Toward an Independent Freethought Media

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of independent, non-profit news media. I contribute free arts coverage to the Twin Cities Daily Planet. I host Atheists Talk. I love MinnPost and The UpTake.

So why is independent news media so important? There are two big reasons in my book. The first is that there isn’t the same pressure to conform to the political agenda of corporate owners. In a de facto oligarchy like ours, this is critical. The other reason is that, without the pressure for profit, these organizations can focus on smaller audiences and stories. Rather than being all things to all people, they can cater to their niche…assuming that niche can support their work.

Jamila Bey is hoping her niche–us–can support her ambitious project. She also has the best project description I’ve seen. [Read more...]

Minnesota Nonbelievers, Your Opinions Please

Minnesota law, like most states’ laws, restrict who can “solemnize” a marriage–certify to the state that a legal marriage has occurred after whatever type of formalities are deemed appropriate. Here is Minnesota’s current list of people who can be authorized to solemnize marriages (section 517.04 of Minnesota law):

Civil marriages may be solemnized throughout the state by an individual who has attained the age of 21 years and is a judge of a court of record, a retired judge of a court of record, a court administrator, a retired court administrator with the approval of the chief judge of the judicial district, a former court commissioner who is employed by the court system or is acting pursuant to an order of the chief judge of the commissioner’s judicial district, the residential school administrators of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind, a licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination, or by any mode recognized in section 517.18. For purposes of this section, a court of record includes the Office of Administrative Hearings under section 14.48.

Section 517.18 is a list of special provisions for groups that don’t recognize their traditions (or may be at risk of the state not recognizing their traditions) under the description “a licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination”:

Subdivision 1. Friends or Quakers. All civil marriages solemnized among the people called Friends or Quakers, in the form heretofore practiced and in use in their meetings, shall be valid and not affected by any of the foregoing provisions. The clerk of the meeting in which such civil marriage is solemnized, within one month after any such civil marriage, shall deliver a certificate of the same to the local registrar of the county where the civil marriage took place, under penalty of not more than $100. Such certificate shall be filed and recorded by the court administrator under a like penalty. If such civil marriage does not take place in such meeting, such certificate shall be signed by the parties and at least six witnesses present, and shall be filed and recorded as above provided under a like penalty.

Subd. 2. Baha’i. Civil marriages may be solemnized among members of the Baha’i faith by the chair of an incorporated local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, according to the form and usage of such society.

Subd. 3. Hindus; Muslims. Civil marriages may be solemnized among Hindus or Muslims by the person chosen by a local Hindu or Muslim association, according to the form and usage of their respective religions.

Subd. 4. American Indians. Civil marriages may be solemnized among American Indians according to the form and usage of their religion by an Indian Mide’ or holy person chosen by the parties to the civil marriage.

Subd. 5. Construction of section. Nothing in subdivisions 2 to 4 shall be construed to alter the requirements of section 517.01, 517.09 or 517.10.

Based on this law and on discussions with lawmakers, we note that there is no way for a non-religious community to be treated equally on this matter. An atheist or secular humanist could become a celebrant by working with a branch of their community identified as religious. For example, humanists have been allowed to perform marriages working through the religious branch of humanism. Ethical Societies identify as religious groups. An atheist group could potentially choose to do the same if its membership were in favor. However, an atheist group that is clear that it is not a “religious denomination” with “licensed or ordained minister[s]” is excluded under the law as it now stands.

Some members of the Minnesota Atheists board (including me) have also talked to lawmakers about options for changing this. And we heard from members and others with very strong opinions about what should be done about the situation, including doing nothing at all.

In response, we’ve put together a very short survey to find out from nonbelievers in Minnesota where they stand on the question. If that description fits you, please, take a few minutes and let us know where you stand. We have an opportunity to represent you on this issue, and we want to know what that means.

Minneapolis 2013 Sample Ballot

This may be the most difficult election for which I create one of these sample ballots. Minneapolis has moved to ranked-choice voting, in which we can vote for up to three candidates and order them by our preference. That’s a different kind of decision-making than picking one person out of a field. It’s more decision-making than in a regular election and more weighing of non-ideal choices. I’ve ranked everyone I consider to be a serious candidate below, even where we can’t vote for that many candidates.

On top of that, this year, our popular, charismatic, and effective mayor, R. T. Rybak, has declined to run again. Into that gap rushed an enormous number of candidates. A caucus earlier this year did not result in an endorsement, so we have 10 Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates. And 25 other candidates. I think. I lost count.

So this has required some serious work just to narrow the field to serious candidates, by which I mean candidates who have the bare minimum indication that their campaign extended beyond paying the filing fee and who have some elected experience. Luckily for me, my friend Naomi Kritzer did most of that work. I got to limit my attention to people who stood some chance of governing if they were elected.

To find out where you vote and what will be on your ballot, go to the Secretary of State’s elections website. Give them your address, and they’ll show you a sample ballot. The ballots look a lot longer this year because first, second, and third choices are all listed separately for the same race. At the bottom of the ballot will be a link for your polling place.

As always, I put my reasoning for my votes online for people who don’t have the resources or time to do their own. If my reasoning doesn’t match yours, at least you have some background. If you want to provide additional background in the comments, feel free.

[Read more...]

But There’s No Theocracy Here

Why did this go as far as a government shutdown? Why is our country once again the laughing stock of the world? As Senator Warren explains, it’s because some members of our House would prefer a theocracy to the democracy we have.

Yes, it’s about the Affordable Care Act, but the specific issue the House Republicans have been using is a religious one.

Allies and Identities

A few days ago, Dave Silverman asked on Twitter for people to define “ally”. The answer, of course, is very simple. An ally is someone who helps us get closer to our shared goals.

And, of course, as with any simple answer, that isn’t a very simple matter at all. Every small part of it is complex. Perhaps the best way to break it apart is to look at what doesn’t constitute an ally. [Read more...]

“That’s Their Problem”

Minnesota Atheists had their monthly public meeting a week ago. PZ was the speaker, talking a little bit about his new book and doing a lengthy Q&A. In response to a question of mine, he admitted to wanting to take over the world.* It was an interesting talk, but the part of the meeting I want to address happened earlier, during the business section.

There’s a legislative change that leaders in MNA have had their eye on for a few years. It was put on the back burner for most of my time with the organization, as marriage equality became a big issue for the state and for us. Now, with those marriages safely and happily happening around us, it’s time to pick the pet issue up again.

One of these days, when there’s a bill looking for sponsors or votes, I’ll want to write about the issue itself. Suffice it to say for now, one of our state laws is written in such a way that it is obvious in one section that Christianity was the default assumption when it was originally written. There are sections of the law that make it inclusive of various other faiths, but nothing making it inclusive of atheists and secular humanists. We want to fix that. [Read more...]

30 Days on the National Atheist Party Board

Little did I know when I posted on Sunday about the Secular Party of America, formerly the National Atheist Party, that information would come to light today fairly conclusively demonstrating voter fraud in the initiative to change the organization’s name. Lee Moore has all the details on his blog. Flash Kellish, VP of PR/Marketing for the party, has confirmed the fraud in comments on Facebook earlier today.

Kim Rippere, president of Secular Woman, was briefly on the party’s board. She tweeted about her experience earlier today, and I offered her a chance to tell her story in a better medium. Below is what she shared with me. Aspects of this also highlight the ad hoc and uncontrolled nature of actions by the party’s board. [Read more...]

It’s Not the Libertarianism

When someone says something particularly dumb about sexual harassment or assault, something that looks like that person is trying to justify doing nothing about the problems, I brace myself. It doesn’t always happen, but frequently these days, someone will pop up to declare that this person must be a libertarian.

Well, no. Not quite. [Read more...]

Very Different Objections to Talking Abortion Rights

Tomorrow,’s Abortion Rights Freedom Ride comes to Minneapolis. This morning, we had Sunsara Taylor on Atheists Talk briefly to tell us about this and about why organizing people around abortion rights is important, even in a state where they’re not being immediately threatened. It’s the first segment in our show.

This afternoon, I sat down to my computer to see two very different reactions to the piece. One was on an atheist, feminist discussion group I’m part of. The other came directly through our radio show email. The difference between the two struck me as incredibly characteristic. [Read more...]


Secular Woman is celebrating its one-year anniversary with a month-long series of posts about abortion.

#ShameLESS, a Campaign to Help End Abortion Stigma

Secular Woman, through its latest project @AbortTheocracy, is launching a new month-long campaign aimed at reducing abortion stigma and encouraging women to talk openly, shamelessly, about their abortion experiences. The campaign is, appropriately, called #ShameLESS. And, in July, we will be sharing your stories about abortion through memes which you can share via social media, as well as articles on abortion and reproductive health and rights throughout the month.

This campaign is a response to the fact that even though approximately one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, many women are silent and ashamed about their abortion. When we are silent we are alone.  It is possible that the women sitting next to you has had an abortion and never told their sister, mother, best friend, or anyone – this collective silence disempowers and isolates us.  Just as domestic abuse victims were alone and isolated in the 1970s before talking about abuse became more acceptable. When women find their voice and use it to tell their lived experiences they change our lives, the lives of future women, and society.

Abortion is a medical procedure, and, like other medical procedures, a woman and her doctor should be making the decision without interference or intervention from religious groups or any governmental legislative body. One of our goals for this year is to “advocate for women’s bodily autonomy and sovereignty”; this campaign is an integral part of that.

This campaign will launch with a story from the co-founder, Kim Rippere who says, “I am Shameless and I’m ready to tell my story.” Storytelling is a powerful force for change, with each story told this month another woman will find her voice and other women will be empowered to be #ShameLESS and unafraid.

The campgaign started yesterday with its first story, “Without Regret“.

Do you have your own abortion story to share, to help free others from unreasonable shame? Contact Secular Woman or write it up yourself and tweet it on the #ShameLESS hashtag.