Posts Tagged ‘church and state separation’

Why Pastor Gus Booth opposes religious freedom

September 24, 2008

While listening to NPR this afternoon, I happened to hear an interview with Pastor Gus Booth of the Warroad Community Church in Minnesota. Booth, along with 30 othe preachers around the country, has pledged his intent to commit a flagrant violation of the constitutional separation of church and state by endorsing a presidential candidate in his sermon.

You see, for the last 54 years, federal tax law has forbidden churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This is because churches are tax-exempt institutions, so such meddling in politics would be construed as the use of tax-free dollars to engage in a political campaign. In other words, what Booth plans to do is blatantly illegal. It may not yet be clear, however, why that means that he (and the Alliance Defense Fund, which spearheaded the Pulpit Initiative”) opposes religious freedom. I’ll spell it out.

  1. The public endorsement of a religion violates religious freedom.
  2. The public endorsement of a political candidate by a religious organization indicates that that political candidate supports the ideals of that religion.
  3. Therefore, the public endorsement of a political candidate by a religion amounts to the public endorsement of a religion.

It’s not rocket science. The Constitution dictates that religion must stay out of politics, and vice versa. People like Pastor Booth and the Alliance Defense Fund are working to undo the protections that ensure freedom of and from religion in this country. They will fail, but it saddens and enrages me that anyone would want to try.


We’ll see him in court

June 18, 2008

Word to Pharyngula for running this story: John Freshwater, the lovable Ohio high school science teacher who burns crosses into his students’ arms and generally supports evangelism in the public classroom, is being taken to court for violation of the Establishment Clause.

Freshwater is apparently guilty of far more transgressions than a simple cruciform branding. He keeps Bibles in the classroom, not for his own use, he openly teaches his religious beliefs to students, he taught intelligent design as early as 2003, he distributed Bibles to students, including extras so give to other students who were not present, and on and on. Perhaps most galling, a guest speaking at his invitation imparted this little gem to the students: “they should disobey the law to further their own religion, even if it means going to jail.”

These are the actions of an evangelist, not a science teacher. If even half the above allegations are true, this is an open and shut case. Mr. Freshwater violated the Constitution left and right, and by all appearances is proud of it. It is a sad testament to the condition of some school districts that he wasn’t fired years ago.

Louisiana House swallows SB 733, hook, line, and sinker

June 12, 2008

My hackles are duly raised. The Louisiana House passed the underhanded “academic freedom” bill SB 733 yesterday. Not only that, but they passed it 94-3.

So much for my optimistic tone yesterday. Apparenty Barbara Forrest’s analysis had no effect at all, as this Fox News article claims that there was no vocal opposition. The article also carries this quote from the head of the bullshit factory known as the Discovery Institute:

“This bill promotes good science education by protecting the academic freedom of science teachers,” said Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute. “Critics who claim the bill promotes religion instead of science either haven’t read the bill or are putting up a smokescreen to divert attention from the censorship that has been going on.”

Actually, I have read the bill, and I agree with Barbara Forrest’s assessment: if the bill was truly about science, it would not need a passage claiming that it was not intended to promote religion.

The bill still has to go before the Louisiana Senate, because the language was changed by a House comittee. But seeing as the Senate passed the original bill 35-0, that’s probably not going to be a problem. And seeing as the governor is apparently a right-wing nutcase, a veto is probably out of the question.

Looks like another time-consuming, tax-dollar-wasting court case is in the future. The liars at the Discovery Institute must be as happy as pigs in filth.

South Carolina Senate permits display of 10 Commandments

May 31, 2008

The South Carolina Senate recently passed a bill that would allow the public display of 11 “historical documents” that “make up the nation’s foundation of law and government.” I use the scare quotes because this set includes two “documents” that manifestly do not make up the foundation of US government: the ten commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

I’ve got an idea for a law: legislators should have to read the Constitution before taking office. The Establishment Clause clearly forbids the passing of any law with the purpose or effect of establishing religion. This bill would allow public schools to post the Ten Commandments. Do they not see how blatantly unconstitutional that is?

The Establishment Clause exists for a reason: to preserve the freedom of every American to believe what they wish. This bill would singles out Christianity and Judaism. Why don’t they include Muslim commandments? Why don’t they include the Five Precepts of Buddhism? Why don’t they include the Eight I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts of the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

In order to guarantee freedom of religion, public places and proceedings must either exclude all religion, or include all religion. To endorse one religion specifically, as this bill does, denies the freedom of those who follow all the others, or who follow no religion at all.

The bill has already passed the House, but the version passed in the Senate included one or more amendments (e.g. the inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer) that will need to go before the House before the bill can be sent to the governor. Let’s hope a majority of the representatives get some sense. If this bill passes, it will be challenged and struck down in federal court, but not before a gob of taxpayer money is pissed down the drain.

Ah, Chuck Norris

May 27, 2008

This is pretty funny, but I must first apologize for being fixated on the NCBCPS for the moment.

They have an article written by Chuck Norris on the need for Bible courses in US public schools. If the NCBCPS’s motivations are suspect, Chuck Norris’ are openly unconstitutional. Consider this quote, referring to a proposed law in Texas that would mandate Bible education.

The Texas Freedom Network, or TFN, is one of them – a self-admitted adversary of any biblically conservative movement, calling themselves “a mainstream voice to counter the religious right.” The TFN, for example, is requesting five unnecessary changes to the Texas bill, which is intended to assure students are taught this classic text: (emphasis mine)

Mandate that teachers have appropriate academic qualifications and sufficient training on legal and constitutional issues surrounding instruction about the Bible in public schools.

Require rigorous, scholarly reviewed textbooks and other curriculum materials for all courses.

Include strong and specific language that protects the religious freedom of students and their families by barring the use of Bible classes to evangelize or promote personal religious perspectives.

Require the Texas Education Agency to regularly monitor and report on the content of public school Bible courses to ensure that they are academically and legally appropriate.

Continue to allow districts the option to offer – or not offer – such courses.

Let me get this straight. Requiring that teachers be qualified to teach the material is unnecessary? Scholarly reviewed textbooks are unnecessary? Barring evangelism in a public school course is unnecessary?

Chuck Norris clearly has little regard for religious freedom, if his goal is to use the Bible to indoctrinate American students. Further, the NCBCPS’s posting of his article can only be taken as an endorsement of his views. I predict that, for this reason, the Craig County School Board’s Bible course, authored by the NCBCPS, will not withstand scrutiny.

The Quest for Right (It’s pretty wrong)

May 16, 2008

C David Parsons, author of a series of creationist textbooks called The Quest for Right, left a comment on one of yesterday’s posts. In it, he described the bizarre content of his books, in which he apparently takes on atomic theory and quantum mechanics, as if they both are cornerstones of modern evolutionary theory. I’ll let his words speak for themselves:

The backbone of Darwinism is not biological evolution per se, but electronic interpretation, the tenet that all physical chemical and biological processes result from a change in the electron structure of the atom which, in turn, may be deciphered through the orderly application of mathematics, as outlined in quantum mechanics. A few of the supporting theories are: degrading stars, neutron stars, black holes, extraterestrial water, antimatter, the absolute dating systems, ant the big bang, the explosion of a singularity infinitely smaller than the dot of an “i” from which space, time, and the massive stellar bodies supposedly sprang into being.

The philosophy rejects any divine intervention. Therefore, let the philosophy of Darwinism be judged on these specifics: electron interpretation and quantum mechanics. Conversely, the view that God is both responsible for and rules all the phenomena of the universe will stand or fall when the facts are applied. The view will not hinge on faith alone, but will be tested by the weightier principle of verifiable truths – the new discipline.

The Quest for Right is not only better at explaining natural phenomena, but also may be verified through testing. As a result, the material in the several volumes will not violate the so-called constitutional separation of church and state. Physical science, the old science of cause and effect, will have a long-term sustainability, replacing irresponsible doctrines based on whim. Teachers and students will rejoice in the simplicity of earthly phenomena when entertained by the new discipline.


Another school district’s assault on science

May 13, 2008

The blogs are ablaze with a school district in Maine whose director wants evolution expelled from the curriculum. Matthew Linkletter, director of School Adminstrative District No. 59, has said evolution, along with other “origins” theories such as the Big Bang, have to be believed by faith, that “you can’t show, observe, or prove it.” He also said, “If it’s not scientifically verifiable, then maybe we should leave it out of the science classes. When you make a statement that’s not backed by facts and just represents a world view, then it has no place.”

This has been well covered already, so I’ll let you find other capable coverage elsewhere. For now, I think Linkletter provides an excellent opportunity to put to use The Hovind Scale, a method for quantifying the stupidity of creationist statements.

Here we go:

Hovind Factor = (X + s + i + p) x (m + 1)

Belief in Scripture:
X = 0 – No doctrinal belief required

Now it seems rather obvious that the person making this statement is coming from a literalist religious perspective, but the Hovind Scale is about statements, and Linkletter’s particular statements don’t rest on a particular dogmatic interpretation. Thus, he gets off easy on this one.

Science Illiteracy:
S = 4 – Rejection of basic scientific facts/laws/robust theories and/or denial of any evidence that contradicts scripture

Linkletter has said that evolution is scientifically unverifiable. This, in spite of the fact that the theory of evolution is as well established as the theory of gravity (if not more.) Should we take the theory of gravity out of the classroom too, Mr. Linkletter?

Idiocy scale
i = 8 – unlikely to be accepted by anyone with more than two functioning neurons

Really, Mr. Linkletter? You really believe that evolution (and the Big Bang, for some reason) are not based on sound observation and experimentation? Despite displaying an obvious and utter lack of understanding of science? That’s pretty stupid.

p = 3 – Self contradiction invalidates statement completely, and is left unaddressed.

Linkletter says that evolution can’t be proven. Well watch out for the news flash, because nothing in science is proven! If we have to throw out every unproven scientific theory, we should just chuck ’em all, because not one of them is proven in the slightest. There’s plenty of evidence for the best ones, of course.

m = 4 – Complete, burn-in-Hell, perjury grade, super-lie – for example, one that is strategically designed to mislead authorities or the general public (e.g. as witnessed in the Dover trial and Expelled).

Ah, mendacity: the first and choicest refuge of the scoundrel. Mr. Linkletter deserves the highest mendacity value for several reasons. First, he is in a position of power, and is using that position to attack science. That makes any dishonesty far more egregious than a simple creationist blog (or Venom Fang X video.) Second, he’s pretending to be acting purely in the interest of good science education, despite the self-evident fact that his lack of any expertise in science should disqualify him from making such sweeping recommendations. Finally, he deserves a high value here because of the target of his mendacious attack: Children. Whatever he feels about it, if his attack on science education is successful, it will have the effect of undermining the future of the area’s children. A great deal of humanity’s future (and whether there is much future to speak of) will center on science, and for that reason we must give our students every advantage in gaining a scientific education. Linkletter’s ludicrous motion would leave them far behind the rest of the world.

All right, if we add all that up, we get a Hovind Factor of 75%; just 5% less than Expelled. Not bad, Mr. Linkletter; not bad.

Anyone in the area interested in registering their disgust with Mr. Linkletter can attend the school board meeting on May 19th. I’ll bet it’s a lively time!