Shared posts

11 Mar 02:19

New stuff in the store! DUNGEON CREW shirt, new jewelry!

by Ananth
Natalie Augustine

Oh gosh how cute.

Hey guys! Lots of new things in the store today!

First, we designed a varsity D&D shirt for Walter - DUNGEON CREW! It's a black and gold foil design on a b/w baseball raglan! Front and back! It's in the store now, check it out!

Second, there are new designs up at Hey Chickadee! First, 4 new variants of the Yuko's Nesting Doll design in Neapolitan, Cotton Candy, Sky and Retro (as well as the original Tomato, not shown!):

And next are brand new Red Riding Hood designs from Yuko, as earrings and a necklace! Take a look:

That's all for us! Catch you next time! 

07 Feb 09:49

Memo to Cameron Franks: Wearing a Christian T-Shirt in Texas Doesn’t Make You Brave

by Hemant Mehta

Here’s something I’ve learned from years in the classroom: there’s nothing more entertaining than a high schooler who thinks he has a brilliant idea… when you know damn well it’s an awful one. It never gets old.

That’s what been happening at Rusk High School in Cherokee County, Texas, where one of the teachers had this poster hanging in the classroom:

Totally not okay. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school (on behalf of a student) requesting they take it down, and the school complied.

And that’s when senior Cameron Franks decided to “take a stand” by making and selling t-shirts with a pro-Christian message on them:

“We’ve walked our halls for 4 years and we’ve been persecuted and called hypocrites and everybody that’s a Christian, I’m sure they’ve had that time in their life when they’ve been persecuted and I knew it was time to take a stand,” said Franks.

The shirts are to send a message to people about standing up for what they believe in no matter what that is.

“It’s not about me. It’s about God. This is for the school,” said Franks. “This is the Lord’s will and this is what needed to be done a long time ago.”

Riiiiiight. It’s persecution, in Franks’ view, when a public school removes a poster that endorses Christianity. Must be hard being a white male Christian in Texas. Good thing he has a support group of, um, pretty much everyone around him:

Furthermore, the Facebook group describes itself this way:

We are taking a stand as Christians. We are tired of our Christian rights always being violated because someone takes offense to something religious.

Franks has no idea what he’s talking about. The poster wasn’t “offensive.” It was illegal.

The shirts don’t bother me. Besides the pure dickishness of parading the fact that you’re in the overwhelming majority, no one has ever had a problem with students wearing Christian shirts, or wearing a cross, or bringing a Bible to school, or holding prayer group meetings before or after school. Not me, not FFRF, not anyone. And having an unconstitutional poster taken down from a classroom isn’t impinging on Christians’ rights and freedoms.

The only issue I have is with the headlines and Facebook group proclaiming that Franks is “taking a stand” by doing this, as if there was something courageous about being openly Christian at a Texas high school.

Franks thinks he’s doing something incredible. I dare him to talk to some of the students at the school who don’t subscribe to his God and who are likely treated as outcasts by all the pious kids. Those kids have real courage.

07 Feb 07:31

Texas Board of Education Changes Textbook Review Rules to Emphasize Facts Over Ideology

by Hemant Mehta

On Friday, the Texas Board of Education did something you won’t believe they didn’t do a long time ago:

Among the changes approved Friday was a mandate that teachers or professors be given priority for serving on the textbook review panels for subjects in their areas of expertise. They also enable the board to appoint outside experts to check objections raised by review panels and ensure they are based on fact, not ideology.

“It won’t eliminate politics, but it will make it where it’s a more informed process,” said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican board member who pushed for the changes, which he said “force us to find qualified people, leave them alone, and let them do their jobs.”

Wow! Giving teachers and other subject experts a say in which textbooks students should be using! That’s so… obviously the right thing to do.

Despite voting in favor of the new rules, one of the conservative board members, David Bradley (below), is still upset, calling the change anti-Christian:

[Bradley] said he did his best to insert language mitigating what was approved. But he said “liberals are really trying to make it difficult for Christians and conservatives to have a voice in public education.”

Bullshit. Christians, conservatives, liberals, and everyone else will still have a voice in public education. No one has taken that away. The difference now is curriculum decisions will have to be made based on the facts of each subject, not the religious ideologies of the decision-makers.

You would think a state that’s been a laughingstock for years because of the way it screwed up science and history curricula would fully embrace the new rules. Even if not everyone’s 100% on board with it, it’s the first step to fix a very, very broken system.

(via Religion Clause)

10 Jan 00:53

Texas Board of Education Candidate Claims That ‘We Know We Didn’t Come from Monkeys!’

by Hemant Mehta
Natalie Augustine

What a frightening person.

This is Lady Theresa Thombs lamenting about an upcoming election:

If she were a random conservative, few people would care, but this is someone running for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education. She thinks she can win the race with brilliant barbs like that one that she made at Monday night’s candidates forum. But things only got worse from there:

History, she stated, should be written by “experts, not people from socialist higher education.” As far as the sciences go, “We know we didn’t come from monkeys!”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she began in summation. “They’re using your tax dollars to brainwash our children into socialist issues and ideas and it is time for it to stop. Common Core and every single shred of CSCOPE has got to go.”

That’s pretty entertaining since her own website says part of her mission is “To give the freedom for teachers and parents to aid the State Board of Education in choosing curriculum that is vital to the future of the children of Texas.” Freedom for teachers! Unless they want to teach someone she doesn’t like, in which case they’re socialists.

At the 5:15 mark of this video, you can see her opening statement from the forum:

It’s not at all surprising that she’s doing this, not because she wants what’s in the best interest of children, but because she believes God wants her to:

Please, Texans, stop her. She would be a disaster, pushing the state backwards to a scary time when science took a back seat to religious ideology. (I believe that was two months ago.) She has every right to run but we have every right to make sure she never wins office.

(via Right Wing Watch)

27 Oct 23:05

To Be With Her Father in Heaven, Girl, 12, Commits Suicide

by Terry Firma

If heaven is a better place where you’ll be reunited in great happiness with all the dead people you once loved… well, what’s to prevent bereaved and impressionable people from offing themselves — and gaining a one-way ticket to paradise?

I got something in my eye when I read this heartbreaking news story of a 12-year-old girl who missed her deceased father so much that she hanged herself to be with him. My heart goes out to her mother and brother, and to all who loved her.

But the account also confirmed for me that the idea of heaven can be both comforting and toxic — make that deadly — at the same time. If Maria’s head hadn’t been filled with nonsensical ideas about heaven, where it’s all about the posthumous family reunions, she’d probably be alive today.

Her death is the somewhat prettier equivalent of the Islamic suicide bombers who think they’ll go on to great rewards in the hereafter.

Religion kills.

28 Jun 02:49

Girl Slaves of Catholic Magdalene Asylums to Receive Compensation, but Not from the Church

by Terry Firma
Natalie Augustine

This is horrifying...

Twenty years ago, shock washed over Ireland. After the Catholic Church sold a parcel of a North Dublin convent’s grounds to a commercial developer, and the construction dig began, 155 bodies were discovered in unmarked graves. The place had been a Magdalene asylum for “wayward girls.” Apparently, inmates who met an early end had been buried in secret — many without a death certificate, without notification of parents or other family, and all without the dignity of even the simplest grave marker.

Initially conceived as rehabilitation centers for prostitutes, the Magdalene asylums — also known as the Magdalene Laundries for the “women’s work” slave labor expected of the residents — eventually grew into houses of horror. The girls, some not even teens, were forced to work seven days a week without pay. The short-term treatment intended by the founders eventually gave way to long-term incarceration. Though conditions varied from one asylum to the next, a strict code of silence was in place for most of the day throughout the Magdalene system. Long prayer sessions were mandatory.

Worse, for over a hundred years, beatings and sexual abuse are thought to have been endemic.

And you didn’t have to be a sex worker to “qualify” to be saved by God’s representatives on Earth. By the 1870s, asylum candidates

… extended beyond prostitutes to unmarried mothers, mentally retarded women and abused girls. Even young girls who were considered too promiscuous and flirtatious, or too beautiful, were sent to an asylum by their families.

Others reportedly ended up in a Magdalene asylum for being “slow learners.” They might never receive a lick of non-religious education again. The nuns were known to forge “school reports” and send those to the girls’ relatives, to conceal that their charges had been turned into slave laborers.

Recalls one former resident:

“We never saw daylight or heard music, and it was normal for girls to fall ill and never be seen again. Sometimes, we used massive industrial irons to press sheets for local hotels. They were raging hot and you had to concentrate hard to make sure your hands didn’t get caught. The steam nearly took your skin off. In the end we got used to getting burned — it was part of everyday life.”

If it didn’t take much to be sent to one of these hellholes, getting out wasn’t so easy.

Without a family member on the outside who could vouch for them, many incarcerated individuals stayed in the asylums for the rest of their lives, many taking religious vows.

Given Ireland’s historically conservative sexual values, Magdalene asylums were a generally accepted social institution until well into the second half of the twentieth century. They disappeared with changes in sexual mores — or, as [historian Frances] Finnegan suggests, as they ceased to be profitable: “Possibly the advent of the washing machine has been as instrumental in closing these laundries as have changing attitudes.”

Those 155 bodies? After they were discovered, in early 1993, they were cremated quickly, and reburied in a mass grave. That raised a lot of suspicion. Why weren’t forensic investigators allowed to work the scene? What were the Church and the civil authorities hiding?

The latter, at least, are now offering an apology to all the Magdalene survivors — as well as a financial olive branch. That’s because the Irish state was complicit in the scandal, having botched its oversight and having profited from the girls who worked the laundries washing and repairing prison uniforms and the like.

Ireland will pay several hundred former residents of Catholic-run Magdalene laundries at least 34.5 million euros ($45 million) to compensate them for their years of unpaid labor and public shame, the government announced Wednesday following a decade-long campaign by former residents of the workhouses.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter apologized to the women — an estimated 770 survivors out of more than 10,000 who lived in the dozen facilities from the 1920s to 1996 — that it had taken so long for them to receive compensation. The move marked the latest step in a two-decade effort by Ireland to investigate and redress the human rights abuses in Catholic institutions.

The women will also qualify for state-funded pensions and free medical care.

Not all of them think that’s enough contrition — or enough money. Maureen Sullivan, who co-founded Magdalene Survivors Together, says that justice is still not being served.

“I was 12 years of age — I was a child. My education was taken from me, my identity was taken from me. We [had] no outside communication, our letters were checked. … We had no play time. All that was taken from us and none of that has been taken into consideration, and I think that’s what we’re annoyed about.”

Ireland’s Catholic Church, meanwhile, continues to wash its hands of the affair.

The Irish government has at last made a serious gesture. The Church could show it has a conscience after all by doing the same.

P.S. If you want a haunt-your-dreams glimpse of what life was like in the Magdalene Laundries, get your hands on a copy of The Magdalene Sisters, the critically acclaimed movie by Peter Mullan. Highly recommended.

(Images via the Sun)

28 Jun 02:39

TIME Magazine Just Doubled-Down on Joe Klein’s Inaccurate, Anti-Atheist Statements

by Hemant Mehta

Last week, the cover story TIME magazine, written by Joe Klein, included an unfair and untrue jab at Secular Humanists.

Klein wrote:

… there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon.

Of course, atheists were there, and I listed in detail how many non-theistic groups and individuals contributed time, money, and — yes — hot meals to the victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes. Hell, I’ll do it again right now:

Klein responded to all of this by offering an awful rebuttal in which he argued that he wasn’t saying atheists didn’t help out; it was *organized* groups of atheists who were absent from the recovery efforts:

it is certainly true, as my critics point out, that secular humanists, including atheists, can be incredibly generous. I never meant to imply they weren’t. But they are not organized. The effects of this post-modern atomization is something I’ve been trying to puzzle through for most of my career. That’s why I find the military, and the community values that are at the heart of military culture, so intriguing. That’s why I find the groups featured in my cover story about public service this week so inspiring. I believe that they sustain an essential part of citizenship that the rest of us have lost track of, the importance of being an active part of something larger than yourself.

Klein didn’t just choose not to apologize. He made things worse by lying a second time!

Organized groups of Secular Humanists absolutely helped out in the wake of the tornadoes!

Okay. So Klein’s a lost cause. He refuses to admit his mistake.

But at least the editors at TIME had the opportunity to say something about the comment in the very next issue.

So here’s what they said:

“In Joe Klein’s cover story last week, he wrote about “how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals” in the wake of a tragedy. That statement was untrue. Many Secular Humanists, both alone and as a group, pitched in during relief efforts. We didn’t catch that error before it went into print and we apologize for that. We also apologize for the unfair insinuation that non-religious people would not help others after a terrible disaster. We’ll do our best to ensure that never happens again.”

Awesom—Wait. No. That’s not what they said. That’s what they should have said.

Here’s what they actually wrote (some of which is behind a paywall):

“Service can and will save us if it becomes a way of life,” wrote reader Stephen Holt about Time’s July 1 cover story by Joe Klein, which examines organizations that use service projects as a way to help veterans recover from trauma. Many readers were upset by Klein’s comment about secular humanists, who he said are less likely than members of religious groups to organize for disaster relief.

Let’s stop right here while we all collectively undilate our pupils.

Klein did not say Secular Humanists were “less likely” to organize for disaster relief. He said they were not there at all. And we proved him wrong repeatedly! (Not to mention that, without a credible citation, even the “less likely” phrasing would be problematic.)

But what the hell is TIME thinking?!

Then they kept going, not addressing why any of us were upset, only that we were upset… about something:

Blogger Richard Wade called the comment “completely unnecessary,” while reader Lois Lemoine asked if Klein really believes “there are no secular humanists among those veterans or the first responders to tragic events.” In a post on the Swampland blog, Klein acknowledged the criticism and said he plans to write more about the decline of secular service organizations.


I know Richard Wade. Richard Wade is a friend of mine. And TIME took Richard Wade’s comments out of context, because this is what he actually wrote:

Regardless of whether he was out anywhere helping, and regardless of why he was, his out-of-the-blue disparagement of Secular Humanists was completely unnecessary for the point of his article, and even unnecessary for that part of his article, and it was factually false. It was just a stupid, bigoted dig when he saw he’d given himself an opportunity.

That’s the Richard Wade I know and love.

Also, saying that Klein “acknowledged the criticism” is really a cop-out way of saying “Klein ignored the very reason people were angry with him.” That’s like saying “Paula Deen acknowledged the criticism against her” without ever mentioning why people were criticizing her in the first place. It completely misses the point.

Just to top it off, TIME listed a few tweets people sent about the article, including this one from the American Humanist Association:

#TIME Writer Takes Inaccurate Shot at Nonbelievers

They never acknowledge what the “inaccurate shot” was… and I’m not sure how they could have missed it, since the AHA’s actual tweet included a link to a Huffington Post article about how Joe Klein lied:

AHA in the News: #Time Writer Takes Inaccurate Shot at Nonbelievers #humanism @HuffingtonPost

— American Humanist (@americnhumanist) June 24, 2013

*Deep breath*

So it’s not just Joe Klein who’s the problem. The people who run TIME are complicit in letting easily-debunkable, slanderous, inaccurate statements make their way into the magazine.

They could have fixed the problem. Instead, they chose to make it even worse.

Don’t stand for this. Cancel your subscription by calling 1-866-550-6934 and let them know why you did it on Twitter.

And just so this piece doesn’t end with me going completely out of my mind, here’s a wonderful rebuttal to Klein written by my friend Dale McGowan:

Humanists and atheists aren’t developing our charitable efforts for recognition or applause. Empathy and compassion are a natural fit for a naturalistic worldview, and it’s incredibly rewarding to put that into action. But it would be nice if we could do this work without the constant, buzzing insistence from people like Klein that we aren’t actually doing it.

24 Jun 22:13

Mike Huckabee on Pastoring: Missing the Forest for the Trees

by Terry Firma

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee addressed the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Houston recently.

The ex-pastor and ex-presidential candidate told his rapt clergy audience that the pastorate once was

… a wonderful, respected position, but not anymore.

He added that that’s because pastors across the country are besmirching their calling and their profession by engaging in extramarital sex, rape, serial rapechild molestation, sexual assault, kidnappingsexting children, stalkingfinancial fraud, passing bad checks, public lewdness, forcible sodomyhealthcare fraud, money laundering, burglary, drug possession, insurance fraud, incitement to murderattempted murder, criminal threatening, property destruction, indecent exposureembezzlement, wire fraud, selling meth, selling heroin, pedophiliaharassmentsecurities fraud, possession of child porn, animal cruelty, making false police reportsdomestic violence, incest, incitement to child abuse, bigamyworkman’s comp fraud, vehicular manslaughter, necrophilia, child abuse, and homicide.

Just kidding.

Huckabee said it’s because

…people have contempt for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He’s right, I just wonder if maybe he’s pointing the finger at, you know, the wrong people.

24 Jun 22:10

Remembering the UpStairs Lounge: The U.S.A.’s Largest LGBT Massacre Happened 40 Years Ago Today

by Terry Firma

The 24th of June in 1973 was a Sunday. For New Orleans’ gay community, it was the last day of national Pride Weekend, as well as the fourth anniversary of 1969′s Stonewall uprising. You couldn’t really have an open celebration of those events — in ’73, anti-gay slurs, discrimination, and even violence were still as common as sin — but the revelers had few concerns. They had their own gathering spots in the sweltering city, places where people tended to leave them be, including a second-floor bar on the corner of Iberville and Chartres Street called the UpStairs Lounge.

That Sunday, dozens of members of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the nation’s first gay church, founded in Los Angeles in 1969, got together there for drinks and conversation. It seems to have been an amiable group. The atmosphere was welcoming enough that two gay brothers, Eddie and Jim Warren, even brought their mom, Inez, and proudly introduced her to the other patrons. Beer flowed. Laughter filled the room.

Just before 8:00p, the doorbell rang insistently. To answer it, you had to unlock a steel door that opened onto a flight of stairs leading down to the ground floor. Bartender Buddy Rasmussen, expecting a taxi driver, asked his friend Luther Boggs to let the man in. Perhaps Boggs, after he pulled the door open, had just enough time to smell the Ronsonol lighter fluid that the attacker of the UpStairs Lounge had sprayed on the steps. In the next instant, he found himself in unimaginable pain as the fireball exploded, pushing upward and into the bar.

The ensuing 15 minutes were the most horrific that any of the 65 or so customers had ever endured — full of flames, smoke, panic, breaking glass, and screams.

MCC assistant pastor George “Mitch” Mitchell escaped, but soon returned to try to rescue his boyfriend, Louis Broussard. Both died in the fire, their bodies clinging together in death, like a scene from the aftermath of Pompeii.

Metal bars on the UpStairs Lounge windows, meant to keep people from falling out, were just 14 inches apart; while some managed to squeeze through and jump, others got stuck. That’s how the MCC’s pastor, Rev. Bill Larson, died, screaming, “Oh, God, no!” as the flames charred his flesh. When police and firefighters surveyed and began clearing the scene, they left Larson fused to the window frame until the next morning.

This news photo is among the most indelible I’ve ever seen:

Thirty-two people lost their lives that Sunday 40 years ago — Luther Boggs, Inez Warren, and Warren’s sons among them.

Homophobia being what it was, several families declined to claim the bodies and one church after another refused to bury or memorialize the dead. Three victims were never identified or claimed, and were interred at the local potter’s field.

When the Rev. William Richardson, of St. George’s Episcopal Church, agreed to hold a small prayer service for the victims, about 80 people attended, but many more complained about Richardson to Iveson Noland, the Episcopalian bishop of New Orleans. Noland reportedly rebuked Richardson for his kindness, and the latter received volumes of hate mail.

The UpStairs Lounge arson was the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and the largest massacre of gay people ever in the U.S. Yet it didn’t make much of an impact news-wise. The few respectable news organizations that deigned to cover the tragedy made little of the fact that the majority of the victims had been gay, while talk-radio hosts tended to take a jocular or sneering tone: What do we bury them in? Fruit jars, sniggered one, on the air, only a day after the massacre.

Other, smaller disasters resulted in City Hall press conferences or statements of condolence from the governor, but no civil authorities publicly spoke out about the fire, other than to mumble about needed improvements to the city’s fire code.

Continuing this pattern of neglect, the New Orleans police department appeared lackluster about the investigation (the officers involved denied it). The detectives wouldn’t even acknowledge that it was an arson case, saying the cause of the fire was of “undetermined origin.” No one was ever charged with the crime, although an itinerant troublemaker with known mental problems, Rogder Dale Nunez, is said to have claimed responsibility multiple times. Nunez, a sometime visitor to the UpStairs Lounge, committed suicide in 1974.

Watch the trailer for Royd Anderson’s new documentary about the UpStairs Lounge:

For more information on the massacre, check out these sources:

23 Jun 23:16

Anti-Gay Mormon Activists Confront Their Prejudice After Learning Their Own Son is Gay

by Terry Firma

Wendy Williams Montgomery was hardly ever fazed by slurs and invective against gay people. When God calls upon you to be an anti-gay crusader, you think there’s nothing wrong with opinions like “Gay people are disgusting and immoral” and “AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality.”

So Wendy did her part for a world that she thought had arrogantly shut God out: She and her husband Tom, both Mormons, went from door to door in 2008, convincing California voters to vote yes on Proposition 8, the state referendum that overturned the ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry in the Golden State.

All the while, their son Jordan (pictured below), now 14, slowly descended into confusion and then depression. He was starting to realize that he’s attracted to boys.

In too many other cases, the next sentence of an article like this would mention a suicide, a funeral service, and a circle of devastated friends and family. Gay teenagers are four times as likely to make a “medically serious” suicide attempt as their straight counterparts for reasons that certainly include widespread Christian condemnation.

Thankfully, Jordan and his parents are luckier than that. When Wendy and Tom Montgomery saw signs of Jordan’s inner turmoil and read about his same-sex attraction in his journal, they sat him down and gently asked him, “Are you struggling?”

I could feel him start to tremble and he nodded,” says [Wendy] Montgomery. “We sat that way for two hours, and I hugged him and said, ‘Jordan, this changes nothing… You are perfect in our eyes… We will figure this out.’”

The Montgomerys now regret their anti-gay activism. They and Jordan are the subject of a 20-minute film called Families Are Forever, which premiered at Frameline 37: the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival yesterday afternoon.

Here’s a two-minute trailer:

Unfortunately your browser does not support IFrames.

The Montgomerys remind me a little of Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who, as a co-sponsor of DOMA, has a long history of opposing gay rights. His son Will came out in 2011, and the elder Portman gradually reached the conclusion that maybe it was better to stop treating gays as sub-human. Three months ago, Portman announced that he supports marriage equality.

I’m of two minds when it comes to people like Portman and the Montgomerys. Their change of heart is, of course, a wonderful thing — it protects family bonds, lets others know that there’s no shame in being gay, and possibly saves the lives of suicidal LGBT kids. But the selfish way in which these transformations come about does verge on grating. It’s only after their own brood turns out to be gay that the parents begin to see the wisdom of acceptance. Prior to that, they happily contributed to oceans of silent misery, to turning other people’s kids into bundles of doubt, depression, and self-loathing.

Take Wendy Montgomery. According to ABC News,

She first bought books from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was told that her son’s homosexuality was a “choice,” a “popular thing to do,” and a “phase” he would outgrow. “None of that applied to my son,” she said. Finding nothing that would help her, she turned to the medical community and learned that homosexuality was not a choice but an identity.

She judged millions of Americans, and campaigned against them, without first having done the slightest bit of impartial, fact-based research. All that apparently mattered to her, until she found her son’s journal, was what her church told her.

I hope Jordan will find it easier to forgive her than I do.

23 Jun 23:14

Gimme That Old-Time Religion: A Growing Number of Greeks Bow To Zeus, Apollo, and Hera

by Terry Firma

Talk about nostalgia!

Public Radio International has a pretty entertaining piece from Greece about the Return of the Hellenes,

… a movement trying to bring back the religion, values, philosophy and way of life of ancient Greece, more than 16 centuries after it was replaced by Christianity.

Remember the good old days? Neither do they, but that doesn’t prevent them from worshiping the dodecatheon, including the long-moribund deities Zeus, Apollo, and Hera. The New Hellenes don’t pray to the old gods, they say, but they do hold them worthy of veneration (as representations of things like beauty, health, and wisdom), and some revivalists offer them sacrifices such as flowers, fruit, milk, and honey.

They also have a soft spot for the Greek hero Prometheus, who helped humans by stealing fire from the gods. There’s an annual festival dedicated to him, held each summer solstice. On Friday, the event was kicked off by

… six runners — in full Greek battle gear — racing the six miles up Mount Olympus, home of the gods, their shields and long spears clanking as they go.

The New Hellenes consider Greece to be a country under Christian occupation, and they chafe under a majority of more than 95% of the population who identify as Greek-Orthodox followers of Jesus. The lack of affection is mutual: in 2007, an official of the Orthodox Church said the Hellenes were “a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion.”

When I first heard about them, I thought perhaps their intention was to gently satirize (satyrize?) religion — to be Greek Pastafarians, if you will — but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It’s true that followers see the movement as a platform to complain about Christianity, and that it attracts new recruits on the back of the financial and cultural crisis that has gripped Greece since late 2009. But that doesn’t mean that adherents are lacking in sincerity. The founder of the Return of the Hellenes, Tryphon Olympios, explains that

… ancient Greece provides a model of a world where freedom of thought — and freedom of religion — is paramount. “We want to develop a free individual, free from superstitions and free from dogmas. No one tries to impose on you how to worship your god or practice your faith.”

The New Hellenes have twice applied to the Greek religion ministry for official status, and twice the application went nowhere. Until they receive the government’s imprimatur, they are officially prevented from holding mystical gatherings at Greece’s ancient temples. They also can’t build their own because, in Greece, that requires the sign-off of the local Orthodox bishop.

But their marginal status may improve as their numbers increase. The movement already claims to have hundreds of thousands of supporters, and it could grow to have real influence — Zeus willing.

23 Jun 23:12

Time Cover Story Wrongly Attacks Atheists for Not Helping Out Victims of Oklahoma Tornadoes

by Hemant Mehta

The cover story in this week’s Time magazine, written by Joe Klein, is all about how volunteering and doing service projects may help curb the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on our veterans:

[Co-founder of volunteer group Team Rubicon] Jake Wood has little tolerance for veterans who see themselves as victims. Posttraumatic stress is, he believes, a condition that can be battled and defeated. “If you’re out doing disaster relief,” Wood says, “you’re less likely to be thinking about yourself and more likely to be thinking about the people you’re helping. You’re also presenting yourself, and other veterans, as a model, as a potential community leader.”

Okay. Sounds all well and good. The article goes on to note that doing these projects can help veterans in any number of ways, including providing them with “health and psychological benefits… greater longevity, reduced depression, and a greater sense of purpose.” All of that makes sense.

As part of his reporting, Klein joined one of the disaster relief groups and worked at a site damaged by the Oklahoma tornadoes… and that’s when he wrote this:

… there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon.

Wow. My jaw dropped while reading that because it’s absolutely not true.

Klein took a cheap shot at atheists for not doing the relief work that churches — with all the personnel and financial advantages they have at their disposal — were doing even though we were often working right alongside them! He made the same mistake that Minister David Brassfield did (though at least Brassfield eventually offered a semi-apology).

Klein is simply lying out of his ass. A simple Google search would’ve turned up a number of ways atheists helped in the wake of the Oklahoma tornadoes. But since Klein was too lazy to do it, I’ll do it for him:

Is that enough proof that atheists, too, were (and still are) helping out in the aftermath of the tornadoes?

Maybe Klein didn’t know any of this was going on because, as Tancredi points out, “these [Humanist] groups have no tax exempt status and therefore can’t exactly afford to have the t-shirts for everyone to wear so that you know when they are out in force during a volunteer effort.”

Or maybe it’s because we’re not parading the fact that we’re helping because we’re too busy… helping.

Let’s make this very clear: Atheists were in Oklahoma doing everything Christian groups were doing — including handing out hot meals. To suggest that we were not there and not doing anything useful for the victims isn’t just factually wrong — it’s slander against all of us who don’t believe in a God.

If Klein had mentioned any other group of people — “funny how you don’t see organized groups of Jews giving out hot meals” — you know there would be hell to pay. There should be an uproar now, too.

Joe Klein and Time magazine owe their readers — and atheists everywhere — an apology.

Time might be more likely to respond if enough of us call them out on it. Write them a letter and let them know what you think. Spread word online that you won’t stand for this. Consider canceling your subscription (if you haven’t already). Not only did Klein perpetuate an unfair stereotype against atheists, anyone at the magazine who read over the piece must have had no problem with it, either.

It’s unacceptable and we can’t stand back and let it happen without saying something about it.

(Thanks to Rachel for the link)

14 Jun 20:51

Conservative Media Claim ‘Persecution’ of Christians in the Military, but Actual Soldiers Call Bullshit

by Terry Firma

Shocking news. I hope you’re sitting down.

Being a conservative and a Christian marks you for persecution in today’s military.

So claims FOX News Radio journalist Todd Starnes. So says Master Sergeant Nathan Sommers, a member of the U.S. Army Band. And so parrots Ret. Navy Commander John Bennett Wells, who is representing Sommers:

[Wells] said there is no doubt in his mind that the U.S. military is discriminating against Christians — and specifically his client. ”There’s no question about it,” Wells told Fox News. “Because he is religious, because he feels that homosexual conduct is wrong for religious reasons, he is basically being persecuted.”

What got Sommers in hot water with his superiors? It wasn’t one thing in particular, but a string of behaviors, opinions, and utterances over time. For instance:

  • His private car, frequently seen on the military base, was festooned with bumper stickers that read, among other things, “NOBAMA,” NOPE2012,” and “The Road to Bankruptcy is Paved with Ass-Fault” (the latter featured the image of a donkey).
  • At one point, Sommers took to social media to share his anti-gay and anti-leftwing disgust, tweeting “Lordy, Lordy, it’s faggot Tuesday. The lefty loons and Obamabots are out in full force.”
  • Sommers claims he was also reprimanded over certain books he read backstage in uniform, written by right-wingers such as Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and David Limbaugh.
  • When he was promoted to Master Sergeant, he served Chick-fil-A sandwiches as a political statement, because the fast-food chain’s Chief Operating Officer and founder’s son had famously declared himself in favor of “traditional marriage” and against equal rights for gay couples. Sommers tweeted: “In honor of DADT repeal, and Obama/Holder’s refusal to enforce DOMA act, I’m serving Chick-fil-A at my MSG promo reception for Army today.”

Nathan Sommers’ promotion took place last September. So his open beliefs notwithstanding, the Army thought enough of the man to give his career a lift. Not exactly prima facie evidence of “persecution,” is it?

Sommers may need a refresher course on U.S. Armed Forces rules and regulations, which stipulate that public disparagement of anyone up the chain of command, the Commander-in-Chief in the White House obviously included, is conduct unbecoming a wearer of the uniform. The military document that FOX’s Todd Starnes makes much of having uncovered states simply:

“As a Soldier you must be cognizant of the fact that your statements can be perceived by the general public and other service members to be of a nature bordering on disrespect to the President of the United States.”

By all reasonable accounts, this should have been a non-story, and it didn’t seem to get much immediate traction when Starnes broke it late last week. But by and by, the “Christian persecution” angle picked up steam via the Drudge Report, National Review, Sean Hannity’s radio show, and hundreds of other news outlets.

In case I somehow missed a legitimate reason for concern, I asked a couple of military men I know for their take.

This is where I get to introduce you to a guy I met and became very good friends with some five or six years ago — an evangelical theologian and preacher named Benjamin Corey. Corey, who is now a doctoral candidate in the field of Missiology, is a former Technical Sergeant who served as a Military Education Instructor from 1995 to 2004.

Here’s his perspective:

Military personnel are under a different set of laws (the Uniform Code of Military Justice), which has a completely different standard on things that would be unheard of under U.S. law. For example, you cannot give money to a political candidate; cannot attend protests in work uniform; can go to jail for consensual adultery (even if one member is single, and the other is legally separated, etc). So, what they’re talking about isn’t that outlandish to me.

I bet there is more to the story and that this guy was a loudmouth, and that it was causing co-workers to be miserable.

Sommers pretty much admits exactly that when he recalls a meeting with a superior officer:

“He explained to me that homosexual soldiers were now afraid of me,” Sommers said. “He showed me a letter from an Army Band colleague that demanded that I publicly apologize (to) the band for my statements and that I should be removed from positions of leadership and influence.”

Says Corey:

If [Sommers] was causing workplace tension, something that affects our ability to be prepared to fight wars, [the officer] actually did the right thing. In a military setting, workplace cohesion is more important than an individual. It’s just different than in the civilian world.

Corey’s been there himself:

In 1996 I got in trouble for having an anti-Clinton statement on my personal home answering machine. I was given a direct order to remove it, and I did. They were right. I was 19 and just learning the ropes.

Regarding the Nathan Sommers affair, he dismisses the “spin” of FOX News:

I do not believe that Christians or conservatives in the military are persecuted. In fact, unless military culture has changed drastically since I retired in ’04, which I don’t believe it has, it’s liberals who are persecuted. Military culture is extremely red and conservative, with very little tolerance for liberals.

I also contacted another source I know well personally, a senior military officer with almost a quarter century of U.S. Air Force active duty, Reserve, and National Guard experience. Mitchell (not his real name) is a Lieutenant Colonel who’s getting ready to deploy for a sixth time. Though raised in an evangelical Christian nest, he considers himself an agnostic.

Here’s Mitchell’s take:

When we are in uniform, we represent the military. Anything we do or say that is contrary to military laws, regulations, and policies, regardless of our personal beliefs, is subject to punishment. We can voice our opinions up the chain of command, but making anti-homosexual comments and derogatory comments about the President in public are not acceptable. Everyone in the military is trained regularly on this.

But surely, even in uniform, you’re allowed to read a book by Sean Hannity or any other hyper-partisan lying sack of shit professional agitator of your choosing, whether the author is on the left or on the right? Aye, says Mitchell.

Reading right-wing books shouldn’t be a problem. I suspect there is more to the story. There was a right-wing conspiracy fanatic in my Guard unit that read those books but also had to explain to everyone what he had just read, as if it was truth… They found a medical reason to discharge him.

Serving Chick-fil-A shouldn’t be a problem either. Publicly explaining his reasons for serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches probably was.

I’ll give Corey the last word on the so-called persecution of Christians in the military:

Any formal function — large meetings called “Commander’s Calls,” award ceremonies, recognition dinners, etc. — are all opened in prayer by a chaplain, most commonly a Christian chaplain. So I’m hard-pressed to say there are anti-Christian sentiments in the military… An atheist would have a much more persuasive argument [alleging anti-atheist bias] considering all the times they’re forced to sit through group prayer. And I say that as an evangelical Christian.


P.S.: Anyone wishing to discuss Christianity’s role in the U.S. military should read this incredible story from Harper’s Magazine, tellingly titled “Jesus Killed Mohammed.” It reveals how a loose cadre of high-ranking officers has orchestrated

… a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors — “ambassadors for Christ in uniform.”

Read the whole thing… but you might want to duct-tape your lower jaw to your face first.

(images via Lew Rockwell, Ojai Post, and Vietnam Veteran Wives)

14 Jun 20:32

Sam Harris on the Danger of ‘Religious Ecstasy’ Pointing the Wrong Way

by Hemant Mehta

Sam Harris often gets criticized as “Islamophobic.” But in a piece recently posted on his website, he explains his appreciation for “contemplative rituals,” like religious calls to prayer. It’s not that he lacks empathy for moderate Muslims (the “peaceful billion,” he writes) when he goes after the radicals; instead, his empathy lies with the victims of Islamic fundamentalism — the gays, the women, the apostates, etc. Religious devotion, in the wrong hands, can wreak havoc on a society:

Islam marries religious ecstasy and sectarian hatred in a way that other religions do not. Secular liberals who worry more about “Islamophobia” than about the actual doctrine of Islam are guilty of a failure of empathy. They fail not just with respect to the experience of innocent Muslims who are treated like slaves and criminals by this religion, but with respect to the inner lives of its true believers. Most secular people cannot begin to imagine what a (truly) devout Muslim feels. They are blind to the range of experiences that would cause an otherwise intelligent and psychologically healthy person to say, “I will happily die for this.” Unless you have tasted religious ecstasy, you cannot understand the danger of its being pointed in the wrong direction.

To think that religious doctrine plays no part in Islamic terrorism — that the “religion of peace” could never drive someone to violence — is to plead ignorance on the matter. Yes, of course, there are other factors at play, but religion is the key ingredient.

14 Jun 20:30

15-Year-Old Syrian Boy Executed for Committing Blasphemy

by Hemant Mehta

15-year-old Mohammad Qataa did nothing wrong.

(via Al Jazeera)

He was selling coffee in the city of Aleppo recently when he got into an argument and supposedly said the following:

“Even if the Prophet Mohammad comes down [from heaven], I will not become a believer.”

That was enough for an “Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group” to find him and kill him yesterday:

“People gathered around him and a member of the fighting brigade said: ‘Generous citizens of Aleppo, disbelieving in God is polytheism and cursing the prophet is a polytheism. Whoever curses even once will be punished like this’,” the [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] said.

“He then fired two bullets from an automatic rifle in view of the crowd and in front of the boy’s mother and father, and got into a car and left.”

If that wasn’t disturbing enough, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is distributing a very-graphic-and-NSFW image of Qataa to the press in order to let people know how serious this violence is and to turn people against the Syrian regime.

(Also, “Polytheism”?)

There’s one more twist to this story that could somehow make it even worse. According to Al Jazeera, the argument that Qataa had may have been with a customer who just wanted a free cup of coffee. Qataa said “Even if Muhammad comes down, I will not give it as debt” — or (paraphrased) I wouldn’t give you free coffee even if Muhammad came back down. (“Religion” and “debt” share a similar root in Arabic, adding to the confusion.)

In other words, Qataa may have been killed over an innocuous statement that was only misinterpreted as blasphemy.

This is religion at its worst, unable to handle even the idea that someone might not believe in God. Yes, there’s a political angle to this and the terrorist group wants to stoke fear in the masses, but their delusions are only pushed to the brink because of their dogmatic faith.

(Thanks to Xavier for the link)

09 Jun 23:35

Candidate for Roanoke County Board of Supervisors: Religious Freedom Only Applies to Christians

by Hemant Mehta

In Virginia, Al Bedrosian is the Republican candidate in the race to win one of the five seats on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. There’s no Democrat in the race; he’s running against independent Gary Jarrell.

None of this would be particularly newsworthy outside of Roanoke if it weren’t for this opinion piece Bedrosian wrote for the Roanoke Times nears six years ago, in which he talks about how this country is not only a Christian nation, but one where non-Christians should not be allowed to worship at all:

Al Bedrosian

Freedom of religion has become the biggest hoax placed upon the Christian people and on our Christian nation.

When reading the writings of our Founding Founders, there was never any reference to freedom of religion referring to a choice between Islam, Hindu, Satanism, Wicca and whatever other religions or cults you would like to dream up. It was very clear that freedom to worship meant the freedom to worship the God of the Bible in the way you wanted, and not to have a government church denomination dictate how you would worship.

Once we remove ourselves from worshiping the one true God, all the wonderful qualities of America will vanish.

In fact, the global warming crowd worships the environment as god, the abortionist has the death of unborn babies as their god, and the homosexuals have sexual freedom as their god.

The real battle is keeping the name of Jesus as Lord. The name Jesus is what makes us a Christian people and a Christian nation. This is why we must continue our heritage as a Christian nation and remove all other gods.

This about as far right as a person could get. He’s a theocrat who’s upset that America supports “freedom of religion.” He’s about a step away from suggesting that all non-Christians be deported. (No word yet on how Bedrosian actually plans to “remove all other gods” from our country.)

Roanoke Times reporter Dan Casey caught up with Bedrosian to ask him about his religious views and whether they’ve changed from 2007. Turns out Bedrosian is still sticking to his Christ-or-bust mentality:

“We are a Christian nation. We’re not a Muslim nation,” Bedrosian said. “The Founding Fathers, they knew about Islam. When they came to America, they wanted the freedom to worship, but not the freedom to worship the devil, or Muhammad.”

The problem today, Bedrosian added is “as a Christian nation we’re bending over backwards to allow in every other nation’s religion… and Christians are being pushed out.”

But aren’t Christians still by far a majority in America? I asked. That’s the conundrum, Bedrosian replied.

“We’re being so generous to every other religion that it’s removing our Christianity. And that’s dangerous. Christianity is being pushed to the back of the bus, and every other religion is at the front.

Riiiiight… to paraphrase Jon Stewart, maybe one day, our country will even rise up to elect our first Christian president!

Bedrosian went on to talk about how he plans to commit all sorts of church/state violations, including reciting Christian prayers at City Council meetings, if he gets elected:

If he’s elected supervisor, would he work to put the Ten Commandments in Roanoke County schools? I asked.

Although it’s not an issue he’s specifically campaigning on, Bedrosian replied he would work toward that. “Absolutely, I think it’s a good idea,” he said.

The problem is, overturning the nonsectarian prayer policy and putting the Ten Commandments in Roanoke County schools would almost surely put Roanoke County taxpayers on the losing end of two potentially expensive federal court lawsuits.

Bedrosian said the county could probably get free or inexpensive representation from Christian legal groups. And if it couldn’t, it could cancel the Vinton Library project. That would free up plenty of money to defend itself in a drawn-out legal battle.

What the hell…? He’s willing to let the county get sued for putting up the Ten Commandments up in public schools… only to pay for the lawsuit with money that could have been used to build a new library.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Bedrosian doesn’t care about libraries. In his mind, there’s only one book that matters.

Any citizen of Hollins District who votes for this man is just asking for the county’s tax money to be thrown away on the illegal whims of Bedrosian, who says he loves this country but apparently can’t even bring himself to read and understand the First Amendment of the Constitution.

(Thanks to Scott for the link)

09 Jun 23:33

Non-Religious Doughnuts

by Hemant Mehta

National Doughnut Day was Friday, but it’s never too late to use them to compare non-religious philosophies:

Alright, so the phrases don’t all fit the titles (for example, atheists would more likely say “I don’t believe in doughnuts”), but kudos for the effort.

We know doughnuts are more like religion, anyway — they look fantastic, but they’re centered around something that isn’t there.

(via Interfaith Youth Core)

04 Jun 23:51

Christian Minister Who Hasn’t Heard of Google: No Atheist Groups Have Helped Victims of Oklahoma Tornado

by Hemant Mehta

There’s this thing called Google that protects you from sticking your foot in your mouth.

Minister David Brassfield of the Newalla Church of Christ in Oklahoma must not have discovered it yet, because he gave members of his church the following handout over the weekend, suggesting that atheists can’t be found in times of crisis:

After our recent major loss of life and property, thousands of people and many organizations stepped up to help. The list included churches, benevolent groups with religious ties, and even local casinos. What you did not see on the list were groups who have been critical of religion and are unbelievers in God.

The Freedom From Religion group got the 10 commandments removed from an Oklahoma school, but they could not be bothered with helping the victims of the storms. Neither could you find the ACLU, any agnostic or atheistic organization, nor anyone or anything associated with the Humanist Movement on the list of those who were helping the hurting. People who are members of these organizations are conspicuously absent whenever people need comforting, whether it is from natural or manmade tragedies.

Like I said, you have to try really hard to avoid finding evidence of atheists helping out tornado victims.

Kai Tancredi does a nice job listing what atheist organizations have done for Oklahomans at Red Dirt Report:

Foundation Beyond Belief: The Humanist Crisis Response program of Foundation Beyond Belief has raised $44,100 in online donations as of May 28th specifically for Oklahoma recovery, in fulfillment of its mission statement to “serve as a focal point for the humanist response to major humanitarian crises. Our purpose is twofold: to bring resources to those in desperate need, and to raise awareness of that need in the humanist community and beyond.”

Local atheist organizations: Members of local atheist communities the Oklahoma Atheists, Atheist Community of Tulsa, the Lawton Area Secular Society, Norman Naturalism Group, the Oklahoma State Secular Organization, (and others) have been on the ground since the first storms on May 19th, organizing volunteer, resource and blood drives. To be fair, these groups have no tax exempt status and therefore can’t exactly afford to have the t-shirts for everyone to wear so that you know when they are out in force during a volunteer effort.

Kai’s list is much longer that that — and it’s worth checking out in full so you can see how much generosity is in the atheist community given our limited resources. While a lot of media attention has gone to Rebecca Vitsmun and the amount of money raised just for her family, the atheist outreach in Oklahoma has gone far beyond that.

I’ve sent a message to Brassfield asking for a response to the piece and I’ll provide an update if/when I hear back. I’m guessing he’s going to ignore the message, though, since he’s already proven he tunes out anything that tries to poke a hole in his bubble.

(Thanks to Andrew for the link!)

04 Jun 23:35

Valedictorian Rips Up School-Approved Graduation Speech… and Says the Lord’s Prayer Instead

by Hemant Mehta
Natalie Augustine

“The straight, white, able-bodied Christian man said a prayer out loud in South Carolina! SO BRAVE.”

Take South Carolina, a school named Liberty, and a Christian valedictorian… and mix them all together.

What do you think’s gonna happen at graduation?

Prayer, of course.

And not just a brief thanks to God, but a full-out Lord’s Prayer:

The backstory to this is well worth exploring. Back in February, the Freedom From Religion Foundation told the School District of Pickens County that it had to stop the student-led religious invocations at school board meetings.

The locals weren’t happy, so they gathered around the flagpole… because they had nothing better to do:

(via The Easley Progress)

The board eventually voted to keep a non-Sectarian prayer… which didn’t really fix much of anything.

This is the district that’s home to Liberty High School. A place where Jews and atheists and Muslims are not welcome because of a Christian majority that can’t stop “loving” everyone else.

For graduation, Liberty replaced an illegal prayer with a moment of silence. And it also had student speakers submit their speeches to the administration for approval.

When Costner got up on stage, he took out his approved speech and just ripped it up. According to Costner’s own website (in which he appears to writes about himself in the third person):

LHS Class of 2013 Valedictorian Roy Costner added The Lord’s prayer into his speech after ripping up his old speech on stage saying, “Mrs. Gwinn had somehow approved his speech (the one ripped), so I will have to use a different one!” When he arrived to The Lord’s prayer into his speech, this received a huge cheer/excitement and emotion from the crowd.

It was such an amazing moment! Looking out and seeing all of the family, friends, and mentors in the coliseum clapping and some even standing.

“We serve an amazing God and I can promise everyone there was absolutely nothing special I did! God chose to show out and without his courage I don’t think I could have made it through His prayer from the overwhelming reaction the crowd gave bringing tears to my eyes.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say the non-Christian kids in the crowd had a much tougher time at graduation than the Christian on stage who thinks he did something heroic or rebellious.

As one commenter on a news website said, “The straight, white, able-bodied Christian man said a prayer out loud in South Carolina! SO BRAVE.”

The district said Costner won’t be punished for the prayer. That’s where the problem really lies. The school’s not really in the wrong here since it appears they couldn’t have stopped him… but is this legal? Is this the loophole Christians have been searching for?

The First Amendment Center says the case law on this matter is murky at best:

… there is a risk for school officials in this approach. By creating a limited open forum for student speech, the school may have to accept almost anything the student wishes to say. Although the school would not be required to allow speech that was profane, sexually explicit, defamatory, or disruptive, the speech could include political or religious views offensive to many, as well as speech critical of school officials.

That’s the real question here. If Costner had denounced President Obama, or spent time talking about the necessity of abortion, or starting swearing up a storm, would anyone have stepped in to stop him?

Would he have been punished if he talked about why God doesn’t exist?

It seems like his pro-religious speech got special treatment. And if the school wants to avoid a lawsuit in the future, the only solution for them may be to ban all student speakers at future graduations.

(Thanks to Sarah for the link)

04 Jun 23:25

A School District Bans ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ After Parents Complain… but the Fight’s Not Over Yet

by Hemant Mehta

If you’re a middle school student — or any student, really — you probably prefer reading a book that you chose instead of one your teacher chose for you. So, at Hadley Middle School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois (not far from where I live), the English teachers include in their curriculum the opportunity for students to choose their own books to read, discuss, and analyze.

This past December, one group of students chose to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, a book (and popular movie) about a teenager named Charlie who has to deal with issues that are pretty heavy (and all too relatable) for any adolescent. It covers sex, suicide, drugs, crushes, and so much more — which is a large part of why so many students are drawn to it:

The district has a policy when it comes to books chosen by students, and the teachers let the parents know about it early in the school year. In essence, it says that parents have final say when it comes to their child’s independent reading: If parents feel a book is inappropriate, their child doesn’t have to read it. The teacher will then help the child find a different book. There’s no penalty for that, of course.

Sounds simple enough.

Because this particular book has some mature themes, the teacher told the students that they should get permission from their parents before tackling it, reinforcing the policy already in place.

That’s when one of the student’s parents flipped out.

Once they realized what was in the book, not only did they not want their daughter reading it, they wanted it banned entirely. They wanted to make sure no child had access to this book at the school. And they may have succeeded… but it’s not too late to do something about it.

Yesterday, the Illinois Family Institute’s Laurie Higgins alerted her members to the controversy with all the demonizing and spin you might expect from a group like hers. IFI fully supports the book banning. In Higgins’ version of the story, the English teachers are basically a radical group of people who want to teach kids about deviant sex, promote homosexuality, and turn the students into raging liberals like themselves.

In reality, the teachers have the best intentions of the students at heart — and they want the kids to read books that talk about issues that are relevant to them, even if those issues may be difficult to discuss. But it’s the reality the students live in so it’s worth talking about.

I spoke with one of the teachers involved in this incident last night for over an hour to get a fuller picture of this story. By piecing together the two competing narratives, I think I can offer a better picture of what’s going on that anything IFI spits out. I’m going to quote from Higgins’ screed and interject some additional information that might be helpful. Afterwards, I’ll talk about what we can do to fix this problem.

Higgins’ post is below. Other than the names, all the bold-faced emphases are my own:

Last December, students in Tina Booth’s 8th grade literacy class at Hadley Middle School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois were divided into small groups and assigned to choose a book to read. One group chose the infamous The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which set in motion a controversy that persists today.

When students asked Booth about the book, she gave it a glowing recommendation. After parents expressed opposition to it, Principal Christopher Dransoff proposed the option of teachers in the future sending out permission slips about controversial books prior to allowing students to read them, a compromise parents were willing to accept.

Dransoof soon discovered, however, that the majority of 8th grade literacy teachers would not accept such a compromise, apparently believing that such prior notification and parental permission constituted censorship and an implicit indictment of their expert judgment.

It wasn’t a “glowing recommendation.” Actually, Booth told the kids there was mature content in the book, so they should get approval from their parents first (per the district policy). One student’s parents opposed the book and, normally, that would have been enough for the teacher to work with the student on selecting something else to read or placing her in a different group. (Not kicking her out of the classroom, as Higgins suggests)

Before that could happen, though, the principal suggested a quick fix to the problem: What if teachers just sent out a permission slip with every book chosen by the kids? If the parents signed off on every book, their bases would be covered, right? The problem with that idea is that the teachers have over 80 students, each reading approximately 25 books over the course of a year. It’s a logistical nightmare to have slips for every kid for every book. The system that’s in place — a blanket policy that parents are made aware of earlier in the year — makes much more sense. No wonder the teacher didn’t like the “compromise.” It wasn’t about censorship of parents or an indictment of their judgment.

In any case, the parents didn’t like the suggestion of having their daughter replace that book with another one. They wanted it banned for good. So they took their case to the school board. The Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education created an ad hoc committee consisting of parents, faculty members, literacy specialists, administrators, etc. to make a recommendation about what to do. The committee listened to what parents Jennifer and Brian Bradfield and teacher Tina Booth had to say. In the report of the meeting, it’s noted that Booth explained how the book was chosen by the students (not her) and how they had to obtain the book on their own (since there were no copies of it in her classroom).

The parents didn’t care. It was noted in the press that the Bradfields told the school board: “Our innocent child has already been tainted” by the book. (Riiiiight.)

I love this quotation from one of the teachers involved because it really gets to the heart of what’s going on here:

“Like it or not, your daughters and sons in eighth grade heard the word ‘blowjob,’” [Lynn] Bruno said. “I’ve been at this for 30 years… What they are exposed to in terms of dialogue, in terms of media… I don’t like it any more than you do, but it’s (out) there.”

She added books like Perks of Being a Wallflower are valuable because of the lessons students can learn from characters’ decisions in difficult situations.

“I have children in my classroom who need this knowledge now because they’re facing those issues… You cannot take away from children who need to have those conversations… just because it upsets some other children.”

Ultimately, the committee decided that the book should remain an option for students who wanted to read it. They also suggested that parents be given a letter each trimester reminding them that they should be aware of their kids’ book choices. Better than just the beginning-of-the-year reminder and far better than a permission slip for every book.

Usually, school boards take the advice of a committee of experts.

In this case, they rejected the advice completely and banned the book in the process.

Back to Higgins:

This intransigence on the part of the teachers resulted in parents pursuing the issue with the school board which voted 4-2 to remove the book from the middle school, which, in turn, intensified the community controversy. With two newly elected members, the school board is scheduled to revisit its decision at its next meeting on Monday, June 10.

The board’s decision raised the ire of presumptuous teachers who oppose anyone disagreeing with their assessment of what constitutes “age-appropriate,” an undefined term that Booth and her ideological allies use in their defense of the oft and justifiably challenged book.

It’s actually three newly elected members.

Anyway, the 4-2 vote looked like this: Four men — none of whom had read the book — voted for the ban. Two women — both of whom had read the book — voted to keep the book in place. (One board member was absent.) (***Edit***: I’ve been told, but cannot confirm, that one of the women who voted against the ban did not read the book; her daughter read it.)

It was a confusing vote, too. At least one of the board members thought he was voting against the committee’s recommendations, but didn’t realize he was banning the book. He figured the committee would just have to offer a new proposal.

And it wasn’t just the teachers’ ire that was raised. The students were pissed off, too. This is a good book that talks about real issues. They wanted to know how to fight back against the school board.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming of age novel that includes suicide, abortion, drug use, foul language, heterosexual intercourse, homosexual sodomy, masturbation, bestiality, incestuous molestation, and rape — you know, all the topics “progressives” think form the basis for a solid education. Please read these excerpts from the book that Booth believes is a wonderful and “age-appropriate” book for eighth graders. ( **WARNING: Obscene content.**)

The book indeed covers those things. It doesn’t make light of them — it talks about them honestly and bluntly — it’s one of the reasons students relate to the book so strongly. They’ve experienced or heard about these things for years at this point. If conservative Christians have an issue with that, they should take it up with their God for creating puberty. To have a fictional character go through those experiences and talk about them so honestly and vividly is almost surreal the first time you encounter it. I suspect it’s how a lot of older people felt the first time they read Catcher in the Rye.

The linked document puts many of these passages together as if to suggest that’s what the whole book is about.

If we wanted to, we could do the exactly same thing with the Bible. Rape, incest, violence, sex, sex, sex, more sex… (oh my god, IFI must want to ban the Bible, too!)

In addition to the arrogant unwillingness of teachers to ask for permission to teach such a controversial book, it is reported that three of the teachers, Lynn Bruno, Ali Tannenbaum, and Booth, initiated classroom discussions on the topic, ginning up support for their position among students. It’s reported that Booth suggested to students in her class that the school board vote was unfair, that it was censorship, and that students have a “voice.” Apparently, Booth believes that the voices of 14 year-olds should have greater influence than the voices of parents and school board members. Such use of class time to engage students in a public controversy and attempt to manipulate student opinion is unprofessional and an abuse of their power and role as public servants.

Actually, the students initiated the conversations. When they heard the book was banned, they wanted to know what they could do to reverse the decision. The teachers told them the steps they would need to take (like speaking at the next meeting of the school board) to have an impact.

The teachers weren’t saying the voices of 14-year-olds were more important than everybody else’s — but they damn well believed the students shouldn’t be shut out of the conversation. They wanted to say something, so the teachers told them what tools were at their disposal.

Coincidentally, these three teachers (along with Kelly Coleman) spoke at a subsequent school board meeting in support of the retention of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Were there no teachers who supported the school board’s decision? And if there were teachers who supported it, why didn’t they speak up at the school board meeting?

Not surprisingly, students and their voices made an appearance at school board meetings to support the retention of Perks.

Believe it or not, most teachers oppose the banning of books. (Shocking, I know.)

Students tend to like this particular book, too.

It’s usually just religious conservatives who think they should be able to control what everyone else gets to read. It’s not enough that they forbid their own children from reading it; they have to stop your kids from reading it.

But it gets worse. During the recent 8th grade graduation ceremony, one of the two board members who voted in favor of retaining the book, Terra Costa Howard, abused her privilege of speaking by quoting from the disputed book. Demonstrating both a lack of judgment and sensitivity, Howard transformed a family celebration into a controversial political event, ruining it for the daughter of one of the families who oppose the book.

Howard — who’s no longer on the board — referenced a quotation from Charlie in an address she gave at graduation. It wasn’t political. It wasn’t controversial. In any other situation, it would’ve gone unnoticed. But because she referred to the book in the middle of this controversy, IFI wants you to think it was a political statement.

It wasn’t.

It should be noted that this brave girl was bullied relentlessly by classmates for two days following the school board’s vote. She was called “snitch,” “tattletale,” and “goody two-shoes.” Kids passing her in the halls said snottily, “Thanks a lot,” and “good job.” And her locker was festooned with post-it notes with flowers (get it — “wallflowers”). Apparently, the book, which was made into a film, hasn’t taught these kids much about compassion, kindness, diversity, or inclusion.

Here’s what really happened: students began putting up Post-It notes with the word “Flower” written on them all around the school. Unfortunately, that included the girl’s locker. That’s disappointing since she didn’t do anything wrong. This is her parents’ issue, not hers. The teachers Higgins condemns in her piece, after finding out about this, made it very clear to their students that this sort of bullying had absolutely no place at the school. They won’t put up with it and they’re certainly not condoning it.

The students may be upset about the book-banning, but they shouldn’t take their frustration out on one of their classmates. There are far more productive ways to fight back.

On a side note, it takes a lot of chutzpah to see someone from IFI criticize bullying when that’s precisely what the organization is known for doing to the LGBT community.

Booth told parents that it is their responsibility to monitor the books their children are exposed to in school. In other words, don’t trust their teachers. So, now parents must read every book assigned or chosen with a teacher’s recommendation, and they must read these books before their children do. For those families who have multiple children this is a nearly impossible expectation.

It’s a teacher’s responsibility to pick books that are part of the curriculum. When it comes to books selected by the students, yes, the ball shifts to the parents’ court.

Keep in mind that teachers can’t possibly know where different families draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable. What’s good for one may be bad for another and vice versa.

This is where the school’s current policy makes a lot of sense: If parents don’t want their child reading a particular book, all they have to do is say so and the teacher will accommodate the request.

The teachers did that here. But it still wasn’t good enough for the parents.

Okay, so what happens now?

The school board has decided to revisit the issue next Monday night. It’s noteworthy because the board has changed since the 4-2 vote. Two of the men who voted to ban the book are no longer in office. One of the women who voted to keep the book is gone, too. So the vote is is currently at 2-1 in favor of the ban, with three new board members (plus the member who was absent last time).

They need to be convinced that this book is worth reading and that banning it for everyone is the wrong option. Please write to them (politely, respectfully) and let them know that. They need to hear your voice.

There’s also a petition at urging the Board to reverse its decision. It was created by Kristin Ginger, who graduated from Hadley in 2000. Sign it.

Finally, at Monday night’s board meeting, you KNOW there will be a vocal group of conservative Christians there, courtesy of IFI. So if you live in area, attend the meeting and be a voice of reason instead of a voice of censorship and fear. If there’s a chance for public comments, speak out against banning books for everybody just because you’re not comfortable with it.

If you’re a student at Hadley, bring your friends and come to the meeting. The voices of intelligent, open-minded students go a long way to swaying a school board to do the right thing. Start a Facebook group, spread the word, and get everyone involved.

This isn’t about one family. This is about whether adults, supported by the Christian Right, get to dictate what books all students are allowed to read at school. They have no right to do that, and the school board needs to know it.

29 May 08:30

New Legislation Will Allow Iowa’s Homeschooling Parents to Not Teach Their Children

by Hemant Mehta

This past week, the Iowa legislature passed House File 215, a bill that changes the way homeschooling is regulated. In short, it removes a good chunk of state oversight, leaving the education of homeschooled children completely in the hands of their parents — and Christian homeschooling families couldn’t be more thrilled (emphasis theirs):

HF 215 is truly a gift from God for homeschool families. [Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators] deserves a huge “THANK YOU” from the entire Iowa homeschool community for their awesome work spanning many years on [Independent Private Instruction].

So what are the big changes for homeschooling parents because of this bill?

  • They don’t have to file basic paperwork with the state unless there’s a written request for it
  • Children don’t need to be taught (or overseen) by a licensed teacher
  • They don’t need to provide the state with any proof that progress has been made in a child’s education
  • Homeschooled children do not need to be immunized
  • Blood lead testing is not required for homeschooled children
  • There’s no set number of days children have to be in school
  • There are only four required subjects (Math, Science, Social Studies, Reading and Language arts) but no guidelines for what constitutes a real education in these subjects and little to no oversight to ensure any of this is actually happening
  • They can now teach driver’s education, too

Libby Anne explains why all of this is such a problem:

… basically, if Governor [Terry] Branstad signs this law there will be nothing at all ensuring that homeschool parents in Iowa teach their children, and very little requirement that they actually teach anything in the first place.

30,000 children in Iowa are currently getting homeschooled. Not all of them come from Christian families, and not all the Christian families are going to provide their kids with a poor education. But we know from experience that many religious parents do not give kids anywhere close to the comprehensive, reality-based education they need to be successful in college (unless, of course, they go to a Christian-only college, in which case they’re likely to get a second dose of nonsense). This is absolutely irresponsible of Iowa’s elected officials and bad news for all the kids who will be affected by their parents’ incompetence.

The Home School Legal Defense Association, which supports all these changes, was very sneaky about how they got them in the final bill. In essence, they didn’t tell anyone they were lobbying for the changes — not even their own members. They didn’t ask homeschooling families to call their representatives in support of this bill because that might have tipped off the opposition. Because of their stealth approach, very few people were aware that these changes were taking place and opponents were unable to raise a fuss about it until it was too late.

29 May 08:16

on Changes

by Ian
Natalie Augustine

2 months for my husband and me. <3

on Changes

25 May 05:04

This May Be the Least Useful Oklahoma Fundraiser

by Hemant Mehta

The people in Moore, Oklahoma need a lot of things right now: Food, water, shelter, their families…

So this fundraiser is just mind-boggling:

Moore, Oklahoma was struck by an EF5 tornado on May 20. Many people have nothing left. Lots of folks are helping with basic needs, but they also need Bibles. I found a place that will sell me Bibles for $1 each, if I buy at least 1,000 Bibles. I want to buy more Bibles than that. Please help me get Bibles to the people of Moore, Oklahoma who have lost everything!

And when they’re done reading those Bibles, they can place them on their bookshe–oh, right.

I’m not asking anyone to boycott this fundraiser or anything. It’s just amazing to me, though, that anyone could seriously consider the Bible one of those necessary items after a disaster. I mean, without a magnifying glass or matches, paper isn’t going to be very helpful.

If you really want to get upset, think of how much food or water could have been bought for the same amount of money.

22 May 03:59

Church Celebrates Marriage Equality With Rainbow Communion Bread

by Camille Beredjick
Natalie Augustine

How neat!

Revolution Church, a liberal congregation in Minneapolis, served rainbow-colored communion bread at services recently to celebrate Minnesota passing marriage equality.

Pastor Jay Bakker of the gay-friendly Revolution Church serves rainbow communion bread in honor of Minnesota’s newly-passed marriage equality law

The idea for the colorful addition to church service came from Courtney Perry, a photographer who served the bread at her symbolic wedding ceremony in 2011. (She and her spouse didn’t marry legally in solidarity with their LGBT friends who are still denied that right.) Rev. Jay Bakker, the church’s head pastor, found the idea symbolic and fun.

“So many people have been hurt by the church and by Christianity,” Bakker told the News. “But this was a beautiful moment.”

Bakker describes his church as “pretty liberal” on social issues. Congregants in Minneapolis meet at a theater space with a bar and a bowling alley; the New York chapter of the church meets at a bar in Brooklyn. It’s friendlier and more neutral than traditional places of worship, and that’s how he wants members to see the church.

Bakker said he’s received plenty of backlash from conservative social media users after news about his rainbow communion bread spread online.

“They’ve missed out on the higher message of the Bible and who Jesus is and what he did,” Bakker said in response to those negative comments. “They’ve become victims of tradition.”

It’s refreshing to see more and more religious groups that aren’t so much about religion, per se, but about sticking together in the face of adversity perpetuated by others under the guise of “God’s will.” A little rainbow bread goes a long way.

08 May 05:55

50 High School Students Ditch Class and Get Away With It… Because of Jesus

by Hemant Mehta
Natalie Augustine


Even atheists will tell you they have no legal problem with students and teachers who pray during school. As long as its on their own time, it’s not disruptive, and there’s no coercion from adults involved, it’s usually not an issue at all.

But what happened at Lumpkin County High School (Georgia) last Wednesday appears to be a very clear violation of school policy (the highlight for me comes at the 1:28 mark below, for totally stereotypical reasons…):

Controversy is brewing in a northern Georgia community after about 50 students prayed together Wednesday morning when school officials said they should have been in class.

The spontaneous prayer at Lumpkin County High School has become the talk of the town. Lumpkin County Schools Superintendent Dewey Moye said that a student started the prayer in a coach’s office at 7:30 a.m. and it lasted more than two hours.

“It was a student-led initiative. The student showed up at the coach’s office and the coach did pray with them and it went into the school day, over into the first period of the day,” Moye said.

Keep in mind LCHS has a block schedule so missing “first period” really means they missed a nearly-90-minute class.

What bugs me here isn’t the coach’s participation. If it was before school, I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. I don’t even care that the students came into the coach’s office, though that’s just weird…

What bothers me is that the Superintendent doesn’t seem concerned about any of this:

Moye says he realizes what happened Wednesday cannot happen again. He admits some parents called to complain about the prayer, but he says that going forward, procedures and policies will be followed.

While he said that he will not discipline the coach and students, Moye says from now on, there will be no prayers during school hours.

No punishments for anyone. Which is crazy.

Did the coach not have any responsibility to tell the students to get to class?

Weren’t the students aware that skipping class for some random reason, in most schools, amounts to a truancy and/or suspension?

The question we really need to be asking is this one: If students ditched the beginning of the school day without an excuse, would they have been punished? If the answer is yes, then “We were praying” is not a legitimate excuse. Hell, if students took too long during a “bathroom break,” they’d be in trouble in most places.

Moye’s excuse is that students have a right to pray. But that’s not in dispute:

“I believe it’s a Constitutional right to pray, yes I do. I believe they can do so at their desk, as long as they do not disrupt the school day,” Moye said.

That’s precisely the problem. The students disrupted the school day and Moye’s doing nothing about it!

There are several times over the course of a school year when half my class is missing because of some field trip or another. In most cases, I can’t teach anything because it’s just not worth it; I’ll have to reteach it to the missing kids the next day, anyway, so why not just hold off until then. It’s disruptive, but I accept it as part of the “high school deal.” To think that 50 kids were out of their classes for an unscheduled prayer? No field trip slips? No advance warning? If I were a teacher there, I’d be pissed off.

The comments online are overwhelmingly in support of the students and the Superintendent — “So grateful this story is about 50 students who were praying, not 50 students who were killed!”

That makes sense… Who needs to go to class when you have Jesus and osmosis?

The ACLU is investigating any possible proselytization, but there’s no evidence of that.

The problem is that students skipped class, with the knowledge of at least one coach, and they were not punished at all for it because they were praying. Religion should not be a Get Out of Jail Free card, certainly not in this case, and the Superintendent needs to be punished for his weak response to an obvious infraction.

By the way, I was looking at the LCHS handbook and they actually address what happens to students who skip class:

A student who cuts a class during the school day will receive a “0” for that day in the subject missed. A student who is doing work for another teacher or is in another area other than his designated classroom (such as the restroom) without permission from his teacher or an administrator will be considered skipping. Students who leave their classroom during class time for any reason will make up the time missed in class at their teacher’s discretion at break, before or after school, or during lunch break. Any student out of class FOR ANY REASON during the school day must have permission from a teacher entered on the sign out page of his/her agenda book.. Being more than 5 minutes late to class is skipping class. Consequences include suspension.

Being 5 minutes late? Could lead to suspension.

Being 90 minutes late? Don’t worry about it… if you’re Christian.

Totally makes sense.

(via Religion Clause)

07 May 06:57

Atheists Adopt-a-Highway… Just Outside the Creation Museum

by Hemant Mehta

The Tri-State Freethinkers (covering parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana) recently adopted a highway. That’s awesome in and of itself, but what makes this particular highway special is that it’s the entrance road to the Creation Museum :) Specifically, it’s the road off the Petersburg Rd. exit, the main artery into Ken Ham‘s kingdom.

Their first cleanup was held over the weekend:

You could argue that the last highway you’d want to keep clean is the one leading into FictionLand… but there’s also a benefit to putting your name in front of all the people who are heading there, countering the claim stressed in the Creation Museum that you can’t be good without God.

Jim Helton, the American Atheist Regional Director in Kentucky, also offered these reasons for doing it:

First of all, Adopt-a-Highway is a great program. It is good for the environment & the community. Second, we picked a location which would be easy for volunteers to get to. Third, the signs have let people passing by that they are not alone and we have a presence in the area.

Plus, I would add, at least one organization is contributing something positive to the area.

(Pictures courtesy of John Welte. Thanks to Jim for the link!)

19 Apr 03:25

How to Respond to the Anti-Gay ‘Day of Dialogue’

by Hemant Mehta

I posted a version of this last year, but it’s worth posting again.

Thursday marks the annual anti-gay “Day of Dialogue” in which participants can tell their LGBT classmates why they’re going to hell. It’s the Christian response to Friday’s gay-friendly “Day of Silence.”

This is the card (PDF) participants will be handing out:

Zach Moore, Coordinator of the Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, created this fantastic parody (PDF) of that card:

So cut those out and spread the word!

And, by the way, if you click on, it redirects to this site :)

13 Apr 07:50

Unitarian Pastor: If My Religious Liberty is Protected, Then Don’t Refuse My Right to Marry Same-Sex Couples

by Hemant Mehta
Natalie Augustine

Loving Rev. Dawn Cooley. Still hating on KY.

As I posted a couple of days ago, Kentucky recently passed House Bill 279, allowing for discrimination in the workplace, housing, and even public facilities if the justification involves “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Governor Steve Beshear vetoed the bill, but the state’s other elected official had the numbers to override the veto.

So discrimination against gays, lesbians, atheists, Muslims, and everyone else who doesn’t believe what the Christian majority does is about to become commonplace in the state.

As tragic as that is, I have to appreciate this letter from a local Unitarian pastor in response to the bill:

Rev. Dawn Cooley

As soon as this bill passes into law, I will officially begin conducting weddings and signing marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, as is standard practice in my religion. It will be my right to act in this manner, in accordance to my faith. If a county clerk refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, I will have him/her cited for burdening my freedom of religion, but I am sure I will be able to find at least one who will understand and sympathize and act in accordance with the law.


The Rev. Dawn Cooley
First Unitarian Church
Louisville, KY

If only more church leaders had that sort of courge and moral conviction.

***Update***: Cooley points out in the comments that her idea won’t work as planned since her state defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to stop fighting for this cause:

There is a snag to my plan that I have recently been made aware of: KY has a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. And apparently the constitution takes precedence over a statute (like HB279).

That said, I am not giving up.

(Thanks to ShoeUnited for the link!)

10 Apr 01:53

Kentucky Lawmaker Defends Bill Allowing Religious Discrimination by Citing Examples of Christians Not Always Getting Their Way

by Hemant Mehta
Natalie Augustine

Kentucky still ranks number 1 on my least favorite states.

Last month, lawmakers in Kentucky proposed a billHouse Bill 279 — that would allow discrimination in the workplace, housing, or even public facilities if the justification involved “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Gays, lesbians, atheists, Muslims, and pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian had good reason to fear this bill.

On March 22nd, Gov. Steve Beshear did the right thing and vetoed the bill (PDF):

As written, the measure calls into question the scope and efficacy of many laws regarding public health and safety as well as individual civil rights… Our businesses, our local governments, our citizens and our religious organizations should not be burdened with the potential consequences associated with this well intended but ultimately flawed legislation.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky House and Senate had the numbers to override the veto:

The House’s 79-15 vote sent House Bill 279 to the Senate, which voted 32-6 to override the measure.

The one-paragraph bill that stirred strong emotions now will become law in 90 days.

During the debates on the House and Senate floors, opponents of the bill argued that religious freedom is not under attack.

“There are no efforts being made by anyone to take away anybody’s religious freedom,” said Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville. “… This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason because there is no reason for it, other than what I perceive to be pandering to a certain segment of this community.”

Which brings us to yesterday. Republican Rep. Stan Lee wrote a letter to the Lexington Herald-Leader to counter the charge that this bill was all about “pandering” and cowardice. There are so many false statements and exaggerated claims in the piece, you would think Lee was trying to get hired at FOX News Channel. My own commentary is in red:

Rep. Stan Lee

According to the paper, the Religious Freedom Bill, House Bill 279, passed because of political cowardice and pandering.

“Cowardice,” is often defined as the act of a soldier running away from battle during war. But what war? Could it be a war on Christianity? Now I know your response will be that there is no attack on religious freedoms. Indeed, you will deny the very existence of such a war. Yet, tell that to the owners of Hands On Originals or Chik-fil-A, who were vehemently attacked by government officials and agencies for expressing their personal religious beliefs (Hands On Originals refused to do business with the organizers of a gay pride parade because the owners are Christian while Chick-fil-A is, well, Chick-fil-A. Neither business was shut down; they were only criticized for their bigotry.). Tell that to the high school coach who gets sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for offering a prayer of protection before a ballgame (Public school coaches can’t lead students in Christian prayer, well-intentioned or not.). Tell that to the teacher who gets sued for saying, “Happy Thanksgiving,” “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter.” (When the hell has that ever happened?! If it did, then sue me, because I said “Merry Christmas,” among other things, to my students before they left for winter break.) Tell that to the valedictorian who gets enjoined from mentioning God in her graduation speech (No one will raise a big fuss over a brief mention of God, but students cannot proselytize when giving a graduation speech.). Tell that to the county judge-executive who gets sued for posting the Ten Commandments (That’s because it’s illegal. Don’t post Christian commandments in the courthouse. Post them in your personal office.). Tell that to the student who tries to pray or read her Bible during school (Neither of those things are a problem as long as they are not disruptive and the ACLU would defend their right to do both.). Tell that to the citizens whose governor decided the State Capitol needed a “holiday tree” as opposed to a Christmas Tree (OH NO! Plurality at work! Why aren’t Christians given special treatment?!).

You don’t think our religious freedoms are under attack? The evidence shows otherwise. (There’s about as much evidence for Christians’ religious freedoms under attack as there is for the Bible…)

Despite being guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Sections 1 and 5 of the Kentucky Constitution Bill of Rights, secular progressives value religious liberty only so long as it is practiced behind closed doors at home or in church (or privately at work. The House and Senate should not be mistaken for pulpits). Hence, their opposition to HB 279.

No, during the debates on HB 279, many of us did not run from the battle. Quite the contrary, some stood, myself included, to face the opposition and confront the attack. You may not agree with our position, but you cannot say we ran from the fight. (You didn’t run from the fight. You stampeded over the opposition while hoisting a Christian flag over your head.)

Finally, the prediction of “nightmare scenarios” because HB 279 became law, sounds a little like “the sky is falling”: lots of law-breakers motivated by “sincerely held beliefs,” a barrage of complaints, government waste and so on. (It won’t take long before another LGBT or non-Christian individual is discriminated against because of “Christian love.” They’re free to be bigots on their own time. They shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate on the taxpayers’ dime.) Yet amazingly, none of that was happening last October, before the Kentucky Supreme Court decided in the Amish case to change the law to restrict religious freedom. And that’s what necessitated the filing and eventual passage of HB 279, to restore the law to what is was, to once again protect our religious freedoms from overzealous government infringement.

Pandering? No. Fighting for religious liberty? Yes. (Whining because your privilege was threatened? Yes.)

This is textbook Christian Martyr Complex in action. No one is taking away the actual rights of Christians at all. The things Lee mentions are all perceived rights that too many Christians think they deserve simply for being in the majority.

By the way, as for that “Amish case” decided by the state Supreme Court that Lee cites as the reason for the bill, the law that restricted religious freedom, a reader summarized what that was all about in an email:

… [Lee] blames the Kentucky Supreme Court for a ruling last year in which the Court held that Amish who drive their slow-moving wagons on public highways could be fined for failure to display reflective safety symbols on the back of their buggies. (Seems they present a safety hazard when cars can come up on them at night or in bad weather, because they are slow and poorly visible.) Here’s the irony of Lee’s statements: In the Amish case, the ACLU actually represented, wait for it, the AMISH.

At least one Christian, also writing a letter to the newspaper, expressed some rational thought:

At age 79 I have never felt my religious freedom is in jeopardy in our nation. I can go to the church of my choice, read my Bible, give my offering and pray quietly wherever I wish. I fear the world’s biggest danger comes from religious zealots who will not tolerate those with whom they disagree.

The far right suffers from Acute Paranoiac Egomania Syndrome, known as APES. Watch our for the APES.

Alright, forget I ever said “Christian Martyr Complex.” From now on, it’s APES all the way. That is perfect.