Politics Archive

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jessica Ahlquist, School Prayer, and Christian Love

This is old news by now, and has certainly made the rounds in the skeptical blogosphere, but like I often do, I'm repeating this for friends and family who don't frequent the same areas of the web that I do.

Cranston West School PrayerAt Cranston High School West in Rhode Island, there was a mural painted to look like a banner with a prayer on it. For reference, here's the full text of the prayer (per WPRI):

Our Heavenly Father, Grant us each day the desire to do our best, To grow mentally and morally as well as physically, To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, To be honest with ourselves as well as with others, Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win, Teach us the value of true friendship, Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West. Amen

The mural had been there for decades, but just recently, it has become the focus of some controversy. The short story is that a student, Jessica Ahlquist, complained to the adminstration that the banner was illegal and that it marginalized non-Christians. The school didn't listen, so she went to the ACLU. The ACLU told the school that the banner was clearly illegal, and that there wouldn't even be a debate if it were to go to court. The school still did nothing. So, the ACLU followed through, filed a lawsuit, and unsurprisingly, a judge ruled that mural had to be removed. As part of his opinion, he wrote:

No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer.

Well, as you can expect, throughout the whole affair the 'good' Christians of Cranston have not been happy about this at all. It really has brought out the worst in some people. The blog, JesusFetusFajitaFishsticks, has a collection of some of the comments that have been directed at Jessica. Of course, there are the usual Christian threats that she'll burn in Hell, along with lots of people calling her a bitch. There are some threats that get even more explicit, such as:

Fuck Jessica alquist I'll drop anchor on her face
Let's all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho
"@Ry_Simoneau: But for real somebody should jump this girl" lmao let's do it!
@jessicaahlquist your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you fucking worthless cunt

As that last comment pointed out, someone even published her home address in the comments section of the local paper. In fact, the threats were so bad, that Jessica had to get police protection.

And it's not just young students acting out against Jessica. Grown adults are getting in on the act. Rhode Island State Representative Peter Palumbo, a Democrat, made some comments about Jessica on the John DePetro Show. He called her, perhaps somewhat jokingly, "an evil little thing". He also said, "Poor thing. And it’s not her fault. She’s being trained to be like that." When pressed on it, he relented a bit on her, but said that "she's being coerced by evil people." Seriously. An elected official is calling people evil for asking a school to take down a sectarian prayer.

On the petty side, local florist shops are refusing to deliver flowers to Jessica. The organization that was trying to send her the flowers eventually went to an out of state florist. According the the FFRF press release:

FFRF was forced to go to an out of state business, Glimpse of Gaia, in Putnam, Conn., which not only agreed to deliver the flowers but threw in a second bouquet from the shop with its own message, “Glimpse of Gaia fully supports our First Amendment and will not be bullied by those who do not. Here’s to you, Jessica Ahlquist.”

This whole ordeal has revealed quite a bit of hatred and bad behavior over someone simply asking a school to follow the law of the land and respect the Constitution. It's certainly revealed the ugly side of Christianity, and shown Jessica Ahlquist to be a very courageous young woman.

Here are a few sites where you can show your support for Jessica:
Support Jessica Ahlquist
Evil Little Shirts

Here's one more link to a news story:
Rhode Island Teen's Battle Against Prayer Banner Has Gone 'Too Far,' Mayor Says

And I'll also note that The Digital Cuttlefish has devoted quite a few blog entries to creating verse about this situation. It's well worth browsing through that site to read them (as well as all the other poems).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Salvation Army - To Give, or Not to Give?

Salvation Army?It's that time of year when you can't go shopping without hearing the familiar ringing of bells being rung by the person standing next to the hanging red kettle, wishing you a Merry Christmas, grateful for any change you might have. I'd always given to the Salvation Army, usually more than just a bit of spare change, but now that I've begun paying attention to some of the criticisms of the organization, I wonder whether I want to support them.

First things first, the Salvation Army does a lot of good. Their thrift stores are well known, as well as their help to the needy. Perhaps slightly less well known are their disaster relief, rehabilitation centers, and homeless shelters, as well as a few programs I'm sure I've forgotten. And let me also dispel a prominent rumor. The bell ringers don't take a cut from the red kettle (see Snopes).

But, they're not without controversy. Keep in mind, the Salvation isn't just a charity. They're a church. They take positions on issues that would otherwise have nothing to do with their charity work. Take a look at this page on their site:

Salvation Army USA - Position Statements

They have positions on:

  • Abortion
  • Alcohol and Drugs
  • Economic Justice
  • Euthanasia
  • Gambling
  • Homosexuality
  • Human Equality
  • Human Trafficking
  • Marriage
  • Pornography
  • Religious Persecution
  • Suicide

Their positions are exactly what you'd expect from the religious right. For example, here's part of what they have to say about gambling.

The Salvation Army believes that gambling engages its participants and promoters in an exercise of greed contrary to biblical moral teaching. Gambling at best wastes personal resources, and at worst afflicts millions through a lifestyle of compulsive behaviors and destructive influences.

And just to show what they consider so bad:

Some examples of gambling include casino games, state lotteries, and betting on sports.

Moving on to something that's more of an active political discussion right now, here's part of their statement on homosexuality.

Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

And here's the beginning of their statement on marriage.

The Salvation Army affirms the New Testament standard of marriage, which is the loving union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is the first institution ordained by God (Genesis 2:24), and His Word establishes its significance (Matthew 19:4-6).

Now, if they just had position statements, as bad as they are, that would be one thing. But the Salvation Army actively works to support their positions. The most famous example from this country was when New York City passed the Equal Benefits Bill, requiring all organizations receiving public funds to provide the same benefits to "domestic partners" as they do to spouses. The Salvation Army threatened to quit receiving public funding rather than abide by the law, which would have in effect shut down the majority of their operations in the city.

Then, there are numerous local incidents - none which are officially supported by Salvation Army headquarters, but which are still rather widespread. Someone else has already covered this pretty well, so here's a link to their article on the issue:

ARISE - Do not donate to the Salvation Army

Here's just a sampling of some of those local incidents:

Aside from how their positions affect their own charitable donations, here's an example of them trying to 'steal' money from another charity. When H. Guy Di Stefano died, he wanted his estate to be split evenly between 8 charities. One of them, Greenpeace International, was absorbed by the Greenpeace Fund between the writing of the will and Di Stefano's death. The money that was to go to Greenpeace International was going to go to the Greenpeace Fund, and none of the other charities had a problem with that, except for the Salvation Army. They argued that because it wasn't the same charity named in the will, that the money should be split evenly between the 7 remaining charities. An agreement was reached, and The Army's lawsuit was dropped.

More Info:
Seattle Times - Salvation Army settles its dispute over Issaquah man's $33 million bequest

And then, there's their cult like treatment of officers in their church. They can only marry other officers in the church. And it's not an empty threat. A few years ago, they did terminate an officer when he became engaged to someone from outside the organization.

More Info:
Christian Post - Salvation Army Leader to Lose Job for Violating Marriage Policy

So, what's a person to do? I think it's up to the person and how they're realistically going to respond. It's not as if the Salvation Army is the only game in town. There are plenty of worthwhile charities that don't have such horrible positions. My wife and I already donate to several charities, but I've decided to donate just a little more to make up for what I used to put into the red kettles.

But, I do think the Salvation Army does much more good than harm. So, if the only way you would donate would be to drop your change into one of their kettles, then don't hold back! Most of your money will go to helping people, and it's better than doing nothing at all. So in that case, go ahead and give the Salvation Army your spare change.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone

Pat BooneI've received yet another erroneous right wing e-mail forward. This one was a copy of an editorial by Pat Boone, that was originally published in World Net Daily. I wrote a response to the e-mail, which I'm adapting for this blog entry.

Since this entry started as a response to an e-mail, it started with the assumption that the person I was writing it to was familiar with Boone's editorial. So, I'm not going to quote all of his editorial. If you go to the Snopes link below, you can find a link to the full version.

To get the easy error checking out of the way, Snopes confirmed that this was written by Boone.

Accuracy of Quotes

The editorial started off with 4 supposed quotes from Obama.

"We're no longer a Christian nation." - President Barack Obama, June 2009

" America has been arrogant." - President Barack Obama

"After 9/11, America didn't always live up to her ideals."- President Barack Obama

"You might say that America is a Muslim nation."- President Barack Obama, Egypt 2009

As far as the accuracy of those quotes, this article on UrbanLegends at About.com covers all four of them pretty well:

None of the four is an accurate quote. The first cut short what Obama said, changing the meaning. Here’s the full quote:

Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

If Boone had included the full quote, he’d have realized that it said almost exactly what he wrote near the end of his article about what Obama should have said.

BTW, the awkward wording on that was due to Obama misspeaking. The originally prepared written copy of the speech put ‘just’ right in the middle of the first sentence, not tacked on at the end.

The second and third quotes are paraphrased, though not changing the meaning too much. However, it’s always best to read quotes in full context, which you can do at that UrbanLegends at About.com link.

The fourth quote doesn’t appear to even be a paraphrase. The closest Obama came to saying anything like that was in an interview with a reporter. Here’s the section of the interview where that probably came from:

Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam. And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.

Christian Nation? Founders Intentions

Okay, moving past Boone’s inaccuracy in the quotes, let’s look at some of his other points.

Let’s start at the whole notion of the U.S. being a Christian nation, and being founded by Christians. In fact, this is a bit of a complicated issue. The Founding Fathers were no more uniform than any group of politicians. Some were definitely Christians. Some definitely weren’t. Some called themselves Christians, but were outside what would be considered mainstream Christianity today. And some probably changed their views throughout their lives.

Thomas Jefferson is probably the most famous example. He called himself a Christian, but for all intents and purposes, he was a deist. He didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ, and went so far as to make his own version of the Bible where he removed all the miracles. In letters, he wrote that he disagreed with some of Jesus' teachings. Jefferson certainly disliked organized religion and churches. He wrote “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government,” as well as, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

Boone, for some reason, dismissed Jefferson’s statement about a ‘wall of separation between Church and State’. I think Jefferson was quite clear in what he wrote:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

Elsewhere, Jefferson wrote statements that confirmed this, such as:

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

More Info:

George Washington didn’t discuss religion much at all. However, it’s interesting to consider the story of him and Communion. He never took Communion. On those Sundays at which Communion was served, he would leave the church early. After the pastor warned him that he might be setting a bad example by leaving early and not taking Communion, Washington quit going to church on Communion Sundays altogether. Many people have used this example (among others) to argue that Washington only went to church for social reasons, and wasn’t very religious himself.

More Info:

You can look beyond statements from individuals. The Treaty of Tripoli had wording that I can hardly imagine being passed in today’s political climate, but which didn’t seem to faze the Founders. Article 11 of the treaty states:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

This wasn’t something that just slipped by. It had unanimous Senate support. To quote from the link below:

[The treaty] was, according to the official record, read aloud (the whole treaty was only a page or two long), including the famous words, on the floor of the senate and copies were printed for every Senator. (It should be noted that the controversy about the Arabic version is irrelevant here: all official treaty collections from 1797 on contain the English version, and all include the famous words of Article XI.) A committee considered the treaty and recommended ratification. Twenty-three Senators voted to ratify: … The vote was recorded only because at least a fifth of the Senators present voted to require a recorded vote. This was the 339th time … that a recorded vote was required. It was only the third time that a vote was recorded when the vote was unanimous! (The next time was to honor George Washington.) There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty.

President Adams signed the treaty and proclaimed it to the nation on 10 June 1797. His statement on it was a bit unusual: "Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed and performed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof."

More Info:

While the Declaration does mention a ‘Creator’, that could be taken as a deistic stance as easily as a Christian one (in Jefferson’s original draft, there was no mention of a creator at all). But, that’s somewhat beside the point since the Declaration was a statement of war against the British, not a founding document of our nation, and it doesn’t carry any weight in current U.S. law. The Constitution itself never makes mention of a god or a creator at all, except for listing the date as “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven”, which is no more explicitly Christian than using the convention of B.C./A.D.

More Info:

It’s also worth noting that the first de facto motto of the U.S. was ‘E. Pluribus Unum’ (from many, one), and that ‘In God We Trust’ wasn’t made the official motto until the Red Scare and McCarthyism. ‘In God We Trust’ didn’t even start appearing on coins until the Civil War. Similarly, even though it’s from a later period than the founding of the nation, the original version of the pledge of allegiance (written by a socialist, by the way) made no mention of the divine, and it was also during the McCarthy era that the pledge was altered.

More Info:

However, like I wrote above, the issue of religion in the founding of our country was complicated. There were numerous Christians among the Founders, and many people who did want religion to be more prevalent. When it came to state constitutions, many did include language about God and Christianity, and many states even had religious tests to hold office. (Keep in mind that the Bill of Rights originally applied only to the federal government, so state governments could violate those Amendments).

So, the short answer is that people were divided on the role of religion in government even at the start of the country, but it appears that the federal government, at least, was primarily secular.

Judeo-Christian Values?

But even if our government wasn’t explicitly religious, was it still founded on Judeo-Christian religious principles? Not really. At least, not values that are exclusively Judeo-Christian.

Many laws are so basic that they’re present in practically all societies, regardless of religion. Any laws against murder, theft, etc., are pretty much common to all civilizations, not just Judeo-Christian ones. The golden rule, for example, was present in many ancient societies, from the Egyptians to the Chinese.

The structure of our government certainly is not based on Christianity. It’s a democratic republic, which dates back to the Greeks & Romans (who worshipped a pantheon of gods). Enshrining laws in a written code dates back at least to the Code of Hammurabi.

One aspect of our government that’s actually in direct contradiction to Judeo-Christian values is the religious freedom part of the 1st Amendment. Compare it to the first few Commandments (either 1-3 or 1-4 depending on how you count them). Giving people the freedom to worship whichever gods they want to, or none at all, is not a Judeo-Christian value. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 is another passage from the Bible going against the 1st Amendment).

I think it could be argued that our government was based more on Enlightenment values than any particular religion. That’s not to say that many Founding Fathers and citizens didn’t have Judeo-Christian values, but rather that those values were applied more to their personal lives, not politics.

More Info:

Last Remarks on Religion

As one last part of this discussion on religion vs. government, above I was only correcting Boone’s factual errors. Moving to the subjective realm, another point is to question the importance of the Founding Fathers’ original intentions. They weren’t infallible, or guided from on high. They were simply men doing their best. Remember, these are men who (as a group, at least) agreed that slavery should have been legal and that women didn’t deserve the right to vote. And like I wrote above, they originally only applied the Bill of Rights to the federal government, so states could infringe on liberties as much as their citizenry allowed. So if we want to change things about the country that we no longer like, we shouldn’t feel like slaves to the Founders.

As far as the current makeup of the country, it’s still majority Christian, but the trend is away from that. In 1990, around 86% of the population was Christian. In 2008, it was down to 76%. In 1990, 3.3% of people were of non-Christian religions. In 2008 it was 3.9%. The biggest change was in people of no religion. In 1990, they were 8.2% of the U.S. population. In 2008 they were 15%. (Those numbers don’t add up to 100% partly due to rounding, but mainly due to the people who refused to respond to the question on religious affiliation in the survey.)

If that trend continues, it will only be a few more decades until Christians are a minority in the U.S. (according to some surveys, this point has already been reached in the UK). But do you want a new majority to be able to push their religious beliefs through government? I don’t. That’s the whole point of Jefferson’s ‘wall of separation’. It ensures that no matter what your religious beliefs, you’ll always be free to practice them without government interference (so long as they don’t break any other laws, of course).

More Info:

Not Living Up to Ideals

Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone would disagree with this statement unless they were blinded by irrationally extreme nationalism. I have yet to talk to a single person I know personally who likes the Patriot Act, or who doesn’t think that it’s a gross violation of our liberty. Or the TSA - every time I fly, I’m annoyed at the pointless hoops I have to jump through, knowing that they’re little more than show, which would do practically nothing to stop a determined terrorist, but which violate the 4th Amendment.

Or consider the detainees in Guantanamo, who are being held without trial, on suspicion of having committed a crime. Granted, those detainees are not citizens, but have we become so cowardly that we’re willing to deny 6th Amendment rights to human beings over a technicality? (Especially for the people who put so much stock in the Declaration. It says ‘ALL men are created equal’, not just ‘all men born on American soil or to American parents’.)

And what about using a method of torture which, during WWII, was considered sufficiently horrendous to justify the hanging of Japanese soldiers who had employed it against our troops? And the present day torture is not an isolated case of some rogue soldiers, but a decree that came from the White House.

To quote another of the Founding Fathers, it was Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

More Info:


I guess that’s most of it. My e-mail response, and hence this blog entry, grew a lot longer than I’d originally intended, but Boone just said so many untrue things that I wanted to respond to. But the summary is that Boone misquoted Obama and went off on some ranting from that false base, while adding in a bit of a distorted history of the nation, as well.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Here are two great comics for Halloween. The first one, I'm pretty sure, is the original. Even with my left leaning tendencies, I've always found it pretty funny. The second is updated to turn the tables.

Halloween Comic - Democratic Version

Halloween Comic - Republican Version

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rick Perry's Extremist Views

Rick PerryI had been thinking about writing a blog entry about Rick Perry to highlight his extremist views. I realize his popularity in the polls has dropped quite a bit from when he first entered the presidential race, but I still have to live with him here in Texas, and I'd love to see him get voted out of the governor's office. Plus, there's still the slim possibility he might get the Republican nod, and given Obama's current approval rating, it scares the hell out of me that Perry might have a chance to be President (as a friend of mine put it, a sack of potatoes has a decent chance of beating Obama this time around).

But when I checked my inbox this week, there was an e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network, with a link to a page that had already done what I was intending to do. The page is:

Rick Perry Watch

They've provided details on Perry's stance on the following issues:

  • Using Faith as a Political Weapon
  • 'The Response' Prayer Rally in Houston
  • Creationism
  • School Prayer
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Sex Education
  • Private School Vouchers
  • Women's Health and Reproductive Rights
  • Texas State Board of Education

Needless to say, his stances are pretty extreme. Go read that page for details.

But, I noticed that they left off a few other issues, so I figured that I'd still make a blog entry out of this. Here's some more info on why Rick Perry is just so bad.

Execution of an Innocent Man and Subsequent Interference with Investigation

I've mentioned this on the blog before, but it bears repeating. In December of 1991, there was a house fire that killed the three children of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was accused of started the fire, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. Prior to his execution, other arson investigators questioned the evidence that led to his conviction, and determined that the fire most probably was accidental. However, Perry refused to grant a stay of execution, and Willingham was killed in February of 2004.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission began an investigation of the case, and was due to issue a report in August of 2009. However, just days before the report was to be released, Perry replaced three members of the board, essentially killing the investigation.

So, not only did Perry do nothing to stop the death of a likely innocent man, he interfered with the subsequent investigation that could have cleared Willingham's name.

More Info:

Suppression of Scientific Data on Global Warming

According to Mother Jones:

For the past decade, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is run by Perry political appointees, including famed global warming denier Bryan Shaw, has contracted with the Houston Advanced Research Center to produce regular reports on the state of the Bay. But when HARC submitted its most recent State of the Bay publication to the commission earlier this year, officials decided they couldn't accept a report that said climate change is caused by human activity and is causing the sea level to rise. Top officials at the commission proceeded to edit the paper to censor its references to human-induced climate change or future projections on how much the bay will rise.

As a sign of just how egregious this censorship is, every single one of the original authors of the report have demanded that their names be removed from the final version.

More Info:

Marriage Equality

I've already mentioned this particular issue on this blog before, and the TFN article discussed same sex marriage, but TFN left out Perry's vow to support a Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Denying marriage equality is bad enough, but to actually want to pass a Constitutional amendment that would take away people's rights is un-American.

More Info:

Sodomy Laws

As if banning marriage for homosexuals wasn't itself bad enough, Perry actually supported Texas's anti-sodomy laws, making the very act of homosexual sex illegal. Even after the Supreme Court said the laws were unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas, the Texas legislature hasn't removed the laws from the books, and Perry dismissed the court's decision as the product of "nine oligarchs in robes."

More Info:

Direct Election of Senators

This issue isn't morally reprehensible like the four previous issues I discussed. It's just ... odd. For a quick history lesson, U.S. Senators were originally elected by state legislatures. Although intended to keep the senators isolated from the whims of the population, for a variety of reasons (such as susceptibility to corruption), it was decided that direct election of the senators by the people they were supposed to represent was a better approach. So, the 17th Amendment was passed to effect that change. For some reason I can't follow that supposedly has to do with states' rights, Perry doesn't like this, and would like to see the 17th Amendment repealed.

More Info:

I had found a couple more articles on Perry that highlight some of his crazier positions and actions. Although some of the points in those articles are a bit of a stretch (such as his remarks about secession), many are valid. Here are links to those articles.

If it was just for Perry's anti-science stances, or his bigotry towards homosexuals, that would be enough to not get my vote. When you add in things like his personal integrity or his crazy views on government, I don’t see how anybody could support him.


Selling Out