Texas court approves traumatic exorcisms

Well now…if you’ve had a hankerin’ to torture, abuse, and do who knows what else to people at your whim, here’s what you do: move on down to Texas and set up a religion. The Texas Supreme Court just ruled on a case in which a young woman was subjected to extreme distress and restraint during a church-run exorcism (isn’t that insane enough right there? An exorcism in 21st century America?), and they threw the previous judgment against the church out. Why? Because holding a church liable for psychological damage “would have an unconstitutional ‘chilling effect’ by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs.”

Damn right it would. Holding religion accountable for the stupidity perpetuated by it certainly should send a shiver down the spines of hordes of witch-doctors and mullahs and priests and other such folk with a vested interest in superstition.

The court ruling basically says that because this church carries out this practice all the time, and because adherents of the religion accept it, it’s OK to pin people to the floor and scream at them for a few hours.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion, said the church’s exorcism sessions were a matter of church doctrine and were thus subject to certain — though not absolute — First Amendment religious protections.

“The laying of hands” and the presence of demons are part of the church’s belief system and accepted as such by its adherents,” the ruling said in part. “These practices are not normally dangerous or unusual and apparently arise in the church with some regularity. They are thus to be expected and are accepted by those in the church.”

Hello, world. In the United States, it is not considered unusual to accuse teenagers of being possessed by demons, and we subject them to frightening magic rituals to cast out such satanic forces with some regularity. Do not be alarmed. We also have nuclear weapons and sophisticated delivery systems. But I repeat…do not be at all alarmed.

One of the lawyers for the church noticed a key point of this ruling — it’s too bad he thinks it is a good thing.

“The key point of this ruling is that we don’t have a right to have our standards of reasonableness foisted upon some other religion,” Dallas attorney David Pruessner said. “None of our religious beliefs can be examined when they are emotionally disturbing to other people.”

No religious beliefs are to be examined critically, no matter how disturbing they may be. That’s the way things work down in Texas, I guess. Oh, but he hastily adds…

Pruessner said no one should think Friday’s ruling would give protection to a church leader accused of abusing a child.

Except that that is exactly what happened in this case: the victim of this church-endorsed abuse was 17 at the time, and the church has now gotten off scot-free, held not culpable for their insanity, and told that they can keep on doing it with the protection of the law…and they’ve been informed that any weird religious belief is “normal”.

I would suggest a well-known compromise, one that has been violated by the Texas court decision. You are free to believe whatever wacky nonsense you want — you can believe moody teenagers are possessed by demons, and you can believe that cutting out the hearts of virgins will guarantee that the sun will rise tomorrow, and you can even believe that barbecued babies are especially delicious — but you are not free to act on those beliefs in a way that infringes the rights of other people. The Texas court, in its zeal to protect religious beliefs, has gone too far and has endorsed the right of a church to do harm in the name of their god.

Wisdom from rural Minnesota

Here is an important suggestion, if ever you should find yourself living in rural Minnesota.

Always roll up your car windows at night.

Wait, you say — that seems unnecessary. This is a trusting part of the world, where petty crime is rare, and people leave houses and cars unlocked all the time. Why not leave the windows down so that the interior is cooled by soft breezes in the summer months?

There are two reasons. Remember them.

  1. You never know when a rainstorm might flare up, soaking your car seats. This is a fairly minor concern, however.

  2. Open cars are giant insect traps. You have not experienced Minnesota until you’ve entered your car to discover it is full of enraged, starving, confused, and frantic mosquitos. This is particularly disastrous if it has rained and your cupholders are pools of water, because now they are also horny and want a blood meal so they can lay eggs in your car interior.

That is all.

The bill from Bogalusa

A certain Brown University biology graduate has taken an unfortunate step, one that we asked him to avoid. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has signed a pro-creationism bill into law, all to pander to evangelical protestant hicks. We know this is a guy with national aspirations, so he’s taking a big gamble that we aren’t going to swing back towards a more sensible secularism, since the only people who could vote for him now are fundagelical god-wallopers who don’t understand science. That may be a fairly big voting base, but I’m hoping that it’s shrinking. Either Bobby Jindal is toast… or we all are.

One bizarre item in that story is that the reporter contacted the Discovery Institute, who quickly disavowed any association with the bill, saying that they did not “directly” support it and that they certainly wouldn’t support any attempt to insert religion into the schools. Like everything that comes out of the DI, they are lying reflexively. Barbara Forrest has an excellent overview of the context and history of the bill — the bill has the DI’s frantic, fervid paws all over it.

I do think we need to call this the Bogalusa Bill, after the district that the sponsor, Ben Nevers (a creationist and a democrat, for shame!), comes from. It’s a name that just trips off the tongue, like a happy fusion of “bogus” and “loser”, said with a lovely New Orleans drawl.


Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research


The paleontologists are going too far. This is getting ridiculous. They keep digging up these collections of bones that illuminate tetrapod origins, and they keep making finer and finer distinctions. On one earlier side we have a bunch of tetrapod-like fish — Tiktaalik and Panderichthys, for instance — and on the later side we have fish-like tetrapods, such as Acanthostega and Ichthyostega. Now they’re talking about shades of fishiness or tetrapodiness within those groups! You’d almost think they were documenting a pattern of gradual evolutionary change.

The latest addition is a description of Ventastega curonica, a creature that falls within the domain of the fish-like tetrapods, but is a bit fishier than other forms, so it actually bridges the gap between something like Tiktaalik and Acanthostega. We look forward to the imminent discovery of yet more fossils that bridge the gap between Ventastega and Tiktaalik, and between Ventastega and Acanthostega, and all the intermediates between them.

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