I just had an interesting conversation about religion with a guy working at my house.
He overheard my end of a phone call with another secular activist about a church-state violation. When I hung up he asked if those were the kinds of cases I take. He knows I’m a lawyer.
“Tis the season for violations of the separation of church and state,” I said lightly, not sure how much he might want to explore the subject or what his feelings might be on it. I’m wary when people I don’t know well bring up the topic of religion. The conversation could go well or it could get very uncomfortable very fast.
“Church and state ought to be completely separate,” he said, “especially in schools when kids are pretty much forced to go along with whatever the class is doing.”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s not fair to non-Christian schoolchildren to be told by their teachers what to believe about Christmas, which they may or may not celebrate for any number of reasons. For that matter, there are Christian children who don’t celebrate Christmas. There are non-Christians who do celebrate Christmas for reasons other than religion. If a child is doing religion “wrong,” the proper place for correction is home or their place of worship, not a public school.
One thing led to another, and as the conversation developed he told me he had lots of questions, because the whole “god” thing just didn’t make sense to him. I told him about a certain hissy fit I threw over religion when I was a kid. It has never made sense to me, either.
Then he said that he goes to church, but he doesn’t buy everything the preacher says. Who does? I wonder.
We talked about the notion of a prime mover. I strongly suspect that Aristotle was not the first person to wrestle with the notion of what it was that tipped the first domino and set the whole universe into motion. My response to the prime mover concept is, “Okay, but what made the first mover move? Even St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest philosophers Christendom ever produced, ultimately said that God’s existence had to be taken on faith because there was no proof.
My new friend said he thought it was safer to believe, because what if he’s wrong?
“You’ve just described Pascal’s Wager,” I told him. If his preferred deity is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, why won’t his god know about his doubts? If what he outwardly professed conflicted with what his logical processes and his gut told him, wouldn’t that sort of god-the god our culture is typically familiar with-have a clue?
And furthermore, what if the religion he placed his bet on wasn’t the right one? What if there is some other god that really controls it all? What if there are a lot of gods who control by committee? What if those gods really couldn’t care less what people do – isn’t that the more likely scenario?
Then we talked about using the scientific method to explain things that were only explained in the past by “God did it.” I explained the concept of the God of the Gaps, and how that God keeps getting smaller and smaller with every new discovery and addition to scientific knowledge.
Finally he confided that he didn’t believe in the Abrahamic god, but he would never admit that to his wife. And, ultimately, that’s why he goes to church.
There are so many of us out there, closeted and questioning.
I keep hearing people say, “I want my country back.” I don’t understand why they want to regress rather than progress.
We have within our voting booths, email accounts, and voices the ability to make this country truly great. We should use them to make great things happen.
But, to go back?
I would not want to take my country back to a time when a state religion was mandated. The autodidacts of the Enlightenment gave us a gift when, first in the Virginia Declaration and then in the First Amendment, they mandated that states have to stay out of the religion business. By necessity this meant that religion also has to stay out of state business. The last “established church” (in Connecticut) was done away with in 1813 .
There are political leaders today who claim they want to take the country back to a time when religion invaded every nook and cranny of political life. They’re asking for witch trials, criminal prosecutions for wearing lace, fines for not going to church, taxes that support one church but not anther.
Whose religion will the state support in that scenario? And whose interpretation of that religion? Will we end up in a bloody civil war over predestination and evangelism? Will atheists be burned at the stake? We have a lot of work to do in this area so that the American public understands what the founding fathers did: a secular state is the only one that can possibly serve all of its citizens. I sure wouldn’t go back to a time when states were able to mandate religion, before the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1864 that finally required all of the states to abide by the Bill of Rights. I don’t want that country back.
Other important Amendments to the Constitution were also passed in those heady days immediately following the Civil War, like the one that abolished slavery and the other one that extended the right to vote to every citizen regardless of race. I wouldn’t want to take my country back to a time when an entire demographic was enslaved and marginalized, disenfranchised and dispossessed of even basic human dignity.
Credit: Bob Daugherty/Associated Press, 1964
We’ve already lost some of the protections minorities had against the privileged majority with the loss of the Voting Rights Act. The ballot box is still under siege from people who would make it harder for the poor, the young, and the elderly to vote. We have to get more people to the polls on every election day, and we have to pass laws reforming campaign finance so that elections are actually decided on the merits of the candidate’s platform and not on the size of their sponsor’s bank accounts. Who wants to live in a country where elections go to the highest bidder? Not me.
As a woman, I wouldn’t want to take my country back to an era when I would not have had a voice in politics. That means I wouldn’t go back to a time before the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919.
Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912
I wouldn’t ever want to go back to a time when a woman’s “place” was barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Shackling women to their homes and children, shaming them for working and for success in other endeavors, removing from them their rights to own property or even have guardianship of their own children does an extreme disservice to half the population. That means I wouldn’t take my country back to the time before World War II, when so many women joined the iconic Rosie the Riveter in the workforce.
Discouraging girls from achieving their dream occupation shortchanges not just them, but our entire society. We can all benefit from the power of a brain enthusiastically focused on doing something worthwhile. If we tell boys they can be firemen or doctors but tell girls they’ll be someone’s wife, we effectively tell our daughters that they will identify themselves by someone else’s name and someone else’s achievements. We send our girls the message that they aren’t good enough tall by themselves. If that’s what we would return to, I don’t want that country back.
We hear people say they want to return to the values of the 1950’s, when June Cleaver vacuumed her comfortable home in heels and pearls, when Wally and the Beav could roam the neighborhood without supervision, where Ward wore a suit and held the same white collar job for years without stress. I have news for those people: The Cleavers were fiction. They didn’t exist except on television. Neither did that perfectly well-adjusted, large, blended Brady family in the 1970’s. When we say we want our country back, we say we long for only the good parts of a fictional, idealized era where no bad happened. It doesn’t exist and it never did.
Now is better, but it still isn’t good enough. There aren’t enough women yet in positions of power. Women are capable business and community leaders. There still aren’t enough female CEOs of major corporations, there aren’t enough women in politics, there aren’t enough women of high rank in the military, there aren’t enough women in STEM fields, and women still don’t have the earning power of men.
We made progress in this country when becoming pregnant didn’t automatically trigger wedding bells at the business end of the proverbial shotgun. We made progress when not just women but men were given the option of leaving bad marriages without suffering social opprobrium. We still need to improve our laws so that single parents have more support from society, so that they can earn a living wage and still have time to spend with their children. Child care needs to be more affordable and widely available so that single parents as well as married women who want financial independence aren’t prevented from reaching for it because they can’t afford to. Truly, as a society, we can’t afford for them not to.
I wouldn’t go back to a time when Jim Crow was not only the unwritten law of the land, but enshrined in statutes. This means I wouldn’t go back to a time before Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, or even before Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
Let’s not take our country back to a time when a family was prevented from moving next door to us simply because of the color of their skin, or when our a playmates were prevented from going to the same school as we did – again, because of the color of their skin. This means I wouldn’t want take the country back to a time before 1968 when the Fair Housing Act became law. My hometown’s schools were integrated in 1968 – the year I started first grade – and I’m glad it didn’t take still longer.
No, I would not want to take this country back to a time when people I knew and enjoyed as friends were treated like second-class citizens, not considered good enough to drink from the same water fountain as I could or to use the same public restroom as I did. We got rid of those statutes and are still fighting an uphill battle for racial equality and equal opportunity. We still have to deal with privilege and marginalization. It’s better, but it still isn’t good.
We haven’t made enough progress in this department: we are incarcerating practically the entire demographic of black males, forever foreclosing their capacity to contribute to society or even to their families in any meaningful way. Young black men get profiled and executed in the streets. The sentences imposed for minor crimes are not only excessive,m they are applied disproportionately along racial lines. Our prisons are focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation and successful reentry to society. They days of lynchings aren’t really over – they just look different. We have a lot more work to do.
Image from a 1920 lynching in Texas, via Wikimedia Commons
Our society made progress in my lifetime when women were finally granted the right to defend our bodies against unwanted intruders, be they marital rapists or unwanted pregnancies. We haven’t made nearly enough progress in this area, even though we thought we had won it 40 years ago; a woman’s right to decide how and when her body will be used is under a concerted and coordinated attack from those who would reduce women to incubators. That means I don’t want to take the country back to a pre-1973 world, where Roe v. Wade didn’t protect my body from involuntary servitude to an organism that might kill me. I was eleven years old when that case was decided. No, I wouldn’t go back, even though summers seemed to last forever back then.
I would never, ever want to go back to a time where education of the young was the province of churches, or that religion was allowed in the classroom. We made excellent progress in this regard – again, within my lifetime – and it is under constant threat from teachers who tell children they aren’t Christian enough (this is a state mandating religion again) or who deny evolution and other proven scientific theories (because their preachers tell them to).
In fact, we as a society don’t do enough to ensure that our population is educated. There is a significant segment of the American population that is anti-intellectual and proud of it. (I’m looking at you, Sarah Palin.) These people not only stymie the efforts of good brains, they threaten our nation’s ability to compete in the world’s markets, our health, and our standard of living. We have a lot more work to do in this area. Until every person in the country has access to affordable higher education, we undermine our growth both intellectually and economically.
And this brings me to pseudoscience. We may not have stereotypical snake oil salesmen on every street corner, but we do have quacks on television and Playboy Playmates (TM), all of whom have large soapboxes from which to sell modern-day snake oil in the form of fad diets, homeopathy, and “nutritional” supplements, and who undermine and misrepresent scientific progress.
Polio has become almost nonexistent in my lifetime. Diphtheria has virtually disappeared during my parents’ lifetimes. Smallpox was eradicated in my lifetime. I would never want to take my country back to a time before antibiotics, vaccines, and modern surgical techniques. That means I don’t want last year’s country back.
But we need to do more to improve health and welfare. We can’t do it if our teachers won’t teach the theory of evolution and idiots without scientific training claim vaccines cause autism. We also can’t do it if every poorly-tested drug is advertised to the uneducated masses. We need to make more progress in this area.
I’ve now brought us into the present. I definitely don’t want to go back to any of what I’ve described.
Moving forward is the only option I see.
You can get this on a t-shirt. Click the image to order.
On July 10, two senators introduced Senate Bill 1274, which would add religious buildings to the list of nonprofit facilities eligible to receive federal disaster relief aid after catastrophic events like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. The Senate bill and its House counterpart, H. R. 592, address aid to nonprofit facilities damaged in Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and afterward.
The Secular Coalition of America opposes the bill because tax dollars would directly fund the repair or replacement of damaged and destroyed churches, synagogues, and mosques, not to mention other nonprofit organizations.
SCA is encouraging a campaign to remind our Senators that one of the longest standing principles of our nation is that no citizen should be required to fund any religions with which they disagree, and not to permit taxpayer money to be used to repair or rebuild churches destroyed in natural disasters.
I’m usually right on board with the Secular Coalition of America in anything it does, but this brought me up short.
No, I don’t want my tax dollars to build new churches, fund their missionary programs, or finance a church-supported school’s science-denying science curriculum. It makes me sick that religious institutions get a pass when April 15 rolls around. Frankly, I think all nonprofits ought to pay taxes. If their profits are reinvested for public benefit, or set aside in specific funds intended for that purpose, then that should be credited to them. But should churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues be treated differently than any other nonprofit when they are hit by a natural calamity?
I looked into the status quo, without the passage of this Senate bill.
FEMA’s current policy addressed aid to individuals and their households as well as to government facilities. It does not permit disaster assistance to nonprofits unless they provide “essential services to the general public customarily provided by the government.” Whether nonprofit or for-profit, facilities used primarily for religious, political, athletic, recreational, or vocational purposes don’t qualify for FEMA funds. Churches, the DNC headquarters, the Superdome, Disney World, and Joe’s Body Shop don’t get government money. They are expected to be adequately insured.
The new law would allow virtually any nonprofit organization to benefit, though, which may indeed be desirable when we consider that the gift shop at Hurricane River Cave in the Ozarks (one of the coolest caves I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit) might be taken out when the next big New Madrid quake hits, as might the collection of historical buildings at the Scott Plantation Settlement.
On the other hand, it would also, in this time of high budget deficits and sequestration, open the FEMA coffers to more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. It does this by removing the requirement that, in order to receive FEMA funds, the organization provide a service that would otherwise be an essential government service. Cool gift shop or not, amazing caverns, even if operated by nonprofit organizations, do not supply an essential governmental service. Nor do historic preserves of bygone eras.
Having a church building is definitely not an essential governmental service.
And, as the SCA points out in its letter to Senators, two-thirds of the American population doesn’t use churches. Nonbelievers and the nonreligious constitute 20% of the American population, and that number is growing. And by expanding FEMA’s coverage in this era of sequestration, 2.3 million nonprofit organizations would immediately become eligible for FEMA funds in the event of a natural disaster. (Only 1.6 million are registered with the IRS. The others haven’t filed their forms to obtain official approval of their nonprofit status.)
“While the services of these nonprofits may provide great benefit to the general public, federal funds should not be diverted away from essential governmental programs toward nonprofits with access to a charitable and generous base of donors nationwide and around the globe,” says the SCA. Being on the boards of a few nonprofits that are always struggling for money, I kind of take issue with the “generous base” description, but I can’t help but acknowledge the definite difference between “great benefit” and “essential service.”
private nonprofit educational, utility, irrigation, emergency, medical, rehabilitational, and temporary or permanent custodial care facilities (including those for the aged and disabled) and facilities on Indian reservations…
[as well as any] [p]rivate nonprofit facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature to the general public, (including museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, community arts centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops, and facilities that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature)…
Language proposed by the Senate bill and the House resolution would add community centers and houses of worship to the list.
To be fair, the bill contains a restriction for religious facilities that does not apply to the other nonprofits. Taxpayer-funded disaster relief would be allowed to religious institutions only for the actual buildings damaged. Its language is pretty specific:
In spaces used primarily for religious worship services, contributions…shall only be used to cover the costs of purchasing or replacing, without limitation, the building structure, building enclosure components, building envelope, vertical and horizontal circulation, physical plant support spaces, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems (including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and fire and life safety systems), and related site improvements.
A three-prong test has to be passed in order for government funds to be used by religious institutions, including religious educational institutions:
The funds must be used for a secular purpose that does not promote religion;
The effect of using the funds must not promote religion; and
Enforcement of the secular purpose should not unnecessarily entangle church and state.
In the Tilton case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that grants for non-religious school facilities did not violate the Establishment Clause because the purpose and effect of the Act that authorized the grants was not to aid religious institutions but to aid education generally. The students affected by the act were secondary students, who the Court determined to be less susceptible to religious indoctrination that elementary school students. Significantly, though, the decision in the Tilton case did not address whether granting schools affiliated with a particular religious sect would enable those schools to further their religious instruction. It did, however, determine that taxpayers were not themselves harmed if their ability to practice their own religion remained untouched.
The Hunt case came out of South Carolina, and addressed whether revenue bonds intended for capital improvements at institutions of higher education could be used by sectarian colleges. Because higher education is a secular purpose, and constructing buildings to house educational facilities does not promote religion, and because at the college level, religious indoctrination is not as significant as it is in elementary schools.
It would seem that an actual church is not a school, though, and its primary purpose is to promote religion. While Tilton and Hunt both seem to say that FEMA funds can be used to rebuild the local Catholic High School, there does not seem to be any justification, based on the Supreme Court’s three-prong test, to use taxpayer funds to rebuild a church, even if the rebuilding is limited to the facility alone and not to providing the pews within it.
An ordinary nonprofit organization exists for the public benefit, and the public does indeed benefit from its existence. These facilities all provide valuable community services. But it can be argued that churches do, too. They are community centers, even though they serve a much smaller slice of the population. Then again, rehabilitation centers and senior citizen centers only serve a portion of the community, too.
While we as secularists may disagree vehemently with the mission of religions in general, are we really any differently situated than, say, someone who believes zoos to be cruel? The argument feels somewhat like saying that if our trashy neighbors’ home got washed away during the flood or flattened by a tornado, they be denied emergency relief to rebuild just because we don’t like them.
I hate feeling mean-spirited. It puts me in a bad mood.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed suit to do away with the favored tax status of churches, and to have them treated like all other nonprofits. If churches want to be nonprofit organizations, they should have to file the expensive tax form that goes along with being awarded that status. If they want to endorse specific candidates or political parties, they should lose their 501(c)(3) and have to satisfy themselves with 501(c)(4), which has stricter reporting requirements. I firmly stand with FFRF on this, as, I suspect, do many readers of this post.
But should a church be treated differently when it comes to disaster relief just because it is a church?
As long as the damaged church isn’t violating its tax-free status by politicking, do you see a problem with treating it like any other nonprofit, and allowing the use of taxpayer funds for it to rebuild after a disaster?
And what about extending FEMA coverage to all nonprofits? It is a noble intent, for sure. But is it practical, given our current economic issues? Why should nonprofits be treated differently than Joe’s Body Shop when it comes to disaster relief? I would think that helping businesses recover from disaster would be a pretty noble investment, too.
I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say, and whether you feel strongly enough about this issue to contact your Senator.
Graduation seems to be one of those times during the school year when religion rears its head and wants to elbow its way into the public square, disseminating itself messily all over unwilling captive audiences. This year is no exception.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) got involved in an Arkansas case recently, writing a letter to tell the Riverside School District in Lake City, Arkansas, that plans to pray and sing hymns at its sixth grade graduation were unconstitutional. Variations of two different versions of what happened next have made their rounds. In the first story, the school board, possibly at the behest of the superintendent, decided simply to cancel graduation rather than bow to the law. In the second story, the school board voted to abide by the law, but the parents organizing the graduation said that if they couldn’t pray, then graduation at the school would be cancelled. The upshot was that the sixth grade graduation was indeed cancelled, and the organizing parents decided to hold graduation exercises at a local church instead. More uproar has ensued.
Because apparently we’re the only advocates of separation of church and state to be found in Arkansas, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers was invited to participate in a radio talk show about the kerfuffle. When Alice Stewart, Mike Huckabee’s former spokesperson and the host of the program, told me that her other guest would be the evangelical preacher who enjoyed the spotlight at our fair state’s National Day of Prayer event at the state capitol, I asked her if she had considered asking a representative of a more progressive variety of Christian – one that supports separation of church and state. She said she didn’t know any. Right then and there I probably should have directed her to the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or Jews, but I didn’t. I agreed to go on the show.
They’ve done it this way forever, so there’s no harm in allowing them to continue praying at public school events.
The Constitution says we are entitled to the free exercise of religion.
God is the foundation of our founding documents.
Many of our founding fathers went to seminary with certainly the intent that God would be incorporated on our money and in our system and society.
We’ve tried, and we just can’t ever take God, guns, sex, violence, drugs out of school.
God is everywhere in school forever.
Our country is built on the principles of God.
The pledge is a prayer.
By insisting on leaving religion out of school functions, atheists impose their views on everyone else.
It’s more important to keep faith in schools than anywhere.
It’s impossible to take God out of schools because too many religious people are in the schools, and god is in the songs that the school choir sings, plays that the school theater performs, civics and history books, and because there is a federal holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who taught the nation about the Bible.
We shouldn’t have to wait for another bombing or mass shooting before a school assembly prays again.
We should not have to care about the rights of minorities in public schools.
FFRF wanted graduation stopped.
Public prayer in school isn’t illegal.
God calls the light day and the darkness night and no one can change that because it’s an order from god. (If you listen closely you can detect that I nearly busted out laughing here. Sorry.)
If the Constitution allows the pledge, which contains a prayer, then it is resolved that all prayer should be allowed in schools.
Religion never changes.
Jesus said always to pray and not to think.
The word that God gives Christians is in Psalms 1.
God’s law is higher than Constitutional law.
If we say “under God” in the pledge at school, we are obligated to continue praying in schools so as not to be hypocritical.
I know, I know. Our first response is “What? They actually believe this tripe?” followed immediately by a facepalm and “Oh, boy. They really believe this tripe.”
1. The War on Religion
Evidently I burned my draft card on this one. Personally, I couldn’t care less what religion someone else practices, as long as they do no harm with it. (Yeah, I know. That’s impossible, unless they keep it totally to themselves, which they never do.) They can have all the fantasies they like about what happens after death, and no one else is affected. We are, however, affected by their dogmatic attempts to indoctrinate our children, deny freedom of conscience to our children and to us, and to curtail the rights of other people based on their fantasies and what someone said their invisible friend wanted more than two millennia ago. So, practice religion all you want – just keep it strictly to yourself.
2. They’ve done it this way forever, so why make them change?
Let’s say you’ve got an employee who regularly steals from the till. You’ve warned him time and time again that if he doesn’t stop, you’re going to take legal action. He doesn’t stop. You call the cops. Do we seriously expect the police to say that since you never called them before, you can’t call them now?
Or, let’s say your neighbor is a wife-beater (the POS, not the shirt). He’s beaten his wife at least weekly for all 40 years of their marriage, and your long-suffering family has witnessed it. One day, you’ve finally had enough. The wife has two black eyes and a bloody nose after one of their little tiffs, and you call the cops. Do you want to live in a society where the police say, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but she let him beat her up for 40 years, so she has to keep letting him beat her up. Just use ear plugs and avert your eyes if you don’t want to be aware of it”?
I didn’t think so.
Illegal is illegal. Period.
3. The Constitution says we are entitled to the free exercise of religion.
It sure does. And then it says that the state can’t tell us how to practice our religions. This is the part the religious right loves to forget as they strive to use government-sponsored events to impose their version of God on the rest of us. And impose it they do – at public invocations, in schools, in the laws they pass, and on billboards across the country. Only one of those instances is actually legal. (Hint: it’s the one that has nothing to do with government.)
4. God is the foundation of our founding documents.
The only foundational document that mentions anything about a God is the Declaration of Independence, which wouldn’t have been a founding document if the rebellion had not been successful. In its introduction, it mentions “Nature’s God” and which in the famous second sentence of its preamble says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” One of those unalienable rights, which was added to the Constitution 15 years after the Declaration (it wasn’t there to begin with), says that Americans are free to practice whatever religion they choose, and that the state cannot tell them what religion to practice.
It’s the second part that people like Rev. Hunt and Ms. Stewart and their fundamentalist friends have so much trouble with. In fact, they prefer to ignore it, under the short-sighted and arrogant assumption that their version of religion would naturally be the one established by the government.
5. Many of our founding fathers went to seminary with certainly the intent that God would be incorporated on our money and in our system and society.
Sometimes when religious people say idiotic things, we have to graciously understand that they are grasping at straws. I certainly hope that Ms. Stewart knows the facts don’t support this assertion of hers. I hope she has a better grasp of history than what this particular assertion indicated.
First, let’s look at the education opportunities in the late colonial period. Actual colleges were not easy to find – or, maybe they were, since there were so few of them. New College (now Harvard), the College of William and Mary, the Collegiate School (now Yale), the College of New Jersey (Princeton), the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), King’s College (now Columbia), Rhode Island College (now Brown), Queen’s College (now Rutgers), and Dartmouth College were the only choices for formal higher education, and the last three in that list were founded after 1760, so it’s unlikely the founders attended them. Without exception, all were associated with religious institutions. However, like the colleges and universities sponsored by religious institutions in the 21st century, none of them was strictly a seminary. Since the founding fathers all obtained what formal education they got prior to the Revolution, these nine schools – and probably actually only six schools – were their only choices unless they opted to go abroad. A number of them whose families had money did indeed send their sons abroad for education at places like Cambridge, London’s Middle Temple (one of the famous Inns of Court where British barristers were – and are – formally trained, not a religious institution), and various schools on the European continent.
So, let’s take a closer look at the oldest six. By 1750, the era when the founding fathers who went there would have been enrolled, only 15% of Harvard graduates were seminarians. William and Mary, the second oldest institution, was founded with only one-third of its resources dedicated to a college of divinity, and separation of church and state was already a thing in Virginia prior to the end of the Revolution thanks to the work of George Mason and James Madison on the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Yale was not founded as a seminary, but as a college of the arts and sciences. Princeton was founded primarily to train Presbyterian ministers, but by the 1760’s was focused on the disciplines valued by the Enlightenment: philosophy, science, and the arts, and by the 1780’s no longer housed a seminary at all. Penn was never a seminary, but was founded, mostly on the advocacy of atheist Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin, as a liberal arts institution. Columbia, also, was founded as a liberal arts school. According to its website, “various groups compet[ed] to determine its location and religious affiliation. Advocates of New York City met with success on the first point, while the Anglicans prevailed on the latter. However, all constituencies agreed to commit themselves to principles of religious liberty in establishing the policies of the College.” Brown University was founded as a Baptist college – not Southern Baptist, but traditional, original, New England Baptist – although Congregationalists, Quakers, and Anglicans all had significant representation on its original board of trustees. Its Charter, granted by George III in 1764, declared its purpose was to prepare students “for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness & reputation” by providing instruction “in the Vernacular and Learned Languages, and in the liberal Arts and Sciences.” It was not a seminary. Rather, the charter specified specifically that “into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests, but on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute, and uninterrupted liberty of conscience.”
But easily half or more of the founding fathers of the United States of America had no formal education at what we would now consider a secondary level. The state of education in colonial America was such that most people were taught to read and write at home, and additional education was often sought with private tutors. For the most part, our founding fathers were autodidacts – self-taught, widely read, and definitely products of the Enlightenment. They never stopped questioning their world, reading, debating topics as diverse as philosophy, agriculture, and astronomy, and most importantly, they never stopped learning.
I think it is extremely safe to assume that not a single founding father decided to go to a seminary so he could foment a revolution and put his god on the money of a new nation, much less so he could violently rebel against his sovereign specifically to get more religion.
6. We’ve tried, and we just can’t ever take God, guns, sex, violence, drugs out of school.
Maybe it’s just me, but when the good Reverend Hunt said this, I couldn’t help but notice that his deity was lumped in with all the other bad things we don’t want in schools. The clear implication of his statement was that we can try, but we ought to just give up. Sorry, Rev. Hunt, but no can do – not as to any of these things.
7. God is everywhere in school forever.
Indeed, our imaginary friends can be wherever we choose for them to be. Inflicting them on other people is unacceptable, though.
8. Our country is built on the principles of God.
The principles of God that I see when I read the Bible are intolerance, caprice, narcissism, homophobia, misogyny, and violence. Are these the principles upon which our country is built? If so, it’s beyond time for reform.
Rev. Hunt probably meant the Ten Commandments, though, because before they were written down about 500 BCE, people just went around killing, coveting, disrespecting their elders, stealing, and bearing false witness all harum-scarum and willy-nilly. Never mind that Egypt’s laws (3000 BCE), Mesopotamia’s Lagash Code (2400 BCE), Sumeria’s laws (2200 BCE), and Hammurabi’s Code (1795 BCE) predate Leviticus by much more than a millennium, and Sparta’s laws (800 BCE) predate it by 400-500 years. Other codes of law from roughly the same time period as Leviticus are well documented, including the Dharmasutras of the Hindu tradition and the evolved versions of all those laws that went before, as well as Roman law (550 BCE), the Zoroastrian Avesta (600 BCE), China’s Zheng laws (500 BCE), and Draco’s Greek law (620 BCE). It is worth mentioning that our trade and maritime laws originated with ancient Phoenicia (~1200 BCE).
Don’t pretend to know legal or social history if you look at it only through the opaque lenses of your Mosaic blinders.
9. The pledge is a prayer.
In the 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court held that prayer led by government officials was not permitted in schools, but did not address whether the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance rendered it a prayer. Justice Douglas, in his concurring opinion, said that he believed the religion “honeycombed” throughout our federal laws was not permissible, and that the words “under God” should not stand – and that, yes, the pledge was indeed a prayer.
Therefore, I sincerely hope the good Reverend will be willing to repeat this assertion that it is resolved that the Pledge is a prayer the next time some godless heathen decides to file suit to challenge the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because it get us one step closer to getting the words stricken.
10. By insisting on leaving religion out of school functions, atheists impose their views on everyone else.
There’s a difference between religious neutrality and forced atheism. If we were forcing our atheism on the impressionable little school children, we’d be hosting “There is No God” as the cool after-school activity to go to instead of tolerating the insidious presence of “Good News Clubs” that indoctrinate children. We’d be demanding that the school choirs sing TimMinchinsongs instead of classical choruses. We’d start every event with an announcement that there is no god, and repeatedly remind any believers out there that they are stupid to still have an imaginary friend. As it is, we may think those things, but we don’t say them in government settings and we certainly don’t try to scare the shit out of their children to ensure the little darlings will come around to our way of thinking.
Religious neutrality means no one says anything one way or another about deities, religions, or the way those imaginary beings think we should conduct ourselves, much less what they plan to do with us when we die.
11. It’s more important to keep faith in schools than anywhere.
On the contrary, school is exactly the place where things should be questioned and not taken on faith. School is the place where facts should be tested, experiments performed, empirical evidence gathered and assessed, and ideas debated. Critical thinking skills need to be emphasized much, much more. Our children should be taught never to take anything on faith, but to investigate and find truth for themselves. Otherwise, all we are doing is drilling information into their heads without giving them the skills to apply it to reality and to the betterment of the world. I don’t know about you, but I want more for my child than for him to be an automaton that dully repeats whatever he’s been told. Faith is the last thing we need to teach our children in school.
12. It’s impossible to take God out of schools because too many religious people are in the schools, and god is in the songs that the school choir sings, plays that the school theater performs, civics and history books, and because there is a federal holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who taught the nation about the Bible.
Where do I even begin?
Okay, so, there are religious people in schools. Sure. There are religious people everywhere. It does not necessarily follow that everything that comes out of the mouths of those religious people is religious. In a school setting, they need to keep their religion to themselves and teach kids how to think critically, how to solve problems, and what a logical fallacy is. (Maybe by teaching logical fallacies, they will recognize the ones they use on themselves to keep religion alive.)
God is in the songs that the choir sings. Because ecclesiastical patronage is responsible for a considerable chunk of the greatest art and music in history, we neither can nor should avoid some religious songs or art. There is plenty of secular art and music out there, though, and it also should be taught. And if the public school is performing a religious play, someone needs to let the ACLU, Americans United, and FFRF know so a lawsuit can be filed – because it’s illegal. Period.
Do not ever make the mistake of teaching public school children which religion is “better” or “correct.” That is establishment of religion, and in this country it is illegal.
And now for Martin Luther King, Jr., who apparently taught us all about the Bible so now we honor him with his very own holiday. I hardly know how to begin to address this idiotic statement, so I’ll just heave a huge sigh and delve in.
Dr. King was indeed a minister. He did indeed connect his faith to his fervent advocacy for civil rights, and frequently invoked his deity and the teachings of the Bible. He wasn’t assassinated for being a minister, though. He died because he was an extremely effective advocate for civil rights and for peace. Dr. King was much more than a minister, and his civil rights and anti-war activism is the reason for that holiday, not his messages from any pulpit. He pioneered peaceful civil disobedience to a degree this country had never before seen. He worked for racial parity and desegregation, something the Bible definitely does not advocate. He worked tirelessly to end an unjust war. The war he wanted to fight was against poverty and the disparate treatment of human beings in American society. That war, at least, was a noble one.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, if not one of the greatest orators in all of American history. His work was rewarded with international acclaim and he was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize because of it. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Four people have federal holidays in their honor: two of them were presidents, one is popularly credited with “discovering” the continent, and the fourth is Dr. King. Could he have done this work without being a minister? Absolutely. Unequivocally. Does he deserve the acclaim he has received? Without a doubt, yes. But not for being a minister. He deserves every accolade he has ever received because of what he did for race relations in the United States 100 years after the Civil War, and for using his popularity and influence to end a horrifically unjust war and to advocate for human rights.
Dr. King didn’t teach Americans the Bible. He taught us something much more important: that all men must be treated equally and fairly. We would certainly appreciate it if the religious right would demonstrate that they understand that lesson.
13. We shouldn’t have to wait for another bombing or mass shooting before a school assembly prays again.
When that next bombing or mass school shooting happens, we still shouldn’t pray – at least, not in school and not as part of a government-sponsored event. Prayer won’t undo it, prayer won’t prevent it, and prayer won’t stop it mid-horror.
Do we really lack so much creativity as a society that we cannot devise another way to honor the dead or mark a tragedy without thanking God for it? Do we really think a prayer will stop malicious and crazy people from socially aberrant behavior? If so, church shootings wouldn’t happen, and legislatures wouldn’t have to make church-goers feel safer by allowing them to carry weapons to Sunday services. And isn’t it ironic that we thank a god for such monstrous atrocities and celebrate the deaths of those killed by saying they’ve been “called home” to that deity? How screwed up is that, anyway?
And this leads us back to good old Epicurus (341 BCE – 270 BCE), another philosopher roughly contemporaneous with the scribes of Leviticus:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then why is there evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
14. We should not have to care about the rights of minorities in public schools.
There is so much insensitivity in this statement that my mind nearly boggled. The majority rules when votes are counted for candidates. When the candidate elected by the majority takes his oath of office, though, he represents everyone, not just those who elected him, and he owes a duty to everyone, not just those who elected him.
We do not operate our society by doing what the majority of people want to do just because the majority want it done. We also look at the public policy behind doing things, the ramifications of doing them, and the overall effect on society.
We also don’t squash the little guy under our heels just because he is poor, speaks a different language, is mentally handicapped, physically challenged, from another country, homosexual, short, illiterate, fat, old, sick, red-haired, of a different racial derivation than we are, of a different religious persuasion, or for any other reason. It’s just plain wrong. When will the Christian right get this through their thick skulls? Seriously, what jackasses!
15. FFRF wanted graduation stopped.
One of the reasons the uber-conservative media is so good at persuading its watchers and listeners that the boogeyman is at the door is because when the truth doesn’t suit them, they change the facts to fit their narrative.
They make us refute their fake facts, and thereby deprive us of the time to make our points. To borrow a phrase from Christopher Moore, this is heinous fuckery most foul. If you have to lie to make your point, you obviously have a crappy argument to begin with. Go home. You’ve forfeited the game.
17. God calls the light day and the darkness night and no one can change that because it’s an order from god.
If you listen closely at this point in the segment, you can detect that I nearly laughed out loud here. I apologize for the audible derisive snort. I couldn’t help it. I did, however, have considerable empathy at that moment with David Silverman’s conversation with Bill O’Reilly about the reason for tidal forces. Evidently the good Reverend Hunt is a flat-earther who does not understand the earth’s rotation or heliocentrism. He thinks it gets light and dark because God says so. We’ll just ignore the fact that we have night and day for the same basic reason as we have high and low tides: gravity.
After all, gravity is just a theory.
18. It is resolved, that if the Constitution allows the pledge, which contains a prayer, then it is resolved that all prayer should be allowed in schools.
Well, he was almost right. It is definitely resolved that prayer is not permitted in schools. Engel v. Vitale, remember? But what isn’t resolved is whether or not the words “under God” make the pledge tantamount to a prayer. The atheist that is me thinks it does, and the religious guy that is Reverend Hunt thinks it does. Therefore, the pledge is a prayer and pursuant to the precedent set by Engel v. Vitaleand pursuant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the pledge shouldn’t be recited any more than the Lord’s Prayer should be.
19. Religion never changes.
The delegates to Vatican II would be interested to learn of this.
So would Martin Luther, who kicked off a pretty serious change in Christianity by tacking those 95 theses to the door of that Wittenberg Church back in 1517. (Okay, fine, so the church door thing may be a bit of a myth. But the invention of the printing press did a heck of a lot to change Christianity because that’s how word of the 95 theses got liberally sprinkled throughout Germany and the rest of Europe.)
In fact, I think the attendees of the Council of Nicea – you know, the meeting at which the books of scripture were either included or jettisoned from what we now call the Bible and the meeting at which the Jesus character was determined to be a god – would find the Rev. Hunt’s assertion patently ludicrous, as would those who attended the other thirteen major ecumenical councils of the last two millennia.
I wonder if Rev. Hunt has a Christmas tree? My money says he is clueless about its pagan roots or somehow thinks no religion changed to accommodate that tradition.
20. Jesus said always to pray and not to think.
Herein lies the biggest problem with religion. “Don’t think,” religious leaders tell us. “Just believe what you’re told.” A gullible, uneducated, ignorant populace is all too willing to accept any popular authority that purports to explain their world.
“You’ve got to have faith,” they say.
I have plenty of faith. I have faith that the sun will rise, because every morning it does, and because scientists have provided a reasonable, testable, consistently provable reason for it happening. I have faith that gravity won’t stop working, for the same reason. I even have faith that my computer will post this little rant when I hit a certain combination of keys – because it’s happened before, because it happens consistently and reliably when I hit those keys, and because there is some computer scientist person who knows how and why it happens. I don’t know how or why, and I don’t pretend to understand it, but because it works reliably and consistently with predictable results, I am satisfied that there is a reasonable explanation for it. It might feel like magic to me, because I just say (type) my incantation and poke my fingers at the right buttons and watch it happen – again and again. But I know people who not only understand why it works, but can tell me why it has stopped working, fix it, and make it work again. Reliably and consistently.
That’s the kind of thing I can have faith in.
21. The word that God gives Christians is in Psalms 1.
Wait wait wait wait wait. Wasn’t the Book of Psalms compiled a long time before the guy who started the whole Christianity thing? Hasn’t the god of the Christians failed to utter one single word to them since that dude’s alleged death in the early first century CE? (Well, except for like, the Book of Mormon, but those people are in a cult and not really Christians, right?) I mean, I thought most of the Psalms were attributed to King David, who lived a full millenium before the Jesus character.
Of course, Christians use the Old Testament, too. But since Christianity hadn’t been invented at the time of the composition of the first Psalm (there’s that old religion changing thing again), it would seem that the Christian god might – just might – not have been talking to Christians back then.
22. God’s law is higher than Constitutional law.
Not in the United States of America, it isn’t.
In fact, the original language of the Constitution never once mentions or even refers to any deity or creator. The only time religion is mentioned at all is in the First Amendment, which says government is to keep its hands off religion. The government can’t tell us how to practice religion and can’t tell us not to practice religion. It also can’t tell us that we must practice religion.
This is not Indonesia, Iran, or Saudi Arabia. We do not have to believe in any gods at all, and no one can tell us what version of which of the 3500+ gods man has ever worshipped that we should worship.
And just to make sure that foreign governments were aware of this, John Adams, this country’s second president, included in the Treaty of Tripoli an affirmation of the secular nature of the American government with the following language in the Treaty of Tripoli, which was duly ratified – unanimously – by Congress in 1797:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
23. If we say “under God” in the pledge at school, we are obligated to continue praying in schools so as not to be hypocritical.
Fine. I won’t say the Pledge, either. Not that I have since I was in elementary school and thought I had to. Actually, I stopped saying the pledge before I was out of elementary school, because by about 5th grade I had had it with religion and with the “because I said so” reasons that I was given for really just about anything. Plus, I thought it was stupid and meaningless to pledge my undying devotion to a piece of cloth. If any piece of cloth could be that important, it would have been the old pink blanket I used to drag around the house when I was a little kid. At least that ratty old thing gave me some comfort and kept me warm.
Rev. Hunt should keep in mind that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have to say the pledge, either, because doing so violates the rules of their religion. Neither does anyone else who doesn’t want to, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 1943 ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.
We’re back to that “free exercise” thing that necessarily goes hand-in-hand with the “disestablishment” thing, and the “freedom of speech” thing that necessarily implies freedom of conscience.
We are free to reject religion, to follow our own consciences, and we are free not to have to submit to someone else’s religion.
These are the people who consistently vote against their best interest, and are completely immune to the cognitive dissonance that rational people encounter when they attempt to hold diametrically opposed opinions in the same brain. They want to repeal Obamacare because socialized medicine is bad, while protecting Medicare because socialized medicine is good. They want the incredibly rich to get ever larger tax breaks, even though the very rich pay proportionately less than they – the working and middle class – do. They actually believe the obvious bullshit of the ultra-rich Romneys and Koch brothers of the world, who promise they would be creating oodles of jobs (Really!) if not for the unduly burdensome 13% or less that they now pay in taxes. They are the same people who are completely in favor of the death penalty, but anti-abortion no matter what the reason.
They support defunding government grants for poor students, since only snobs want their kids to be educated. The budget proposal put forth by Paul Ryan, the new star of Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket, would not only reduce the size of Pell grants and even eliminate access to them for tens of thousands of students, but would have cut the Head Start program to ribbons, too. Education? Our kids don’t need no stinkin’ education! We can compete with the educated workforce of countries like Sweden, Japan and Germany without all that schooling. It doesn’t take education to know stuff.
Just ask U.S. Senate candidate, and current U.S. Congressman, Todd Akin (R-Mo). He knows stuff. Akin is the guy who has been all over the news in the last couple of days because of his cocksure knowledge that “legitimate rape” doesn’t result in pregnancy. He knows this because “doctors” told him. In his interview with Charles Jaco on a St. Louis television broadcast, Akin said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole [conception] thing down.” (If you want the full context, watch the full interview. The abortion comments are in the second video, and start at 1:54.)
There are about 32,000 women in America who are now relieved to know that the rape by which they were impregnated last year wasn’t “legitimate” rape. They can now conclude that despite the non-consensual nature of that sexual congress, they actually enjoyed it. And that’s good news for this year’s approximately 32,000 impregnated victims of non-consensual sex, too. Thank you, Congressman Akin, for your words of comfort. All those women can stop going to therapy now that they realize that they weren’t really traumatized at all. That’ll save a bundle on their health care costs, seeing as how your party would prefer not to insure these women’s health, either.
To be fair, Akin did say that he misspoke. He meant to say “forcible” rape, not “legitimate” rape. Because non-consensual sex with a drunk college student isn’t really rape, whether or not she’s cognizant of what’s happening. And it’s totally not rape if the parties are married, even if they happen to be going through a divorce. It’s not rape if one partner is under the age of consent, because children who have sex know what they are getting into and are making an intelligent, informed decisions about it. Especially children who have had abstinence-only sex education.
Oops. No. I’m wrong. It’s God stuff, not science stuff. Totally my bad. Sorry.
Where better to look than to God for guidance on, well, everything? Now, God doesn’t speak out loud, or even very clearly, but fortunately he wrote his completely unclear directions down for us. Reading the Bible for instruction on life is tantamount to reading the instructions from Ikea, except that once you’re done with the Ikea instructions you have a piece of furniture that either wobbles, or doesn’t. Reading the Bible is tougher, so fortunately we have crowds of really, really smart preachers to tell us exactly what God actually meant when he dictated those mystifying instructions. Now, a disturbing number of those really, really smart preachers, especially the fundamentalist ones, haven’t been to college, much less seminary, but they can read Elizabethan English and understand it just fine because they’re touched by God. Yes, we’re back to the refrain of “We don’t need no education.” Thank you, Pink Floyd.
The Bible is crystal clear about when life begins, if by “crystal” you mean “obsidian.” If you don’t believe me, check out the Open Bible site, which has all the references its author deems relevant gathered carefully in one place. You can even vote for which verses make things clearest for you. Of the 40 or so verses excerpted from various English translations of the Bible (we know God meant the Bible to be in English), I found two that were absolutely on point and helpful. Oddly, they were the same verse, just in slightly different translation: Exodus 21:22-24, which says that if a bunch of men get together and hit a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, then they either get fined as the husband sees fit, or they get punished to the same extent that the woman was injured. Go ahead and click the link on that verse. Read it in multiple English translations. If you know other languages, read the translation in other languages, too. Now you tell me which one is the best translation, given your expertise in ancient Hebrew.
Now, just for funsies, look at the rest of Chapter 21 of Exodus. It’s all relevant and pertinent to life today, isn’t it? So it makes perfect sense to use it as our go-by.
The homepage of Akin’s campaign website opens with a religious statement that puts the cart before the horse:
First, I want to give thanks to God our Creator who has blessed this campaign, heard your prayers, and answered them with victory. Through the months we have seen frequent instances of His blessing and are reminded that with Him all things are possible!
Evidently he credits prayer and divine intervention with his success in the Republican primary rather than the hard work of his supporters. I suppose that makes sense, seeing as how his list of endorsers lean heavily toward leaders of conservative Christian religious institutions. (Surely there’s no impermissible politicking going on in the churches those endorsers represent. Surely. Because that would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of those churches.)
This situation with Rep. Akin demonstrates exactly why I have a huge problem with politicians using an inconsistently translated collection of Bronze Age “wisdom” to guide modern government policy. This situation, among others, is why I advocate, agitate, and get politically active – not to mention write passionate blog posts – when elected officials decide it’s okay to blur the lines between church and state. It’s also why I get cheesed off when people want to base their lives on a book of superstitious tales and ancient customs we no longer observe.
When we allow our leaders to cherry-pick verses of this collection of ancient manuscripts, we set ourselves up to go back to that time. Me, I’d rather live in a world of universal health care than a world of leper colonies and plagues. And if that makes me a socialist, then I am a proud socialist.
Furthermore, when a page of platitudes masquerades as “clearly the Bible says life starts at conception,” then I think it’s way beyond time our elementary schools taught critical thinking and logic to children – because if their parents buy the crap on that page as “proof” of anything, they won’t teach their kids to think at home or anywhere else.
Apparently what makes a human different from other living creatures is that we have a soul. How religious people can tell whether we have a soul, and how they know animals do not, remains an insurmountable mystery. Science cannot say when the soul comes into existence, since there is no evidence that such a thing as a “soul” even exists. But ignoramuses like Todd Akin want to legislate matters pertaining to women’s health based on their Bronze Age “wisdom” without any proof whatsoever. If we permit this to happen, we will get the same draconian laws as places like the Dominican Republic, where pregnant teenagers are denied chemotherapy because the life-saving treatment might harm a 13-week old fetus. Yeah, that happened.
The problem is ignorance, lack of education, and reliance on “facts” gleaned from questionable translations of Bronze Age texts.
The problem is that people with no more background in science that this Akin clown sit on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Presumably he would know something about science if he’s sitting on a major legislative committee devoted to it. Of course, his Bible-based philosophies are contravened by science, so he cannot possibly wrap his head around them. Like that other ignorant politician who attempted to speak about a subject he knew nothing about, Akin apparently believes that women are a series of tubes, tubes that can easily be rerouted just by the nature of forced intercourse, to prevent unwanted pregnancies.