High School Atheist Wins Unsurprising Court Case, Gets Death Threats — Why?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. Note: The college scholarship fund is still being raised for Jessica Ahlquist on the Friendly Atheist blog. Donations of all sizes are welcomed through February 29.)

Jessica AhlquistIf you take away just two things from the story about atheist high school student Jessica Ahlquist, and the court case she won last week to have a prayer banner taken out of her public school, let it be these:

1: The ruling in this case was entirely unsurprising. It is 100% in line with unambiguous legal precedent, established and re-established over many decades, exemplifying a basic principle of Constitutional law.

2: As a result of this lawsuit, Jessica Ahlquist is now being bullied, ostracized, and threatened with violence in her community. She has been called “evil” in public by her state representative, and is being targeted with multiple threats of brutal violence, rape, and death.

Which leads one to wonder: What the hell is going on here? [Read more...]

Why Is an Atheist High School Student Getting Vicious Death Threats?

Her state representative has called the student “evil” and she has been threatened with violence, rape and death. What gives?

If you take away just two things from the story about atheist high school student Jessica Ahlquist, and the court case she won last week to have a prayer banner taken out of her public school, let it be these:

1: The ruling in this case was entirely unsurprising. It is 100 percent in line with unambiguous legal precedent, established and re-established over many decades, exemplifying a basic principle of constitutional law.

2: As a result of this lawsuit, Jessica Ahlquist is now being bullied, ostracized and threatened with violence in her community. She has been called “evil” in public by her state representative, and is being targeted with multiple threats of violence, rape and death.

Which leads one to wonder: What the hell is going on here?

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Is an Atheist High School Student Getting Vicious Death Threats? To read more — both about why the ruling in this case was so entirely unsurprising, and why the response to it has been so vicious — read the rest of the piece.

Oh, and by the way: The college scholarship fund for Jessica Ahlquist is, as of this writing, already over $24,000. Let’s get it to top $30,000!

The Best Parts of the Jessica Ahlquist Court Decision

I just finished a piece for AlterNet about the recent court decision in favor of Jessica Ahlquist, the one ruling that Cranston High School West could not have a freaking prayer banner posted in their auditorium. (I’ll post a link as soon as it goes up.) I’ve been reading the actual court decision — something most of the people vehemently decrying this decision and calling for Jessica’s blood have conspicuously failed to do. And I wanted to pull out what I thought were some of the best, most pertinent, most beautiful, most damning, and most flat-out inspiring pieces of the ruling. Kudos to U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux.

BTW, a link to a PDF with the entire ruling can be found on the Friendly Atheist blog. (I’d link to it myself, but I have some odd holes in my tech knowledge, and “how to post/ link to a PDF” is one of them.)

And for those who don’t already know about this: There’s a college scholarship fund being raised for Ahlquist, also on the Friendly Atheist blog. Ahlquist is an incredibly tough and brave young woman, who has been fighting firmly and powerfully for separation of church and state in the face of unbelievably ugly and hateful vilification, ostracism, and threats of violence and death. If you want to show your support for her, please consider contributing. Donations of all sizes are welcomed through February 29.

And now — Ahlquist v. City of Cranston, the greatest hits!

No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that. Its opening, calling upon the “Heavenly Father,” is an exclusively Christian formulation of a monotheistic deity, leaving out, inter alia, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists alike. The Prayer concludes with the indisputably religious closing: “Amen;” a Hebrew word used by Jews, Christians and Muslims to conclude prayers. In between, the Prayer espouses values of honesty, kindness, friendship and sportsmanship. While these goals are commendable, the reliance on God’s intervention as the way to achieve those goals is not consistent with a secular purpose.

The Court refrains from second-guessing the expressed motives of the committee members, but nonetheless must point out that tradition is a murky and dangerous bog. While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction. The Court concludes that Cranston’s purposes in installing and, more recently, voting to retain the Prayer Mural are not clearly secular.

The Prayer Mural espouses important moral values, yet it does so in the context of religious supplication. The retention of the Prayer Mural is no doubt a nod to Cranston West’s tradition and history, yet that nod reflects the nostalgia felt by some members of the community who remember fondly when the community was sufficiently homogeneous that the religion of its majority could be practiced in public schools with impunity.

When focused on the Prayer Mural, the activities and agenda of the Cranston School Committee became excessively entangled with religion, exposing the Committee to a situation where a loud and passionate majority encouraged it to vote to override the constitutional rights of a minority.

…the School Committee endorsed the position of those who believe that it is acceptable to use Christian prayer to instill values in public schoolchildren; a decision that clearly placed the ‘nonadherents’ outside of the political community.

And finally: This, this, a hundred times this:

Plaintiff is clearly an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand, particularly in light of the hostile response she has received from her community.

Hell to the yes. Ahlquist is indeed an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand. The atheist community — and anyone who cares about the principle that government should stay out of people’s private religious convictions — owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.

Santorum Surges From Behind

Yes, I do sometimes make weird sexual jokes. Not all the time… but sometimes. And tonight is one of those nights.

It’s been a good night on Twitter. Jokes about Santorum are coming thick and fast. (Sheesh, even when you try to say something straightforward about the guy, it comes out dirty. There — I did it again!)

Anyway, as the Iowa caucus results pour in, Jen McCreight (@jennifurret on Twitter) and I (@gretachristina on Twitter) have been doing our best to come up with/ retweet the most disgusting Santorum jokes and made-up headlines we can manage. Here is a sampling of the best. (Oh, and in case you don’t know what the joke is about: Google the word “Santorum.” Or just go here.)

@jennifurret: Santorum rushes from behind after dislodging Romney.

@jennifurret RT @byepluto: I was wrong to think he was gonna come in number three. Everybody knows Santorum comes out of number two.

@jennifurret RT @Crommunist: Santorum surge floods Iowa caucus.

@gretachristina: Romney soaked by Santorum. Slicks path for possible Ron Paul penetration.

@gretachristina: Santorum forces Perry to withdraw.

(As @VeritasKnight noted: Anyone who says dirty jokes stop when you’re a feminist doesn’t have @GretaChristina and @jennifurret on their feeds.)

Plenty of others have been getting into the game as well:

@JoeMyGod RT @MSignorile: Tomorrow’s headline: Santorum Surges from Behind in Messy Late Night Three-Way.

@Mowgli3: Santorum gushes forth in the polls after Romney finishes early. @jennifurret

@NotThatGuy: @GretaChristina @jennifurret Santorum beneath Romney now, and Paul’s behind.

And Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon has a poll, asking readers to propose better headline language for Santorum than the all-too-obvious “surge.”

But honestly, some of the best are actual real-life headlines. My fave:

RT @JoeMyGod: Fox News: “Ron Paul and Romney are neck and neck with Santorum.”

I know. This is serious business, and the guy is reprehensible. But I’m fine with ridicule as a political strategy. And as vile as the guy is, my inner Beavis wants Santorum to stay in it for as long as possible. (Heh, heh!)

Has the American Cancer Society Been Caught Covering Up a Rejection of Atheist Money?

The ACS has been stung by accusations of anti-atheist bigotry in its fundraising. Is it making things worse by trying to cover its tracks?

“What really hurts in matters of this sort is not the fact that they occur, because overzealous people in campaigns do things that are wrong. What really hurts is if you try to cover it up.” — President Richard M. Nixon, August 29, 1972

The American Cancer Society is not happy. It insists that it is not discriminating against atheists. It insists that its recent decision to deny the Foundation Beyond Belief a national team in their upcoming Relay for Life — and its decision to reject the $250,000 matching offer that would have gone with it — had nothing to do with the fact that the FBB is a non-theist organization. It insists that it had already decided to do away with non-profit participation in the Relay for Life on a national level, and that the FBB’s request just happened to come at the time when it had made that decision. And it really, really wants atheists — and believers who are equally outraged by this controversy — to stop bugging them about it.

The problem is this: The facts don’t match their story.

Actually, the facts strongly suggest a cover-up. An online trail clearly shows non-profit organizations with national teams in the Relay for Life, and shows the ACS actively soliciting non-commercial organizations to participate in the program — right up until the original AlterNet article about the FBB controversy appeared. At which point, the national teams of these non-profits abruptly had their status changed to “Youth Affiliates.” And the online trail clearly shows that several non-profits are still participating as Youth Affiliates with national teams in the Relay for Life — a form of participation that is still being denied to the Foundation Beyond Belief, with no explanation from the ACS. (Supporting documents for this story are available on the author’s personal blog.)

What’s more, the American Cancer Society’s attempts at damage control have included contradictions, distortions, deceptions, and flat-out misinformation: about the Foundation Beyond Belief, about Todd Stiefel (the atheist philanthropist whose family offered the $250,000 matching offer in the first place), even about AlterNet. And their attempts at damage control have turned into an ugly attempt to blame Stiefel and the Foundation Beyond Belief for raising the issue in the first place.

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Has the American Cancer Society Been Caught Covering Up a Rejection of Atheist Money?. To read more of this follow-up on the ongoing controversy — with serious concerns about the ACS’s actions in the wake of the story, and their baffling refusal to respond to direct questions about it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Is Atheist Money Too Controversial for the American Cancer Society?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. My follow-up to this piece is scheduled to be published early this week.

I’ll say this clearly, right up front: The American Cancer Society did not explicitly reject a massive donation offer from a non-theistic organization on the basis of them being a non-theistic organization.

That was not the stated reason given for rejecting a matching offer of $250,000 from the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Todd Stiefel Foundation to sponsor a national team in the upcoming “Relay for Life.” (An offer that, as a matching offer, was likely to bring in a total of half a million dollars for the American Cancer Society.) Nobody at the ACS has ever said, in words, “We don’t want our organization to be associated with atheists. It’s too controversial. We don’t want atheist money.” And when asked if this was the case, they have denied it.

It’s just difficult to reach any other conclusion.

Because the officially stated reasons for rejecting this offer have ranged from slippery at best to non-existent at worst. In the place of clear explanations, there has been an ongoing series of evasions, imprecisions, conflicting answers, moved goalposts, apathy, and even hostility. [Read more...]

I have my archives!

I have my archives from my old blog! They’re here! With comments and everything! They’re even in the right categories!

Images and videos didn’t make it over, and there are a handful of posts that didn’t make it and that I’ll have to put in by hand. (For some reason, it didn’t like my posts about alternative medicine, speaking at Stanford, making atheism a safe place to land, atheists having morality, and my recipe for chocolate pie. Make of that what you will.) But I can live with that. The archives are here. Years of my old work — all finally in one place. This has been driving me up a tree, and I can now finally relax about it. (A little.)

If you want to see them, scroll down in the sidebar to where it says “Recent Posts/ Comments/ Archives.” Click Archives. There they are! You can also search for posts in the archives with the handy Search box at the top right of the blog. Which works waaaay better than the search box at my old blog.

When I’m back from my Minnesota trip, I’m going to start working on (a) getting the old blog to redirect to the new one, and (b) getting the best and hottest posts listed in my sidebar, so newcomers to the blog can browse them more easily. And I’ll probably start linking to the cool stuff from the archives, so newcomers to this blog can become familiar with it. For now, I’m just going to sit back and cry tears of happiness and relief. I can haz archives! Yay!

I have to express my intense gratitude to fellow Freethought Blogger Jason Thibeault, at Lousy Canuck, for making this happen. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that atheists have no sense of community or compassion. I owe him big time. Go visit his blog, and tell him Thank You.