Archive for the ‘God and government’ category

“we are Christians and patriots”

July 12, 2007

And jerks:

A Hindu clergyman made history Thursday by offering the U.S. Senate’s morning prayer, but only after police officers removed three shouting protesters from the visitors’ gallery.

Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple, gave the brief prayer that opens each day’s Senate session. As he stood at the chamber’s podium in a bright orange and burgundy robe, two women and a man began shouting “this is an abomination” and other complaints from the gallery.

Police officers quickly arrested them and charged them with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. The male protester told an Associated Press reporter, “we are Christians and patriots” before police handcuffed them and led them away.

Lest you think this is just a few nutcases . . .

For several days, the Mississippi-based American Family Association has urged its members to object to the prayer because Zed would be “seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god.”

See, that’s the thing about eliminating the wall of separation: you never know who is going cross the boundary. Much better, I think, to let the government perform it’s duties without any civic religion.

KS: Local Muslims Oppose BBQ On Fridays

July 6, 2007

Here’s the story:

A belief that [Fridays] “should be set aside for the worship of God” is the reason a spokesman for a coalition of [Mosques] and other [Muslims] in Wichita, Kansas, says they made a strong push to finish obtaining enough signatures yesterday to turn in a petition opposing their city’s [Friday Pork BBQ] sales. . . .

“It’s a moral issue,” claims [Mullah] Moore. “It is [Friday]. I don’t think that [BBQ] stores should be open on [Friday], because [Friday] is a day of worship …. it’s a day of rest.”

O.K., so I changed a few things, but nothing material.

ACLU: “American Taliban” or True Patriots?

July 5, 2007

Of course, the real American Taliban is all over this:

Unless a federal judge orders it down, an icon of Jesus holding biblical quotations about justice will stay up in the [Slidell, La] city court lobby, a judge said Saturday.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it will take the court to court unless the icon and a plaque below it reading “To Know Peace, Obey These Laws” are removed by Monday.

And the Mayor of Slidell’s incredibly ridiculous reaction sounds like it came straight from the mouth of Roy Moore or one of his sycophants:

Mayor Ben Morris said he was ready to fight. “I fight daily with FEMA for the recovery of our city, and now we must fight with these tyrants, this American Taliban who seek to destroy our culture and our heritage,” he said.

Let me get this straight, Mayor. You want to give official government endorsement to a particular type of Christianity, while the ACLU wants to force the government to be neutral in all matters religious, yet it’s the ACLU who is the Taliban? If that’s how it is, let’s just stop talking right now, because words have no meaning.

As for the “our culture and our heritage” thing, the picture is a reproduction of a 16th Century Russian Orthodox painting in which Jesus is holding a Russian Bible, hence this reply from a fellow Louisiana blogger:

“Our culture and our heritage”? What heritage?!! Our Russian Orthodox heritage!? No one knew what the hell the words on the portrait even meant, and now everyone is going apenuts! People were being instructed, in the courthouse, to “obey” laws written in a language they didn’t understand, yet when someone complains and wants the picture removed, the judges and mayors raise hell about how “our” sacred “culture” is being destroyed.

As another La Blogger says, it’s a good thing for the mayor that

the ACLU respects your right to spout off like an idiot…

Seriously, though, I understand people who wonder why anyone would get irritated at a silly painting, especially if no-one can even read it. It does seem like de minimis harm.

I happen to think otherwise. I would not want to go to court and have to look at a picture of Muhammad telling me to obey his rules. Hence, I’m not going to make anyone look at pictures of my God. The golden rule, and all that.

But still, even if I thought this was a de minimis injury, I’d be happy that the ACLU was suing the city (and others who do similar stuff). Why? Mostly because the ACLU’s fights in these little cases are what prevents big problems. In other words, because government officials know that doing something as innocuous as putting up a ten commandments monument in a park can lead to a lawsuit, those same officials are very unlikely to do something really crazy like mandating church attendance. Or to put the same thing another way, if no one opposed Roy Moore and his types in these government religious display cases, what do suppose their next idea would be?

We enjoy religious freedom not because our government officials are wise and good. We enjoy it because people like those with the ACLU have the courage to fight for it.

God Beats Football!

May 17, 2007

At the high school level anyway:

The Hoover High football team’s appearance in a nationally televised event is in jeopardy, thanks to a ruling by the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

A unanimous vote by the AHSAA Central Board of Control on Wednesday denied the Bucs’ request to play in a Sept.2 game that is part of the third annual Kirk Herbstreit Ohio vs. USA Challenge.

The reason? The game falls on a Sunday.

The Labor Day Weekend matchup of Hoover vs. Ohio power Colerain High was set to be aired live on ESPN2. The kickoff was slated for 12:37 p.m. at Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati.

Sunday is a day of worship,” said Dan Washburn, the AHSAA executive director, when citing the reason for denying Hoover’s application to play an out-of-state opponent.

There is no specific written rule that prohibits games from being played on a Sunday, Washburn said, but it is “policy established through practice.”

First, kids, do you know what “arbitrary and capricious” means? If not, the lawsuit will enlighten you.

Second, even if there was an actual rule prohibiting games on Sunday, Mr. Washburn pretty much just guaranteed that the rule is unconstitutional. My basic understanding is that “blue laws” – laws prohibiting activities on Sunday – are constiutional so long as they have a secular purpose. If, though, the purpose is to promote church going – as Mr. Washburn just proudly announced – the law violates the First Amendment.

But even if it doesn’t violate the first amendment, it’s a dumb rule. The title to Kathy’s post says it best: “Good Thing There’s No Jewish Kids on the Team.” To put the same thing another way, I don’t want to have to give up my activities so that someone else can worship Allah, so I’m not going to make anyone else curtail their lives so that I can go to Mass.

Why is it so hard to understand that not everyone holds the same religious beliefs?

“God Hates Jerry Falwell”

May 16, 2007


Nothing I can add to that. But here’s a list of his life’s work if you’re wondering what led to Falwell’s condemnation.

Oh, and if you want a different perspective, here’s Tinky Winky’s Falwell eulogy.

UPDATE: Jesus’ General links here with “The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways.” And so to does the blogosphere. Act in mysterious ways, that is, as this post – one absent any commentary or insight (and needing none; the insanity speaking for itself) – had already become my all time most visited, even without all the guests referred by the General.

Christian Propoganda Week

May 9, 2007

Bessemer Opinions reports:

Today the Alabama House Education Policy Committee will take up HB482, the Christian heritage bill. This piece of legislation would designate the first scholastic week in November each year as Christian Heritage Week in public K-12 schools and would require daily instruction during that week on the influence of Christianity on the history and heritage of the United States. House Bill 482 singles out the influence that the Christian religion has had on our history and heritage.

That sounds innocuous enough. No one would deny that the Christian religion has influenced the development of our country, and any history class that neglected to incorporate things like the great awakening would be incomplete. But the bill looks to me like the goal is propogandizing Christianity, not encouraging serious academic study.

As Joe points out the whole thing is filled with misstatements, errors, and omissions. Most of the factual “findings” are dubious, at best. I’ll just point out two things that clearly demonstrate the bias of the bill.

First (emphasis added):

(7) The individual liberties and freedoms America has are based on Christian principles and freedom sought by founders who left the Old World to avoid religious persecution. Such Christian principles provide the basis for the freedom of religion that Americans enjoy without being required to subscribe to any particular religion or belief.

The religious freedom we enjoy today is most certainly NOT based on what the initial colonists brought with them to the new world. As Ed Brayton explains about the Massachusets colony, the folks who left the old world to escape religious persecution came here and immediately began . . . religious persecution:

The laws of this colony were set out in a document called the Body of Liberties, written by Nathaniel Ward in 1641. The first 93 laws are actually a list of rights and privileges, some of them drawn from the Magna Carta and similar to later guarantees in the US Constitution – due process, the right to appeal, etc. The section on Capital Laws begins with #94 and wastes no time in showing that what was established was not a free society but a brutal theocracy:

(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20) If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

Contrast this with the first amendment guarantee of religious freedom. Or with the actual words of the founding fathers, which was strongly against such theocratic barbarism. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia:

[O]ur rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

And that’s hardly the only such law. Indeed, the first three laws prescribe death for religious offenses:

(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.) If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

Nor was this hypothetical. 19 “witches” were indeed put to death there in the famous Salem trials, and lots of Quakers, Baptists and others were put to death or imprisoned for religious offenses – and that’s just for being the wrong brand of Christian, forget being Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or – God forbid – atheist.

It is either amazing ignorance or shocking dishonesty to say, as does this bill, that we owe our religious freedom to the Christian ideas of the early colonists and yet fail to mention the brutal theocracy established in many of those colonies. What we enjoy today is the exact opposite of what most of those early colonists practiced. No doubt men like Roger Williams and William Penn drew on their own Christian experience to establish truly free societies, but they were the exception, not the rule. Any fair treatment of the subject must admit the obvious: The early colonies were NOT havens of religious freedom.

Now the second example of misrepresentation:

(9) Many historical events are directly related to Christian principles. For example, when America suffered with the abomination of slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed in 1868 removing this blight on American history and a minister of the Gospel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., brought to fruition the Fourteenth Amendment’s equality of man. Similarly, other historical events relating to the protection of our individual rights have been formed and result from the understanding of Christian principles expressed in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible.

That is stunningly biased. Of course Christian faith motivated many abolitionists in the 19th century and many civil rights leaders in the 20th century. But Christian faith also motivated many slavery and segregation proponents.

Here’s what the Southern Baptist Convention said of itself when apologizing for it’s racist past:

WHEREAS, Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and

WHEREAS, Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery; and

WHEREAS, In later years Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans; and . . .

They weren’t an anomaly, either. Christian racism drove the laws of the day. Consider the ideas justifying things like anti-miscegenation laws:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

It is revisionism of the worst kind to say that Christian ideas led to equal rights for blacks but then fail to mention that Christian ideas also supported slavery and segregation.

In sum, regardless of how disputable the rest of the bill’s findings are, these two parts of the bill are so egregiously biased that any honest person must seriously doubt the motives behind the bill. If the goal was encouraging serious academic debate, I would wholeheartedly support it. But the goal appears to be propagandizing the Christian faith: The bill baldly asserts particular positive contributions while completely ignoring all the negatives.

Every honest legislator will oppose this bill.

“But it would hurt my feelings to see a Schlitz truck on the property.”

May 1, 2007

No kidding, that’s the reason Richard McElyea, a member of a Church of Christ congregation in Athens, wants the Athens city council to prohibit a grocery store near the church from selling alcohol.

And listen to this blowhard:

“You [the Athens City Council] represent the citizens who also did not vote for alcohol sales,” said Edward Gooch, preacher at Isom’s Chapel United Methodist Church. “You have to consider there is a higher law. What would God have you do?”

One, I think God would tell you that if your biggest problem is that a store next to you sells alcohol, you’ve got a lot to thank him for.

Two, what God thinks has absolutely nothing to do with what the council ought to do. Sure, Rev. Gooch, your idea of God might not like alcohol sales, but mine does. Who’s right? This side of eternity, and maybe even then, no-one can know. So here’s the deal, let’s leave everyone’s ideas about God out of discussions about public policy and instead rely on objective facts and sound reasoning.  

Government And Sheep

April 30, 2007

Sheep and shepherds were the subject of the readings in yesterday’s mass, in particular, Jesus saying this:

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

That’s a fine image if applied to God’s relationship to people, or a parent’s relationship to his kids. But when the deacon prayed something like:

And may all government leaders remember to treat the people as a sheperd does his sheep,

I did not respond with “Lord, hear our prayer.”

I kept silent, because I think the shepherd-sheep image is a very bad way of looking at the relationship between government and citizens. In my view, government does not exist to meet all my needs, protect me from all harms, and raise me to be an obedient little sheep. No, it exists to do the bare minimum necessary to keep us all from killing each other. That’s it.

Unfortunately, my view is not the dominant view. Or even a popular view, as I am reminded by this story in the paper today:

State Rep. Pat Moore, R-Pleasant Grove, says some of her friends have been hurt as back-seat passengers of vehicles involved in accidents.

That’s one reason she’s sponsoring a bill that would require occupants of of a car, pickup truck, van or other motor vehicle, including people in a back seat, to wear a seat belt while the vehicle is moving.

“We need to be as secure as we can in the car, so that if it does suddenly stop, or there’s an accident, we’re protected more,” Moore said.

Right. This is the Shepherd-sheep mentality. The sheep – Moore’s friends and the rest of us – are too stupid to take care of themselves, hence the good shepherd – Moore – will protect us from ourselves.

Give me a break. I realize the costs of this legislation won’t be high, but still, doesn’t anyone care that Moore is telling us we are too stupid to act in our own best interests?

How Do You Spell Hypocrite?

April 19, 2007

The Thomas More Law Center.

In you are unfamiliar with these folks, they’ve got a lot in common with Roy Moore, being fervent defenders of the state’s power to display the ten commandments:

The Thomas More Law Center announced Monday, December 13th [2004] that it has filed a friend of the court brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of Ten Commandments displays on public property.

So if state or local governments want to endorse Christianity, that’s all well and good. But what if some other religion wants to put its symbol on public property? All that stuff about acknowledging god and religious freedom goes out the window:

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that followers of the Summum faith can display their Seven Aphorisms in Duchesne and Pleasant Grove city parks that already hold monuments of the Ten Commandments. 

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the parks are public forums, and restrictions on speech based solely on its content are forbidden except in narrow circumstances. 

The two decisions overturned rulings by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson that blocked Summum’s proposed monuments. In the Pleasant Grove case, the court said requiring the city to permit display of Summum’s tenets will further free speech. 

Salt Lake City attorney Brian Barnard, who represented Summum in both cases, applauded the rulings. “It’s a good day for the First Amendment,” he said. 

Pleasant Grove City Attorney Tina Peterson and Duchesne Mayor Clint Park declined comment Tuesday. They referred questions to Edward White III, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan, which is helping defend the municipalities against the Summum lawsuits.

The blatant double standard gets worse. Guess who succesfully argued in a previous case that these same two cities – Pleasant Grove and Duchesne – had the power to put up the Ten Comandmanets momument? I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count, because this ought to be obvious:

In a ruling released yesterday, Federal District Judge Dee Benson held that Duchesne City, Utah, acted constitutionally when it sold land on which a Ten Commandments monument sits to keep from having to remove it. This is the second case within the past five months in which two public interest law firms, the Thomas More Law Center and the American Center for Law and Justice, have collaborated as co-counsel to prevent the removal of Ten Commandment Monuments in Utah.

The Duchesne decision comes within five months after another federal judge ruled in favor of Pleasant Grove City, Utah, allowing a separate Ten Commandments monument to remain on public property. The two public interest law firms acted as co-counsel in that case as well.

That blows my mind. It would be one thing to argue that there could be no religious displays in public property; or that the city must allow all religions equal access. Either of those options would be, I think, constitutional and a good idea. But to argue that a city gets to pick and choose which religions are allowed and which are not? How do these guys sleep at night?

Then again, despite the title to this post, they probably are not hypocrites. The TMLC is pretty open about their belief that the government can only endorse Christian beliefs:

The Thomas More Law Center affirms the right of Christians to publicly practice their religion and freely express their religious beliefs.

And that is exactly what they did in these two Utah towns: Fight for the right of Christians to publicly practice their religion, everyone else be damned.

BTW, here’s a link to the 10th Circuit’s decisions.

“Bong Hits For Jesus”

March 20, 2007

As you are all well aware by now, I’m sure, Scotus heard oral arguments yesterday in this case:

Joseph Frederick, was an 18-year-old senior in 2002 when the torch for the Winter Olympics was scheduled to pass in front of [his] high school. Frederick was standing on a public street as the TV cameras came into range. He and several other students then unfurled the 14-foot banner that said, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”

The school’s principal, Deborah Morse, ripped it away from the students and sent Frederick to the office. She planned to suspend him for five days, but when he invoked Thomas Jefferson and the 1st Amendment, she doubled the suspension to 10 days.

Frederick sued, alleging Morse had violated his constitutional rights.

I used to be one of those Roy Moore types who wanted the government to enforce my religious beliefs. As you all know, though, that is no longer my view, and this case is a good example of why I think the long term interests of religious folks are better served by civil libertarians than by authoritarian conservatives.

The student’s argument is simple: Schools have no authority to regulate the content of student speech. Here’s the school’s argument, one supported by George Bush, and probably by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia:

The Solicitor General, along with the school, has argued that primary and secondary public schools ought to be permitted to engage in viewpoint discrimination and restrict student speech whenever the “message” conveyed by the student is “inconsistent with the school’s basic educational mission.” So, for instance, on this view a school could discipline a student for engaging in any advocacy of unlawful conduct, or expression of a message inconsistent with the teachings of the school itself, at least where such teachings are “central to a school’s basic educational mission.”

It does not take much imagination to realize what incredible powers that rule would give to schools. That power would have led to a resolution in this case that most religious folks would applaud: Silencing what appears to be a pro-drug or anti-religion message. Pope Benedict, for one, would certainly side with the school and President Bush, given his view that freedom of speech does not protect statements that insult a person’s religious beliefs.

But that power to silence dissident speech would extend far beyond this particular case, as many conservative religious folks have realized:

While it is hardly surprising to find the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship on Mr. Frederick’s side, it is the array of briefs from organizations that litigate and speak on behalf of the religious right that has lifted Morse v. Frederick out of the realm of the ordinary.

The groups include the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson; the Christian Legal Society; the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization based in Arizona that describes its mission as “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth”; the Rutherford Institute, which has participated in many religion cases before the court; and Liberty Legal Institute, a nonprofit law firm “dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights and religious freedom.”  . . .

The briefs from the conservative religious organizations depict the school environment as an ideological battleground. The Christian Legal Society asserts that its law school chapters “have endured a relentless assault by law schools intolerant of their unpopular perspective on the morality of homosexual conduct or the relevance of religious belief.”

The American Center for Law and Justice brief, filed by its chief counsel, Jay Alan Sekulow, warns that public schools “face a constant temptation to impose a suffocating blanket of political correctness upon the educational atmosphere.”

The groups are worried because a school could very easily define its “educational mission” as something involving “tolerance,” “inclusion,” “openness,” or some other meaningless buzz word, and then use that mission statement to silence, for example, a student who wears a shirt condemning homosexuality.

We would probably have the opposite problem in Alabama. What do you suppose someone like Gerald Allen or Roy Moore would come up with for a school’s educational mission?

The point is that once the authorities have the right to impose orthodoxy from above, whether you enjoy freedom or not depends on who those authorities are. There is no guarantee they will always be folks who see the world the same way you do. 

On one day it would be hateful and punishable to argue against gay marriage, on the next day students who supported marriage equality would be suspended. Maybe this semester it is fine and dandy to question the wisdom of the drug war, but next semester doing so earns the student a three day vacation. In one town, students could not wear shirts saying things like “Turn or Burn,” while another municipality forbids proclamations like “Jesus saves, he shoots, he scores!”

Freedom should not blow with the wind. In my view, it’s much better to strictly limit the authority of state actors to regulate speech, even in schools. That way no matter who is in charge, folks can say whatever the heck they want to say. If I can’t punish people for disagreeing with me, than no-one can punish me for disagreeing with them.


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