Also Available On:
Shurtleff v. City of Boston Oral Arguments 01/18/2022
FFRF parses SCOTUS hearing over alarming Christian flag case
FFRF Friend of the Court Brief
Becket Fund Friend of the Court Brief
American Legion v. American Humanist Association
Charts referenced in the first segment of the episode shows Florida with its lax COVID protocols has had a worse outcome than New York City, contrary to what Bill Maher said on his show.
Transcript is also available for offline reading
Doug Berger 0:01
In this episode, I look at Bari Weiss’s appearance on Bill Maher’s HBO show and why her flippant pandemic of bureaucracy rant is both childish and dangerous to us all. Then we look at a recent church and state case over a Boston flagpole that was heard at the US Supreme Court recently. It doesn’t look good for secular people, or for more than 40 years of settled jurisprudence. I’m Doug Berger, and this is secular left.
Doug Berger 0:51
We enter the third year of the COVID pandemic, and I agree with many people. I am also sick of it. This has been a slog and a half. Once the vaccines hit, we all thought the light was at the end of the tunnel, then delta and omicron hit the US has the largest and most expensive health care system in the world. And we still can’t seem to get our vaccination rate above 70% where we can really start to treat COVID like a seasonal flu, where it becomes endemic instead of pandemic. A vast majority of the people taking up hospital space or dying now are unvaccinated. Here in my state, like in other areas of the country, the response to the pandemic was made political unnecessarily. The things we needed to do, like wear masks and get vaccinated were turned into differences of opinion. And our right wing extremist legislature has done all that they can to undermine the response to the pandemic. If the goal is to turn COVID endemic and prevent more people from getting severely sick or dying, the Republicans everywhere have failed across the board on that. People think flaunting COVID restrictions and rules is somehow patriotic, as if the worst that could happen to them is jail time. Then we have people like Bari Weiss and I’m probably mispronouncing your name and I apologize. It’s not my intention. Bari Weiss and Bill Maher, who prove we can’t have nice things and who support doing things that will make the pandemic actually last longer. Weiss was a guest on Maher’s HBO talk show. And when the top topic came to COVID she breathlessly exclaimed. She was done with it! Done with it! let’s listen to a clip of the show where they discuss COVID. And you’ll kind of get the gist.
Bari Weiss 2:58
I’m done. With this question. No. I’m done with COVID. Done. I, I went so hard on COVID. I remember sprayed the Pringles cans that I bought at the grocery store, strip my clothes off because I thought COVID would be on my clothes. Like I did it all. I watched Tiger King, I’ve got to the end of Spotify. Like we all did it right? No, we didn’t. But here’s the thing, a lot of us did do it. And then we were told you get the vaccine, you get the vaccine and you get back to normal. And we haven’t gotten back to normal. And it’s ridiculous at this point. I know that so many of my liberal and progressive friends are with me on this. And they do not want to say it out loud because they are scared to be called anti Vax or to be called Science denial or to be you know, smeared as a Trumper. I’m sorry, if you believe the science, you will look at the data that we did not have two years ago. And you will find out that cloth masks do not do anything, you will realize that you can show your vaccine passport at a restaurant and still be asymptomatic and carrying omicron. And you will realize most importantly, that this is going to be remembered by the younger generation as a catastrophic moral crime. The City of Flint, Michigan, which is 80%, I think minority students has just announced indefinite virtual schooling. In the past two years we’ve seen among young girls, a 51% increase in self harm. People are killing themselves. They’re anxious, they’re depressed, they are lonely. That is why we need to end it more than any inconvenience that it’s been to the rest of us I think. At this point, it’s a pandemic a bureaucracy. It’s a pandemic of bureaucracy. It’s not what’s not real anymore.
Rep. Ritchie Torres 4:53
Let’s not forget that you know, the pandemic has left the death count of more than 850,000 Americans
Bill Maher 4:58
well that’s a squishy…
Bari Weiss 5:01
It was a blunt instrument. Okay? If you look at who was affected by this 803 children have died in the past two years in the entire country from and with COVID.
Rep. Ritchie Torres 5:11
I offer perspective in I was in New Yorker who lived through the early weeks in early months of the pandemic. And it was just a catastrophe for New York City the likes of which we’ve never seen, we saw overflowing emergency rooms, a New York lost more than 60,000 people. The Bronx alone lost more than 7000 people which is larger than the combined death toll of Pearl Harbor. And 911. I sold mass graves and Hart Island in the Bronx. I mean, most New Yorkers saw a level of death and suffering we’ve never seen in our lives. And that’s the source of the concern about COVID. I mean, I reject the notion that the response to COVID has been worse than the disease itself.
Bill Maher 5:49
Well, I would argue with that….
Doug Berger 5:53
There there’s a lot to unpack. But first, let’s get this out of the way. Both Weiss and Maher tried to minimalize and trivialize that people have died from COVID. Weiss mentions ONLY 803 children have died in the country, as if that justifies anything. And Maher suggests that there is some kind of debate about the number of dead like people who deny the Holocaust argue props, though to Representative Richie Torres there in the clip. He’s a Democrat from New York State. He pointed out the more than 850,000 people who have died and saying that he refuses to believe that the response to the pandemic was worse than the virus. And if you listen to the clip, you can after he says that, you can hear Bill Maher scoff scoff. It’s like who who would think that who would think that you lose the argument if you gloss over or ignore the loss of so many people. And those were mostly preventable deaths. If only they had been vaccinated, you know, martyrs are only cool in religion, or if they die from some great cause, and maintaining one’s stupidity, ain’t it?
Doug Berger 7:15
Now what I wanted to do too, is I wanted to address some of the specific points that Weiss makes in her in her. I mean, lack of a better word rant. She says she’s done with COVID, which is fine for her. But the pandemic continues, whether she likes it or not. I also did everything that we were told at the start, like wiping down the groceries, wearing masks staying home on lockdown, and then getting the vaccine when it was available. The problem is not everyone did that, or is doing what needs to be done now. This is, this is what frustrates me the most and makes me angry. People like Weis put their own needs above anyone else’s. And so the pandemic continues. Earlier in the discussion that I didn’t include in the clip, Maher suggested that Great Britain is relaxing their rules. But what he fails to mention is it’s because they have a higher vaccination rate than we do. And they’ve had, they’ve had stricter COVID regulations than we ever have here in the US. They can relax their rules, because people did what needed to be done. Weiss said her liberal and progressive friends are with her on the issue, but don’t speak out for fear of being labeled anti Vax, or a Trumper. I don’t doubt that there are some young privileged people who either haven’t been touched by COVID or have experienced a loved one dying from COVID. That still doesn’t mean COVID is over. It just means weiss and her friends just don’t care. They aren’t sick. So screw you
Doug Berger 8:59
Her claim that cloth masks don’t do anything is simply false. The actual experts have said we should stop using cloth masks, because they aren’t the best. But they say if that’s all you have, it’s better than no mask. People who are vaccinated and have the booster can still get COVID And infect others. No one in the medical community have said otherwise. That’s why we ended up having to get boosters. Because like the flu, people who get the shots can still get COVID That still doesn’t mean we should just stop with the COVID protocols like masks and social distancing, etc. People who are ignorant on how science works would make a claim like Weiss has done if some kids have been harming themselves while doing remote learning, then we need to find out why they’re harming themselves. How can kids well versed in social media and using computers turn into mushy, depressed kids because They have to go to school remotely. Maybe a possible reason could be that the small number of kids having issues have had those issues, even when they were in school, but they’re only now being noticed by teachers and parents, because the kids are home from school. I’ve said it before. And I’ll say it again, most kids don’t have mental health issues, because they can’t go to school. That’s just ridiculous. It could be that the mental health issues are based on issues that they have at home that they can’t ignore, because they don’t leave the house anymore. But they could ignore it when they went to school for a few hours. And but now they’re around it, and they’re triggered all day, that could be a possibility. We need to find out why.
Doug Berger 10:51
Again, conservatives are using these dubious claims, like a mental health issue of kids to argue that school should be open for in person learning, because that satisfies their political agenda. If the kids are in school, how bad can the virus be? They forget that sometimes schools get shut down for an outbreak of other viruses like the flu, or measles and why to lessen the spread of that virus. I think it’s kind of ironic that Weiss calls out the so called increase in self harm because of remote schooling, but the misses the actual deaths of children from the virus. Because remember, at the beginning, she in that clip, she said, but ONLY 803 children have died. You know, most rational people would be like any child that dies, is one too many. I also want to take issue with what Maher says in the segment that’s passed the park that I played, if you go to YouTube and look for the clip, you can look the whole thing. It’s like six or seven minutes long. But because I don’t want to get in trouble with the copyright nerds, you know, I only could I only wanted to play the part that I wanted to focus on. But I wanted to take issue with what Maher says in the segment past the part that I played. He talks about Florida staying open. If you’re not familiar with it, pretty much Florida eliminated all of their restrictions. You didn’t have to wear a mask, he didn’t have social distance, etc, etc. They’ve done that for quite some time. And he also talked about how he’s been there in Florida a couple of times, and and gleefully mentioned that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the Democrat from New York State, who is a lightning rod of conservative bile, went to Florida over the holidays and didn’t wear a mask, and there was some pictures and tabloids about that. What he failed to mention, though, is that that AOC tested positive for COVID When she returned and self isolated herself. So even though Florida was mega open, that still didn’t prevent you from catching COVID. Maher also tried to make the claim a little bit clumsily, that the death numbers for Florida weren’t as bad as say New Jersey or New York that have stricter protocols. My guess is that Maher’s staff pulled those numbers recently. The virus case and death numbers differ depending on when you look at them. And where in the search cycle the location is. I tried looking for those numbers that Mahr cited and couldn’t really compare the states overall. I did pick out a date at random and looking at the graphs and and on September the 17th of 2021, Florida had 286 reported deaths. New York City reported 10 deaths. Florida in fact has had more case and death spikes with their laxs COVID protocols than New York City since the start of the pandemic as the CDC chart show. And, and here’s the let me show you the chart. The first one is Florida. And the second one is New York City. And you can tell that the New York City one is a bit flatter than the Florida one. Again, Maher is attempting to trivialize the large number of deaths to justify wanting to rollback restrictions he doesn’t like or feels violates his personal freedom. I’m not sure about you, but I find that deeply troubling and arrogant.
Doug Berger 14:47
The backlash on social media to Weiss’s appearance and comments have been heavy. And for many of the same reasons I’ve mentioned. CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner had this to say When asked about Weiss’s segment on CNN,
CNN Anchor 15:05
absolutely. And I know you had a strong reaction to a segment use on on Bill Maher’s program in which journalist and author Bari Weiss declared she’s quote, done with COVID. Let’s watch. And Dr. Reiner, you told Bari Weiss essentially she needed to grow up.
Dr. Jonathan Reiner 15:22
Yeah, she needed to grow up because she’s acting like a child. When you say you don’t want to play this game anymore, you’re going to take your ball and go home, you’re acting like like a child. I like the sacrifices that she enumerated, but that she stripped off her clothes when she got home, and then she cleaned the grocery cans. Meanwhile, my colleagues in hospitals all around the country, went into care for people dying from this virus to continue to do that every day, man, our ers and our ICUs every day. And for the first year of this pandemic, they did that without any protection of a vaccine. That’s the sacrifice they made. And all that we’ve done is ask the public to wear a mask when you go out and about and get vaccinated. Right. So I’m glad she’s glad she’s done with it. But I sort of feel like this country has been in a boat that is filled with water. And some of us have been trying to bail out bail the water out of this boat for the last two years. And now we have people like like Bari Weiss set, basically saying, I’m done. I’m not bailing water anymore. And when somebody who’s who is relatively young and relatively healthy, says that, what they’re saying is, I’ll be okay, if I get this virus, screw you, doesn’t matter to me what happens, what happens to you, that’s the message I get from her.
Doug Berger 16:45
And in that clip, he tells her to grow up and mentioned the constant sacrifices the medical community makes to treat people with COVID. The best line is that he talks about he talks about that the country is kind of like a boat filling with water for the past two years, and medical professionals like himself, have been trying to bail out the water for two years, as someone like Weiss throws up her hands and says I’m done. And to Dr. Reiner as like someone saying, I’ll be alright, if I get COVID. So Screw you. And that’s pretty much what bothers me about her appearance on Maher show. And about this whole notion that you could just be done with COVID COVID is not done with us. We still have some, some pandemic to get through. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll have enough people that will be vaccinated, that the numbers the numbers are already starting to go down from the omicron surge. And, you know, it’s it’s a slog, and it’s a slog, because of people like Bari Weiss and Bill Maher, and people like them, Joe Rogan, and a bunch of other people that just for some reason, just don’t go with the science and make shit up and, and, and if it’s personally inconvenient to them, they just ignore it. So I don’t know what we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.
Doug Berger 18:23
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Doug Berger 18:51
Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court took on a couple of churche and state cases that will that could have some troubling effects for people who support secular government and religious neutrality by government. The first case is called Shurtleff v. City of Boston. And it was heard recently in the Supreme Court, and it’s a case where a Christian nationalist group erroneously called Camp Constitution was denied an opportunity to fly the Christian flag on a flagpole in front of Boston City Hall. Out of over 200 or so applicants that have applied to have a flag flown on this flagpole. They have been the only one ever denied. And so they sued the Christian flag. Let me throw it up here I’ll throw graphic This is what the the Christian flag it’s it’s white with a kind of looks like the US flag but it’s entirely white. And there’s a blue field in the corner with a red Latin cross. You I’m familiar with this flag, because when I was a kid, and we would go to, and I was attending church, when I was a kid, the church that they would fly that flag, next to the American flag in their in their sanctuary and other places in the building. So it is a generic flag representing Christianity. The Court of Appeals in this case ruled in the city’s favor, and the Christians appealed to the Supreme Court. So that’s why it’s in the Supreme Court. Now, when I first heard about this story and read some news articles, I believe that the religious group would win the case. Because you can’t keep out religious messages in a public forum, like a flagpole at City Hall.
Doug Berger 20:49
I still think the religious group is going to win this case. And I’ll get into that here in a minute. But I changed my mind on the flagpole. I read a friend of the court brief from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and I agree with them I agree with their take that a flagpole isn’t a typical public forum. As we, as we know a public forum, a public forum would be a city park, or courthouse lawn. If you offer people put up displays or to speak in a city park, or on the lawn of a courthouse, and you open it all to all viewpoints, then you can’t deny religious viewpoints. Okay. So when I first heard that story, that’s what I thought it was. But like I said, I now agree with FFRF that the flagpole is not a typical public forum. It can’t it the content of what is displayed on that flagpole can be controlled a little bit more restrictively than a city park, for example. The fact that Boston didn’t fly any other religious flags. They didn’t fly flags of any other religions, leads once to see that they weren’t censoring a particular religion. And that’s the argument that this camp Constitution makes that they were being censored. They had a friend of the court brief filed by the Becket Fund, which is an extremist religious group that noses its way into some of these Church and State cases. And they are supporting, obviously camp constitution. And they give away that not only will the group win the case, but it will have a detrimental effect for decades. For secular folks like myself. And in their brief, the Becket Fund says that the Lemon Test should be done away with completely. I mean, that’s not even an argument. Well, it’s not really an argument that was used in the case. But this is what they’re doing is they’re swinging for the fences. Right? They’re going towards the where they want to go. And they’re going gangbusters, full go anyway. Now, if you’re not familiar with the lemon test, it’s used in court cases to see if a particular government action violates the First Amendment. It resulted from a case in 1971. Lemon V. Kurtzman, I believe it was. And it says that a statute must have a secular legislative purpose. The principal or primary effect of the statutes must neither advance nor inhibit religion. And the statute must not result in an excessive government entanglement with religion. And that’s a bit nebulous. Okay, that’s a little bit subjective. It was modified the Lemon Test was modified 1997. In that it, it kind of combined the effect prong and the entanglement prong together. But it’s still been the precedent used in court cases since 1971. The Becket Fund suggested using historical practices and understandings. And this is code word for what it treating it like it was in 1797, when the Bill of Rights was written, totally ignoring all court cases since then, that ruled against religious entanglement. And that’s usually what these conservative religious conservatives do, is they want to go with the history. So yeah, and this was an argument used. It’s used currently. There was a court case about the Bladensburg, Maryland, cross Latin cross. It was built after World War One to honor the dead from that war. And the American Humanist Association recently, like within the last couple years, filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court to have that cross removed because it was on city property. And they lost the case. They haven’t used the lemon test on they the court has ruled that they don’t use the lemon test on monuments because it’s been there for so many years. And nobody’s complained about it, then it’s not unconstitutional.
Doug Berger 25:43
And so that’s why it’s a little bit. It’s favors, the religious is what it does, that that type of argument favors the religious, because we know from history, that government entangled itself in religion quite tightly. Over the years, it hasn’t been since the 1940s, when that entire entanglement has been loosened. And now, people, these religious conservatives want to go back, because they want to restore the special place in American life that they claim that they have. And one way of doing that is with it with watering down or getting rid of the lemon test. Now, why this is a problem is because there are several members of the Supreme Court who have either expressed the desire to get rid of the lemon test, or they have actually voted that way in other cases. One of the justices is Brett Kavanaugh, who repeated the Becket Fund brief or parts of it during the oral arguments for the Boston case. And he said that, could it be a mistaken understanding that the establishment clause as being the root cause of the denial, because that’s what the Becket Fund says is that it’s a misunderstanding of the First Amendment. And then we have justice Claire’s, Clarence Thomas, who has on many of these Church and State cases, over the years, just completely denied that the First Amendment applies to the states. And then we also have Justice Alito, who’s also expressed opinions that church and state doesn’t really exist. So you have at least three votes for this. And I have a feeling that it’s going to be the the liberal wing of the court might lose out on this, although, although Justice Kagan, I believe, has in the past, not been 100% for Government Neutrality. She has voted on some of like the, she has voted with the majority on a couple of these issues. So she’s the kind of the wild card right now. But it doesn’t look good. And this has been a trend since the late 80s, into the 1990s, where Church and State cases are decided on the basis of if there is any actual harm. Now before people would file a lawsuit, let’s say a creche manger scene on a courthouse lawn, they could file and say that, you know, that’s unconstitutional. It violates my First Amendment rights not to see a manger scene on a courthouse lawn. Now, why is that? Why is that a violation? Well, because that gives the perception that the court believes that people who don’t believe in that manger scene are second class citizens. That’s the feeling you get. All right. And for many of these Church and State cases, that was enough injury, and to have a ruling. But now recently, in the last, you know, 30 years, 20 30 years, we’ve gone to where the courts have wanted to see actual coercion. You know, what they actually want to see the state forcing you to pray or to support a particular religion in order for it to be deemed an injury that they can correct. So for example, these minute like the Texas 10 commandments monument on the State House lawn in Austin. They ruled that simply existing is not unconstitutional. You know, having to walk by it every day. You know, because you aren’t being forced to read it, you aren’t being forced to live it. And so if that’s the case, then it’s not an it’s not unconstitutional. The same that was the same kind of thinking that they did when the sixth or Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Ohio’s motto was not unconstitutional. In 2006, the motto is with God, all things are possible. And the court stipulated that as long as the state did not say it was a religious saying, and did not
Doug Berger 30:45
cite that what passage of the Bible it came from, then it was perfectly neutral. So the Supreme Court has said that if the state doesn’t coerce you, then it isn’t a violation of 10 commandment monument on the courthouse lawn doesn’t cause harm just from existing, since the common observer isn’t forced to read it, or live it by the state, the conclusion is that it’s a historical icon, and not an endorsement of religion. And that’s just a totally ridiculous argument, conclusion. You know, this. It’s the, they’re taking the religious meaning of the symbols, and making them generic, just to justify it staying. And that just hurts secular people, but it also hurts religious people, because the courts are saying that your symbol that you find fulfilling and spiritual, is generic. You know, it’s like, it’s like white bread without a label. The fact is that camp constitution wants their flag flown, because it would bestow a bit of city government approval for them, since it would agree to fly it. It had to approve the message. And so they would go back to their buddies and pat themselves on the back and say, See, we got Boston to approve us because they’re flying our flag. That’s how Christian nationalists work. They get so giddy about cases like yes, if they win, then religious symbols will start ending up back in the places it was removed years ago. And they will claim that the symbol is generic, but in their circle their private circles, they’ll smile, and nod and wink. Because now they’ll know that the government supports their views, even if it doesn’t, and secular people will have to move back to the back of the bus again.
Doug Berger 32:51
Thank you for listening to this episode. You can check out more information, including links to sources used in our show notes on our website at secularleft.us. Secular Left is hosted, written and produced by Doug Berger, and he is solely responsible for the content. Send us your comments, either using the contact form on the website or by sending us a note at comments(at)secularleft.us Our theme music is dank and nasty composed using Ampify studio. See you next time.
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