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Corporate Christian Taliban Attempting to Ruin America

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Sprang from Shame and Pride
Sprang from Shame and Pride

Historians of the future may very well date the decline of the American civilization to the outcome of this Supreme Court ruling. I’m actually not kidding: remember this phrase? Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. If the Roberts Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, they will have contradicted this amendment.

This week, the owners of two secular, for-profit corporations will ask the Supreme Court to take a radical turn and allow them to impose their religious views on their employees — by refusing to permit them contraceptive coverage as required under the Affordable Care Act.

The showdown will take place Tuesday when the Supreme Court hears arguments on two consolidated challenges to the Affordable Care Act. The owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts-and-crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinetmaker, want to be exempted from the sound requirement that employer health plans cover without a co-payment all birth control methods and services approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

These companies are not religious organizations, nor are they affiliated with religious organizations.

(click here to continue reading Crying Wolf on Religious Liberty – NYTimes.com.)

How exactly will corporations practice their religion? Will this be a requirement on quarterly statements to Wall Street investors? Who decides which sect the corporation adheres to? Is it a shareholder vote? Set by the Board of Directors? By the CEO?

And what about the employees – are they automatically enrolled in whatever religion the corporation follows? What if the employee is a non-believer? Will they be fired? Burned at the stake? What about potential customers of religious-affiliated corporations? Will shoppers have to prove their loyalty to the deity-of-choice before being allowed to complete their purchase? to enter the establishment? What if a Mammon-worshipping Ohioan became president of a large news and entertainment conglomerate? Would he be able to forcibly convert his minions into evil creatures? Oh, wait, that already happened.

Wages of Sin and a Pink Caddy
Wages of Sin and a Pink Caddy

And another thing: there are all sorts of crazy commandments in the Christian Bible, can a corporation pick and choose which to follow? Maybe if they are granted this birth-control dispensation, they would also be required to follow all the rules suggested in Leviticus. Such as Leviticus 19:19

19:19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

or Leviticus 25:24

25:23 The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.

Hmm, that might change Hobby Lobby’s real estate plans…

What Do You Do for Money?
What Do You Do for Money?

What about Matthew 6:1, which seems to directly contradict the Corporate Christians public gnashing of teeth:

6:1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
6:2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6:3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
6:4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Getchyer Kitschhere
Getchyer Kitschhere

More from the New York Times Editorial Board:

There are several reasons why the court should find that the law does not apply, starting with the fact that secular, for-profit corporations are not “persons” capable of prayer or other religious behavior, which is a quintessentially human activity. Also, as an amicus brief filed by corporate law scholars persuasively argues, granting the religious exemption to the owners would mean allowing shareholders to pass their religious values to the corporation. The fundamental principle of corporate law is a corporation’s existence as a legal entity with rights and obligations separate from those of its shareholders.

Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave that this is even being considered a question…

Written by Seth Anderson

March 23rd, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Supreme Court To Decide If Corporations Are Religious People Too

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Jesus Hoards
Jesus Hoards

The Supreme Court inexplicably ruled recently that corporations are people when it comes to spending political money; now this same court is going to rule whether for-profit corporations have religious rights as well. Rights that then would trickle down to the employees, squashing the employee’s rights. If this law passes, the religious affiliation of businesses will have to become a factor for workers deciding where to work. Will the corporation have to disclose the religious affiliations of each and every shareholder? Just the C.E.O. and President? The Board of Directors? Who controls the “Corporate Personhood”? How does Hobby Lobby take communion wafers and confession? Does Hobby Wine only drink grape juice like some Protestants?

Buzzfeed needs to make a listicle: 23 Odd Religious Practices Your Boss Might Insist Upon. I can imagine some of them now, like what if your boss was a Rastafarian, and insisted you treat cannabis as a sacrament each and every day? A Christian Scientist? You couldn’t go to the doctor at all, only pray for God to intervene. Orthodox Jewish boss? Better keep kosher, including paying attention to Shatnez- meaning you cannot mix wool and other fibers in the same clothing. If you worked for Staples when Mitt Romney owned it, would you have to wear the magic underwear? And be forbidden from drinking coffee? How about if your company’s board has members of Digambara Jain? Would you have to be nude all the time after you reached a certain age? If you worked for a Jehovah’s Witness like Prince, could your boss prohibit you from getting a blood transfusion? A Scientologist boss would prohibit you from Prozac and other psychiatric drugs and treatment. A Quaker corporation might not want its taxes to go to support building of war machines, would that be ok for the Court? What about wearing ornaments? God has railed against the wearing of ornaments in Exodus 33.

These are jokes, almost, but depending upon how the Supreme Court rules, the joke might turn to ashes in our mouths. I know the prospect scares me, and I’m self-employed. I really don’t want to live in the Christian Theocracy these zealots are trying to create…

God Is Ugly

God Is Ugly 

Some coverage regarding this scary, scary issue that I read today, including this overview from Adam Liptak, New York Times:

In June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in Denver, ruled for Hobby Lobby (PDF), a corporation owned by a family whose members have said they try to run the business on Christian principles. The company, which operates a chain of arts-and-crafts stores and has more than 15,000 full-time employees of many faiths, objected to a requirement in the health care law that large employers provide their workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for contraception.

Hobby Lobby told the justices that it had no problem with offering coverage for many forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery. But drugs and devices that can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb are another matter, and make it complicit in a form of abortion, the company said.

The law presents companies with difficult choices, Hobby Lobby told the justices. Failing to offer comprehensive coverage could subject it to fines of $1.3 million a day, it said, while dropping insurance coverage for its employees entirely could lead to fines of $26 million a year.

The Tenth Circuit ruled that Hobby Lobby was a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and that its religious beliefs had been compromised without good reason.

Kyle Duncan, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby, said he was pleased that the justices had agreed to resolve the split among the federal appeals courts. “We hope the Supreme Court will vindicate the rights of family business owners,” he said.

Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that “the right to religious freedom belongs to individuals, not for-profit institutions.”

“These for-profit companies,” she said, “are no more entitled to deny women insurance coverage for essential health care than they are to dictate how any of us can and cannot spend our paychecks.”

In July, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled against the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation (PDF), which makes wood cabinets and is owned by a Mennonite family that had similar objections to the law. The Third Circuit concluded that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.”

David Cortman, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the company and its owners, said the ruling was misguided. “The administration has no business forcing citizens to make a choice between making a living and living free,” he said.

The Third Circuit rejected an analogy to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, which ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to free speech. Though the First Amendment also protects the free exercise of religion, Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote for the majority of a divided three-judge panel, “it does not automatically follow that all clauses of the First Amendment must be interpreted identically.”

But a five-judge majority of an eight-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit, in the Hobby Lobby case, said that “the First Amendment logic of Citizens United” extended to religious freedom.

“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich wrote for the majority.

(click here to continue reading Justices to Hear Contraception Cases Challenging Health Law – NYTimes.com.)

I AM GOD YOU ARE GOD
I AM GOD YOU ARE GOD

Amelia Thomson-Deveaux notes that neither of these businesses are even Catholic, so why would they object to contraception?

Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer—deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The other—Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius—hones in on a smaller, Mennonite-owned cabinet door manufacturer.

Neither of the plaintiffs’ arguments mention doctrinal objections to contraception. That’s because Protestants, unlike Catholics, don’t believe that birth control is immoral. In fact, the denominations’ divergent views on the two issues created a kind of intra-Christian culture war throughout much of the twentieth century. Haunted, in part, by neo-Malthusian fears about the world’s rapid descent into overpopulation, the Church of England officially moderated its stance on contraception in 1930. Over the course of the following decade, most American Protestant denominations followed suit. The Mennonite Church does not have an official stance on birth control.

When evangelical Christians decided to throw in their lot alongside the Catholic hospitals and schools seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, their argument was, to put it mildly, a stretch. When Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, asked the Obama administration for an emergency injunction against the contraception mandate last year, it emerged that the college was not eligible because it had “inadvertently” been including emergency contraception in its student health plan.

It should also be noted that neither of the cases that will appear before the Supreme Court are founded on sound science; both allege that emergency contraception—and, in the Hobby Lobby case, the IUD—is a form of abortion. This relies on the notion that pregnancy begins when the egg is fertilized—not, as the medical community contends, when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. This means that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the facts of the case will be based on junk science, not theology. The Catholic Church, whether you agree with it or not, has consistently maintained that birth control is a fundamental evil. Protestant attempts to overturn the contraception mandate aren’t about theological objections to birth control—they’re an effort to dramatically expand religious freedom rights for conservative Christians.

(click here to continue reading The Contraception-Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception.)

The Devil and Pope
The Devil and Pope

Jessica Valenti writes

Today the Supreme Court announced it will hear two cases concerning the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies’ insurance plans cover birth control. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties claim the mandate violates their belief against certain kinds of contraception—pitting female employees’ right to a nondiscriminatory health plan against a company’s religious freedom. (I also fervently hope these companies are fighting as hard to ensure that their unmarried male employees don’t have access to sin-pills like Viagra.)

Most American women—99 percent—will use birth control at some point in their lives. Twenty-seven million women are being covered by this provision right now. So I have to wonder what companies that don’t want to cover birth control will tell their female employees should the contraception mandate be struck down. Abstinence? Aspirin between the knees, perhaps?

There’s also an incredibly slippery slope here—if employees’ health plans have to adhere to company owners’ religious beliefs, what happens if your boss doesn’t believe in vaccinations? Or as Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic tweeted, “What if your blood transfusions violate your employer’s religious beliefs? No surgery coverage?” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, “Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their bosses opens a door that won’t easily be shut.”

(click here to continue reading Birth Control Coverage: It’s the Misogyny, Stupid | The Nation.)

Katie McDonough: 

“The corporations that brought these cases have views that are far outside the mainstream, and the outcome of these cases could have extreme consequences for millions of Americans,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in response to the news. “For the first time ever, the court could decide that corporations have the right to opt out of a legal requirement — based entirely on the personal beliefs of their owners.”

“The right to religious freedom belongs to individuals, not for-profit institutions,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “These for-profit companies are no more entitled to deny women insurance coverage for essential health care than they are to dictate how any of us can and cannot spend our paychecks.”

But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, suggested it believes that the Supreme Court will rule to protect the so-called religious expression of for-profit corporations, citing the 2010 Citizens United decision as an example of the court defining corporate personhood. “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” the court wrote.

(click here to continue reading Supreme Court to hear cases challenging contraception mandate – Salon.com.)

I AM Temple Faux Lomo
I AM Temple Faux Lomo

The president of Hobby Lobby is a member of the Christian Taliban if there ever was one:

Among his more controversial beliefs: Gothard thinks he can determine a person’s character simply by staring into their eyes, that disease has spiritual causes and that men are the sovereign rulers of the household. His books provide detailed instructions on how women ought to stand, in addition to diagrams of the appropriate length of men’s pants and illustrations of suitable female hairstyles.

In 2002, Green, acting through his family trust, purchased and then leased a vacant college campus to Gothard’s ministry. A year later, Green, this time acting through Hobby Lobby itself, purchased a shuttered hospital in Little Rock, Ark., and donated it to Gothard for the purposes of building a local training center.

These weren’t mere business transactions, either. The website of one of Gothard’s many ministries features video of Steve Green describing Hobby Lobby’s “desire to share Christ and Disciple others.” And in a review of Gothard’s book, The Amazing Way, David Green, father of Steve Green and founder of Hobby Lobby, wrote that, “Through the example and teachings of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, we have benefited both as a family and in our business. It is as we take those lessons from God s Word that Bill clearly articulates that we live the full life that God intends.”

Objective courses about the Bible are permissible in public schools, but Sunday School lessons are a different matter entirely. Green’s past statements and Religious Right connections indicate that he’s actually trying to promote a specific perspective on the Bible: his own.

(click here to continue reading Curricular Controversy: Hobby Lobby President Proposes Bible Elective in Okla. Public School | Americans United.)

I know I’m never setting foot in a Hobby Lobby again:

Hobby Lobby, the giant craft retailer known for providing knitting wool, holiday trinkets, fake flowers, and just about any other craft-centric material one could need, balks at providing certain types of medical care for its employees. That is because the company, which has 559 stores across the country and brings in $3 billion in revenue each year, is owned by the Green family—devout Christians who believe that human life begins at conception and that using certain types of birth control violates their religious beliefs.

The Greens, who often have Hobby Lobby buy newspaper ads encouraging people to “know Jesus as Lord and Savior,” also think that their religious beliefs should be imposed on Hobby Lobby’s 22,000 employees. Because of their religious convictions, the Greens have asked a federal court, in a case called Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, to exempt their for-profit corporation from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies with more than 50 employees offer health plans covering contraception.

In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that minimum standards for employer health plans would include preventive care for women, including mammograms, cervical-cancer screenings, prenatal care, and contraceptives—all services that are vital to women’s health and well-being. The Obama administration provided an exemption from the contraception-coverage requirement for “religious employers”—churches and nonprofit religious organizations—but not for for-profit, secular corporations such as Hobby Lobby. 

Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius is one of 40 lawsuits filed across the country asking federal courts to exempt a for-profit corporation from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement. It is also one part of a coordinated effort led by conservative legal groups to undermine the Affordable Care Act and avoid complying with other laws.

(click here to continue reading Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius: Crafting a Dangerous Precedent | Center for American Progress.)

 Iota Eta Sigma

Iota Eta Sigma

So if a for-profit corporation is religious, is it based on its board members? Share holders? Founders? Who gets to decide what religion a company is?

Even if one assumes that the mandate represents a “substantial burden,” another problem with the argument being made against the mandate is that the free exercise of religion is an inherently individual act. As Sarah Posner argued, the idea that a secular, for-profit corporation can “exercise” religion is a strange concept that would be inconsistent with a substantial body of precedent. Some have argued that the Court’s Citizens United decision should be seen as changing the legal context, the issues involved are very different. Corporations must have some free speech rights because the dissemination of speech often involves corporate entities—Congress cannot ban the showing of Masters of Sex just because it’s distributed by Viacom. Religious exercise, conversely, is inherently personal. Some shareholders in the Hobby Lobby may have religious beliefs that contradict the religious mandate, but the corporation itself cannot.

What about closely held corporations?

One potential argument, recently made by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is that a corporation itself cannot exercise religion, but a corporation’s owners can. Since one argument made by Conestoga Wood is that the religious rights of the company’s owners have been violated even if those of the company cannot be, the case is presumably a vehicle for the Court to examine this legal question as well. In my judgement, this argument is no more convincing than Hobby Lobby’s. The owner of a business cannot obtain the advantages of a corporate form (including substantial insulation from personal liability) while remaining an individual when it is advantageous to do so. Nonetheless, it would not be surprising for the Supreme Court to split the baby by rejecting the Hobbby Lobby’s claim while accepting the ones raised by the owners of Conestoga.

(click here to continue reading The Affordable Care Act v. Supreme Court, Round 2.)

Jill Filipovic of the Guardian, U.K.

On its face, it seems odd to even consider the question seriously. After all, no one is forcing the owners of the company to take contraception or purchase contraception. The belief in question – that certain types of contraception are “abortifacients” – is also far from scientific fact. Also, the company owners issue their employees a pay check and have no say over how the employees spend it; they have no say over the activities their employees participate in on a vacation day.

It’s certainly not violating the company’s religious freedom for an employee to use the money paid to them by the company for a whole series of things that the company owner may find religiously objectionable, including buying contraception. It’s certainly not violating the company’s religious freedom for an employee to use a company-issued vacation day to enjoy a whole series of things that the company owner may find religiously objectionable, including, say, a full-day contracepted sex-fest, a trip to Mecca or a pork barbecue.

So why is it a problem for employees to use their health insurance for the care they and their doctors agree upon?

The cases the supreme court will hear were brought under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which bars the government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is justified by a “compelling reason”. Free religious exercise is burdened when the government forces an individual to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs, but not every infringement on religious beliefs is a substantial burden. As the ACLU points out in their amicus brief to the supreme court, the contraception law doesn’t force the owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store to violate their own religious beliefs. It requires them to cover health insurance, which may subsidize someone else’s activities that violate the Hobby Lobby owners’ religious values – but again, the same could be said for issuing a pay check.

By refusing to cover contraception, the Hobby Lobby owners (and the owners of the other companies claiming the healthcare law infringes upon their religious freedom) are in fact using their own religious beliefs to deny benefits to their employees who may not share those beliefs at all. That’s not religious freedom; it’s religious tyranny.

The company heads bringing these claims want to have it both ways. By incorporating, owners and shareholders create separate entities and are not personally liable for their employees’ salaries or health insurance costs – the entire point of incorporating is to create a legal entity separate from the individuals who created it. Yet these owners and shareholders want the court to consider their personal religious beliefs indistinguishable from those of the corporation, and allow those beliefs to dictate the kind of healthcare coverage their employees receive.

(click here to continue reading Get real: covering contraception doesn’t violate employers’ religious freedom | Jill Filipovic | Comment is free | theguardian.com.)

At least my corporation is atheist (because I am)

Written by Seth Anderson

November 27th, 2013 at 10:53 am

Sympathy for the Devil Worshipers

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Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil

The Christian Taliban has infiltrated everywhere, including the Supreme Court, as evidenced by this discussion regarding The Town of Greece vs. Galloway

Standing before the court, the residents’ lawyer, Douglas Laycock, suggested that a nonsectarian prayer would be satisfactory. Justice Alito wasn’t so sure.

“How could you do it?” Justice Alito asked. “Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus … Wiccans, Baha’i.”

“And atheists,” Justice Antonin Scalia added. “Throw in atheists, too.”

Mr. Laycock reminded the justices that atheists were already out of luck based on the court’s prior decisions. Then, riffling through his documents, he suggested, “The prayers to the Almighty, prayers to the Creator.”

“To ‘the Almighty,’” Justice Alito said skeptically. “So if — if a particular religion believes in more than one god, that’s acceptable to them?”

Justice Scalia, often impatient in religion cases, couldn’t resist. “What about devil worshipers?”

Over the laughter of the courtroom, Mr. Laycock said meekly, “Well, if devil worshipers believe the devil is the almighty, they might be okay. But they’re probably out.”

And so it went, the justices trying in vain to determine what sort of prayer, if any, would be sufficiently nonsectarian, and who should be responsible for making that determination. None of them seemed to relish the idea of playing at prayer editor.

As the argument progressed it was increasingly difficult to discern any grounds on which to justify legislative prayer other than the fact that it’s something we’ve always done — which was the basis for the court’s ruling upholding such a prayer in the Nebraska legislature in 1983, when it last considered the question.

Lawyers…

(click here to continue reading Sympathy for the Devil Worshipers? – NYTimes.com.)

Dance of the Devil Corn

Dance of the Devil Corn

and the only real solution that comports with our secular Constitution: don’t allow government sanctioned prayers at all! Why is this a difficult concept?

But there is an alternative to “eliminating” prayer — a moment of silence, which is what the town of Greece did for years without complaint. It allows everyone to pray exactly as they wish; it even makes room for the atheists and devil worshipers.

For some — including several members of the current court — a “silence only” policy is surely a step too far. But it would be a reasonable compromise in a pluralistic society, and for justices who don’t want to become de facto prayer editors, it’s a bright line on an otherwise blurry canvas of conflicting tests and standards that have rarely satisfied anyone.

Don’t these fools read their own sacred texts? You know, the Constitution and its amendments? Like the first one!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

(click here to continue reading First Amendment to the United States Constitution – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Contrasting Religions
Contrasting Religions

If the government sanctions a particular kind of prayer as being the “right kind” of prayer, who could argue with a straight face that this is not the government establishing a preferred religion? Only the Christian Taliban would be so bold. When is the last time you read about a city council mandating a Pastafarian chant before a city council meeting? Right, never. Only the Christians do this repugnant shit.

And Scalia and Alito ought to be impeached if they rule in favor of the Town of Greece, NY 

Somebody Please Tell This Machine I'm Not A Machine

Somebody Please Tell This Machine I’m Not A Machine

Carl Esbeck is much more knowledgeable about the subject, and writes:

Can government knowingly take sides in a matter of religious belief or practice?  More to the point, can government actively support a practice that is explicitly religious, such as prayer?  This is the issue in Town of Greece v. Galloway as it ought to be framed.

Quoting with approval from Marsh v. Chambers, the Town’s main brief states that the purpose of legislative prayer is “[t]o invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws.”  The practice not only calls upon a God or gods, but to a Divinity interested and active in human affairs.  Why else invoke guidance?  This act of prayer is thus consistent with some religions but not others.  Deists, for example, believe in an impersonal God.  A policy of legislative prayer is doubtlessly taking a side, and no phony pluralism dressed up as “nonsectarian” prayer – a vague theism not actually practiced by anyone – can cover up that fact.

(click here to continue reading Town of Greece symposium: Can government actively favor a religious practice? : SCOTUSblog.)

and concludes:

A related corruption is civil religion, the conflating of piety with patriotism. Civil religion is the confusion of religious faith with one’s love of country, an elevation of certain ceremonies, traditions, and habits of a nation to the level of the sacred. In Weisman, Justice Kennedy for the Court noted its false allure. After acknowledging the attempt by school officials to advance a “common ground” prayer, he said the Court’s precedents “caution us to measure the idea of a civic religion against the central meaning of the Religion Clauses . . . which is that all creeds must be tolerated and none favored. The suggestion that government may establish an official or civic religion as a means of avoiding the establishment of a religion with more specific creeds strikes us as a contradiction that cannot be accepted.”

Ultimately religion does not exist to sustain the political order. It’s not a program for municipal improvement or to bless those who take up civic duties. When government uses religion as a tool to achieve its political goals, the danger to religion is that it becomes a courtier in the halls of State.

 

Written by Seth Anderson

November 7th, 2013 at 11:15 am

Welfare for the Wealthy, Corn Cobs for the Poor

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Sprang from Shame and Pride
Sprang from Shame and Pride

As a follow up to Paul Krugman’s outrage re the Right’s push toward more food insecurity for citizens of America, Mark Bittman adds his own…

The critically important Farm Bill1 is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.

The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.

The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”

…The current versions of the Farm Bill in the Senate (as usual, not as horrible as the House) and the House (as usual, terrifying) could hardly be more frustrating. The House is proposing $20 billion in cuts to SNAP — equivalent, says Beckmann, to “almost half of all the charitable food assistance that food banks and food charities provide to people in need.2

(click here to continue reading Welfare for the Wealthy – NYTimes.com.)

Exposed and Juicy
Exposed and Juicy

Sadly, I doubt much will change, the Christian Taliban currently calling the shots in the Republican Party is too opposed to Christian principles as espoused by Christ: you know, ones about feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick. In stark contrast to the teachings of Christ, we instead have evil hypocrites like Congressman Stephen Fincher:

This pits the ability of poor people to eat — not well, but sort of enough — against the production of agricultural commodities. That would be a difficult choice if the subsidies were going to farmers who could be crushed by failure, but in reality most direct payments go to those who need them least.

Among them is Congressman Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, who justifies SNAP cuts by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

Even if this quote were not taken out of context — whoever wrote 2 Thessalonians was chastising not the poor but those who’d stopped working in anticipation of the second coming — Fincher ignores the fact that Congress is a secular body that supposedly doesn’t base policy on an ancient religious text that contradicts itself more often than not. Not that one needs to break a sweat countering his “argument,” but 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children, and in 2010, the U.S.D.A. reported that as many as 41 percent are working poor.

This would be just another amusing/depressing example of an elected official ignoring a huge part of his constituency (about one in seven Americans rely on food stamps, though it’s one in five in Tennessee, the second highest rate in the South), were not Fincher himself a hypocrite.

For the God-fearing Fincher is one of the largest recipients of U.S.D.A. farm subsidies in Tennessee history; he raked in $3.48 million in taxpayer cash from 1999 to 2012, $70,574 last year alone. The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day. (You can eat pretty well on that.) [4]

Fincher is not alone in disgrace, even among his Congressional colleagues, but he makes a lovely poster boy for a policy that steals taxpayer money from the poor and so-called middle class to pay the rich, while propping up a form of agriculture that’s unsustainable and poisonous.

If there were a god, publicly pious devils like Rep. Fincher would be zapped by lightning, or at least be forced to give back the $3,483,824 he’s collected from the federal government. Instead, they continue to get corporate welfare, and cash from lobbyists to continue the scheme, and the ability to set our national policy. In Rep. Fincher’s world, those children who rely upon food stamps should go to work, preferably in a coal mine or as chimney sweeps.

Dance of the Devil Corn
Dance of the Devil Corn

From USA Today last year:

Who gets food stamps?

The most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the SNAP program’s beneficiaries says that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:

••47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18.

••8% were age 60 or older.

••41% lived in a household with earnings from a job — the so-called “working poor.”

••The average household received a monthly benefit of $287.

••36% were white (non-Hispanic), 22% were African American (non-Hispanic) and 10% were Hispanic.

Update, Feb. 5: USDA data understate these figures, however, because participants are not required to state their race or ethnic background. As a result, 18.9% are listed as “race unknown.” A more accurate estimate of the racial and ethnic composition of food-stamp recipients can be drawn from U.S. Census data, based on a sample of households surveyed each year in the American Community Survey.

For 2010, Census data show the following for households that reported getting food stamp assistance during the year:

•49% were white (non-Hispanic); 26% were black or African American; and 20% were Hispanic (of any race).

Note that Census data somewhat understate the total number of persons receiving food stamps, compared with the more accurate head count from USDA, which is based on actual benefit payments. Survey participants may be reluctant to state that they have received public assistance during the year. So the Census figures on race and ethnic background can’t be guaranteed to be completely accurate. But we judge the Census figures to be a better approximation of reality regarding race and ethnic background than USDA figures.

(click here to continue reading Fact check: Gingrich’s faulty food-stamp claim – USATODAY.com.)

and then there’s this little bit of trickery:

Knowing that direct subsidy payments are under the gun, our clever and cynical representatives are offering a bait-and-switch policy that will make things worse, and largely replace subsidy payments with an enhanced form of crop insurance — paid for by us, of course — which will further reduce risks for commodity farmers. As Craig Cox explained, “The proposed crop insurance would allow — no, encourage — big farmers to plant corn on hillsides, in flood-threatened areas, even in drought-stricken areas, with subsidized premiums and deductibles, and see a big payout if” — should we say “when”? — “the crop fails or is damaged.”

You should get such a deal on insurance: the premiums and deductibles are subsidized and there’s no limit to what can be paid, so bigger farms and bigger risks reap bigger rewards in the event of failure, even if that was a failure of judgment.

Footnotes:
  1. This year going by the fun names of “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act” (House version) and “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act” (Senate). Note that the titles tell us what matters to each of these bodies, and that food doesn’t cut it in the House. []
  2. “People in need,” by the way, outnumber food stamp recipients, since not everyone eligible for food stamps signs up. So really it’s a bit worse than it sounds, and it sounds bad enough. []

Written by Seth Anderson

June 6th, 2013 at 9:28 am

Politicizing Tragedy

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Fashionsense
How Mike Huckabee Imagines the World

I wasn’t going to write anything about the horrific events in Newtown, CT, but Christian Taliban propagandist Mike Huckabee has really enraged me with his illogical bloviating.

Steve Benen of Maddowblog has the video and transcript:

Neil Cavuto said that many invariably ask after tragedies like this, “How could God let this happen?” Huckabee responded:

Well, you know, it’s an interesting thing. We ask why there is violence in our schools but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? [...]

You know, God wasn’t armed. He didn’t go to the school. But God will be there in the form of a lot people with hugs and with therapy and a whole lot of ways in which I think he will be involved in the aftermath. Maybe we ought to let him in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”

So, by Huckabee’s reasoning, the separation of church and state is at least partially responsible for a gunman killing 26 people, including 20 children. There are a few problems with such a perspective.

Theologically, many Christians believe God is omnipresent, and can’t be “systematically removed” from anything. For that matter, there’s very little in the Christian tradition that suggests God punishes children when constitutional law hurts His feelings.

Politically, Huckabee’s comments — seeking to exploit a violent tragedy to push a bogus cultuyre war agenda — are reminder that the former Arkansas governor and failed presidential candidate occasionally just isn’t a nice guy.

(click here to continue reading This Week in God – The Maddow Blog.)

According to Huckabee’s reasoning, if the children had sacrificed a virgin goat that morning, god would have taken time out of his busy schedule picking which football teams win, and whatever else he occupies his time with, and stopped the massacre. God may omnipotent, but he is apparently also petulant. “No goat sacrifice in my name today? Then thou shall die by the hands of a nut job with a high-powered gun.” As any student of history realizes, Christians, even devout Christians, are not immune to violence. 

So nice of Mr. Huckabee to blame the victims for not praying harder, after they are shot to death. I blame the NRA instead. They are actually on this earth, and from my perspective, as culpable in the murders as any other entity.

Who Would Jesus Shoot

which leads me to the second point I’d like to make: namely that the corporate media is complicit with their shameless and breathless reporting whenever a slaughter occurs. Where is the same sort of hyperventilating when ten people were shot just last night in Chicago?  Unfortunately, a fairly typical number of shootings for 21st century Chicago. 

Watch Your Damn Mouth.jpg
Watch Your Damn Mouth

Roger Ebert said it more eloquently: 

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

(click here to continue reading Elephant :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 15th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Rick Santorum Lashes Out At Disability Treaty

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God Wills It

God Wills It

Earlier today…

But these aren’t reasonable times. Some right-wingers are urging the Senate to reject the treaty, saying it’s a plot by one-world-government bureaucrats to undermine American independence. Rick Santorum, the former senator and Republican presidential candidate, called it a “Pandora’s box” that could lead to the United Nations making medical decisions for disabled children like his daughter Bella, whom he brought into a Senate hearing room last week while he made his point.
Mr. Santorum, having fallen far from his moment in the electoral sun, has found a new platform at the conspiracy-mongering right-wing Web site WorldNetDaily. That was where he wrote a column condemning language in the treaty requiring that actions concerning disabled children be taken in the “best interests of the child.”

Via:
Rick Santorum Lashes Out At Disability Treaty – NYTimes.com
[automated]

Written by eggplant

December 5th, 2012 at 9:32 am

Posted in Links

Tagged with , , , ,

Christian Taliban Paul Ryan on Abortion

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Church Heavies - Roof of St. Peter's, Vatican City 1993
Church Heavies – Roof of St. Peter’s, Vatican City 1993

Lots of verbiage has been spewed regarding the VP debates, and to be honest, there are very few voters who choose a president based on what a Veep says or doesn’t say. However, there was one statement that really bothered me, a secular person, and bothered others too, like The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik:

But beyond the horseshit something genuinely disturbing and scary got said last night by Paul Ryan that is, I think, easily missed and still worth brooding over. It came in response to a solemn and, it seemed to some of us, inappropriately phrased question about the influence of the Catholic Church on both men’s positions on abortion. Inappropriately phrased because legislation is made for everyone, not specially for those of “faith.” (And one would have thought that, at this moment in its history, the Catholic Church would not have much standing when it comes to defining the relationship between sexual behavior and doctrinal morality. However few in number the sinners might be, the failure to deal with them openly casts doubt on the integrity of the institution.)

Paul Ryan did not say, as John Kennedy had said before him, that faith was faith and public service, public service, each to be honored and kept separate from the other. No, he said instead “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.” That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well. Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan put it, that “the usual necessary distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.” And he went on to make it quietly plain that his principles are uncompromising on this, even if his boss’s policy may not seem so:

All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. Our system, unlike the Iranians’, is not meant to be so total: it depends on making many distinctions between private life, where we follow our conscience into our chapel, and our public life, where we seek to merge many different kinds of conscience in a common space. Our faith should not inform us in everything we do, or there would be no end to the religious warfare that our tolerant founders feared.

(click here to continue reading Of Babies and Beans: Paul Ryan on Abortion : The New Yorker.)

Dom Sub Invoc S Hedwigis
Dom Sub Invoc S Hedwigis

The Founders of the United States were not infallible, they made several mistakes1 but one thing they were very clever about was removing religion from the state. I don’t want to live in Saudi Arabia, or 19th century Poland, or The Vatican, or anywhere where the law of the land is dictated by religious law. Paul Ryan very seriously intoned that if he were in charge, he would throw out 250 years of American tradition, and turn us into a Catholic-based theocracy, a scary place where the Pope would be in charge of our laws. If that isn’t a reason to vote for Biden-Obama, I don’t know what is. 

update:

one other thought, Mitt Romney’s religion is even more draconian – no alcohol, no caffeine, no contraceptives, etc. Is Romney ok with turning the US into a Mormon Republic? 

Footnotes:
  1. at least to our modern society’s norms – slavery, rights of women to vote, rights of non-property owners, etc. []

Written by Seth Anderson

October 13th, 2012 at 9:31 am

Todd Akin Is Aching to Be In Charge of Your Ladyparts

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Locked up Tightly
Locked up Tightly

Maureen Dowd says what many, many have been saying recently re: Todd Akin and his party of mouth-breathers.

Other Republicans are trying to cover up their true identity to get elected. Even as party leaders attempted to lock the crazy uncle in the attic in Missouri, they were doing their own crazy thing down in Tampa, Fla., by reiterating language in their platform calling for a no-exceptions Constitutional amendment outlawing abortion, even in cases of rape, incest and threat to the life of the mother.

Paul Ryan, who teamed up with Akin in the House to sponsor harsh anti-abortion bills, may look young and hip and new generation, with his iPod full of heavy metal jams and his cute kids. But he’s just a fresh face on a Taliban creed — the evermore antediluvian, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gay conservative core. Amiable in khakis and polo shirts, Ryan is the perfect modern leader to rally medieval Republicans who believe that Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaurs.

In asserting that women have the superpower to repel rape sperm, Akin ratcheted up the old chauvinist argument that gals who wear miniskirts and high-heels are “asking” for rape; now women who don’t have the presence of mind to conjure up a tubal spasm, a drone hormone, a magic spermicidal secretion or mere willpower to block conception during rape are “asking” for a baby.

“The biological facts are perhaps inconvenient, but whether the egg meets the sperm is a matter of luck or prevention,” says Dr. Paul Blumenthal, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology who directs the Stanford Program for International Reproductive Education and Services. “If wishing that ‘I won’t get pregnant right now’ made it so, we wouldn’t need contraceptives.”

When you wish upon a rape.

Dr. Blumenthal is alarmed that Akin is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“What is very disturbing to me is that people like Mr. Akin who have postulated this secret mechanism for avoiding pregnancy have developed their own make-believe world of science based on entirely self-serving beliefs of convenience or just ignorance,” he said. “I don’t think we want these people to be responsible for the lives of others.”

But, for all the Republican cant about how they want to keep government out of the lives of others, the ultraconservatives are panting to meddle in the lives of others. Contrary to President Obama’s refreshing assertion Monday that a bunch of male politicians shouldn’t be making health care decisions for women, this troglodyte tribe of men and Bachmann-esque women craves that responsibility.

(click here to continue reading Just Think No – NYTimes.com.)

 Todd Akin ben sargent 120821
Todd Akin – Christian Taliban by Ben Sargent 120821

Akin isn’t some outlier in the GOP, he’s just voicing what most of his colleagues have the political sense not to mention on television. He shouldn’t be forced out of the election for his views, but he shouldn’t be elected either. However, the odds are still 50-50 he’ll win; there are a lot of Missouri Christian Taliban who believe exactly what Akin and the GOP do – namely that the government should be in charge of a women’s body. 

Legitimate
Legitimate

The GOP convention in Tampa is going to codify this outrage, as Jodi Jacobson explains:

As of today, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan may find themselves in a wee bit of a bind.

For the past two days, the pair have been running around trying to assure the press and ultimately women voters that they really do believe in “real rape,” not just “legitimate rape,” that they are not as misogynistic as Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, and that, of course, a Romney-Ryan Administration would never eliminate rape and incest exceptions for abortion.

And, now it appears that, all the while, the people really in charge of the GOP—fundamentalist anti-choicers among them—have been writing a party platform that not only makes all of that a lie, but is in effect a promise to make the personhood of fertilized eggs the law of the land.

The draft official platform strongly supports a “a human life amendment” to the Constitution:

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” the draft platform declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Let’s be very, very clear that such an amendment—which Mitt Romney has said unequivocally he would sign—would not only criminalize abortions of any kind for any reason, but also would outlaw many forms of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, and treatment of pregnant women with life-threatening conditions such as cancer. Moreover, it would also criminalize miscarriage.

(click here to continue reading As Romney and Ryan Dissemble, RNC Prepares Radical Anti-Choice Platform Based on Personhood | RH Reality Check.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 22nd, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,

Zion IL sounds like Hell On Earth

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Whisky versus Whiskey
Whisky versus Whiskey

Zion Illinois, a Christian theocracy, sounds like hell on earth, at least to me. Why would anyone want to live there? Maybe there’s more to Zion than just the repression and hypocrisy, but I’d never want to find out.

As in other Chicago suburbs, Zion leaders struggle to provide services with less money, dealing with shrinking budgets, employee layoffs and declining tax revenue. But officials also remain beholden in some ways to the city’s colorful, religion-centric past.

Called “Mayberry-esque” by one business investor, Zion is home to residents who can still recall praying twice daily when a bell tolled. They live on streets named after biblical figures and landmarks, such as Gabriel, Hebron and Ezekiel avenues.

And in trying to balance a community’s history with modern economic development, perhaps no issue is more fraught with controversy than alcohol sales. In Zion, liquor has been sold under strict parameters since voters ended the local prohibition in 2004.

Zion was among the last suburban holdouts as a dry community. Even Wheaton — college alma mater of evangelist Billy Graham — overturned its prohibition on alcohol in 1985 after much controversy.…

Yet ever since the 1998 closing of Zion’s nuclear power plant — once dubbed the “golden goose” by Harrison — officials have tried to replace the millions in lost revenue. They have enjoyed mixed success, aided by the addition of alcohol sales that opened the door to chain restaurants and a hotel that caters to Zion’s largest employer, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center.

(click here to continue reading Zion officials struggle with brewery proposal – chicagotribune.com.)

Jesus Hoards
Jesus Hoards

a small bit of history:

JOHN ALEXANDER DOWIE was born in Edinboro’ Scotland on May 25, 1847 and received his religious conviction — while singing a hymn from a street pulpit in that city — at age seven. His family emigrated to Australia when he was thirteen; there he attended seminary and held a number of pastoral positions in the Congregational Church before resigning the last to become a full-time non-denominational evangelist in 1878.

As a young man he experienced a healing from chronic indigestion which he attributed to divine intervention; this led to his growing activity as a faith healer and ultimately to the foundation of his International Divine Healing Association. He left for the United States in 1888, and after two years on the Pacific coast moved to Evanston, Illinois. During the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 he led healing services in a large tabernacle across the way from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

 …Following a decade of legal wrangling with the Chicago authorities, between 1899 and 1901 Dowie secretly bought ten square miles of lakefront land 40 miles to the north and founded a true American theocracy: Zion, Illinois. Here people could — and would — live sinless lives in conditions approximating (as nearly as possible) those obtaining after the Millennium. Whether the New Jerusalem’s citizens will, in fact, be summoned to worship by steam whistle remains to be seen; but they were in Zion.

…Dowie owned everything personally, although settlers were offered 1,100-year leases (i.e., 100 years to usher in the Kingdom and 1,000 for Christ’s millennial reign — after that, seemingly, you were on your own). The leases specifically forbade gambling, dancing, swearing, spitting, theaters, circuses, the manufacture and sale of alcohol or tobacco, pork, oysters, doctors, politicians — and tan-colored shoes. The city police carried a billy club on one hip and a Bible on the other; their helmets were adorned with a dove and the word “PATIENCE.” At the height of his power and influence, Dowie was worth several million dollars and claimed 50,000 followers, 6,000 of whom lived in Zion City.

  In 1901 Dowie proclaimed himself “Elijah the Restorer” and began to wear High-Priestly robes. This caused many disciples to fall away; the subsequent decrease in income combined with the expenses of building Zion marked the beginning of Dowie’s slide into bankruptcy. It was at this time that rumors of his polygamous teaching and activities, use of alcohol, and extravagant lifestyle began to gain currency, not only in the world, but also within the Church

(click here to continue reading John Alexander Dowie | Evangelist – Biography | Zion City, Illinois.)

Valpolicella Classico 2007 finito
Valpolicella Classico 2007 finito

…and since business decisions are secondary to interpretations of Christian doctrine, Zion is not a home of the free…

Finally, the businessmen were referred to the Planning and Zoning Board, which would review their original request to rent space within the former lace factory. The 385,000-square-foot brick building was one of the first businesses Dowie opened in Zion, which was incorporated in 1902.

Dowie’s early designs for the city are woven throughout Zion’s fabric, and they have continued to court controversy over the years.

“He would roll over in his grave because of the liquor. Other than that, I think he’d be fairly impressed,” said Commissioner Jim Taylor, citing the city’s attempts to preserve buildings such as Dowie’s original home, the Shiloh House.

By 1903, Dowie had attracted newcomers to his Christian utopia from Southern states and elsewhere around the world, with many hoping that he could heal them of disease. He had gained notoriety for his faith healing during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and found an international audience with a publication, “Leaves of Healing.”

He opened a wood-frame hotel where new residents lived until their houses were built. The hotel is long gone, but a gold dome was salvaged and is about to be repainted by a local business, Coral Chemical Co.

In 1990, city leaders were forced to drop the Zion corporate seal, which included a cross, a dove and a crown, after a federal court found it to be an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

Well-known atheist Rob Sherman took the city back to court over the seal last fall, after city Commissioner Shantal Taylor resurrected it in an ad for a community event.

Taylor promised Judge James Zagel she wouldn’t use the seal again. She continues, though, to frame her personal vision for Zion within a Christian context.

“I really believe that great things are going to happen in Zion again,” said Taylor, opposed to the brewery. “If we go by a saying, ‘History repeats itself,’ then Zion is in for one heck of a repeat because this city was created to bring the God of gods glory.”

(click here to continue reading Zion officials struggle with brewery proposal – chicagotribune.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

June 25th, 2012 at 6:48 am

Catholic Bishops and Contraception

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Rectum
Rectum

Joan Walsh articulates what I wondered earlier - how can the Catholic Church claim non-profit, tax-exempt status when they are so overwhelming partisan? and joining the ranks of the Christian-Taliban Republicans? ewww. Social justice be damned I guess, the Church flock might be using condoms! The horror! The horror!

And at Sunday Mass, bishops and parish priests throughout the nation read aloud the stunningly political letters about the controversy they already had planned. Now, with the bishops’ blessing, Republican are hard at work on legislation that would force HHS to strip the contraceptive coverage requirement for all employers, not just religious employers. Sen. Roy Blunt would allow employers to decline to cover any service they deem objectionable; Sen. Marco Rubio would restrict the legislation to contraception coverage.

I have a couple of reactions to the bishops’ extremism. First of all, as someone raised Catholic, I wonder why they’ve never read letters about any of their social justice priorities: universal healthcare, increased protection for the poor, labor rights, or action to curb climate change? Why does this topic  – not even the morally challenging issue of abortion, but the universally accepted practice of birth control – merit such a thundering reaction from the pulpit?

Second, as an American, I also wonder: How do they continue to demand tax-exempt status when they’re railing in their churches about blatantly political – and divisively partisan – public concerns? As the first writer on my remarkably sane Catholic tribalism letters thread remarked, their public support for the extremist GOP position makes me think they should register as a Republican political action committee rather than remain a tax-exempt religious institution outside the bounds of politics.

I’ve written repeatedly that my inability to quit the Catholic Church entirely comes from the fact that its social teachings formed my social conscience, and to this day some of the people doing the most good for the poor and the excluded are devout Catholics. But the bishops are impossible to defend. Today, they are working on behalf of the Republican Party. “They have become the Pharisees,” says Andrew Sullivan, a conservative practicing Catholic. “And we need Jesus.”

(click here to continue reading The bishops go off the deep end – Catholicism – Salon.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 14th, 2012 at 8:10 am

Susan G. Komen Vs. Planned Parenthood

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No Need To Hide It
No Need To Hide It

The Economist writes that, in balance, Susan G Komen for the Cure of Anti-Choice Women Only might be the loser in their misguided war against half (or more?*) of the women in the US.

It’s a cynical thing to say, but I suspect this might cost Susan G. Komen more than it does Planned Parenthood. The former has long been criticised for sugar-coating or even commercialising breast cancer. See Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 essay “Welcome to Cancerland” for an elegant indictment:

What has grown up around breast cancer in just the last fifteen years more nearly resembles a cult—or, given that it numbers more than two million women, their families, and friends—perhaps we should say a full-fledged religion. The products—teddy bears, pink-ribbon brooches, and so forth—serve as amulets and talismans, comforting the sufferer and providing visible evidence of faith. The personal narratives serve as testimonials and follow the same general arc as the confessional autobiographies required of seventeenth-century Puritans: first there is a crisis, often involving a sudden apprehension of mortality (the diagnosis or, in the old Puritan case, a stem word from on high); then comes a prolonged ordeal (the treatment or, in the religious case, internal struggle with the Devil); and finally, the blessed certainty of salvation, or its breast-cancer equivalent, survivorhood.

Planned Parenthood, by contrast, serves several million people a year; mostly women, but also men. The bulk of its activities are focused on contraception, STI screening, and cancer screening, and it places a particular emphasis on providing reproductive health care to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access. They also provide abortions, which are controversial, obviously, but legal, obviously. And insofar as access to contraception and other family-planning services reduces the demand for abortion, Planned Parenthood also prevents abortion. In my view, it is an important part of civil society. Even from a pro-life position, I would think it qualifies: being pro-life is a coherent moral position, and not one that necessarily implies a lack of concern for women’s health. So I really don’t understand why Planned Parenthood gets so much grief from the right. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I understand what the complaints are, but I’m not really convinced. Last year, for example, Kathryn Jean Lopez published an admiring interview with Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life activist. Among other things, Ms Johnson said that Planned Parenthood should be defunded:

Planned Parenthood is an organization that does not provide quality health care. Our tax money should go to organizations that provide comprehensive care to women, men, and children. There are better uses of our money. Planned Parenthood provides shabby, limited health care. Why would we want women to get some health care when they can go to a different clinic, other than Planned Parenthood, and receive total health care? That makes some sense—Planned Parenthood doesn’t focus on comprehensive health care—but what clinics is she talking about? The emergency room? Crisis pregnancy centres?

(click here to continue reading Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood: The rift | The Economist.)

Artemis of Ephesus: Vatican Museum, 1993
Artemis of Ephesus: Vatican Museum, 1993

Kaiser Health’s blog, of all places, has a pretty good roundup of national media coverage on the dustup, including articles from the NYT, LA Times, NPR, AP, Texas Tribune, and others.

Wages of Sin and a Pink Caddy
Wages of Sin and a Pink Caddy

And Mollie Williams, former top public health official at the organization, resigned in protest. I guess she isn’t one of the three sources Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with…

But three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut-off Planned Parenthood. (Komen gives out grants to roughly 2,000 organizations, and the new “no-investigations” rule applies to only one so far.) The decision to create a rule that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to these sources, was driven by the organization’s new senior vice-president for public policy, Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who is staunchly anti-abortion and who has said that since she is “pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.” (The Komen grants to Planned Parenthood did not pay for abortion or contraception services, only cancer detection, according to all parties involved.) I’ve tried to reach Handel for comment, and will update this post if I speak with her.

The decision, made in December, caused an uproar inside Komen. Three sources told me that the organization’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood. Williams, who served as the managing director of community health programs, was responsible for directing the distribution of $93 million in annual grants. Williams declined to comment when I reached her yesterday on whether she had resigned her position in protest, and she declined to speak about any other aspects of the controversy.

But John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen’s senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public relations aspects of Komen’s Planned Parenthood grant, said that Williams believed she could not honorably serve in her position once Komen had caved to pressure from the anti-abortion right. “Mollie is one of the most highly respected and ethical people inside the organization, and she felt she couldn’t continue under these conditions,” Hammarley said. “The Komen board of directors are very politically savvy folks, and I think over time they thought if they gave in to the very aggressive propaganda machine of the anti-abortion groups, that the issue would go away. It seemed very short-sighted to me.”

(click here to continue reading Top Susan G. Komen Official Resigned Over Planned Parenthood Cave-In – Politics – The Atlantic.)

Kudos to Ms. Williams…

*I was looking for reliable statistics regarding how many American women are pro-choice, and haven’t found the stats yet. I suspect more than half of women (and men) support a women’s right to control her own body, but as always, a loud-mouthed minority drowns out the consensus. 40%-50% of the eligible voters vote in most election opportunities, and of those, the 20% who are rabidly anti-choice seem to set policy.  ACORN, NPR, PBS, and Planned Parenthood all have felt the GOP Christian-Taliban wrath, with various degrees of success in fighting it.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 2nd, 2012 at 11:05 am

Terrorism Movie Plot Idea Number 7

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Things you probably shouldn't eat
Things you probably shouldn’t eat

Following up on the recent discussion of where germs reside in airplanes and airports, especially this part:

People get bunched up in lines, where there is plenty of coughing and sneezing. Shoes are removed and placed with other belongings into plastic security bins, which typically don’t get cleaned after they go through the scanner.

A National Academy of Sciences panel is six months into a two-year study that is taking samples at airport areas to try to pinpoint opportunities for infection.

With limited resources, airports and airlines have asked researchers to help figure out where best to target prevention, said Dr. Mark Gendreau of Boston’s Lahey Clinic Medical Center who is on the panel.

Check-in kiosks and baggage areas are other prime suspects in addition to security lines, he said.

what about a film plot that basically works off of this fact? Imagine – Christian evangelicals develop some deadly bacteria or virus, some variant of Ebola, for example, and these Christian End-of-Worlders smear their shoes, coats, and computers with it. When they take their shoes off and place them through the security line, the deadly toxins spread, and infect the next 200 people who go through this same security line. Can you just imagine if a whole plane full of people died mid-flight?

The hero could of course track the source back, but what then?

Immigration at Heathrow
Immigration at Heathrow

Tangentially related, Charles Mann and Bruce Schneier think the TSA is a joke:

To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. The best memorial to the victims of 9/11, in Schneier’s view, would be to forget most of the “lessons” of 9/11. “It’s infuriating,” he said, waving my fraudulent boarding pass to indicate the mass of waiting passengers, the humming X-ray machines, the piles of unloaded computers and cell phones on the conveyor belts, the uniformed T.S.A. officers instructing people to remove their shoes and take loose change from their pockets. “We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”

(click here to continue reading Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer? | Culture | Vanity Fair.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 22nd, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Rick Perry Hates Most of the World – Still Wants Your Vote

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Looking Up- Texas Capitol Building Austin

Looking Up- Texas Capitol Building Austin

Baffles my mind that such an ignorant, government-hating hypocrite as Rick Perry is considered Presidential material. Also, remember those quaint old days when politicians honored the intent of U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and considered Church and State separate entities?  Wouldn’t it be pleasant to have some secular humanists in charge for a change, instead of these Christian Taliban fools?

Anyway, Rick Perry is hosting a Christian-only indoctrination camp in Houston which is decidedly anti-secular. Anti-humanity, in fact. Read on:

In early August, Texas Republican governor and possible presidential candidate Rick Perry will host a prayer summit at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The event, dubbed “The Response” and funded by the American Family Association (which was labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center), is designed to combat the economic, political, and spiritual crises facing the United States by returning the nation to its Biblical roots. The Response’s website proclaims, ”There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.” And in a video message Perry sent out this week, he noted, “I’m inviting you to join your fellow Americans for a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation.” Perhaps Perry should have clarified what sort of “fellow Americans” he meant, for at this event only Christians will be allowed to share the podium with Perry.

Since the event was first announced in early June, organizers have suggested that it would be a great opportunity to convert non-Christians. Now, they’ve gone even further: According to an email blasted out by The Response, only Christians will be permitted to speak at the non-denominational event. If representatives of other faiths (particularly Muslims) were to be included, the email noted, such inclusion would promote “idolatry.” In a message sent out under The Response’s official letterhead, Allan Parker, one of Perry’s organizers, described the event in less-than-ecumenical terms:

This is an explicitly Christian event because we are going to be praying to the one true God through His son, Jesus Christ. It would be idolatry of the worst sort for Christians to gather and invite false gods like Allah and Buddha and their false prophets to be with us at that time. Because we have religious liberty in this country, they are free to have events and pray to Buddha and Allah on their own. But this is time of prayer to the One True God through His son, Jesus Christ, who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

With this prayerfest, Perry is associating himself with rather radical folks. The American Family Association’s issues director, for instance, has said that gays are “Nazis” and that Muslims should be converted to Christianity. Another organizer, Doug Stringer, has said that 9/11 was God’s punishment for the nation’s creeping secularism. And then there’s Jay Swallow, whose endorsement is trumpeted on The Response’s website, and who runs “A Christian Military Training Camp for the purpose of dealing with the occult and territorial enemy strong holds in America” (his description). Consequently, it’s not much of a mystery why only one of the nation’s other 49 governors has so far accepted Perry’s invitation to attend the event (Perry invited all of them)—arch-conservative Sam Brownback of Kansas.

(click here to continue reading Rick Perry’s Christians-Only Prayerfest | Mother Jones.)

I do wonder how the organizers of this summit will screen potential visitors. Will they check their genitals for signs of circumcision? Will they float potential ticket holders in the water to see if they float? Curious.

Evilution
Evilution

Written by Seth Anderson

July 2nd, 2011 at 8:24 am

Rebuilding Noah’s Ark Tax-Free

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Wages of Sin and a Pink Caddy

Tax breaks for 6,000 year old Earthers is a travesty. Tax breaks for any religious organization is absurd, actually, but especially for the Christian Taliban who want to overthrow the U.S. Constitution and institute a theocracy in its stead.

On Dec. 1, Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear announced that the state would provide tax incentives to support the construction of Ark Encounter, a sprawling theme park on 800 acres of rural Grant County. Under Kentucky’s Tourism Development Act, the state can compensate approved businesses for as much as a quarter of their development costs, using funds drawn out of sales-tax receipts. It’s a considerable sweetener to promote development and jobs.

But in this case, say critics, it may pose a constitutional problem. The developers of Ark Encounter have close ties to a Christian ministry called Answers in Genesis, which promotes “young-earth” creationism—the belief that the account of creation provided in Genesis is scientifically accurate and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

More seriously, civil libertarians’ are concerned that the park would involve an unconstitutional advancement of religion. But over the past two decades federal law has moved toward nondiscrimination against religious organizations. This began with the “charitable choice” provisions in Bill Clinton’s welfare-reform package, which sought to allow religious groups to receive government-funded social services. The trend continued with the Bush administration’s promotion of faith-based initiatives, which the Obama administration has extended in barely modified form. The constitutional argument therefore seems tired, supporting a form of discrimination that the government is abandoning in other quarters.

Should the promotion of tourism be subject to this kind of discrimination? The legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky has stated that he objects to the park receiving state funds because it “is about bringing the Bible to life.” But why is that different, legally speaking, from Disneyland bringing Pirates of the Caribbean to life? At what point did the planners of Ark Encounter go too far in their concerns for religious authenticity?

(click to continue reading Wilfred M. McClay: Rebuilding Noah’s Ark, Tax-Free – WSJ.com.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if, despite the outcry, Kentucky gives in to these fanatics.

Written by Seth Anderson

December 18th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Mark Twain Autobiography Will Finally Reveal All – 100 Years Later

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Mark Twain’s will stipulated that his autobiography not be released until 100 years of his death, in 1910. Curious as to what new nuggets will be revealed.

Exactly a century after rumours of his death turned out to be entirely accurate, one of Mark Twain’s dying wishes is at last coming true: an extensive, outspoken and revelatory autobiography which he devoted the last decade of his life to writing is finally going to be published.

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

(click to continue reading After keeping us waiting for a century, Mark Twain will finally reveal all – News, Books – The Independent.)

 Speculation about the contents:


“Mark Twain’s Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years” (Laura Skandera Trombley)

One thing’s for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he’ll be gossiped about during the 21st century. A section of the memoir will detail his little-known but scandalous relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy. But she was abruptly sacked in 1909, after the author claimed she had “hypnotised” him into giving her power of attorney over his estate.

Their ill-fated relationship will be recounted in full in a 400-page addendum, which Twain wrote during the last year of his life. It provides a remarkable account of how the dying novelist’s final months were overshadowed by personal upheavals.

“Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It’s completely at odds with the impression most people have of him,” says the historian Laura Trombley, who this year published a book about Lyon called Mark Twain’s Other Woman.

And the Texas State Board of Education will probably stop teaching Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in Texas classrooms, because Mark Twain had opinions of his own, opinions that the Christian Taliban won’t like:


"Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years" (Michael Shelden)

Another potential motivation for leaving the book to be posthumously published concerns Twain’s legacy as a Great American. Michael Shelden, who this year published Man in White, an account of Twain’s final years, says that some of his privately held views could have hurt his public image.

“He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He’s also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there.”

Written by Seth Anderson

May 24th, 2010 at 11:43 am

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