Texas (of course) Mayor Declares 2014 “Year Of The Bible)

The Christian mayor of Flower Mound
Created a sensation—
He searched his soul, and thus felt bound
To make a proclamation:

This year, he said, would be the year
The town would find its way
Because they’ll read (he made it clear)
The bible every day

Each day, he posts a bible verse;
They study, to the letter
The world, you see, is getting worse
And this will make it better

If the godless get litigious
Then the mayor will play it tough…
Because Texas is religious,
But, it seems, not quite enough.

Yup, because Texas isn’t quite Christian enough already, the Mayor of Flower Mound has proclaimed 2014 the year of the bible. Or rather, “a” year of the bible, since he wants to do it again in 2015. They’ve got a website and everything:

The Bible consists of 66 books written by more than 40 different authors from all different walks of life over a period of 1.400 to 1,800 years. The amazing thing is that the Bible carries a perfect unity from cover to cover regarding its message and content, which speaks of its divine origin as ultimately written by God and not man.

Well, perhaps actually reading it will disabuse them of the notion that it “carries a perfect unity from cover to cover”.
Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Hmmm… at the time I started writing this, they had a functioning comment section on their site, with all positive comments. Now?

Due to the high traffic the site has experienced, we have disabled the Comments section.

Yeah… that must be why.

Breaking News: Mt. Soledad Cross Must Come Down! (…eventually, perhaps)

Today’s report from San Diego (oh, and read to the end of page 2–there’s a poll!):

A San Diego federal judge made a reluctant ruling Thursday that the cross atop Mount Soledad is unconstitutional, although the chances of the La Jolla monument coming down anytime soon are unlikely.

The latest ruling by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns will likely send the case back to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case last year, but said it could reconsider once a lower court enters a final judgment.

Burns ordered the cross to be removed within 90 days, and then stayed that order until all appeals have been exhausted.

That’s right, they have to give a chance to run it by Scalia again, the justice who apparently really actually does believe that a Christian cross is a memorial to war dead of any and all faiths (which must be why the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America–with others–filed the suit). So don’t hold your breath. The Supremes had earlier kicked the case back to the lower court to let it simmer for a bit, rather than have the guts to decide.

As I said earlier…

The cross on the hill was a beautiful sight
On the days when the sky was most bluish;
It stood for the soldiers who gave up their lives
Well, except when the soldiers were Jewish.

The cross on the hill, it looked rugged and old
Though the city maintained it as newish;
The congressman said that it stood for the dead
Well, unless they were atheist, Muslim, or Jewish.

The cross on the hill was a secular thing—
That’s a lie, but it kinda sounds truish—
The judge said it symbolized service and loss
Well, except for the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Pagans, the Jains, the Confucians, the Shinto, the Sikh, the Druids, the Wiccans, Baha’i, Hare Krishna, Zoroastrian, Scientologists, atheists, Muslim or Jewish. Or the religions of the tribal nations who once owned the land the cross is on.

The cross on the hill is religious, of course
Said a Judge who rejected the woo-ish
And it can’t be a symbol for everyone there
If it doesn’t mean Buddhists, the Hindus, the Pagans, the Jains, the Confucians, the Shinto, the Sikh, the Druids, the Wiccans, Baha’i, Hare Krishna, Zoroastrian, Scientologists, atheists, Muslim or Jewish. Or, you know, the indans. Or even Christians who don’t want a symbol, or use a different cross from the Latin Cross, or (fades)

Mt. Soledad Cross Image by Will Fresch–wikipedia commons

Rants And Comments

The Coloradan has a fun opinion piece up, complaining that atheism is becoming the US national religion.

It’s a scattershot argument, at once claiming a near 80% Christian majority and demanding protection from persecution, since we are a republic, not a democracy. A fun read.

Anyway, I commented there, but I can’t tell whether it actually posted. I can see it just fine, but the comment count does not include mine. So I thought I’d put it here, just in case.

Ah yes… atheism is claimed by 1.6%, and “Christianity” by nearly 80, and you are complaining.

The situation you describe is unbelievable on the face of it. No rational person—and I assume you are a rational person—would ever claim that atheism was becoming the national religion of the US when all three branches of the federal government are dominated by Christians, when Congress feels the need to take time from their busy schedules to re-verify every couple of years that “In God We Trust” is our motto, when polls show “atheists” remain less likely to get someone’s vote than any other label tested… So, frankly, the situation cannot be as you describe it.

And it is not. The fact is, you are misrepresenting, badly, and you know it.

To begin, you complain of an attack on “religion in public life” or “whenever God finds his way into public view”. The truth is, even the most radical atheists are staunch defenders of the first amendment, and will defend your right to free expression. What we complain about (and what the courts have consistently agreed with) are the attempts to enlist the government (you note “Congress”, but conveniently omit any consideration of the 14th amendment—so it is not simply a matter of Congress siding with a religious view, but any representative of government) to take the side of one religion or another against all others, or against no religion.

In short, you can have religion in public life, but you cannot have it promoted or led by agents of the government. It’s a simple distinction.

You note that 78.4% of Americans are nominally “Christian”. What you don’t mention here, though, is that the various denominations of Christianity do not always agree. My sister is a devout Christian; her church strongly affirms and supports same-sex marriage. My uncle is a devout Christian; his church condemns same-sex marriage. If the government sides with one church, it sides against the other; it has, over the course of our history, been much healthier for churches not to allow the government to take sides.

One thing you had right, though, and I am glad of it—this is a republic, not a democracy. If it were not for our constitutionally protected freedoms, that 78.4%, should they ever happen to agree on something, could deny the basic rights of those who disagree. As is, the 1.6% you are complaining about only have the power they do because the constitution is on their side. One person plus the constitution beats 80% on the wrong side of the law.

I am glad, also, that you mention the founding fathers. It is, indeed, easy to see that they had no hesitation in declaring the importance of their faiths in God (remember, though, they did not share the same religion—there were, in fact, official religions for many of the colonies, so “Christianity” was not seen as the unifying label you treat it as)… which makes it all the more remarkable that the word “God” is not mentioned once in the Constitution, and the only mentions of religion are to expressly prohibit any religious test for office (article 6) and the first amendment (extended to all levels of government in the 14th). If they had wanted to say we are a Christian nation, they had every ability and opportunity to do so. They did not. They chose to keep government out of religion, and religion out of government. So please, by all means, practice your religion (even in public, if you want to ignore Matthew 6:6). But not while you are acting as an agent of government.

Like I said, it’s very simple.

Heh… no verse this time–but I clicked on “first amendment” up there under the title, and I am frankly astonished at how often I *have* written something I could have just pulled up for the situation. Is there nothing new under the sun?

“Equality Should Never Be Mistaken For Hostility”

“Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility”—Judge Barbara B. Crabb, FFRF v. Geithner

When decades of deference
Yield to one’s preference
One can’t help but feel one’s virility!
As such, abrogation
Feels more like castration:
Equality feels like hostility!

When unequal treatment,
Alas, to defeat went,
It hampered one’s amiability
It saddens me greatly,
The things I’ve seen lately—
Equality feels like hostility!

The rules that one follows,
The treatment one swallows,
When seen as mere pawns, not nobility;
Old privilege relaxes—
We have to pay taxes?
Equality feels like hostility!

It feels like it’s malice;
One’s parsonage palace
Possesses no public utility?
Its worth, despite searches
Is merely the church’s?
Equality feels like hostility!

This horrible feeling
Means, clearly, appealing—
And winning, in all probability;
The free exercise clause
Will excuse them, because
Equality feels like hostility!

Churches of all stripes have, for decades, enjoyed various tax exemptions under US tax code, because reasons. Reasons. Reasons, dammit! As the sponsor of the 1954 bill in question, Rep. Peter Mack, argued :

Certainly, in these times when we are being threatened by a godless and anti-religious world movement we should correct this discrimination against certain ministers of the gospel who are carrying on such a courageous fight against this. Certainly this is not too much to do for these people who are caring for our spiritual welfare

Not every legal opinion is fun to read. This one is. This was the case where the best (perhaps only) argument the government had was to claim that the atheist co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation were… clergy, thus deserving of the tax break and in no position to sue. A simple look at Mack’s quote above is enough to show the silliness there, but the full opinion is a marvelous 43 pages of smackdown.

I’m sure it will be appealed, and I dread the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Oh, yeah… buy my book:
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

In The Near Distant Future, A Christian Looks Back With Regret

Remember the days when “Majority rules!”
Was the rallying cry in our town halls and schools?
We’d meet by the hundreds and kick up a fuss—
The majority, then, were the People Like Us.
The People Like Us (or for short, PLU’s)
Were the people believing in similar views;
PLU’s making up the majority there,
We wanted our meetings begun with a prayer
It would always be Christian, or often enough
We could simply ignore the minority stuff;
At most, we’d be waiting for maybe a week
Till the time when a Christian had our turn to speak.

We wanted the prayer to be part of the law
The majority view was the way that we saw!
Town meetings that open by praying to Jesus
Are all that we wanted… and all that would please us.
So we voted. Of course, when the vote went our way,
We were happy, cos all PLU’s had their say
Because we had the power to get something done
And minority groups held but little or none
And everyone listened, when we gave the word,
And no one complained… at least, no one we heard.
The majority’s right; the majority’s strong;
The majority voted… so what could go wrong?

We’d never considered… the thought was too strange…
But the fact is that, sometimes, majorities… change.
We were once the majority—my, we were proud;
We demanded our way! We were brash! We were loud!
How I wish we’d thought then, because now is too late,
Of the dangerous mixing between church and state,
And I wish we’d considered some sort of a wall
So the church and the state couldn’t mingle at all
Because government prayer is a thing we condemn,
Now the voting majority’s People Like Them
We got what we wanted, so we hold the blame…
It’s majority rules! What a shame! What a shame!

So a recent new follower of mine on twitter is the communications director for the National Day of Prayer Task Force. These folks are looking at Greece, NY, as a landmark case that will help to codify government-led prayer. The above verse is my thinking–I cannot imagine why any religious person would ever willingly choose to give the government the power to back a specific religious view (or even a general one). History is full of the waxing and waning of faith communities; a “majority rules” that favors your religion today is the same law that confers second-class status on you tomorrow. Giving up your independence to hitch yourself to power seems like a good idea when the power goes your way… but the success of religions in the US comes from their independence from government, not from their close ties.

Hey, Let’s Decide Your Rights With A Poll!

The cross is there, on public land;
It’s been there fifty years.
The courts will say it cannot stand;
So, surely, it appears.
The local Christians see the case
A battle for our soul
Instead of legal argument…
It’s time to run a poll.

In Middleboro, MA, there is a cross on the median strip of a bit of Route 28. A 7-foot cross of red brick, with the word “WORSHIP” in faded white letters, that has been there for 50 years, since the Kiwanis club constructed it. The grassy island is owned in part by the city, in part by the state, but

In an effort to resolve the matter, the state and county agreed to donated their shares of the island to the town, which in turn will sell it to the local Kwianas Club.

At least one citizen is worried there will be trouble:

Jeff Stevens lobbied town meeting to stay out of the fray, fearing the town will become embroiled in a lawsuit threatened by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This is not a Middleboro problem,” Stevens said. “It will open up our town to legal challenges.”

I’m sure you can guess how the vote went:

Town meeting ignored Stevens’ petition by a wide margin and supported selectmen 228 to 10. The vote drew a round of applause.

It’s like Cranston, and Jackson, and so many more… never happened.

Anyway, there is currently a poll at the site, asking your opinion of the cross– is it “a religious symbol that has no place on public property”, or “an appropriate expression of religious freedom”? As of now, it’s roughly two to one the wrong way.

“Operation Good Shepherd” Sends Evangelists To Crime Scenes… Who Could Complain?

In Montgomery, Alabama,
As the victim of a crime
You might want the cops to move
A little faster
They’ll be there, if you are lucky,
In the very nick of time,
But they’ll make one stop
To bring along a pastor

When they bring along “Good Shepherds”
They don’t mean the K-9 corps—
But evangelists, whose job
Is just to preach
Simply spreading Christianity
Is what this program’s for—
And at crime scenes, there’s
An audience to reach

It’s a blatant violation
Of our first amendment rights!
This conjoining of a
Pastor and a cop…
It’s a weapon for the church—
The constitution in its sights—
Alabama’s got to understand,
And stop!

Seriously, what? Montgomery, Alabama is using public funds “to place Evangelical Christian Pastors at crime scenes“. I can’t see why American Atheists might object to that… I mean, other than every single thing about it.

Maybe this is all just a misunderstanding…

The department’s official chaplain Corp. David Hicks said in an interview on Christian radio, “What we want to do is combine the religious community and the Montgomery Police Department and we want to unite those as one.”

Ah. No, then.

Can’t wait to see how this one plays out.

Christian Plaintiff Wins Jesus Portrait Case In Jackson, OH

The Jesus portrait has to go,
We finally agree
It’s like you told us long ago
Before we paid your fee
If we had only listened then
We might have known you’re right…
But someone hollered “atheist!”
And so we had to fight.

We didn’t think the painting
Would offend a Christian soul—
We thought it was the atheists
Exerting their control
But freedom of religion means
A Christian can complain
When schools promote religion
When they’d really best abstain.

In Jackson, where the headlines say
“The atheists have sued”
It seems the story’s incorrect—
The facts are misconstrued—
One plaintiff is a Christian girl
It chastens us to say
Who saw the Jackson painting, but
Views Christ a different way

And victory for atheists
(As all the papers say)
Is victory for her as well
The schools, of course, must pay
We’ve learned a costly lesson, here
In Jackson public schools:
Tradition might speak loudly, but…
The constitution rules

I missed it Friday, but the parties have reached a settlement in Jackson, Ohio, and the portrait of Jesus has to go. Reactions are … predictable. It’s an ACLU and FFRF “Shakedown”, with the lawyers getting some $80,000 (which they had warned the schools about) and plaintiffs getting “the paltry sum of $3,000 each” (which I predict will be framed as sufficient motive that their suit can be dismissed as money-grubbing). Of course, nearly every report labels it an “atheist lawsuit”, which is worth unpacking.

A local news channel, WSAZ, has a nice collection of the major events in the case, updated at every turn (though the video at the top is not current). But even there, there is no mention of one fact that spoils everyone’s narrative.

One of the plaintiff children is a Christian. From the FFRF complaint:

Plaintiff Same Doe 2, attends Jackson Middle School and views the portrait of Jesus every day when Plaintiff walks through the entranceway to the Middle School. Sam Doe 2 identifies as a person of Christian faith and is offended by the religious portrait hanging in Jackson Middle School because it portrays the image of Jesus in a manner that is inconsistent with said Plaintiff’s religious beliefs and expresses the Christian faith in a way that distorts Sam Doe 2’s own beliefs about morality and religion.

The promotion of one view of Christianity does not just offend non-Christians, it offends other Christians who do not share that particular view. It is trivially true that different Christian faiths disagree with one another–and this was clearly the case during the writing of the constitution, when (for instance) Catholics were viewed as a threat to local governance.

This is precisely the sort of thing the first amendment was meant to deal with, and this is precisely the outcome that could be seen from months ago.

Wait… I Thought All The Best Scientists Were Christians!

The Pacific Justice Institute is fighting the “forced atheistic teaching” of elementary school children in Kansas. Apparently, the new science standards are incompatible with theistic religious beliefs.

It’s a legal violation!
It’s our first amendment right!
So we won’t give up our ignorance,
At least without a fight!

We can’t teach our children science
Kids as young as five years old—
Much too young to know the truth about
The things that they are told!

It’s the right of each American,
Which no one can besmirch,
To maintain beliefs force-fed them
By their parents and their church

These beliefs must go unchallenged!
Unopposed at every turn!
If we teach our children science,
There’s a chance that they might… learn!

What I want to do, is to gather up the plaintiffs and lawyers in this case, and put them in a box with the folks who collect theistic scientists to prove that science is on the side of religion, and then tape the box shut and seal them inside with a limited supply of oxygen run the “Three Christs of Ypsilanti” experiment with them. Does science prove god exists? Is science incompatible with religion? Is teaching young kids science brainwashing them? Is teaching them religion?

On Taking Sides, And Town Meeting Prayers

Our founders had their different faiths, and with those faiths as guides
They determined that our government should not be taking sides

That couplet, excerpted from this earlier verse, is the crux of the matter in Greece, NY. In the most recent must-read piece, SCOTUSblog, and author Carl Esbeck, dissects the matter of the case (I’ll only briefly quote here–the whole thing is well worth the time):

Can government knowingly take sides in a matter of religious belief or practice? More to the point, can government actively support a practice that is explicitly religious, such as prayer? This is the issue in Town of Greece v. Galloway as it ought to be framed.

Quoting with approval from Marsh v. Chambers, the Town’s main brief states that the purpose of legislative prayer is “[t]o invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws.” The practice not only calls upon a God or gods, but to a Divinity interested and active in human affairs. Why else invoke guidance? This act of prayer is thus consistent with some religions but not others. Deists, for example, believe in an impersonal God. A policy of legislative prayer is doubtlessly taking a side, and no phony pluralism dressed up as “nonsectarian” prayer – a vague theism not actually practiced by anyone – can cover up that fact.

The ubiquitous internet commenters who point to Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists love to claim that the first amendment is not intended to protect government from religion, but to limit government meddling and thus protect religion from government. Esbeck’s piece painstakingly explains why the protection of government from church is protection of church from government.

The divisiveness within the body politic that is a proper concern starts when government takes sides in favor of an explicitly religious practice. Political struggle will likely ensue to seize control of the machinery of government. The purpose for which factions seek control is that the one in power decides the question of continued favoritism of the religious practice. The solution, however, is not to suppress the political struggle which is protected free speech. The solution is to fix the cause of the divisiveness, namely for the courts to start enforcing the taking-sides rule.

Political divisiveness is thus not itself a violation of the Establishment Clause. But it’s a warning sign that the taking-sides rule has gone neglected. Of course, divisiveness within the larger civil society will continue. That’s just pluralism. What will subside is the struggle to seize the levers of power with the aim of controlling whether government continues to take sides in favor of a religious practice.

Mind you, so long as the majority is winning, won’t they be fine with that? What’s to persuade the Christian majority in Greece that the invocation isn’t a good thing despite the entanglement?

In Greece, N.Y., religion prays at the suffrage of the Town Board. The Board, in turn, sought to invoke God’s guidance. But that’s not what the Board got. It instead got an invocation open to all willing locals, including Wiccans and atheists, who, because the Board could not be censorious prayer police, were permitted to say (pray?) whatever they wanted. How did things go so far astray? Presumably because the Board was following advice of legal counsel to “do prayer” federal judges would uphold. In the end, religion was corrupted. That was preventable by a government attentive to Establishment Clause dos and don’ts.

Once you let one in, you let them all in, and you run the risk (as happened recently in Arizona) of an improper and inadequate prayer by the “wrong” people, which you then have to make up for with additional invocations. Of course, then, any other religion must have the same right to make up for your prayer with one of their own, and so on, and so on… And it could not be more clear that these invocations are absolutely not for the benefit of the town, but for the purposes of the churches themselves.

Ultimately religion does not exist to sustain the political order. It’s not a program for municipal improvement or to bless those who take up civic duties. When government uses religion as a tool to achieve its political goals, the danger to religion is that it becomes a courtier in the halls of State.