Shawna Forde sentenced to die

I’ve been holding this one in my pocket for a while, hoping to have something to connect it to. However, nothing has come up and I don’t want to let it go uncommented:

An anti-immigration activist has been sentenced to death for the 2009 murder of a nine year-old-girl and her father. Shawna Forde, 43, organised a break-in at the Arizona home of Raul Flores apparently to fund her group, which campaigns against illegal immigration. But the burglary went wrong and 29-year-old Mr Flores was shot dead along with his daughter Brisenia.

I don’t like the BBC’s use of the word “activist” in this context. Shawna Forde is a terrorist who used violence and intimidation as tools to advance her political agenda. Her group, Minutemen American Defense should not be confused with The Minutemen, which is a non-violent group (one that I still think is misguided, but nonetheless non-violent) of volunteers that patrols the US/Mexican border looking for illegal immigrants. Shawna Forde was kicked out of the Minutemen for being too insane.

Shawna Forde and two other people broke into the Flores home looking for drugs that they could sell to fund their organization. They shot the inhabitants of the home, killing two and wounding one. One of those who died was 9 year-old Brisenia Flores. Less of a fuss was kicked up over this murder than the equally-tragic shooting death of Christina Taylor Green at the hands of Jared Loughner in January, a fact that may have a number of explanations of which race is undoubtedly one.

Even for a hateful monster like Shawna Forde, I cannot condone the death penalty. Not only is it not an effective deterrent for further crimes, it is far more expensive than simply jailing her for life. While it may be just to kill someone who kills another, there is no value to such a murder except removing Shawna Forde from society. It is likely to turn her into a martyr, as is evinced by her fan page. Maybe if they just flew her into the middle of the Mojave and left her out there without any supplies…

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The ongoing battle for cultural accommodation loses two skirmishes

Regular readers may recall last month’s discussion over the kirpan, a piece of Sikh religious iconography that has been the subject of recent debate in the Quebec legislature:

While it would be a complete failure on our part to refuse to recognize the impact on the Sikh community (as a manifestation of privilege) of such a ban, we also must respect the fact that Canada is a secular nation, meaning that religious symbols are not to be given any kind of legal standing.

Finding equally compelling arguments on both sides of the issue, I was forced to swallow the bitter pill of compromise and suggest that a reasonable accommodation would be to allow kirpans that could not be used as weapons – either because they were locked or because they were too small (some are worn like lockets around the neck and are less than an inch long). I dislike advocating compromise, because it is usually a sign that both sides have given up trying to convince the other and are trying to get out of the room in time for lunch. In this case, I found myself stuck between two secular principles and unable to arbitrarily pick a side.

It seems that the Quebec legislature suffers from no such quandary:

Quebec’s governing Liberals voted in favour of an opposition motion to ban ceremonial daggers from the provincial legislature. The Parti Québécois tabled its motion Wednesday — requesting the government prevent Sikhs from carrying their ceremonial daggers into the national assembly building — and the legislature voted unanimously in favour.

The Opposition PQ was more strident and applauded the building’s security details, while stressing the party’s view that multiculturalism is a Canadian but not a Quebec value. PQ MNA Louise Beaudoin urged Sikhs to make a “little bit of an effort” and demanded the Liberal government clarify its position on religious objects in the legislature.

It’s nice to see that despite our differences, lawmakers can all agree that there is no room for accommodation of any of those weird foreign practices. Certainly no middle ground to be found between respecting individual freedoms and the secular nature of the state – that would be ridiculous.

Sikhs, predictably, are unhappy with the ruling:

The World Sikh Organization of Canada is disappointed with the Quebec national assembly’s decision to ban Sikhs from wearing a kirpan in the legislature. Arguing that multiculturalism is under threat, Canadian Sikhs pointed out that the Supreme Court of Canada decided in 2006 that the ceremonial dagger, traditionally worn underneath the clothing, is an article of faith — not a weapon.

While I sympathize with their feelings on this issue, I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever someone tries to claim that the kirpan isn’t a weapon. It is true that the religious dictates requiring Sikhs to wear kirpans do not require them to be viable as weapons, but to say that the kirpan isn’t designed with that purpose in mind is willful ignorance masquerading as tolerance. The question is whether or not the religious belief surrounding the weapon allows it to be exempted, under the assumption that nobody will ever use it for violence. That would be a stupid decision made for a stupid reason.

There have been accusations of racism/xenophobia that accompany this decision, and for the most part I tend to agree. There have been exactly zero incidents of someone being attacked in the Quebec legislature by a kirpan, so passing a law that bans them isn’t motivated by self-preservation so much as the wish to make a statement that people who look and behave different must fall in line. Again, I think a reasonable accommodation could have been made here, and failing to pursue that (with a unanimous decision it’s hard to argue otherwise) is strongly suggestive to me of a pervasive attitude that precludes the idea of accommodation.

This issue of religious behaviour functioning in secular society may become the defining issue of our discourse in the next little while. With the Supreme Court wrangling over the constitutionality of bans on polygamy, the Ontario provincial court grappling with veils on testifying witnesses, and now the kirpan issue, can we throw one more log on the fire?

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says a private members bill that would force people to show their faces when they vote is “reasonable.” A Quebec Conservative backbencher, Steven Blaney, rekindled the debate over veiled voters on Friday with the tabling of a bill that critics decry as an attempt to divide the electorate.

It is tempting to try and weigh the merits of this kind of issue and try to figure out if it is indeed reasonable. I would argue that asking someone to identify themselves in order to vote is very reasonable, and if that cannot be done by means of facial identification and there is no other alternative, requiring someone to show their face is perfectly fine. However, such a view of this issue ignores the real purpose – this is simply an attempt to find wedge issues in anticipation of an upcoming election. Unless there is a suspicion that voter fraud is happening at such a level that national-level legislation needs to be enacted, then this is simply an argument for argument’s sake. It’s a typical tactic of the Harper government that is about as transparent as it is utterly meaningless.

However, there is a larger point to be gleaned in all of this. Canada has to decide how it wants to define itself – as a rigidly secular nation where immigrants have to learn to adopt our customs, or as a place where accommodations are made as often as possible to ensure that everyone feels welcome. Both of these approaches have their merits, but I’m more optimistic about the second one working out as a long-term strategy.

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The religious right

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (also sometimes called the Constitution of Canada) guarantees all Canadians the following:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

While there is a great deal of haggling over what this actually means (more on that in a second), at the very minimum it says that any Canadian person is entitled to hold their own private beliefs (whether religious or otherwise), and is allowed to express those beliefs openly without fear of official government infringement. This is the part of the Charter that gives me warm fuzzy feelings, incidentally. Pretty much everything else is good also, but this particular part makes my nature rise.

Personally, I favour this minimum definition – you’re allowed to believe and say anything you like, just so long as you don’t a) break the law in doing so, and/or b) try to forcibly compel others to adopt your beliefs. Other interpretations of the “freedom of religion” clause seem to think that you’re allowed to do pretty much whatever you want as long as you can find a religious justification for doing so. Both interpretations are, strictly speaking, in line with the wording of the Charter; however, the second one is both dangerous and stupid. Dangerous, because pretty much anything can be justified by claiming religious origin, and stupid because it leads to things like this:

A judge has thrown out a legal challenge that claimed Canada’s marijuana laws violate the freedom of religion provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The challenge was brought by two Toronto men — Peter Styrsky and Shahrooz Kharaghani — who are reverends in a group called the Church of the Universe… The church uses the drug as a sacrament and argues the law infringes on their freedom of religion rights under the charter.

Trying to claim that the right to religious freedom grants religious adherents freedoms that transcend those of the general populace is absurd. This particular church is obviously a bunch of crazies who think that marijuana is God’s “tree of life” (I am not making that up), but that’s really not that far a step above Rastafari who believe in ganja’s powers to cleanse and refocus the mind. Rastafari isn’t too many steps beyond Orthodox Judaism or anyone who keeps kosher, believing that the milk of a animal cannot be consumed with its meat through some kind of totemic magical properties that make it “unclean” to do so. Orthodox Judaism lies well within the mainstream view of religion, and its dietary restrictions are surely no more absurd than the requirement for Muslim women to cover up, or the Catholic admonishment to abstain from meat on certain days of the week.

Happily, the judge appears to agree with my assessment of where “religious freedom” begins and ends, which is that even the most pious and sincere religious conviction does not trump the law:

“I do not accept that providing cannabis to people in the basement … was a religious act,” she wrote. “They may well believe that providing [marijuana] to others is a good thing to do. That does not, however, transform its distribution into a religious belief or practice.”

This applies in equal measure to all attempts to circumvent the laws and statutes of society in the name of “religious expression”. Christians like to claim persecution when they have to treat LGBT people as though they are full human beings, entitled to the same level of jobs, services and treatment that anyone else is. This ruling speaks to that issue as well – your beliefs are fine so long as you keep them in the comfort of your own head. The second you bring them out into the open and begin contravening the laws of the land, you’re no longer entitled and must obey the same rules as everyone else. The irony is of course lost on the religious that the same rules that prevent them from discriminating against others also protect them from the selfsame discrimination they worry that we secularists are going to inflict upon them.

I think they should relax – the Charter already prohibits the things they’re worried about. Can’t relax? Ask the guys at the Church of the Universe – they might be able to help you out…

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Another case study of cultural tolerance

This morning I explored the stupid side of one of my pet topics, the idea of cultural tolerance. Basically, the argument goes that since we have a variety of cultures all calling this great country of ours “home”, we are called to make reasonable accommodations for different cultural practices. The important word in that last sentence is reasonable. Moving the location of a health care facility because some people are scared little babies about death is not a reasonable accommodation. To the contrary – it flies in the face of reason.

However, this case perhaps bears a bit less contempt and a bit more thoughtful reflection:

An emotionally charged debate over multiculturalism that has raged in Quebec in recent years has landed on the national stage and it centres on a ceremonial dagger worn by Sikhs. MPs face a demand to ban the kirpan, which is worn at all times by at least one Ontario MP. The discussion is being spurred by the Bloc Québécois, which promised Wednesday to take up the issue with the House of Commons’ all-party decision-making body.

Setting aside the obvious fact that this a political move that is motivated primarily by the cultural equivalent of racism (when’s the last time someone in the legislature was attacked with a kirpan?), there are actually two perfectly reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue.

Against the measure: A reasonable accommodation can be made to allow MPs to wear religious items without interfering with the good order and work of the parliament

As I noted above, there have never been any attacks within parliament by a kirpan (or any other weapon). Banning people from wearing a kirpan is not a reaction to an incident of violence, nor is it a pre-emptive attempt to fight a trend of imminent violence. It is simply making an arbitrary rule that has the effect of saying that certain people are not welcome to run for office. For Sikhs who take their religion seriously, the kirpan is a mandatory accoutrement that must be worn at all times. It has the same religious force of compulsion as the burqua or similar head-coverings for conservative Jews.

Given that there is a compelling reason (at the individual level) for wearing a kirpan, and very little is accomplished by banning it (aside from broadcasting xenophobia), a strong case can be made that the measure should not be adopted.

For the measure: The accommodation to allow people to bring a weapon into the legislature is not reasonable

I’ve made this exact argument before (way in the distant past, likely before any of you now reading the blog were around):

In my mind, allowing anyone to carry a weapon of any kind is not a good idea. I don’t care how symbolic or ceremonial it it supposed to be. If my religious convictions require me to carry a rifle in my hands because Jesus could arrive at any moment and I have to help him fight off Satan’s zombie hordes, common sense (and the law) would dictate that the danger I pose to society in general outweighs my religious autonomy. Such is the case here.

The kirpan is not worn to commemorate a battle or to symbolize some kind of pillar of Sikh faith. It is explicitly a defensive weapon that is worn by Sikhs in case they have to prevent some act of evil from taking place. The same argument could be made for a non-religious knife, or a gun, or any other type of weapon. Given that we do not permit MPs (or anyone) to take a weapon into a government building unless they are a member of the security staff, making a special concession for this weapon because it is wrapped up in religious superstition is not a reasonable accommodation, despite whatever nonsense Michael Ignatieff says:

“The kirpan is not a weapon,” Ignatieff told reporters in Montreal. “It’s a religious symbol and we have to respect it.” When asked about the issue Thursday, Ignatieff said that it should be treated as a question of religious freedom rather than simply a security matter.

We have to respect it? With all due respect to your position, Mr. Ignatieff, we don’t have to respect religious symbols. We have to respect a person’s right to believe in their particular religious symbol, but we are under no consequent obligation to respect the symbol ourselves. Considering that the symbol itself, when divorced from its symbolism, is in fact a knife, it is entirely reasonable to ask why it should be allowed inside the legislature (or anywhere else, for that matter).

While I hate compromise (I really do… it usually means that both sides are giving up), I think one is appropriate in this case. While it would be a complete failure on our part to refuse to recognize the impact on the Sikh community (as a manifestation of privilege) of such a ban, we also must respect the fact that Canada is a secular nation, meaning that religious symbols are not to be given any kind of legal standing. The problem with the kirpan is not the kirpan itself – it is its potential to be used as a weapon. Kirpans can be purchased with locks, or made such that they cannot be drawn from their sheath. Passing a resolution that allows the kirpan to be worn but stripping it of its function as a knife is entirely possible, and involves a reasonable accommodation from both sides.

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P.S. Interestingly, as I was writing this piece, I found myself saying “this is absolutely my position” for both sides of the argument. I’m always interested to hear your opinions (even in those cases when I don’t post a reply), but I am particularly curious to know if you were swayed one way or the other on this issue.

Cross-burning comes to a close

One of the very first stories I talked about when I started this site about a year ago was the cross burning incident in Nova Scotia, where an interracial couple woke to find a flaming cross on their lawn. That story has come to a close:

The second of two brothers who burned a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple in Windsor, N.S., has been sentenced to two months in jail.

Justin Rehberg, 20, was sentenced in a Windsor courtroom for criminal harassment and inciting racial hatred. He will be on probation for 30 months and is barred from owning firearms for 10 years. Rehberg was composed during the sentencing when Justice Claudine MacDonald asked if he had anything to say.

“I want to say I’m sorry,” Rehberg told the court. “I screwed up. It was a horrible mistake. It will never happen again.”

On Monday, Rehberg’s older brother, Nathan, was sentenced to four months in jail for inciting hatred and to six months in jail for criminal harassment. The sentences are to be served concurrently, and with credit for time already spent in custody, he will spend two more months in jail.

Well, I should say that the story has come to a close as far as the two brothers are concerned. The victims of this incident will have to live with the aftermath for years to come. That also doesn’t take into account the black community in Nova Scotia, having to deal with the constant spectre of fear of violence for the crime of having been born with a different skin colour.

I don’t have much to say about the sentence. It’s less than my sense of revenge would have liked to see, but as far as I’m concerned the damage has already been done. These kids are royal fuckups, will pull this kind of shit again, and will find hero worship among a small but fierce band of white supremacists. Putting them in jail for a longer period of time won’t do anything to change that fact. I’m almost tempted to say I wish they had been sentenced to do community outreach work in Africville, but I wouldn’t want to foist scumbags like the Rehbergs on the black community of Nova Scotia just to satisfy my perverted sense of justice.

[Crown prosecutor Darrell] Carmichael has said the cases were the first involving a cross-burning in Canada.

“I hope this will be the last, as well as the first,” he said.

Would you like to place a bet, Mr. Carmichael?

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Saskatchewan: Flat, dull, and now gay!

I have a good friend who is moving out to Victoria in a couple of months. She decided she would explore this great country of ours by driving across it. For those of you readers who are not from Canada, you honestly haven’t any idea of how huge an undertaking that is. If you’ve ever driven from New York to Seattle, you’ll have some idea of the horizontal distance this involves, but not quite the vertical. Perhaps the best approximation is to imagine driving from Orlando, to New York, and then to Seattle. That’s what happens if you drive about 3/5 of the way across the country (there’s still all of French Canada and the maritimes to the east of where Niki’s driving from).

In a recent conversation, she confessed to me that she’s a bit worried about driving through the rockies, since there’s nothing quite like the perilous mountain driving anywhere in Ontario. I told her that she should be more wary of the prairie provinces, because while the Rockies are a challenge of skill, the prairies are a trial of endurance. Nothing can prepare you for the unbelievable flatness of the prairies. As you drive west, the road curves slightly to the right every 20 or so minutes – this is to adjust for the curvature of the Earth. It’s flat. And while there is a certain majesty and grandeur to how flat and open it is, after a few hours of driving and having nothing to break the eyeline, the novelty of the flatness wears away quickly.

Suffice it to say, Saskatchewan, in the very middle of the prairies, is not a terribly exciting place. So when there’s news out of Saskatchewan, I jump on it:

Saskatchewan’s highest court will rule Monday morning on whether provincial civil marriage commissioners can refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies on religious grounds. The province asked the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal for advice on whether proposed legislation allowing commissioners to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages for religious reasons would be constitutional.

Of course, the court already has ruled (these stories I post under the ‘news’ category are very rarely ‘news’ by the time they go up here). As someone who understands the Charter and the mood of jurisprudence in Canada would have predicted, the appeals court found that someone who is employed by the government does not have the right to refuse service to someone on religious grounds. It makes sense – the government does not grant marriage licenses on religious grounds, it does so as a civil matter. Since the law does not allow for religious discrimination, it follows that civil employees are not allowed to discriminate against people who are pursuing a legal entitlement on the grounds of religion.

Imagine, for a second, that there was an imam from Calgary who held the belief that a woman, once divorced, is unclean and cannot be married within his particular mosque. While this position may or may not be supported by the Qur’an (scripture can really be used to justify any position), let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that such a case existed. This imam, being otherwise quite moderate and progressive, offers his services to the government as a wedding officiant. At this point, he has left the auspices of his mosque and is operating as a provincial contractor. At this point he is obligated to give (at least) the same quality of service that would be given by any other provincial contractor, regardless of his individual aversion to marrying divorcées. There would be, and rightly so, outrage over any provincial employee who refused to give services to an ‘unclean divorcée’. For the same reason, it is similarly wrong to refuse to grant marriages to gay couples on religious Christian grounds.

I can understand the argument on the other side of this issue, however. Why should a priest be forced to violate his own religious beliefs? What business does the government have telling someone that they must perform a ceremony that conflicts with their stupid bigotry closely-held spiritual beliefs? The response from Reynold Robertson, government lawyer, is about as concise a refutation of this position as I’ve seen:

“The decision confirms that people have their religious beliefs, and they may entertain that — there’s complete freedom of religious beliefs,” said Robertson. “It’s only when your conduct on doing something might have an effect on somebody else which has a discriminatory effect.” Robertson also noted that the decision applies only to marriage commissioners — public servants performing civil ceremonies — and not religious clergy.

This is a problem that many libertarians and conservative moderates have with the idea of human rights – that your having human rights means that you have to respect the rights of others. If this were a perfect world (for a libertarian), there would never be a conflict and you could simply live your own life without interference from anyone else. As a result, there would be no need to prioritize rights, and would never be a circumstance that would infringe upon your ability to do and say whatever you want. Of course that describes no world that ever has or ever will exist. We live in a world with other people, and as a result we can’t allow personal prejudices to become the practice of laws. If someone is working under civil authority, they must enforce the rule of law, wherein religion has no jurisdiction.

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Why separation of church and state is important

Canada does not have an explicit legal separation between religion and government, which is obviously cause for concern for me as an atheist. However, whatever your beliefs, this kind of thing should concern you too:

A senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, has suggested that opposing the country’s supreme leader amounts to a denial of God. Correspondents say the unusually strong comments appear to be aimed at silencing internal dissent over the leadership of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Sometimes in our more contentious debates, we are tempted to accuse political opponents of being heartless, or say that a position we hold is what God wants. I’m not sure how much anyone actually believes that God cares about politics, but the rhetoric definitely gets amped up at times. However, that’s (mostly) harmless talk; we don’t hear that kind of stuff from our political leaders. This is a good thing, because both of those arguments (liberal and conservative respectively) are thought-stoppers – no reasonable conversation can proceed once we start building our house on the sand of emotion or in the cognitive quagmire of faith.

However, Iran has no such restraint:

The latest comments were made by conservative cleric, Ayatollah Jannati, who heads Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, which oversees the country’s elections and the constitution.

Analysts say the unusually strong demand for public loyalty to Iran’s supreme leader is an attempt by the influential cleric to liken political dissent to religious apostasy – a crime which carries heavy punishment under Iran’s strict Islamic code.

The danger of such statements, especially when backed by state power, is fairly obvious. When the religious establishment controls the state power, and opposition to a political leader is tantamount to a religious crime, then any political opposition is, as a result, a crime. If the leader is corrupt, if the leader abuses his power, if the leader violates the rights of the people, the people have no recourse. Political speech is blasphemy, subject to severe punishment. Forget the idea of an opposition party, forget the idea of free speech, forget the idea of fairness or justice under the law.

Obviously nothing about this particular story will be surprising to anyone who’s been paying any attention at all to the situation in Iran. I only began paying attention in the wake of the election madness a couple years ago, but since then I’ve seen nothing but repeated arrogance, stupidity and evil come from this religious republic. However, abstracting a general rule from this specific case may be possible – it is to everyone’s benefit to have religious power separated by law from state power. The only people who would benefit from an erosion of state sovereignty by the religious establishment is those who agree completely with the leading class’ views. History shows us again and again that fractions will appear within religious communities as they grow larger and more powerful. There is no long-term benefit to the rule of religion – there will always be a group that is seen as heretical until there is only one absolute ruler. Religion knows no satiety in its appetite for power.

So regardless of your religious beliefs, a separation of state power from religious influence is to your benefit. Eventually your beliefs will come into conflict with the ruling party’s, at which point you will find the religious/state power directed at you. The solution, of course, is to wall off religion – allow people their individual rights to believe as they want, but to ensure that state power flows from the people, not from the whims of a capricious God.

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Oklahoma does right thing for wrong reason

I can’t tell you how depressed I was after the last US mid-term elections. I likened it at the time to watching a good friend go back to her alcoholic, abusive ex-boyfriend because the new guy wasn’t enough of a “bad boy”. The Republican party in the United States has completely shed any air of credibility as a party interested in the long-term good of the United States. They’ve completely devolved into politicking, abrogating any responsibility they have to act as leaders, grabbing after power instead by ramping up the fear and hatred of an uneducated populace.

Rome is falling, my friends, and it is doing so to the clamoring approval of the mindless horde.

Luckily (or perhaps tragically, since it prolongs the fall) there is a system of checks and balances present in the United States that places limits on the ability of the people to be the authors of their own destruction:

A US federal judge has stopped Oklahoma putting into effect a constitutional amendment to bar courts from considering Islamic law in judgements. Judge Vicky Miles-Lagrange granted an injunction against the certification of the results of State Question 755.

To provide a bit of background, there was a ballot amendment during the midterm election that was passed, banning the recognition of Sharia law or any international law in Oklahoma courts. Of course there was nobody actually proposing that Sharia law be recognized, and the courts already ignore international law (on jurisdictional grounds), but if you whip people into a xenophobic frenzy, they’ll pass whatever law they want as long as it makes them feel safer.

But then… then the stupid sets in:

“Plaintiff has sufficiently set forth a personal stake in this action by alleging that he lives in Oklahoma, is a Muslim, that the amendment conveys an official government message of disapproval and hostility toward his religious beliefs, that sends a clear message he is an outsider, not a full member of the political community, thereby chilling his access to the government and forcing him to curtail his political and religious activities,” she explained.

That’s the shakiest possible grounds for a legal decision I’ve ever heard. Basically because the law would hurt people’s feelings, it’s therefore invalid? I’m not a soothsayer, but I can certainly see this ruling (if it isn’t kicked on appeal) being used as precedent to protect some crybaby Christian group saying that failing to teach Creationism in schools “conveys an official government message of disapproval and hostility” towards their belief in a 10,000 year-old planet.

The real reason this law should be off the books? Because it’s stupid. It’s an entirely redundant law that solves exactly zero problems. The inclusion of any religious law would violate the US Constitution (and likely the Oklahoma state constitution), and would not survive a court challenge. There is absolutely no need to pass a law specifically against Sharia law.

Seriously, America… dump the Republicans. They only end up hurting you in the end.

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That’s not what persecution means

I have had a few back and forth discussions with Christians in the short time I have been an open and notorious atheist (open to everyone, notorious to only a select few) regarding the current clime of opinion regarding Christianity in North America. In a nutshell, Christians in the United States (particularly) and Canada (occasionally) complain that Christians are being ‘persecuted’ for their faith. It is a ridiculous claim, and a poorly-disguised attempt to re-brand themselves as victims of some kind of concerted effort to stamp out Christianity. Even the friggin’ Pope buys into this nonsense.

As “evidence” for this claim, Christians often point to the fact that secularists and atheists talk most often about Christianity, when there are a number of other perfectly bad religions to complain about. The response to this claim is so trivially easy to supply, it honestly makes me question whether or not the people who repeat it have put any thought into their argument whatsoever – it’s because Christianity has been the dominant religion in this continent for generations. It is deeply entrenched in our history and our culture, so much so that people try to claim that it is the foundation of our heritage (a ridiculous claim I have refuted before).

If you look to another country where there is a different religious tradition, you’ll find the same kind of whining:

One of India’s leading Muslim groups has appealed against a ruling over the Ayodhya holy site, where a Hindu mob destroyed a mosque 18 years ago. Two months ago, Lucknow High Court said the land should be divided, and that the razed 16th century mosque should not be rebuilt. Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind says the judgement appears to be based not on evidence but on the professed belief of Hindus.

The whiners, in this case, are the Hindus, who have tried to bring their totally ridiculous beliefs to bear in a land dispute. The Lucknow court appears to consider superstition worthwhile legal evidence. I want to try that – break into someone’s house and when the cops come to arrest me say “but I really believe I live here!” I’d be lucky to escape a mental institution, let alone jail.

I’ve made this point before, but the so-called “persecution” of Christians in this country is essentially just a reflection of privilege. They (though surely not all of them) complain that they’re being “oppressed”, when what’s really happening is that people are not letting them get away with whatever they want anymore. You’re welcome to believe privately that homosexuality is a sin, or that abortion is murder. You can even go out in the public square and scream your head off about it. However, you’re not allowed to impose the consequences of your personal beliefs on others, particularly if there is specific legislation against it.

Some people on the other side of this conversation will reply with something ridiculous like “well if a Christian gets discriminated against, nobody says anything!” Nobody says anything because that never happens! It’s like when men complain about being the targets of sexual discrimination because they aren’t allowed to make sexist jokes at work or when conservatives say that universities are “intolerant” of conservative viewpoints. It’s only by stretching the definitions of those words beyond what any reasonable person would recognize that these become even passably accurate claims. Not being allowed to offend others is not “discrimination”, it’s politeness. Not tolerating opinions that are based on fallacious reasoning and intentional twisting and cherry-picking of facts is not “intolerance”, it’s logic.

Not having your personal beliefs (founded on unprovable assertions and easily-recognized logical fallacies) recognized as legitimate is not “persecution”, it’s fairness.

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Religion meets the courts

I would make a shitty judge. Don’t get me wrong – I look turbo-hot in robes. The problem I’d have is rendering a judgment that fits the law, rather than what I know to be right. After all, a skilled enough lawyer can make a case that a company that dumps toxic waste on baby seals has not broken the law, and my judgment must adhere to that principle.

The courts here in BC seem to be doing a better job:

Dissident conservative Anglicans in Vancouver and Abbotsford have no right to hold on to four church properties valued at more than $20 million, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled Monday. As a result of the decision, more than 1,200 Anglicans who oppose same-sex blessings and reject the authority of Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham are expected to have to vacate their church buildings soon.

Dismissing the main argument of a costly appeal by the conservative Anglican congregations, Justice Mary Newbury wrote that the dissidents “cannot in my respectful decision remove themselves from their diocesan structures and retain the right to use properties that are held for purposes of Anglican ministry in Canada.”

I read the decision (a fun exercise in legal thinking that I recommend everyone do from time to time), and the main point of the argument seems to be that while the congregation does hold the buildings in a trust, they do not have the right to divorce themselves from official church doctrine. The trust is held based on the assumption that the congregation is defending the official articles of faith – claiming to be “true believers” doesn’t grant them license to violate the official doctrine of the church.

Of course, this is a complete and total waste of time from my perspective. The whole undertaking is based on the belief that an invisible super-being cares who puts what in which orifice. I’ll simplify it for you, conservative Anglicans: nobody cares. There is no super-being, and the only people who are outraged by homosexuality are you. My advice: if it bothers you so much, don’t do it. But please don’t clog up the appeals courts with your superstitious nonsense – some of us are trying to build a society.

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