Religious Liberty Trumps Sanity in Texas

The Texas State Supreme Court last week ruled that a church member had no right to sue a church for damages inflicted to her in the course of “church activities for which members adhere.” The case involved a 17-year-old girl who happed to be a victim of a “spiritually charged” garage sale preparation in which fellow believers became convinced she was possessed by a demon. She was forcibly restrained and “laid hands on her” in an exorcism for several hours despite her pleading to be set free. Amazingly, she returned to the church at a later date when a similar episode occurred again. Her family sued the church for abuse, false imprisonment, and distress; she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident among other psychological fallout. An appeals court later lessened the original award of $300,000 to $120,000. A further appeal resulted in the Texas state Supreme Court ruling, which threw out the suit with a 6-3 verdict.

I find this ruling disturbing on many levels. First, there is no such thing as demons. The church members were caught up in a mass hysteria amplified by her non-participation. Courts of law dismissed spectral evidence as valid after the infamous 1662 Salem Witch Trials. The Texas Supreme Court should have been able to discern that demons are nonsense and that the church members got caught up in a mass hysteria for which they bore responsibility. The court seems to be saying that people, in a state of religious frenzy bear no responsibility for their actions.

Next, we’re talking about an underage girl without her parents present. She did not consent to whatever spiritual rape was inflicted on her. What about the idea of the state protecting children from harm? Didn’t the state just remove 400+ children from the FLDS compound because they were in danger of child sexual abuse? Perhaps this is not an equal comparison as the FLDS kids were brainwashed from birth. Presumably, the victim in this case had “chosen” by her free will to be part of the religious proceedings. She’s under age, however and cannot consent to being abused. The state got it wrong on this account, too. Perhaps cults should adopt a “safe word” concept so that people can escape when they’re not feeling the ecstasy that everyone else is feeling: “Darwin!” “Dawkins!” “Bertand Russell! God damn it! Let me go, you psychotic Jesoids!”

Seriously, though, the most disturbing part of the ruling is the Texas State Supreme Court placing “religious liberty” of a mob above the safety and liberty of an individual victim. Writing for the majority, Justice David Madina wrote, “Religious practices that might offend the rights or sensibilities of a non-believer outside the church are entitled to greater latitude when applied to an adherent within the church.” Is US and Texas law null and void in a church? Do they get to do anything they want as long as they can “justify” their position based on the Bible, which is nothing more than a Rorschach test for the morally challenged? It seems in Texas, that is the case. Send those FLDS kids back! The State has no claim against their cult. While we’re at it, let’s drop any case against the Catholic Church. Surely, they can think of some Biblical justification for molesting boys. They’re “adherents within the church,” right?

Finally, how exactly does the court decide who is an adherent? Is the court privy to some sort of mind reading device where they can decide who believes what? Isn’t one’s mere presence in a church is enough to be labeled an “adherent”? After all, Christians are famous for making up stories about non-believers having death bed conversions. Why not make up a story that someone who happened by a church “converted” to that church’s theology? I submit that sane people would be better off staying out of places and situations where they can be thought to be endorsing a particular religion. The Texas Supreme Court just gave us one more big reason not to support churches, or even darken their door.

The cost of abandoning reason is measured in lives

From the news today:

A group of up to 300 young men killed 11 people who were accused of being witches and wizards in western Kenya, in some cases slitting their throats or clubbing them to death before burning their bodies, officials said….

“The villagers are complaining that the (suspected) wizards and witches are making the bright children in the community dumb … These (suspected) witches are not doing good things to us,” Makori told The Associated Press.

Deputy police spokesman Charles Owino said that the gang hunted down the eight women and three men in the western Kenya villages of Kekoro and Matembe. Most of the victims were over the age of 70, Owino said.

Why abandoning reason is, like, bad

In the news today:

Two children and their mother lived for about two months with the decaying body of a 90-year-old woman on the toilet of their home’s only bathroom, on the advice of a religious “superior” who claimed the corpse would come back to life, authorities said Friday…

She said she propped Middlesworth on the toilet and left the room to call [Bishop John Peter] Bushey, who told her to leave the woman alone and pray for her, the complaint said. He said he had received signs that God would raise her from the dead with a miracle.

A mind is a wonderful thing to waste, eh?

So…where did they go to the toilet all that time? No, I don’t want to know.

Two disparate Christian responses to high gas prices

One of these is the usual parade of batshit crazy, and the other is a comparatively rare case of a church doing what we’re meant to believe churches do all the time: something good for their community. Makes sense that the latter is located in Austin, where people have a tendency to be pretty cool, even some of the religious ones.

In San Francisco, of all places, a bunch of dimwits staged a “pray-in” at a local gas station, begging Sky-Daddy to bring gas prices down. Prayer, as we all know, is that comforting act believers engage in that allows them to feel they’re dealing with problems without actually having to do anything. I can understand everyone’s frustration at four-dollar gas. But good grief, you fundies were the ones who gave this disastrous administration two terms in which to wreak the havoc we’re all now in. Praying to fix a mistake that cataclysmic isn’t a whole lot more than slamming the barn doors after the horses are all out, eh? Anyway, old Rocky Twyman, devout as he may be, ought to take a pointer or two from the Neumann family: when it comes to working, prayer has a fairly poor track record.

What does work? People helping people, that’s what. I’m perfectly happy to compliment anyone, religious or not, if they do something that shows a healthy community spirit and a willingness to do some real, effective good. And in Cedar Park, just north of Austin, the nondenominational HighPointFellowship made a deal with a neighborhood Exxon that anyone who turned up between 10 and 1 on Sunday could buy their gas for just over a dollar less per gallon, with the church making up the difference. Hundreds of folks took advantage, and the church ended up forking over about five grand.

Yeah, sure, they did it to get some publicity (of course they handed out flyers for their church to people waiting to fill up). But if a group like ACA had the spare cash to do something like this, we’d probably hand out flyers too. The point is, two groups of Christians saw a community-wide problem, and chose opposite ways of handling it. The San Francisco church chose an exercise in goofy futility, while the Cedar Park folks understood something a lot of us have been saying all along: One pair of working hands achieves more than 10,000 pairs of praying hands. Nicely done, HighPoint.

Pedophilia enabler warns against “America’s brand of secularism”

Pope Ratzo is touring the U.S., about which some people with nothing better to do apparently give a shit. Amazingly, there are still those who actually think the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church still have some kind of moral authority as an institution that deserves to be leading the world, rather than what it is, a bunch of dirty old men playing dressup in expensive robes. Naturally, even Bush is kissing his ass. “In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded,” said the president responsible for launching an illegal invasion of a sovereign mideast nation under false pretenses, that has since taken the lives of over 4000 American soldiers and nearly a million civilians, “we need your message that all human life is sacred.”

Now, Ratzo has been paying lip service to those people whose lives are still shattered by the pedophilia scandal that rocked the Church but, disappointingly, did not bring it down. As Bill Maher pointed out recently on his TV show (to a muted, wary reaction from an audience that obviously can’t bring themselves to purge the virus of religion from their lives no matter how bad these people are revealed to be), if the Pope had been merely the CEO of a national chain of day care centers, and had been found to be covering up massive pedophilia within his company, he’d be doing 25-to-life right this very minute. Fortunately for the Catholics, they can get away with crimes that not even the FLDS can get away with. It isn’t just that if you cloak your child-rape in religion, people in America will give you a pass. Americans would simply prefer it to be a humongous, obscenely rich religion.

Now, Ratzo’s role in covering up the kiddie-diddlers in the priesthood is well documented. He infamously stonewalled any investigation against accused abuser Marcial Maciel, on the grounds that Maciel was too close a friend to then-Pope John Paul II. Ratzo’s past shows an unfortunate pattern of putting the protection of the Church before that of its people.

But here, touring the U.S., where the scandal is still very much an open wound, he knows, for political reasons, he must address it. So he goes around stating the obvious — that the abuse was “evil,” yada yada, without coming out unequivocally and assuring grieving survivors and their families that some heads will roll for it — while, in classically priestly fashion, saving his most dire warnings for, that’s right, the “threat” of secularism.

“Perhaps America’s brand of secularism poses a particular problem,” the pope said, according to the prepared text of his speech. “It allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator.”

I would suggest that what reduces religious belief to a lowest common denominator is the absurd nature of that sort of belief itself, and the fact that even the most uneducated twit, who wouldn’t know a molecule from a motorcycle, can still gleefully accept and embrace the notion of an invisible sky-daddy who will grant you your fondest wishes as long as you’re all good little girls and boys.

I honestly don’t see the point of the Pope’s visit, or why it would be of any interest to anyone who isn’t a devout Catholic. Yet he is feted by politicians as if he is some sort of head of state, with valuable and worthwhile proclamations to make about the human condition. Seriously, what has this church done for humanity in the last five centuries that merits the kind of respect the Pope is accorded on these photo-op tours? Did they cure polio and smallpox? Put men on the moon? Come up with a solution for global warming? Why give a man who systematically covered up a series of crimes so heinous that even the SCOTUS is weighing putting people to death for it such a celebrity welcome, while research programs on the cutting edge of science designed to actually improve the standard of living for humanity have to scrape through loose change in the bottom drawer for funding?

Blasphemy is, as they say, a victimless crime

Over in the UK, the population may be predominately non-religious, or at least indifferent to religion, in stark opposition to the way Americans can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. But it’s only been this week that the House of Lords* voted to strike down the nation’s laws against blasphemy. Nice of them to recognize it isn’t 1437 any more. Unless you’ve got a fascistic, Talibanoid theocracy going on, having blasphemy laws in a modern enlightened culture is like attaching a carburetor to your pyjamas: pointless and utterly silly.

Of course, some people are upset at learning the Middle Ages ended long ago.

Prominent Christian activist Baroness O’Cathain launched a blistering attack on the amendment, with particular fury aimed at Evan Harris. Lady O’Cathain maintained that abolition of blasphemy would unleash a torrent of abuse towards Christians.

Huh. I thought blasphemy was defined as making insulting or disrespectful remarks critical of gods, not their followers. As far as hate crimes against the religious are concerned, the UK has its Racial and Religious Hatred Act, a piece of legislation that makes it an offense to incite deliberate violence and hatred towards a person or group of people based on their race or creed. (I know it’s a law that feels problematic from a free speech standpoint, but the wording of it does try to make it clear that it’s only an offense when there’s clear intent to incite harm. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before it’s actually put to the test in the courts. After all, where’s the line between saying something like “Somebody ought to do something about those damn [insert minority here],” and “Kill the [minority]!”?)

One gets the impression that Baroness O’Cathain is merely troubled by the idea of anyone’s criticizing belief at all. As Tracie pointed out a couple of posts ago, it can be awfully hard for atheists to engage Christians in conversation about belief, simply because the minute you make one statement that’s even the tiniest bit snarky (like comparing their god belief to unicorn belief), many of them are so thin-skinned they’ll storm off in a huff right there. Not surprisingly, Dawkins and The God Delusion came up quite a bit in the House debates. The simple fact that atheist books exist, and are actually finding an audience, is enough for some Christians to think they’re suffering “a torrent of abuse.”

Well, let’s talk abuse. What about the people in the past who were actually the targets of the blasphemy laws in question? Ol’ Wikipedia tells me that the last guy to be prosecuted under the laws was John William Gott in 1921, who was sentenced to nine months’ hard labor simply for publishing pamphlets making fun of Christianity and Jesus. So Christians got their knickers in a twist because Gott snarked on their imaginary friend, and he got nine months breaking rocks. Call me crazy, but I consider that pretty damn torrential abuse. “Hey,” you might say, “that was 87 years ago.” Yeah, but I’m sure it still sucked for him.

Anyway, it was clearly time to get rid of the laws, because they were irrelevant and never used anyway. And as for Christian fears of persecution, again, I never cease to be amazed at these. Check your Yellow Pages and see how many pages it takes to list the churches in your city. Go to any bookstore in the US, and see how many shelves are swallowed up by the Religion category. Only Borders that I know of delineates a section to “Atheism and Agnosticism” within that category, and that section usually only amounts to about two or three shelves, as opposed to the fifty or so shelves devoted to Bibles, apologetics, and the usual twaddle from fundies like LaHaye and Strobel and Colson and their camp. But to many Christians, those two shelves for atheism are two too many, and amount to a horrifying all-out assault on their precious faith.

Cry me a river.


* I had to note my favorite comment about this on Richard Dawkins’ site:

Dear Britain, what the hell is a “house of lords”?? Signed, the 21st century.

Religion is the answer (they’re selling)

Did you ever notice that whatever the problem, religion is plugged as the answer? Case in point: last week’s Virginia Tech shootings. A student goes haywire and kills a bunch of people–not good. Religious leaders then get asked by the faithful, “Where was God during all of this?” It seems like a reasonable question to ask of someone who believes in an omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent god.

Atheists would answer it simply that God is a figment of people’s imagination. Such things more often cause killings than prevent them. For example, 9/11, Andrea Yates, stem cell research bans, Branch Davidians, Jim Jones, Inquisition, Gott Mit Uns, Heaven’s Gate, etc., etc., etc. In this particular case, figments of your imagination are irrelevant to the reality of the shooter, so it’s obvious that your God can’t intervene. Next question?

Religious leaders know that if you’re asking such questions, you’re thinking. And if you’re thinking, you’re not blindly believing, which is bad for their business. So religious leaders shut down the line of questioning and instead promote their magic cure-all elixir: religion.

For James Kennedy, the answer to “where was God?”, is “He was hanging on the cross. (Just passing time flapping away, apparently.) “The cross is God’s ultimate solution to sorrow and suffering.” Pay attention grieving Virginia Tech students: you are vile wretches that deserve to be tortured for all eternity for your lack of faith. Kennedy will gladly sell you the cure, though, the smilin’ bleedin’ Jesus for the bargain price of a tithe. Ah, that Christian love is in the springtime air.

Ken Ham, the Answers in Genesis creationist used-religion salesman, used the tragedy to point out that if you think the answer to the tragedy has anything to do with sin, you damn well better believe in that 6-day creation he’s been flogging. The Bible is literally true, don’t you know. To translate his point, if you don’t believe in that 6-day creation crap, why should you believe anything about the concept of sin. Atheists would certainly agree with this line of reasoning. Perhaps this is why his posting was removed from the AiG web site. (Oh, and by the way, he says, isn’t it great that creationism was launched at Virginia Tech by a civil engineering instructor? Let’s pour a little embarrassment into the wound.)

For gall, Franklin Graham is hard to beat. Out of the goodness of his heart, he’s ready to send hundreds of “grief counselors” trained to convert to Christianity those who are emotionally vulnerable, “as we have done in many situations since 9/11 in New York City.” He’s even got some VT students on his web site helping to promote his extreme generosity with strings attached. I wonder if those “grief counselors” think that converting people to Christianity helps their chances of going to heaven. Franklin Graham also runs one of the groups distributing federal faith-based AIDS relief in Africa where they can get their “good news” across because their victims know that they need the provided medicine to live. Charity, indeed.

Does religion have anything to offer in the VT shooting? No. Does religion have anything to offer in any situation? No. These people are plugging religion because they make money from it. It’s all just self-serving promotion at the expense of others, just as Martin predicted last week.

Stop the evil godless Congress!

On Monday, the Secular Coalition announced that Rep. Pete Stark (D. Calif.) is, according to their research, the first open nontheist in the history of Congress. This announcement came as the result of a the Secular Coalition’s “Find an Atheist, Humanist, Freethinker Elected Official” contest.

Wasting very little time, the Christian Seniors Association(a division of Traditional Values Coalition) released a statement which clearly demonstrates the anti-atheist biogtry and ignorance that made this search for nontheists both necessary and overdue.

CSA ASKS MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO SPEAK UP AS CALIFORNIA CONGRESSMAN STARK DENIES GOD’S EXISTENCE
A Sad First in the History of the Congress

Washington, DC – The Christian Seniors Association (CSA) today encouraged members of the Congress to speak of their belief in God on the floor of the House after a liberal California Congressman made history by denying God.

Katy, bar the door! There’s a Congressman who doesn’t believe in God, so we’re gonna have us some “chuhch”. Why would it be necessary (or appropriate) for Congress to stop doing business in order to give their personal testimonies? Did Rep. Pete Stark’s announcement tie up any Congressional time?

“It is sad but not surprising that the current Congress has produced this historic first – one of its members has denied God,” said CSA Executive Director James Lafferty.

So, this is clearly a demonstration of the evils of “the current Congress”? Nevermind the fact that Rep. Stark has been a member of Congress since 1973, we need to spin this so that the Democratic takeover looks bad. Seriously though, how bad could it really be? Isn’t he just one man that flew under the religious radar? Is this really a sign of the apocalypse?

“The liberals in Congress want to throttle any school child who bows his or her head in prayer, but they want to establish a right for liberals to bash Christians and berate God around the clock.

Oh no! They’re coming for our kids and bad mouthing our god!

Ok, enough sarcasm…now I’m pissed. I suppose I should be grateful that the CSA has clearly demonstrated the very problems we’ve been pointing out. This ignorant, misdirected bigotry is the result of a very narrow mindset that has no understanding of what true religious freedom is.

They began with “there’s an atheist in Congress”, moved to “well, that’s no surprise, I’ve read Ann Coulter’s book…this is just part of the godless liberal agenda” and then graduate to blatant lies and sensationalist attacks about how we’re coming after the children.

“It is time for religious members of Congress to push back.”

Sure it is. One of hundreds of Congressmen is a heathen, so we need everyone to organize in opposition to this travesty. Evidently Rep. Stark is a huge threat to the fabric of the delusional universe these folks call home.

“We have long recognized that all of this hot air about ‘separation of church and state’ has been a veiled effort to intimidate and silence religious voices in public policy matters.

And we, the godless, have long recognized that you have no understanding of ‘separation of church and state’ and no interest in exercising tolerance toward those who hold beliefs which differ from yours. In your ignorant little minds, religious freedom only applies to those who share your fondness for fairytales.

The First Amendment is now “hot air”. Thanks.

Please explain how Pete Stark’s beliefs “intimidate and silence religious voices”. Could someone silence those crickets, please? I’m having a hard time hearing their response.

“Congressman Stark’s statement is a very sad benchmark for America. It could be the moment which defines the decline of our country or it could be the spark which marks an important day.

It certainly could and its clear which direction you’re encouraging – decline. How quickly we forget that this nation was founded by people trying to avoid the exact mindset you’re promoting.

“This is a fight which is destined to be fought in America and we think it should begin today.”

Clearly fighting is all you understand. Rational discourse is beyond you.

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.