To Christians, it’s “common sense” to shove religion down our throats

The latest blow against religious freedom and diversity and in favor of theocracy was struck here in Texas, when the House voted by an overwhelming margin (of course — they want to get re-elected, after all) to add “under God” to the Texas pledge.

First off, it’s news to me that there was a “Texas pledge”. I don’t recall reciting one when I was a student way back when, so this must be a new development in the last decade or so.

Mirroring the current trend among social conservatives to force unanimity of thought as regards religion upon schoolchildren everywhere, the House had precious view members with the integrity and character to speak up against this bill. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, floated the idea that this just might, you know, impinge on the individual religious freedoms of students.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, rejected that argument and said adding the words was simply “common sense.”

So there you have it. Suck it up, rationalists. It’s just “common sense” to go with the fundamentalist flow and shoehorn acknowledgment of an invisible magic being into a daily school activity. And now that that’s out of the way, this intelligent design stuff looks pretty nice, too, don’t it…

Here is Debbie Riddle’s contact information. Let her know, in polite but unflinching terms, how you as a Texas atheist feel about her bill. Tell her how proud you are that the legislature has done such a fine job of solving all of the state’s other pressing problems that they had sufficient free time to devote to Godding up the Texas pledge. And here is a choice quote, on another matter entirely, reflecting on Debbie’s loving, Christian nature.

  • “Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it’s cleverly disguised as having a tender heart, [but] it’s ripping the heart out of this country.” Source.

4 billion years of evolution beats $1 billion in abstinence-only sex ed

Big surprise! Abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t work.

Big surprise! It’s a huge waste of money.

Big surprise! 4 billion years of evolution in making every living thing on this plant successful because of our collective ability to procreate beats out religiously motivated wishful thinking. Who could have possibly known? (Certainly not anyone who thinks that Jesus solves all your problems.)

Big surprise! It was all just a way for the religious right to get money from its shills in the government. Sadly, this blatant and obvious corruption at the expense of our youth will likely never be punished. I, for one, would like my tax money back on this one.

We’ve been saying this stuff all along, but nobody listens to us atheists. We’re immoral.

$176 million a year not enough to stamp out f*cking

Here’s one that’ll knock you over with a feather. A study commissioned by Congress has shown that abstinence-only sex education programs, on which our government currently spends $176 million of our tax dollars annually, have quite literally no effect at all on teens’ sexual behavior.

The only thing defenders of the programs can say in their defense — apart from what they’re currently saying, which is that the failure of the abstinence message is that is just isn’t being repeated enough, which reminds me of the hilarious line from Black Adder Goes Forth: “By doing exactly what we’ve done the last 18 times, the Germans will be caught totally off guard!” — is that this new study also shows no effect on contraceptive use either. (It had been one assumption of abstinence-program critics that kids who fall off the wagon would be less informed and less likely to use condoms.)

Naturally, anyone who’s been paying attention will know exactly why abstinence programs don’t work. They’re all part of the Religious Right’s war on science. They have nothing to do with facts about sexual behavior, STD’s, or any other factor that can be supported with evidence. They’re about foisting Christian “morality” on students without regard to reproducible results. They’re about theocratic social engineering, not education. Their proponents are the same folks who deny evolution, global warming, and increasingly, other ideologically touchy subjects like the Holocaust.

Way back during the Reagan administration, Austin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Ben Sergeant did a brilliant panel. A school principal is shown informing a teacher, “All right, we’ve removed everything that could possibly offend any religious group! So, Mrs. Smith, get in there and teach!” And the teacher is standing, gagged, in a classroom stripped of pictures, textbooks, maps, pencils, even desks. It was on point then and distressingly so 20 years later.

This is another of the evils of politicized religion. Rather than contribute anything meaningful to learning, these are people who want to play politics with our children’s educations — and, increasingly, their lives.

Blog against theocracy: Which religion?

This is my impromptu contribution to the blogswarm that is going on this Easter weekend. I’m obviously not doing this every day, since I missed posting yesterday, but I’m writing something today and perhaps tomorrow as well. I’d encourage my fellow AE posters to chime in with other posts, if they’re so inclined.

Austin is a city full of living contradictions. We Austinites live in a city that is probably the most laid back, religiously liberal locale in a very, very southern Bible belt state. Or as I sometimes describe it, “An island of blue in a sea of red.” On this island there live many people who have migrated from other states, so that I often go for several days without hearing a single Texas accent. On the other hand, there are plenty of “true Texans,” and there are quite a few people who still manage to live their lives inside a religious bubble. You can hear these people call in regularly to the TV show, perplexed about what in the world and atheist is, or why we would dare to risk eternal hellfire by not believing something that they feel is obviously true. Many of these people they aggressively defend their right not to have to leave that bubble.

Earlier this week, I was listening to a local radio show as they talked about a recent news story, in which a Muslim was invited to say a prayer in the Texas Senate. Many people were calling the show, predictably seething with outrage that the Muslim would dare to defile their upcoming sacred weekend by saying the word “Allah” in a public building. There was a woman on the show, who is not a regular, but she was the sole voice calling for tolerance of religious diversity. She was also getting berated. The callers asked, without a trace of irony, how it’s fair for this Muslim to come in our state buildings and pray to “Allah” when THEY (the callers) don’t believe in Allah.

That is, of course, exactly what atheists think about Christian prayers. I’m not going to bother making a case here that there shouldn’t be any prayers in public places (although I feel that’s important). I just want to point out — yet again — the rank hypocrisy of insisting that Christian prayers be allowed in public places while getting bent out of shape that any other prayers are also allowed. When called on it, they’ll repeat the Christian nation myth.

The fact that most people in America are Christian does not make this a Christian nation, any more than the fact that most people in America are white makes this a white nation. As the founding fathers wrote, and the supreme court has confirmed over and over again, the intent of our laws is to create a religion-neutral government. Islam has exactly the same right to our public forums as Christianity does. Either both belong, or neither does.

As atheists, we’ve begrudgingly gotten used to sucking it up most of the time when yet another effort to Christianize the government goes through, such as a giant “In God We Trust” sign gracing the lieutenant governor’s podium. We complain about it, of course, and work to bring about change, but often those things do not change and there is a certain psychological requirement to deal with it and move on. That’s why the enormous fuss about letting Muslims take up Senate time really doesn’t register with me as a serious issue. It’s not because I want Muslims to take over the government, obviously; it’s because it seems to be in the same category as things that go on already. “Oh well, Christians were wasting our time last week and this week it’s Muslims.”

In another sense, however, the general topic of religious ceremony in government is a very serious issue. The issue is simply highlighted by this Muslim prayer. Usually when anyone complains about government observation of religion, they are accused of persecuting Christians by preventing them from freely exercising their own religion. Listen, for example, to this pitiful whine by talk show host Glenn Beck, who complains that it’s really HARD to be a Christian because it’s so unpopular to be part of an 85% majority. It’s also apparently hard to be human, he says.

But as we can see, the same Christians who insist on their right to express themselves are not willing to afford the same “right” to Muslims, and that’s the point where they fall back on declaring that only Christian prayers have a place at the table.

That’s an example of theocracy. It’s a minor one. It’s not anywhere near the outrageousness of sharia law, and nobody should claim it is. But there are groups in the US that seek to install a religious government that is every bit as oppressive as fundamentalist Islamic societies. Christianity may not be unpopular but Dominionism is. However, fundamentalist Islam is also unpopular, but they still manage to take over small countries. So it’s important not to underestimate the threat. If American fundamentalists have failed to install a theocracy here, it is because they are tempered by post-enlightenment culture and not for lack of trying.

That’s why it’s important not to be intimidated and distracted by claims that keeping religion out of government is somehow oppressive and an imposition on people’s rights. People who want to put religion in government are either making this claim disingenuously, or they simply haven’t thought it through. Anyone who has a problem with bringing up “Allah” in the Senate should have a problem with religious pandering in general. It shouldn’t be solely the domain of atheists to point out that you can’t make an exception for your own favorite religion… unless you somehow figure out a way to prove that your religion is true.

Christofascism in the schools

One common whine of theocratic Christians is that mean ol’ atheists “took God out of the schools” with the 1962 Murray v. Curlett decision, and that America has been going to hell in a handbasket ever since. The omnipresence of 24-hour media makes rare, isolated crimes like Columbine stand out, creating a sufficient atmosphere of fear that people ignore the fact that overall, things like violent youth crime and teen pregnancy rates have been trending downwards steadily over the last few decades. (Unlike the Christians, I am not arguing a direct causal link here; only that the argument that crime increases if people aren’t having Christianity shoved down their throats is demonstrably false.)

Christians respond to the lack of state-mandated religion for students by complaining that this is anti-Christian presecution in action. And yet, a scan of the real world whenever religion rears its ugly, pock-marked head in a scholastic environment very often shows that the reverse is true. Christians take on a mob mentality and mercilessly harass and intimidate anyone who even suggests that open, unconstitutional religious activity in public schools might be inappropriate.

When a teacher in a Florida school complained that the principal was inappropriately placing Christian paraphernalia around the flagpole, she found herself suspended on trumped-up charges of helping a student cheat on a test, and has been blackballed in the rest of her community. A more open-and-shut case of religious harrassment you couldn’t find.

It’s entirely legal for students to do the babble-to-your-invisible-friend-around-the-flagpole-after-school thing, just as it’s entirely legal for them to take their Bibles to school, for them to pray on their own when they get a free moment, or whatever. The only thing the Constitution prohibits is the school itself, as a government-run institution, either making religious exercises mandatory, or creating an atmosphere in which students and faculty who choose not to partake in these primitive rituals feel shunned or threatened.

For the principal and other school administrators to participate in the after-school flagpole prayers created a legally questionable situation. And that is all this teacher did: raise questions. For this, she finds herself victimized, threatened with her livelihood, and defamed. Even some parents who are supportive of the teacher have been threatened.

Several parents would not comment on the record, and one mother asked that her name not be used because she “was threatened to not be allowed back on campus if I say anything about it.”

Threatened by the very same “loving,” “moral” God-botherers who think that their brand of righteousness is what is needed in our schools and workplaces — hell, just about any public venue they can grab — if the horrors of the secular, liberal world aren’t to destroy the fine fabric of our godly civilization. And if you disagree, don’t show your faces around here, bitches. It’d be a shame if somethin’ was to happen to ya.

Texas Mess

Texas State Senator Dan Patrick, author of the Christian bestseller, The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read, has published a press release announcing that the Texas State Senate unanimously approved the “Patrick Resolution” (SR 141). This bill requires the State Preservation Society to permanently affix the phrase, “In God We Trust” above the Lt. Governors podium.

The Atheist Community of Austin has published their own press release, admonishing the senate and the 80th Texas legislature for their authorship and support of this bill.

There are a few points about this situation that absolutely astonished me. First, I was surprised to learn that the Texas House of Representatives passed a similar resolution last week, by a vote of 142-3. (The Representatives voting against this resolution were; Donna Howard, Lon Burnman and Garnet Coleman.) Second, I was amazed that while all of this information was available online, it took a bit of digging to get to it. The press release regarding the Senate resolution didn’t come from the Senate, it came from the office of Senator Patrick. If Senator Patrick hadn’t mentioned the house resolution in his press release, many of us might not have known about it.

But the biggest surprise was the the Senate vote was unanimous. It’s a bit disheartening to learn that every one of our State Senators thinks that divisive statements of faith, as official actions of the legislature, are a good idea. Someone out there is thinking, “You live in Texas! What did you expect?!” That’s a sentiment I generally understand – but living in Austin has made me a bit more optimistic about Texas. A single ‘no’ vote, as a sign that there’s some hope, would have been nice.

As I pointed out in the ACA press release, the author of this bill has made it clear that it serves no secular purpose and is, as far as I can tell, a violation of the Constitutions of both Texas and The United States. While most people consider this bill a ‘good thing’ or, at worst, ‘no big deal’, I think it’s time that we challenge legislation like this – and a direct appeal to reverse the mistakes of the McCarthy error and restore the original national motto, is long overdue as well.

In the past, I’ve wavered on whether or not challenging “Under God” in the pledge or “In God We Trust” on our money was really a good idea. I was certain that they both needed to be changed, but I wasn’t certain that these were necessarily the best fights to pick. I’m now convinced that these are exactly the right fights.

The Texas State Constitution has the following statement in its Bill of Rights:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

We know that this is a violation of the U.S Constitution; a uninamous decision by the Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins established that quite firmly. So why does it still appear in the Texas Constitution? Because no one has bothered to push for its removal – we recognize the passage is irrelevant, so it’s just not worth the bother.

Unfortunately, everyone isn’t up to speed on the finer points of law. Which means that this unconstitutional piece of nonsense still serves a purpose – it’s trotted out to support various myths about the religious nature of our government. It is a way of reenforcing a bias to those who won’t bother to investigate.

It’s right there, in black and white and it’s time we changed that.