This is not just a war on women

This isn’t just a war on women, it’s a war on dignity, it’s a war on common decency, it’s a war on the GOP’s own conservative principles.  When someone accuses liberals of being smug and turning our country into a “nanny state”, ask them which party thinks women are too stupid to make their own decisions about their body.

Ask them which party thinks a woman needs a sonogram, an intravaginal ultrasound, a lecture, and a 72-hour waiting period to be able to make a choice about their body.

This is not just a war on women, it’s a war against progress, it’s a war against economic recovery, it’s a war of obstructionism. It’s a war for gaining political points instead of actually helping people.

In 2011, there were 1100 bills about reproductive rights introduced at the state level; 135 passed.  So far this year, 45 states have considered 944 bills about reproductive rights.  Tell me, which of these bills created a job?  These jaded conservatives don’t think all of these bills will pass, they just want to prevent anyone else from actually governing.

Nikki Haley was almost right — women don’t care ONLY about contraception — so give us our rights so that you can get on with real legislation.

Women are not doing OK.  Our unemployment rate has stayed stagnate in the past three years.  88% of the jobs in the recovery have gone to men.  The rate of poverty for women is over 25% higher than that of men.  In South Carolina, we still make only 76 cents to the dollar.

This is not just a war on women, this is a war on the first amendment — on freedom of speech, on freedom of religion.

This is a war trying to force the Christian version of Sharia law into our secular constitution.

This is a war trying to make it so the 1960s never happened.  To take the US back to an imaginary time when women held “aspirin between their knees” and didn’t have sex.  Where it’s ok to repeal equal pay laws because “men care more about money.”  In a country where 2/3 of women are the primary or co-breadwinners of their family.  It’s a war to make women’s only function to be married with children.

To create a world where we can arrest women for having a miscarriage and make killing abortion doctors Justifiable Homicide.  Where Maryland can justify cutting pre-school funding because women should be at home, NOT working.  Where Wisconsin can introduce a bill designating single parenting as child abuse.

Where Arizona can demand women prove they’re taking birth control for a REAL medical reason, as though NOT GETTING PREGNANT wasn’t a real medical concern.  This in a country where a woman is fourteen times more likely to die in childbirth than if she lived in Greece.  That sounds like a real medical concern to me.

They want to create a land where Arizona doctors can legally lie to women if they think it will prevent them from getting an abortion.  Where wife beating is LEGAL in Topeka, KS.  Where the ER can refuse to save a woman’s life if it might kill her unborn child.

Where democrats are so afraid of the religious right that the Obama administration ignored science and the advice of the medical community and prevented Plan B from being over-the-counter.  WHAT IS SCIENCE FOR?  Apparently just for Christian Conservatives to dismiss as a “liberal agenda”, the facts so rarely being on their side.

This is not just a war on women, it is a war on facts, it is a war on reality, it is a war on America.  Where women are worth less than fetuses, where Congress fights for horse contraception but not for women’s contraception.  Where conservatives are either ignorant or liars about how birth control works.  Where Susan Komen would rather cut funding to save women from breast cancer than be associated with Planned Parenthood.

This is not just a war on women.  It is not a war on women’s rights, it is a war on human rights.

But it is not hopeless.

Planned Parenthood raised over $400,000 when Susan Komen dropped them.  Republican women are starting to speak out for women, women like us.  Women like Senators Olympia Snowe and Lisa Murkowski. Women like Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Though it had opposition — far more opposition than I am comfortable with — the Violence Against Women Act passed the US Senate.  And there are things we can do.  We can vote this November for the president.

The Supreme Court has four justices over 70 and Mitt Romney’s chair of judiciary appointments is Robert Bork.

Robert Bork, the man Reagan failed to get on the Supreme Court 15 years ago.  Robert Bork who doesn’t believe in the right to contraception, much less abortion, who thinks discriminating against women is QUOTE “not possible”, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  I know who I don’t want putting people on our already too anti-woman court.

We can vote.  We can run.  We can refuse to shut up.  We can tell our friends, our lovers, our husbands, our brothers, our sons.

We can fight and we will fight.

We’ve been sitting still for too long, but now we’re standing up and we will not be silenced.  I can’t speak for you, but I have no intention of sitting back down.

Thank you.

(Speech given at the Unite Against the War on Women Rally in SC)

Secular Coalition for America Summit: Day 2

Day one here

Friday, in the wee hours of the morning, right after I’d gotten to sleep, there was some sort of major commotion on the 8th floor of the Hyatt, very near to my room.  I’m not sure what it was, but I was told hotel security was called and I definitely heard a man who’d been woken up scream, “Shut the Fuck Up!”  I would have applauded, but I wasn’t so much for moving.

So, I was very tired when 7:30AM came around.  And then breakfast was disappointing.  How hard is it to have toast or oatmeal or something other than a very sketchy bready fruity thing?  Everything was cooked fruit.  How gross.  (Note: I’m far too picky for people to take my food opinions seriously.)

We, the godless horde, strode over to the Capitol to meet with some staffers.  Herb, Sharon and I first met with Tara O’Neill, who is a Legislative Aide (or LA in Hill Parlance) for Tim Scott.  Tara, a Clemson grad, was very nice and polite and listened to all we had to say about HR 1179 2011 (patient rights) and Humanist Military Chaplains.  But I’d like to give you some background on Tim Scott, so that you can understand exactly the lion’s den we three atheists were stepping into.

Godless Horde

Tim Scott is one of the mythological Black Republicans, and he’s Southern, so he’s about as common as a unicorn.  When he was on City Council he erected the 10 Commandments in the Council Office and the AU and ACLU proceeded to sue him to take them down.  He campaigned on bringing Christian Values to Washington, and was endorsed by Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.  He opposes gay marriage, and probably doesn’t believe in atheists in foxholes.

HR 1135 2011

He took $117,000 in campaign ads from an anti-union group and then proceeded to sponsor legislation that would deny FOOD STAMPS to anyone who had a family member on strike.  HR 1135 2011.  It’s very clever, Sheriff of Nottingham level villainy going on.  “I want this brigand found. Starve them out, slaughter their… No, take their live stock. I want Locksley’s own people fighting to bring his head in.”

But enough about the life and legislation of Tim Scott, the staff was very nice — Tara and the UCSD student who greeted us and the gentleman in charge, who understood immediately what the SCA was doing.  We were done there by 9:30 and then headed over to meet with Lindsey Graham’s staffer Jason Brown, who is now my favorite person in DC.  On the way we walked past an armed guard who had an AK-47 — it didn’t look real, they should really make them look less like toys.

Our appointment wasn’t until 11, so we went down into the cool/creepy tunnels that run under the capitol, and went to a little coffee shop below ground.  Then we went back up to meet with Jason Brown.  The Senate offices are much, much nicer than the House offices.  Graham’s office was decorated with a bunch of pictures and paintings of and by South Carolinians.

I love this picture

Jason Brown is a lawyer working as a Legislative Aide for Lindsey Graham and he took us to a relatively swank conference room and we talked primarily about the issue of Humanist Military Chaplains.  He asked us some questions that implied an interest and definite understanding of why it was important to us.  That was reassuring.  Graham is an interesting character in terms of willingness to not toe the Republican Party Line at all times, and as someone on the Committee on Armed Services, he’s a good person to have on your side in this issue.

After that meeting, I went to Union Station, which is apparently just a large mall without a candy store, and met some others for lunch at Pizzeria Uno.  At 2, the panel discussion were set to begin.  Fred Edwords, who shall be Fredwords henceforth, the head of COR was the first to arrive.  He is working with some people in Columbia to get some buildboards here as well as some media training for locals, so it was nice to see a face I’ve seen a lot of e-mails from of late.

The panel was filled out by David Silverman (American Atheists), Jesse Galef (SSA), and Sally Quinn (editor of On Faith, Washington Post).  They spent some time talking about the rapture, which was supposed to happen Saturday, and how good it has been for the cause of Atheism.  David Silverman had been on CNN several times, and Herb Silverman was fielding media phone calls all day.

Sally Quinn then spoke for a while, and she was interesting, though I’m not sure I agree with her or where she’s coming from — it could be a generational thing.  She had some good zingers though.

You all look like you’re going to hell to me.  Tomorrow.

The world is not going to end tomorrow, keep on flossing.

Not one person in this room will be elected president of the United States.  There will be a woman, gay, and muslim president before there is an atheist president.

Effective media strategy is based on knowing more about faith than the other guy.  This is what makes Hitchens so good, he makes them just give up.  PEW says atheists are more knowledgeable about religion than the faithful.

Now, I have a little bit of a problem with the defeatist attitude towards the possibility of an atheist president.  There are, of course, quite a few who argue that we currently have one.  But an openly atheist president within my lifetime doesn’t seem like an impossibility to me.  Maybe I’ll run in however many years til I’m 35.

Then they got into a discussion of when anger was appropriate, and the consensus was it was good when other people also got angry, like when children died of neglect because their family refused medical care because of their religious beliefs.  Atheists should try to get in the news for doing community service and nice things, to help dispel the myth that Atheists are immoral or unfeeling.  Fredwords echoed things I’ve heard PZ say, which is that you need the firebrands to get attention and the nice people to negotiate change.

And then this is where Sally Quinn really went off the rails for me (and Jennifer Michael Hecht), when she started talking about what the stereotypical view of an atheist is.  Apparently Quinn thinks that the image people have in mind when they hear “atheist” is Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was fat, ugly, crazy and had a mustache and that what atheism really lacks is an ATTRACTIVE public representative.  Now, I don’t think that our current representatives like Dawkins, Faircloth, Harris, and Hitch are unattractive, I’d be more likely to put them in the generally attractive categories, so I’m just not sure if she means there are no attractive female public personalities or that no one has overcome the O’Hair legacy.

I dunno, she looks pretty hot to me...

The first doesn’t resonate with me because I’ve seen plenty of attractive women at atheist events.  The second doesn’t resonate with me because neither I nor Omar knew what O’Hair looked like.  So maybe this is an old-people-who-think-atheism-is-communism-because-they’re-old-and-stupid problem, because no one I know, and we’re people who are like into atheism so we know stuff about atheism, has any idea why anyone would care about O’Hair.  Everything I knew about her before Quinn’s comment is that she was killed before I was old enough to know anything and she was also an atheist.

Basically what I’m saying is that I don’t think we’re going to change the hearts and minds of Glenn Beck’s 70 year old audience, we just have to let them die.  Does anyone under the age of forty think that all atheist ladies have mustaches?  If so, I would like to disabuse you of this notion.  Many of us also have horns.

Then there was a lot more discussion about tone and tactics, which basically covered all the same ground over and over again, with various protests of various sorts from the panelist and audience members.  The most interesting discussion was about whether to participate in interfaith groups, which were exclusive of atheists by name and nature.

Legal Panel

The next panel was a team of legal experts, David Niose, Amanda Knief, and Mark Dunn.  Their discussion really reflected the rest of the thrust of the meeting in that it was calling for more personal stories rather than more theoretical problems.  To this end, they wanted to bring cases based on civil rights and equal protection, not on the Establishment Clause.

What it boils down to is this: when we make Tim Scott take down the 10 Commandments, we are absolutely right, but it makes us seem like assholes, but when we call someone out for violating civil liberties, like firing someone for being an atheist or refusing to allow them to form school groups or parents are denied custody because they aren’t religious, we seem like people who are just fighting to be treated equally.  And we get to tell personal stories of how the religious bias has hurt us, and people respond more to that.

And then we got a two-hour break, which I filled with caffeine, and then it was time for the reception/dinner that evening.

Paul Provenza opened with a comedic talk which was very similar to his talk at TAM.  He did have a good line, “Today we lobbied, or as I like to call it, fucked shit up.”  After dinner, JMH introduced Sean Faircloth, and she reiterated the broad theme (poetic atheism) of needing to tell human stories, we may be rational, but people need emotional connection.

Executive Director Sean Faircloth

And then Sean Faircloth spoke, and it was very State of the Union.  Lots of clapping, lots of broad, hear-hear sort of statements.  Spontaneous standing O at the end.  He thinks that Secular Americans are the next moral majority, a sleeping giant waiting to be motivated.  Then he gave a list of ten goals:

  1. Our military will serve all Americans, with no fundamentalism or religious bias or conversion
  2. Any federal/state funded program will be based on science, not belief
  3. Healthcare providers have a responsibility to their medical duties over their religious beliefs
  4. The legislature will represent the non religious
  5. There will be one consistent health standard for children, no religious exception
  6. Medical and scientific progress shall not be impeded by religious bias ever
  7. Discrimination based on religion will not happen
  8. Marriage can be defined by an individual religion however it wants, but the government cannot use religion for its definition
  9. Government zoning laws will respect all faiths and non-faiths equally
  10. Youth won’t be subjected to religious bias in schools.

Then, we were kicked out of the room because it was 9 and that was as late as they’d booked it.  I proceeded to join JMH and her husband and a few others at the bar, where she ordered a margarita, but couldn’t remember the word for salt.  This was immensely amusing.  Then there was a party in a room, and we went there.  There were all sorts of illicit activities going on (clothes all remained on) and I shan’t be more specific, but it was really fun.
JMH then did a poetry reading for the party, which was quite entertaining.  Because her poems are good, people were drinking, and it was so weird that someone would read poetry at a party in the first place.  I felt like a Beatnik, but cleaner.

PARTY!

And then, 2000 words later, I went to bed.

Releasing the Prop 8 Videos

 

People in an open society do not demand infallibility in their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing - Chief Justice Berger

Former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who presided over the Prop 8 trial, recently used some of the video that was taken during the case as part of a lecture.  The Proponents, aka supporters of Prop 8/opposers of gay marriage, immediately took great offense and sent what was essentially a cease and desist order that demanded the return of all the copies of the tapes, Walker's and anyone else who had them.

 
In response, Ted Olson and David Boies, the legal tour de force trying to lift the gay marriage ban, filed a request that the tapes be unsealed and released to the public.  After all, the trial is a matter of public record and the transcripts are freely available.
 
Originally, the trial was going to be broadcast live, but the Proponents felt like this might scare some of their witnesses away, and so they demanded that it not be broadcast.  Judge Walker taped it, but didn't release the tapes, to the great disappointment of the men and women across the country who wanted to see the greatest trial of the greatest civil rights battle of our time.

No one can really blame the Proponents for not wanting to have video footage of just how appallingly awful their defense of Prop 8 was.  They want to continue to play the victim here — they want to sell the idea that gay marriage is somehow a violation of religious liberty, rather than being completely the other way round.  The video of their disastrous performance would only reveal that they are driven solely by religion and bigotry — and that they aren't even capable of hiding that fact.

Some things that they don't want you to see on television, things that their own anti-equality witnesses did: a witness saying that DADT and DOMA were "Official Discrimination"; that same witness then saying Prop 8 was also discriminatory; Mr. Blankenhorn, their chief witness saying, "I believe that adoption of same sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children"; Blankenhorn also saying, "We would be more American on the day we legalized gay marriage than the day before".

Well, I mean, no wonder, right?  But that's exactly why these things need to be released.  People need the opportunity to see how feeble the defense was and to really understand how motivated by religion the campaign against equality was.  Not everyone is as nerdy as me and reads trial transcripts because they find them so compelling — video is the medium of our lives, and well do the religious know that since it is the medium through which they sold their hate.

The vast majority of the money and on-the-ground support for the Prop 8 campaign came from the Mormon church, supplemented by the Catholic church.  This isn't even money from California, and it's certainly money that ought to take away their tax exempt status.  People need to be shown the kind of lies they were telling to get people to vote against marriage equality, the emotional manipulation about children and families, things so blatantly false they might be defended with the disclaimer: "not intended to be a factual statement."

Gay marriage doesn't destroy families, it doesn't destroy children, it really doesn't do much except make some people very happy and give them access to rights that the rest of us take for granted.  The trial provided an overwhelming amount of evidence that refusing marriage rights not only hurt gay people, but also hurt the thousands of children of LGBT parents.  It hurts these children irreparably, immeasurably, forever.  This wasn't in question, gay marriage opponents agreed.

These tapes shouldn't just be released, they should be broadcast on every news channel for weeks to expose just how rotten the argument is against gay marriage.  If you've ever questioned why church-state separation is so important, this is why.  If conservative Christians (and I include the LDS) hadn't funded the gay marriage ban, it wouldn't be in place, and even they couldn't create enough money to make credible witnesses or a real argument against gay marriage.  The monstrous unfairness of the church taking over, infiltrating, and outright buying the political process only to then lie to the public to get their way has got to stop.  Not only is it immoral, it is un-American.

Proponents motion for return of videos http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-338
Vaughn Walker's response: http://www.scribd.com/doc/53041973/CA9Doc-339-Letter-from-Vaughn-R-Walker
Olson and Boies request for unsealing of videos: http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-340
San Francisco's feisty response: http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-341

 

Why do atheists always have to mock religion?

I was asked this question, sincerely, by a relatively new convert to fundie christianity who had been, throughout the evening, talking an awful lot about church and god and such.  I had gotten bored of that and, over the course of about 10 seconds, referred to the xtian god as an invisible friend, sky daddy, and had finally gone too far by calling Mohammed “Mo”.

He lashed out, very frustrated that I didn’t take the religion thing very seriously, after all I took atheism seriously, right?

I mock religion for the same reason I mock Twilight, though at least Twilight fans generally have the good sense to realize that the book they obsess over is fiction.  It’s very difficult not to make fun of someone with bad taste or who believes something that is obviously very silly, especially when the undertone of your every day life is that there’s something wrong with you for not believing.  And sometimes it’s just fun to make fun of something that is a sacred cow, because why on earth should I have to respect your sacred cows?  I just don’t see why I have to respect your belief that you’re better than everyone else because an invisible man in the sky wrote it down in a self-contradicting book.

I said it was the same as making fun of an adult who still believed in Santa Claus, but he claimed he wouldn’t do that.  I don’t really think the average believer wouldn’t mock someone who believed in Santa at the age of 30, and as believers don’t refrain from mocking other belief systems, I’m going to feel pretty safe in that assumption.

Religion makes factual claims about the physical world, and to be a fundamentalist of any stripe requires ceding your thought process over to something that is demonstrably false.  If you’re going to be a touchy-feely deistic type of believer who doesn’t fund the evil things religion does, then fine, but don’t ask me to respect you for brainwashing children, destroying civil rights, and being responsible for the creation of Christian Rock.

I’m not sure to what degree the average religious believer is willing to “take responsibility” for the religious doctrines they believe, the religious institutions they are members of and support financially, or the religious leaders they follow and thereby give power and authority to. I can’t begin to count how often I’ve seen religious believers disparage civil rights protections for gays on the argument that homosexuality is “chosen” without recognizing that religion is far more like a “chosen” set of behaviors than it is like an inherent characteristic like race or sex.

People say they adopt certain moral positions because it’s what their god wants and thus disclaim any responsibility for either the moral position or any of its consequences. People vote in certain ways because of what religious leaders tell them about the meaning of scripture and/or the will of their god and thus try to avoid personal responsibility for what the government does in their name.