Cranston’s New Banner

The sign on the wall reads “No Christians Allowed”—
… Except for the fact that it doesn’t.
There’s a banner in Cranston, replacing the prayer—
The prayer that the Christians said wasn’t.

No “Heavenly Father”, no “Prayer”, no “Amen”
Just a pledge of good will and respect.
So it’s either much better the way that it is…
Or the banner the atheist wrecked.

Thus begins a new chapter; it’s time to move on
And the people are very excited
So the threw a small party, to show they were healed…
But Jessica wasn’t invited.

This verse isn’t so much about the new Cranston banner (which it actually is about) as it is about the reaction to this banner at The Blaze (which is quite different from the reaction at The Friendly Atheist).

Comments at the Blaze have a familiar ring to them–people are sick of God being taken out of our Judeo-Christian society; we are encouraged to embrace all diversity… except Christians; Jessica’s success was really and actually because God was on her side (I am not making that up). Christians should complain that the current banner offends them; Jessica is pondscum (sic); the judge misrepresented the first amendment, cos Congress didn’t put this banner up… It’s all there.

For the backstory on Cranston, here are the cliff notes.

One member of the class of 1963 (donors of both the original and the new banner), Janice Bertino, is quoted: “The community is healed. There is no more controversy.”

Let’s hope she’s right.

Let’s hope they don’t read The Blaze.

Obama Sides With Church, Against State

Obama, the atheist Muslim-in-chief
Is engaged in a stealth operation
By submitting a letter that aims to cause grief
To church and state separation

It baldly attacks the establishment clause
(Which you’ll easily find, if you search)
A town prayer is clearly at odds with our laws,
But the president sides with the church!

The religious don’t like him, but nevertheless
Obama’s the church’s best friend
What he’s doing is wrong, and it’s frankly a mess
And it’s time for the habit to end

It is so nice to run into superb writing on the internets, when so much is so terrible. A must-read piece on the Obama administration’s intervention in an establishment clause case in Greece NY finds this yet another instance in a clear and disturbing pattern:

The intervention by the White House in support of official sanction for religion represents one of the most direct and open federal attacks on the separation of church and state—a core democratic principal of the US republic enshrined in the first sentence of the Bill of Rights—in American history. That the revolutionary founders who drafted the Bill of Rights, inspired by the Enlightenment, considered the ban on any official state sanction of religion fundamental to all other democratic rights is indicated by the fact that it precedes the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech, press and assembly.

The Obama administration’s decision to intervene in opposition to the separation of church and state is entirely in line with its general assault on democratic rights and its ceaseless efforts to placate and encourage the most right-wing political forces in the country. It follows Obama’s capitulation last year to the Catholic Church and other anti-abortion forces that oppose a provision of his health care overhaul requiring employers to provide contraceptives to their employees free of charge.

It also conforms to the administration’s support for indefinite detention without judicial process for alleged terrorists, its practice of extra-judicial assassinations, including of US citizens, and its defense of state surveillance of the telephone calls, emails, text messages and Internet searches of all Americans and countless millions of people around the world.

The authors (Ed Hightower and Barry Grey) summarize the facts of the case (I won’t cut and paste here; rather, I’ll strongly recommend reading the entire piece, if only to contrast it with the presentation at other sites), then succinctly put it into constitutional context:

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Fourteenth Amendment extends this ban (“Congress shall make no law, etc.”) to state governments. Municipal governments, such as the town of Greece, derive their authority from state law.

The American revolutionaries understood that there was an inextricable connection between the union of clerical and state power and the suppression of individual liberty. Their view was that separation of church and state was a precondition for democracy.

To cite Thomas Jefferson’s famous quotation: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Hightower and Grey summarize the Obama administration’s arguments, and rather damningly contrast the current stance to Kennedy’s (1960) deliberate and proper position of independence of government from any religious source.

It’s an excellent read.

Yet Another Place To Tag “In God We Trust”

One task that falls to governments
Of each of our united states
Is regulating new designs
That ornament our license plates.
Some groups are favored: some are not—
You know the trouble this creates—
And governments start taking sides
(in search of votes) in these debates.
Wisconsin, now, will be the scene
As two designs await their fates
Will Madison, this week, approve
“In God We Trust”? The nation waits.

If you want to support the Veterans Trust Fund in Wisconsin, the good news is that there may soon be a license plate you can buy to donate to the group and publicly show your support. The bad news is, if you are an atheist and want to support the VTF, your public support will come with “In God We Trust” on this special license plate.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking issue with an “In God We Trust” license plate that soon could be available in Wisconsin.

“It sends an exclusionary message,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the Madison-based group’s co-president and co-founder. “First of all, if a non-believer wanted to help out veterans they are going to be precluded from buying this plate. This is obviously an attempt to push religion.”

An attempt to push religion? Of course not… not when viewed from the privileged perspective of a religious majority:

The initial $15 cost of the plate will be donated to the state’s Veterans Trust Fund. Each additional year, a $25 donation will be paid by the license plate owner, with the money going toward the state Department of Veterans Affairs for the care of residents in the state’s veterans homes.

A bill sponsor, Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, said he doesn’t think the state’s offering of the license plate is too close a connection or blurring any lines between church and state.

“Nobody is being forced to get one,” Kaufert said. “This is on a completely voluntary basis.”

The state is simply taking the position that anyone who cares enough to donate to the Veterans Trust Fund must necessarily be a good, God-fearing, all-American sort. No one is forcing the unpatriotic, godless veteran-haters to buy a plate.

How could that possibly be blurring a church/state line?

“In God We Trust” vs “In God We Trust”

The motto stamped on bills and coins
Is everywhere. The phrase enjoins,
“In God We Trust”.
Unless we wish to be so brash
As just refuse to carry cash
It seems we must.
The warnings come, so stern and dour
From representatives of our
Democracy
Who crow that, when with cash we pay,
“In God We Trust” means we display
Hypocrisy
But if, perchance, you should refuse,
And go to court and, sadly, lose
Believers scoff
If that is what the phrase is for
Then let them make the claim once more…
I’ll grind it off

I’ve noticed something strange. There are two completely different versions of “In God We Trust” on American money. One type is what the courts have consistently seen in their rulings on the motto–it is an example of “ceremonial deism”, a national motto rather than a actual invocation of a god; it is hidden in purse or pocket, rather than displayed as an affirmation (the comparison is made to “Live Free Or Die” on NH license plates, which are prominently and publicly displayed, and force the user to act as an advertisement for the motto), and thus can put no burden on non-believers (or others who object). It is not religious in the slightest, but rather a nod to history and to patriotism, and complaining about it is like complaining about the shape of Washington’s nose–you may disagree, but it’s a trivial matter and not a legitimate injury. And who could complain about this “In God We Trust”? It would be like going to court complaining that the reeding on the edge of the quarter was too fine. It’s trivial. It’s nothing. I have no problem with this “In God We Trust”.

It’s the other “In God We Trust” that bothers me. The one the judges don’t seem to see, but which a great many others, from regular citizens to lawmakers to televised “experts”, constantly refer to. The phrase that the commenters at CBN, or The Blaze, clearly see in yesterday’s story. The one referred to on Fox’s “The Five”, in support of the (equally ceremonial) “under God” pledge. The one commenters used to bash Jessica Ahlquist. The one used to turn all atheists into hypocrites, since they carry god around in their pockets (if there remains anyone who has not seen that little rhetorical trick, just follow the link to The Blaze, hold your nose, and read some of the comments).

That second “In God We Trust” is the one I am removing from my money. It’s perfectly legal (no more damaging on bills than “where’s George?“, and not damaging at all to coins (unlike cross pennies), which can still be used in any vending machine or parking meter, or at any store. And since the courts have decided that the presence of the phrase is no big deal, its removal is likewise a trivial matter. And those believers who are so concerned with my hypocrisy have to support my honest money, since my bearing false witness would be a sin.

Anyway, the courts have spoken yet again, and I won’t complain. I do wonder if an individual politician who uses the second “In God We Trust” to bash an atheist could ever see legal consequences. I mean, technically, in that world view such a politician is guilty of taking the lord’s name in vain… but that book is more suggestions than commandmants, innit?

I am continuing the tradition of de-godding a batch of coins whenever I see the second “In God We Trust”, and of de-godding any and all paypal donations. (I have changed my mind, though–I am going to bend over backward to make it all quarters now, and not dollar coins–I have seen evidence that the quarters remain in circulation, and evidence that shopkeepers won’t recirculate the coins, but rather simply bring them to the bank.) It’s practically no effort at all, and very satisfying.

Related posts:
To Phrase A Coin
Ceremonial De-Deism
Guess God Was Only Ceremonial After All

The Return Of The Praying Mom

The praying mom is back. For context, here’s the earlier story.

Of course, some local Christians
Want the praying mom to stay
So they found a Christian lawyer
And they argued she could pray
Since the school administration
Didn’t want a Christian riot,
They decided she could pray each day
As long as she stayed quiet.

From the Boston Globe:

A mother who was told she can no longer pray on the steps of her children’s high school in New Hampshire has returned, but is praying in silence.

Chris Rath, district superintendent, said staff will monitor Urena’s actions on a daily basis to see if they are in line with campus visitor and religious policies.

‘‘We continue to work with her on a regular basis about how she can come and go from the high school in ways that respect both her ideas and our ideas,’’ Rath said.

Fox News’s “The Five” Debate (ha!) The Pledge Lawsuit

I know, in this country, we’re free to praise God
And we’re free to ignore those who don’t
We’d be free to spread some of this freedom around
But we’re also free not to… and won’t.
Some people might claim that we’re doing it wrong—
Why they’d say that, I cannot conceive—
Those people have freedom, like everyone else;
I suggest that they feel free to leave.

Via Opposing Views, who note Former Bush Spokesperson Dana Perino is literally telling atheists to leave the country, a case study of privilege at work. Take a look at the segment (I can’t embed it or I would); listen to the same old arguments (including “‘in god we trust’ is on our money”–so there’s another batch of coins off to the engraver–and the old favorite “they don’t believe, so why do they care?“–apparently you can either believe in god or the constitution, but not both), and then try turning it around. Imagine that there was nothing on the coins at all–not God, not Allah, not Thor, but also not “there is no god”–and imagine that their arguments were being made in opposition to a push to put “In God We Trust” on the coins to begin with. Virtually every argument they make works just as well against putting their god in our pledge (or on our money).

And then, look up in the right hand upper corner of the site, and read their own pledge:

The Fox Nation is for those opposed to intolerance, excessive government control of our lives, and attempts to monopolize opinion or suppress freedom of thought, expression, and worship.

And they probably believe it. They just don’t understand it.

Sorry, California, But You Have To Pay The Atheist *Something*.

A godless drug offender who was serving his parole
Was remanded to a program where they tried to save his soul
He denies a god exists—a “higher power” is their phrase—
So they threw him back in prison for another hundred days
Now, this differential treatment was unlawful (also, rude)
So the godless drug offender (and his lawyer, likely) sued.

The state had caused him injury, the judge could not deny
100 days in prison cos he wouldn’t tell a lie
The atheist could not deny, the bible isn’t buyable,
And since California locked him up, the state was clearly liable
A convicted drug offender, he was clearly no one’s hero,
When the judge awarded damages—the jury added, “zero”.

Now the Circuit Court has spoken, with the facts beyond dispute;
Sent the case back to a jury, with the warning “don’t get cute”

So, yeah, jury, you may not like the fact that an atheist convicted drug offender sued the state (of California) because they did not have a drug treatment program that did not require him to believe in a god… but seriously, the man was thrown back in prison for 100 days because he wouldn’t say he believed in a higher power, and this is worth nothing?

SAN FRANCISCO — California should compensate an atheist parolee for returning him to prison after he resisted participating in a religious-based drug treatment program, a federal appeals court decided unanimously Friday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a jury should award Barry A. Hazle Jr., a drug offender, compensatory damages for his loss of freedom and could consider possible punitive and emotional distress damages as well.

What was the case about?

After Hazle served a prison term, California ordered him to spend 90 days in a residential 12-step program. Hazle said he was atheist and asked for a secular program instead. But state officials told him they had none to offer.

Staff at the state-required treatment center reported that Hazle was disruptive “in a congenial way.” The state revoked his parole and put him back in prison for 100 days. He sued.

A Sacramento federal judge determined that Hazle had clearly suffered a violation of his constitutional rights and ordered a jury to assess monetary damages. The jury awarded zero damages.

100 days in prison, that any religious believer (or non-believer willing to lie) would not have had to suffer. But hey, he was on parole. A drug offender. An atheist. The judge asked for a reasonable damage amount, and the jury stepped up and said “nothing.” That was back in 2010 (the initial sentence was in 2007)

“Given the indisputable fact of actual injury resulting from Hazle’s unconstitutional imprisonment, and the district judge’s finding that the state defendants were liable for that injury, an award of compensatory damages was mandatory,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a Jimmy Carter appointee, wrote for the panel.

The court said another jury must be convened to determine Hazle’s compensation.

The comments at the story are actually not terrible, too, if you go for that sort of thing.

Edit–there is also the actual court decision here (thanks, screechymonkey), which is well worth reading.

“If The First Amendment Means Anything…”

Can your town pray to Jesus?
The courts will decide;
A town in New York
Has a case being tried

At town council meetings
(And maybe at schools)
They argue “the Christian
Majority rules”

The supremes are the ones
Who interpret the laws–
So PLEASE… don’t neglect
The establishment clause!

I’ll stop here–I could go on, but the Los Angeles Times already said everything I want to. First, the case:

In what could be its most significant church-state case in decades, the Supreme Court will decide whether official prayers at government meetings that overwhelmingly favor one religion violate the 1st Amendment. Although the case involves a town in New York, not the federal government, the Obama administration has filed a “friend of the court” brief that is distinctly unfriendly to the separation of church and state.

Next, the pithy statement:

If the 1st Amendment’s ban on the “establishment of religion” by government means anything, it means that a Jewish, Muslim or atheist shouldn’t have to endure routine official prayers “in the name of Jesus” as the price of participating in local government.

And of course, the summation:

As a policy matter, we’d be happy if governments held no prayers at all at their official proceedings. After all, not every citizen attending such meetings will be a believer in any religion’s god. But if a government insists on sponsoring prayers, it should either keep them nonsectarian or make sure that it offers equal time to a range of voices, so as not to endorse one religious tradition over another. That’s what the 2nd Circuit required, and the Supreme Court should affirm its holding.

There is more there, and I agree with it all, but you need to read it there.

The Christian Post Just Doesn’t Understand

I have to keep praying
Keep constantly praying
My soul is at stake if I pause
Each moment of silence
Or prayer I’m not saying
Is grist for the devil, because
Each time when we eat
And we don’t pray at dinner
Thank god, we’re about to be fed
It’s promoting the views
Of the wrong sort of sinner
An atheist message, instead!
Each moment god’s glory
Is not being touted
Is one where it’s being opposed!
So if prayer can’t be spoken
Or whispered, or shouted,
Then neither can silence! Case Closed!

In an editorial at the Christian Post, Wallace Henley illustrates the myopia of privilege.

The House of Representatives voted July 23 against proposals for atheist chaplains in the U.S. military. The vote was an overwhelming defeat for the idea. Only two Republicans and 171 Democrats voted for atheist chaplains.
Contrary to what you may be reading, Christians should be disappointed and atheists should be glad.
Why? Because allowing atheist chaplains recognizes atheism as a religion and would make atheists subject to the same legal restrictions they have gleefully placed on every other religion.

Which, of course, is already the case. As the ACLU and others make clear in every first amendment case they take on. Which Dave Silverman makes clear in every interview.

In the contemporary environment it is easier to speak against God than for God in the public square. An officially sanctioned military chaplaincy for atheists could actually weaken the atheists’ grip on public religious expression.

Feel free to insert your own video montage of lawmakers in DC and across the country concluding their speeches with “and may God bless the United States of America”, and of Congress on the capitol steps singing “God Bless America”, of the same lawmakers reciting the pledge of allegiance and practically shouting “under God!”. Compare the amount of religious broadcasting to the handful of local atheist radio shows. Henley is clearly delusional here.

Think about the inferences.

He means “implications”.

Now, every time a non-theist squeaks opposition to prayer at a school ballgame, or before a city council meeting, or most any other public event, powerful movements mobilize. The mere lifting of a potentially litigating eyebrow shuts down what many consider freedom of speech and expression.

Mind you, this is what happens now. See Cranston, or Jackson, or dozens of others. The reeling back of privileged position is not the same as an attack. Henley’s position is analogous to the commenter who spoke of “invisible statues of atheism“.

Atheism’s well-financed institutions often base their arguments on the allegation that taxpayer money is being used to advocate a particular religion. But if atheism is seen for what it is, a religion, then theists might be able to claim their tax money is now used to advocate the atheist position of no prayer.

Wait, can atheists claim a tax-exempt status under this view? Maybe I spoke too soon… And for the record, “no prayer” is not “the atheist position”–it has long been the case (it may still) that establishment clause cases are brought by religious believers (but not members of the majority), rather than by atheists. “No prayer” is a level playing field. If you want an atheist, anti-theist prayer, I would be happy to provide you with one.

So if atheism is recognized as a religion, might it be possible that theists could have new standing? They might even be able to argue that authorities are unconstitutionally favoring the religion of atheism by restricting prayer to a deity?
The Founders, we are reminded, opposed a state religion. But today secular humanism is most definitely the American state religion in the eyes of some courts. Atheists use their religion to regularly win orders for the removal of crosses and other religious symbols, the abolition of prayer in certain public institutions, and the prohibition of teaching that might imply advocacy of any religion in public schools except atheism.
This atheist chaplain thing could get messy for the atheists. If they are recognized as religionists they may be under the same Big Brother search lamp, legal threats and harassment theistic religions face every day throughout the nation.

Ok, fine. You want an anti-god invocation?

If you could please join me, before we eat…

God is fiction
God is fake
Thank the farmers for this steak (or cake, or shake… depending on the situation)
There is no heaven
There is no hell
It’s time to ring the dinner bell
Let’s Eat!

There–that’s an anti-god, pro-atheist invocation.

Do you see the difference between that and silence?

The Devil Went To Concord

The Devil went to Concord;
He was there to raise some hell
With Satanic clothes and music
And with drugs and porn to sell
He would fill young hearts with evil things
Like envy, lust, and hate…
He was climbing up the High School steps
When something whispered, “Wait!”

A mom was in the doorway,
Praying loudly, arms outstretched—
Asking Jesus Christ’s protection
Which the students thought farfetched
What an antiquated notion—
It’s as obsolete as sin
But with Jesus in the doorway
Surely Satan can’t come in

That’s the way some people saw it
And they loved the mother’s zeal
If the school had no objections,
Then perhaps the tale was real
But some others in the district
Find the spectacle quite odd,
Cos the Devil’s merely fictional,
And so, in fact, is God

In a conflict of religious views
A school can’t take one side
So one faith can’t be promoted
And, of course, can’t be denied
Treating everybody equally
Is what it’s all about…
So the law’s the law in Concord
And the praying mom is out.

The full story, relatively neutrally reported, at the Union Leader. Of course, the misLeader is notoriously right-wing, so you have to look at the comments. It’s actually kind of fun, because New Hampshire has a mix of both types of conservative–the social conservatives who support the praying mom, and the (small L) libertarian conservatives who support the constitution.

The Concord Monitor’s editorial, agreeing that the school was right to end the praying. Fewer comments here, of course–a smaller paper–but the first one is the one that inspired today’s verse.