Tag Archives: secular

A Look Back at 2005

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In this last post of 2005, I wanted to review the struggles those of us who want to get the government out of the religion cheerleading business.

Tim Gordinier, of HumanistNetworkNews.org, also reviewed 2005 from the non-theist position and being somewhat lazy, I thought I would quote a couple of passages from his essay:

Just take a close look at what really happened this year. You’ll see former House majority leader Tom Delay and Senate majority leader Bill Frist teaming up to ram through national legislation for a single person — Terri Schiavo — overriding carefully crafted state court decisions and callously exacerbating the pain of a personal family tragedy in the process. That’s a double whammy against the far right because they are supposed to be ardent state’s righters. On top of that, dealing with end-of-life decisions is, for most people across the political spectrum, a matter for family court and the families to address. (I needn’t mention that both of these darlings of the religious right are currently under investigation.)

The prime example of deceitfulness and mendacity coming from the far right this year — the envelope please — has to go to the bravura performance put on by the “intelligent design” gang in the recently decided Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Judge John Jones III, a Bush appointee. In his ruling, he referred to the ID witnesses and defendants in the case as follows: “It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind ID policy.”

Ringing out the old year

Religious and political conservatives have spent 2005 lying to us to push their own agenda. It is one of control. They won’t rest until they can control what you do, see, hear, and read. That’s why we must shore up the wall of separation of church and state.

We need to fight them at every opportunity and respond to every attempt to control us. Silence is not an option. Secular Left will continue to fight the good fight and keep those who support separation informed.

To close out the final post of 2005, I wanted to post something I found in an article about New Years:

“Although in the first centuries AD the Romans continued celebrating the new year, the early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as paganism. But as Christianity became more widespread, the early church began having its own religious observances concurrently with many of the pagan celebrations, and New Year’s Day was no different. New Years is still observed as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision by some denominations.”

New Years

I don’t know too many men who would celebrate the snipping of the skin but hey whatever floats your boat. I wonder if next year conservatives will complain about the “war” on New Years because we aren’t circumcising more boys.

I’ll be eating my pork ribs with sauerkraut tomorrow with a donut on the side and hoping that 2006 is a better year for us heathens.

Be Safe. You only have one life.

Reynoldsburg, OH Mayor Ignores Law on Holiday Scenes – Again

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I thought I might escape 2005 without having to mention another argument over a city government trying to put up a Nativity scene on public property but alas I didn’t.

In 2004, the mayor of the city of Reynoldsburg, Bob McPherson, accepted the donation of a Nativity scene from a local church and had it setup on the front lawn of city hall. He believed that if the city owned it then he could place on the lawn without having to follow previous US Supreme Court rulings (having other secular items setup with it).

A member of my Humanist group complained and requested that a sign with some text that read be placed on the lawn as part of the holiday celebration:

At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail
There are no gods no devils no angels no heaven or hell
There is only our natural world, let us be joyful and welcome the
longer days and the new year.

The mayor refused the offer because as he stated:

“I’m not saying it’s an inappropriate message,” McPherson said. “It’s just inappropriate right now because the city is celebrating the secular holiday of Christmas.”

Compromise offered on Reynoldsburg nativity scene Columbus Dispatch 12/16/2004

Some city governments who allow religious symbols for the holidays only allow symbols and not text. It is obvious that established religions have an advantage because most people see the symbol and know the context and the feeling around the symbol.

In 2005, the mayor didn’t put up the Navtivity scene. He claimed that road work in front of city hall made it too difficult to keep the scene safe from damage. He intends to put it back up in 2006 along with symbols from other religions:

McPherson said he already has approved a symbol celebrating the winter solstice and another for the Hindu religion — a partman, part-eagle deity called Garuda who sometimes represents the sun.

Of course if he plans on including such symbols then he also needs one from Kwanzaa, Jain, Sikh, Witchcraft, magick, the occult, Sumerian, Zoroastrian, Baha’i, Islamic, Wicca, Neopaganism, Druid, Celtic, and on and on. If Mayor McPherson says no to any religious symbol then he is risking the city of Reynoldsburg to a law suit.

Just like in 2004, McPherson is ignoring the law and even the advice of his own City Attorney:

City Attorney Bill Underwood said he has advised the mayor that the city should limit itself to the lights and a “Season’s Greetings” sign.

“Once you get into being selective is when you get into problems and First Amendment rights,” Underwood said.

He said the other alternative is to allow all symbols, which can make for a crowded lawn.

City Hall lawn gets respite from Nativity controversy Columbus Dispatch 12/25/2005

Here is the mayor’s contact info:

Mayor Bob McPherson
City of Reynoldsburg
7232 E. Main Street.
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068

614-322-6800

Side Note

I also wanted to post about one of my pet peeves that involves issues like this. Always the non-believer or those wanting to keep government out of the religious cheerleading business, seem to be cast at least as trouble makers and at worst un-American, because we are trying to protect our civil rights.

That is just wrong.

The Columbus Dispatch, in the article about the Reynoldsburg update, failed to include any comments from the person who complained in 2004 or even to name the group that also complained then. The paper did include a quote from the pastor of the church who donated the Navitity scene and “his” view of the issue.

We’ve seen negative coverage of our view in the media during the Pledge of Allegiance court case and the recent issue of crosses being used as roadside memorials in Utah.

The thing is that those of us who support separation of church and state aren’t asking the government for special treatment or for authorities to ignore the law like Christians are. Why should we be the bad guy.

For once I would like see a fair and balanced story about church and state issues.

More on “war” on Christmas: writer wants special treatment for Christians

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In his essay, False perceptions regarding the attack against Christmas (Renewamerica.us 12/14/05), Robert Meyer tries to make a case that businesses expressing “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” are being offensive to and exclusive against Christians.

He writes that a recent letter to the editor he read pointed out how can Christians complain Christmas traditions are being marginalized, when many of the traditions they uphold are of non-Christian origin to begin with?

Meyer responds:

Yet such analysis entirely misses the real crux of the conflict though. If certain retail stores or other entities had said that they were no longer observing long-standing traditions (such as the “Christmas Tree”) because of their pagan origins, he might have made his point. I would applaud this type of distinction.

Yet, that is hardly the case. We might ask whether the Puritans would have thrown out the Savior with the tree, as some retail outlets are more than willing to do. In fact, the true reason for discontinuing these practices, is a false perception on the part of some, that there is a halo around the Bill of Rights which creates the implied right not to be offended. Unfortunately, this is both a false and dangerous proposition.

In trying to be inclusive and unoffending, they become demonstrably offending and exclusive in their new approach. We might also ask what public perceptions led to this policy change? With the majority of the U.S. still professing to be Christians, it is a wonder they never considered whether that majority would themselves be offended by the changes.

Free exercise of religion isn’t realized by an exclusion of all. This is an attempt at negative neutrality that publicly squelches the free exercise of religion, but does nothing constructive to ultimately avoid conflict. It amazes me how the First Amendment, which protected the public’s free religious exercise from intrusions by the government, now is twisted so that the Establishment Clause is used to sanitize the public square from any mention of God.

Like all strident religious and political conservatives, Meyer misses the illogical conclusion he expresses. Sometimes I wonder if they listen to what they say and really think about it.

It isn’t about “sanitiz[ing] the public square from any mention of God” as he and others state. It is about not letting the government be the head cheerleader and using its time and resources to support a single religious sect like Christianity. We don’t live in the United States of Christian America… [yet….]

Why do people like Meyer have such a hard time understanding what “neutrality” means. Are they morons?

If Wal-Mart or some other business wish to say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays”, or even “Happy Festivas”, it doesn’t matter to most and the public can only speak with their feet. If those business do or don’t recognize Christmas has NOTHING to do with free exercise of religion of the individual. Wal-Mart, by not saying “Merry Christmas”, isn’t burning your church down. The government really has no say in what Wal-Mart says in expressing the holiday season but people like Meyer seem to wish it could.

Meyer continues:

It is interesting to note that a position of “deliberate neutrality,” is by default an endorsement of the atheist/humanist position, since the atheist claims to be motivated by an absence of belief, and not an active choice to disbelieve.

SIGH…….

Yes, it seems Meyer is a moron because he doesn’t understand what “neutrality” means.

Let me make it simple. Lack of belief isn’t neutrality. Neutrality means having no specific view or taking no specific position. In terms of the state and religion it should be all religions or none. To pick Christmas or Easter for acknowledgement or special rights is to give preference to a particular sect – Christianity. “Happy Holidays” at least recognizes all beliefs that have celebrations at this time of year.

See the difference?

Christmas = Christianity
Holidays = Everyone

Finally Meyer ends by writing:

In a society run amok with prostration to tolerance, it seems to me, that there should be an onus on the minority to graciously tolerate customs held by the majority of citizens.

Well, Robert Meyer, we minorities do, every day of the year. I have to with every church I pass, every “God Bless America” the President utters, every God invoked when my favorite team wins the game, and every Christmas when I have to hear people bitch and moan that we need to celebrate the “real reason of the season”.

I have reached the end of being gracious because religious nuts like yourself are like Dads we can’t please because you expect more and more and more and still are not happy with what you have and are given.

End of Dover trial highlights danger of anti-science efforts

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The Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial ended on Friday. The judge announced he would try to have a decision by the end of the year so now the waiting begins.

On Thursday, the court heard from a couple of teachers and from one learned the other side of the issue. Religious conservatives won’t stop with just forcing Intelligent Design (ID) into the science classes but such efforts also chill the work in other classes like social studies.

Reaction to the board’s attention to the biology curriculum wasn’t limited to the science teachers. At least one social studies teacher wondered how to handle what he considered a breach in separation of church and state.

[Robert] Linker testified that while the teachers didn’t consider intelligent design science, didn’t agree with the statement, and refused to read it or distribute opt-out papers to students, the board’s focus on the topic caused teachers to pare down their evolution sections out of concern that they were doing something wrong.

Linker testified Thursday that he stopped showing videos from the Discovery Channel about evolution.

He also ended his practice of starting the evolution section by drawing a line on the chalk board with “creationism” on one side and “evolution” on the other to explain why they talked about the science of evolution and not the religion behind creationism.

Linker said Jen Miller, the senior biology teacher who testified earlier in the trial, used to have students trace the Earth’s history as a timeline on paper rolled out in a hallway. She doesn’t do that anymore, Linker said.

During cross-examination by ACLU attorney Witold Walczak, Linker said, “I didn’t really know if I was doing something wrong by writing creationism on the board.”

Linker didn’t characterize the administration or board efforts as “pressure” leading up to the curriculum change.

But he got the hint. He and other teachers attended two meetings in the fall of 2003 where school officials — including, at one meeting, board member Alan Bonsell — wanted to know how the teachers taught evolution. Linker said he’d never experienced such a request in 12 years of teaching.

They realized evolution attracted special attention.

Trial peeks into class

Later Asst. Supt. Michael Baksa testified that board member Alan Bonsell gave him a copy of the “The Myth of Separation: What is the Correct Relationship Between Church and State” by David Barton.

David Barton is a religious conservative known for misquoting and even fabricating “evidence” that shows the separation of church and state to be a myth to support the notion that the US is a “Christian Nation”.

David Barton, in his taped presentation called America’s Godly Heritage, peddles the proposition that America is a “Christian Nation,” legally and historically. He also asserts that the principle of church-state separation, while not in the Constitution, has systematically been used to rule religion out of the public arena, particularly the public school system. This is not a new argument, but Barton is especially slick in his presentation. His presentation has just enough ring of truth to make him credible to many people. It is, however, laced with exaggerations, half- truths, and misstatements of fact. His citation to supporting research is scant at best and at times non-existent.

Critique of David Barton’s “America’s Godly Heritage”

Baska testified:

In an e-mail dated Oct. 19, 2004, social studies teacher Brad Neal wrote Baksa, “In light of last night’s apparent change from a ‘standards driven’ school district to ‘the living word driven’ school district, Mr. Hoover and I would like some direction in how to adapt our judicial branch unit. It is apparent that the Supreme Court of the United States has it all wrong. Is there some supplemental text that we can use to set our students straight as to the ‘real’ law of the land?”

The same day, Baksa replied, “All kidding aside be careful what you ask for. I have been given a copy of ‘The Myth of Separation’ by David Barton to review from board members. Social studies curriculum is next year. Feel free to borrow my copy to get an idea of where the board is coming from.”

This is what to expect if religious conservatives get their way. Not only will we have kids dumb in science but also kids told lies about history. Is that what we really want? All because someone believes the Bible is literally true?

One of the lawyers with the Thomas More Center said that science shouldn’t be taught as dogma. I agree, but we should at least teach real science. Science that has evidence behind it not science that agrees with someone’s religious beliefs.

God didn’t put a man on the moon or wipe out a majority of the world’s diseases. Science did. Praying didn’t increase crop yields which allows us to raise much more food than we really need on low amount of acreage. Science did. Going to church isn’t going to help us find a cure for AIDS. Science will.

The recent defense of Evolution in Dover wasn’t some conspiracy of secular humanists bent on corrupting “our children” but was conducted by believers who find the truth of science to be much more important than their religious beliefs.

Someone has to defend Darwin – it is sad to say. We’re at the start of the 21st century and we are fighting to prevent the return of the Dark Ages.

Split ruling on 10 Commandments

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Yesterday (June 27th) the US Supreme Court handed down two decisions about government displays of the sectarian 10 Commandments. In one case, McCreary County, Ky., v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, the court ruled 5-4 that the county display was not permissible as it had a clearly sectarian bent. The two counties in question posted the Decalogue along with other historical religious texts such as Lincoln’s 1863 Day of Prayer proclamation.

The second case, Van Orden v. Perry, involved a stone monument displaying the Decalogue on the grounds of the Texas state capitol. In the case the court ruled 5-4 that the display, among other historical items, didn’t cross the line and was permissible.

While the rulings didn’t decide much – other than leaving challenges of these displays to the lower courts to rule on a case by case basis – it does highlight the divergent thought and some weird logic used to decide the cases.

First and foremost the Kentucky ruling reaffirmed state neutrality in religious matters. It can’t endorse religion nor can it harm religion.

Justice O’Conner wrote in her concurring opinion:

But the goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. By enforcing the Clauses, we have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat…. [Goverment] may not prefer one religion over another or promote religion over nonbelief…. It is true that many Americans find the Commandments in accord with their personal beliefs. But we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.

What was also interesting was the court reaffirming that the 10 Commandments are an “instrument of religion”. Justice Souter wrote for the court:

Stone stressed the significance of integrating the Commandments into a secular scheme to forestall the broadcast of an otherwise clearly religious message, 449 U. S., at 42, and for good reason, the Commandments being a central point of reference in the religious and moral history of Jews and Christians. They proclaim the existence of a monotheistic god (no other gods), regulate details of religious obligation (no graven images, sabbath breaking, or vain oath swearing), and unmistakably rest even the universally accepted prohibitions (as against murder, theft, etc.) on the sanction of the divinity proclaimed at the text’s beginning. Displaying that text is thus different from symbolic representation, like tablets with 10 roman numerals, which could be seen as alluding to a general notion of law, not a sectarian conception of faith. Where the text is set out, the insistence of the religious message is hard to avoid in the absence of a context plausibly suggesting a message going beyond an excuse to promote the religious point of view. The display in Stone had no such context, and the Counties’ solo exhibit here did nothing more to counter the sectarian implication than the Stone postings. The reasonable observer could only think that the Counties meant to emphasize and celebrate the Commandments’ religious message.

It is always the stated reason for posting such obvious religious documents that the government is only acknowledging the historical influence of the 10 Commandments on the US legal system. The ruling in the Texas case used that logic to allow the monument to remain since it also was among other “historical” markers on the lawn. The majority in the Texas case assumed that the 10 Commandments had some influence but the historical record shows otherwise.

Our government system and laws are based not on some sectarian Decalogue but on the traditions and history of the Roman, Greek, and British law and the philosophy of people like John Locke. The first known written law was founded first in the Code of Hammurabi, the sixth ruler of the First Dynasty of Babylon, who ruled from 1792.1750 B.C. The Magna Carta had greater influence on our Constitution and legal system than the Ten Commandments.

In fact, if there were laws based on the first three of the Ten Commandments they would most likely be ruled unconstitutional if challenged in our courts. They would bump up against the most important fundamental right in the Constitution: the absolute right to believe whatever one chooses that derives from the First Amendment’s free exercise and free speech clauses.

James Madison, leader of the Constitutional Convention and drafter of the First Amendment, explained it as follows: “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

Thomas Jefferson spoke out against attempts to claim that the law incorporated the Ten Commandments when he criticized judges for “lay [ing] the yoke of their own opinions on the necks of others by declaring that [the Ten Commandments] make a part of the law of the land.” John Adams also questioned the influence of the Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount on the legal system.

The only relationship that can be connected between the 10 Commandments and the US legal system, besides the prohibitions against murder and stealing, is that both are laws. Nothing more.

Justice Scalia in his dissent in the Kentucky case blathered on about how the decision was inconsistent with the Founding Fathers’ own views and “ratchets up this court’s hostility to religion.”

As noted earlier and in Justice O’Conner’s opinion, the intent of the Founding Fathers was quite clear and opposite to the thinking of Scalia. Again the historical records bear this out.

As for hostility to religion, one has to ask what is meant by that. If the Bill of Rights are there to protect the person from the abuse of government, how then can enforcing religious neutrality be hostile to religion. We wouldn’t enjoy such a diverse community of religions (including the non-religious) if Scalia is correct. The rulings don’t force Christians, Jews, or other sects that use the 10 Commandments in their faiths to give up the 10 Commandments or their faith.

The ruling on the Texas case found a common myth that even a learned jurist such as Justice Breyer expressed in his concurring opinion:

“This [Texas] display has stood apparently uncontested for nearly two generations. That experience helps us understand that as a practical matter of degree this display is unlikely to prove divisive,”

The common myth is that because no one said anything for 40 years that it proves the monument is not divisive. That kind of weak argument is being used even today for other old religious monuments that are now being challenged. One has to point out that many things in this country have been done that turns out to be wrong and has been corrected. “Separate but equal” wasn’t challenged for 34 years but was eventually found illegal when it was challenged. Just because no one had challenged it didn’t mean it was right.

So, in conclusion, while the rulings were a split decision, it seems the court is applying the same guidelines it applied in testing the legality of Christmas Nativity scenes placed on public property. It is all about the context and intent.

It was also noted today (June 28th) that court refused to consider two Ohio cases in which displays of the Ten Commandments on public property were found unconstitutional.

In one case, a Richland County judge displayed the commandments in his courtroom. In the other, the commandments were displayed on stone monuments in front of Adams County school buildings.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said both were illegal.

McCreary County, Ky., v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky

Van Orden v. Perry