bible then we would have seen it a lot sooner than 1776.

5. When one of them queues up and quips that the Bible opposes freedom, smack ‘em with the fact that the Bible’s insistence that no one is above the law and all must answer to divine justice led to theories of universal human rights and…uh…limited government.

Since the Bible obviously supports slavery then this challenge is false from the start. But the Bible also supports communism. Acts 2:44-45 says “All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” and Acts 4:34-37 says “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

And finally:

6. When they tell you that Christianity and the Bible justify war and genocide, unsympathetically remind them that societies which rejected biblical morality in favor of a more “rational” and “scientific” approach to politics murdered millions upon millions more than the Crusades or the Inquisition ever did. Hello. “Atheist regimes have caused the greatest mass murders in history,” says D’Souza. Inside D’Souza’s book you’ll find little gems like, “The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Galileo affair, and witch hunts together make up less than 1% of the murders that have occurred during modern atheist regimes like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.”

Well first off Hitler was never an atheist. Just read Mein Kampf and his speeches from the period. From 1933 he said: “To do justice to God and our own conscience, we have turned once more to the German Volk.” and “We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” The Nazis used religious symbols and rituals for their own ends. They also left the Catholic church alone while decimating the Jews. One would think if Hitler was an atheist then all religions would have been destroyed.

Stalin and Mao did kill a lot of people but not because the people weren’t atheists. They killed people due to politics and power. Atheism is not a belief system and atheism isn’t interchangeable with communism. I know many atheists who are libertarians and Republicans and Democrats and many who don’t care for communism. And as Austin Cline on his atheism.about.com page notes:

To understand this better, consider times in the past when religion has been involved with violence — the Inquisition would be good. How many people were killed during the Inquisition in the name of theism? None. Those doing the killing acted not because of theism, but rather because of Christian doctrines. The belief system is what inspired people to act (sometimes for good, sometimes for ill). The single belief of theism, however, did not.

How Many Were Killed by Communists in the Name of Atheism & Secularism?

Doug Giles tries to offer up a challenge to shut atheists up and those challenges don’t offer any new arguments and aren’t hard to refute.

Christians want Feds to close Islamic school

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I have posted here many times showing the hypocrisy of the religious right when it comes to religious liberty. Time and time again they want our government to provide special rights to their Christian religion but when it comes to liberty for all religions and the non-religious, they throw a hissy fit.

On October 18th, news outlets reported a federal panel wanted to see an Islamic school in Virginia, funded by the government of Saudi Arabia, to be closed because of reports of a textbook used at the school encouraged religious intolerance.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom singled out the Saudi-supported Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) in Northern Virginia in a broader report that accused Saudi Arabia of promoting Muslim extremism and religious intolerance six years after the Sept. 11 attacks. The panel, created by Congress and authorized only to make recommendations, voiced concern about what the private school was teaching.

The commission report did not make specific criticisms of the school’s curriculum. Commission deputy director Tad Stahnke said the panel wrote to Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, who is chairman of the academy’s board of directors, asking to see the school’s textbooks but got no answer. Stahnke said the commission did not try to contact ISA staff.

Commissioner Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he knew enough about ISA’s textbooks to be “very disturbed that this is going on within eyesight of the capital.”

The report relies heavily on a 2006 analysis of Saudi textbooks that found inflammatory passages against Christians, Jews and Shiite Muslims. One example for ninth-graders said that the hour of judgment “will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.”

Federal panel wants to shut Islamic school in Va.

Noticed how no one having an issue with the textbooks has actually seen one. I saw on CNN where a reporter got a student to give him one but since it was written in Arabic and they would need to have it translated.

Regardless if the claims are true, I need to point out that the school is a private school. Private school curriculum normally isn’t subject to oversight by the federal government and I have never heard of a school being closed because of what is being taught. As long as students are making progress according to state education standards then it is basically hands off.

Then there is the fact that the concern is religiously based:

A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year (2006) reveals that, despite the Saudi government’s statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system. The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the “monotheists”) and unbelievers (the “polytheists” and “infidels”).

Saudi Arabia also distributes its religion texts worldwide to numerous Islamic schools and madrassas that it does not directly operate. Undeterred by Wahhabism’s historically fringe status, Saudi Arabia is trying to assert itself as the world’s authoritative voice on Islam — a sort of “Vatican” for Islam, as several Saudi officials have stated– and these textbooks are integral to this effort. As the report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks observed, “Even in affluent countries, Saudi-funded Wahhabi schools are often the only Islamic schools” available.

This is a Saudi textbook. (After the intolerance was removed.)

Here is an example (translated from a book):

FIRST GRADE

” Every religion other than Islam is false.”

“Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________.”

The example was correct as of 2006 so it is probable the books used at the Islamic Saudi Academy might contain the same type of religious indoctrination.

If the people concerned about the school get the federal government to close it, then I want to see them close Christian schools that teach condoms don’t work, evolution is false, abortion is murder, and man lived with the dinosaurs.

Crap would hit the fan then wouldn’t it?

I say if the federal government isn’t going to close a Christian school for teaching lies about science then they need to leave the Islamic Saudi Academy alone.

Founding Fathers respond to Sali

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In my last post I mentioned the ignorant comments made by Representative Bill Sali (R-Idaho) concerning Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate and a Muslim member of the House of Representatives.

In his comments he said:

“We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes — and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers,” asserts Sali.

Well it seems some members of the Founding Fathers needed to respond.

I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!

John Adams – Letter to Thomas Jefferson

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will avail themselves for their own purposes.

Thomas Jefferson – Letter to Alexander von Humboldt December 6, 1813

The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.

James Madison – Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, December 3, 1821

Those three men would know better than Bill Sali what the Constitution means as they helped create it. It shows how ignorant Sali’s comments were.

Bill Sali makes a stupid comment

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Back on July 12th I posted about a disruption in a US Senate hearing when a Hindu prayer was offered. (see: Hindu prayer in US Senate draws protesters)

Well of course a member of the House, Representative Bill Sali (R-Idaho), believes the prayer should never have been offered.

“We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes — and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers,” asserts Sali.

Sali says America was built on Christian principles that were derived from scripture. He also says the only way the United States has been allowed to exist in a world that is so hostile to Christian principles is through “the protective hand of God.”

Idaho congressman disturbed by Hindu prayer in Senate, election of Muslim to House

Like I said in my first post – some Christians talk a good game about religious tolerance until they are asked to do it for other beliefs.

I also wonder how someone like Rep. Sali is competent to serve in Congress when he lacks a basic knowledge of the Constitution and US history. It would be like letting a stranger off the street practice medicine just because he owns a stethoscope.

Maybe Congress needs an intelligence test rather than a religious test for office as Sali suggests.