Church-State Separation

Jim Downey's picture


Another victory in the War On Christmas!!!

Winter Display Featuring Einstein, Bill Gates Can Go Up at Ark. Capitol, Federal Judge Rules

A secular display celebrating the winter solstice and "freethinkers" such as Albert Einstein and Bill Gates can be placed at the Arkansas Capitol alongside a traditional Christian nativity scene, a federal judge said Monday.

The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers sued last week after Secretary of State Charlie Daniels rejected its proposal, saying it wasn't consistent with the Capitol's other decorations and displays. The group asked for a quick hearing before the winter solstice, which is Dec. 21.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright granted an injunction Monday allowing the display to go up.

Quick, someone tell Bill O'Reilly! Maybe we'll get his head to actually assplode!

Jim Downey


Jim Downey's picture

What do you get when you take equal parts

Christopher Hitchens, Archbishop John Onaiyekan, Stephen Fry and Anne Widdencombe, and mix?


It's the "Intelligence Squared" debate, which was held before a live audience in London this past weekend.

It's quite good, actually - and worth watching the whole thing. All four participants do a good job in presenting their position on whether or not the Catholic Church is a "force for good in the world."

What I found was telling was that at the start of the program, a survey was taken of the audience. About 35% said that the Church was a force for good, 55% said that it wasn't, and the rest were undecided. After the debate was over, the numbers were 13% yes, 86% no, with just a handful still undecided.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Word To My Mother

My mother is a great believer in forwarding emails of the Republican or Christian variety. I've seen most of them before, and generally I don't respond. Eh. My mom is awesome, but a little far right politically and religiously at this point in her life - and I'm too damned tired to start a war. Heh.

But when she forwarded this essay (quoted in it's entirety below the fold), and claimed it was written by our own curmudgeonly atheist Andy Rooney, I had to reply:

Hi Ma,

This was actually written by a sports writer by the name of Nick Gholson who worked for the "Times New Record" newspaper in Wichita Falls, Texas, back in 1999, NOT Andy Rooney. Andy Rooney is actually an atheist!

"Why am I an atheist? I ask you: Why is anybody not an atheist? Everyone starts out being an atheist. No one is born with belief in anything. Infants are atheists until they are indoctrinated. I resent anyone pushing their religion on me. I don't push my atheism on anybody else. Live and let live. Not many people practice that when it comes to religion." -Andy Rooney, Boston Globe, May 30, 1982.

"I am an atheist... I don't understand religion at all. I'm sure I'll offend a lot of people by saying this, but I think it's all nonsense." -Andy Rooney, from a speech at Tufts University, Nov. 18, 2004.


And as for agreeing with Gholson's essay below, obviously I don't. I think it's a pretty desperate argument to claim that "might makes right" like Gholson does here - especially in America! Adult Americans don't usually agree or use petty, childish, playground arguments like that. We usually stand up for the little guy, don't we? Defend those who need defending? We say, "I disagree with what you say, but I would die defending your right to say it!" Right??

Our Constitution and Bill of Rights are designed to counteract the sort of "tyranny of the majority" that Gholson is promoting, and to protect the rights of the minority from being trampled by all the frothing "Christian Nation" kooks in the majority who want to have MY kids pray to THEIR god in public schools paid for by my taxes. You can say your prayers any time you want - on the street corner, in church, in your home, heck, even at a football game! What you *can't* do is have public school officials lead *my* children in saying *your* prayers to *your* god, to the exclusion of all other religions, or non-religion - and then expect me to pay for the privilege!

Argh! It drives me nuts! :)

I love you Ma, and I'm really not trying to make you upset, but I think you're 180 degrees off-center on this issue. I hope you'll reconsider your position.

Much love,


Ugh. I hate writing to my family about this stuff. It's going to make the holidays interesting, in any case! :)

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Let's Peek At The Lodi City Council In 6 Months...

The Lodi City Council has apparently "found their backbone" and has voted unanimously to allow sectarian prayers before City Council meetings in direct opposition to threats of legal action against the City of Lodi by civil rights groups concerned over the clear violations against the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause.

So, let's look forward in time a few months. Lodi's City Council has been rolling along offering prayers in Jesus' name for a while now. They knew that this meant - in an abstract way of course - that they may at some point have to allow a non-Christian prayer before the start of the meeting. So, a Mormon Bishop is allowed to pray. Then, a Rabbi. Finally, after much deliberation, an Imam offers a prayer to Allah.

People are tense, but things go well, and the sky doesn't split apart, so they try their best to forget it ever happened, while simultaneously patting themselves on the back for their "tolerance".

Then things start to go awry.

A Raëlian Priest, or "Guide" basically forces his way to the front of the meeting, ranting about God knows what. The Master at Arms throws him out, and the City Council members all have a nervous chuckle.

A Wiccan applies to lead the Council in a skyclad ceremony. The Council members look it up and deny the application.

A Pastafarian wants to dress and talk like a pirate while holding a delicious plate of spaghetti. Denied.

A Jedi Knight wants to have everyone close the blast shield and try to "feel the force". Denied.

Suddenly, a rain of lawsuits alleging First Amendment violations descend onto the City. Religious persecution accusations are flying thick. The Council members decide that the very next wacky non-Christian nutball who applies to lead a prayer, they'll approve.

A Church of Satan Magister applies. They swallow, and approve the application.

The day comes, and all nervously await the Magister as he sweeps into the chambers. The lights dim, and with eerily glowing eyes he begins the blasphemous words for a Black Mass:

"Thou, thou who, in my capacity of Priest, I force, weather thou wilt or no, to descend into this host, to incarnate thyself into this bread Jesus, artisan of hoaxes, bandit of homages, robber of affection- hear! O lasting foulness of Bethlehem, we would have thee confess thy impudent cheats, thy inexplicable crimes!. We would drive deeper the nails into thy hands, press down the crown of thorns upon thy brow, and bring blood from the dry wounds.

Cursed Nazarene, abstractor of stupid parities, impotent king, fugitive god! O Infernal Satanic Majesty, condemn him to the pit, evermore to suffer in perpetual anguish. Bring Thy wrath upon him, O Prince of Darkness, King of Filth, Emperor of Putridity, Dark Lord Satan, hear our demands!"

Cue the lightning and fog machines and wolf howl special effects.

People freak the fuck out, cats and dogs start living together, chaos ensues, council members start raping goats right in the chambers, pregnant Christian ladies give birth to deformed monsters.

You know, the usual.

And atheists sit back and laugh. "Look," we'd say with a chuckle, "we fucking warned you morons about this six months ago! Now, grow the fuck up, stop breaking the law, and try following the Constitution. Make the council meetings secular, idiots, and pray in your own fucking church, and this won't happen ever again."

(Maybe not in those exact words... Heh.)

Jim Downey's picture

Let's all say it together now:

"It's OK if you are a Christian."

What is? Well, this:

Ky. school trip included baptisms

LOUISVILLE — A mother is angry about a trip led by the head football coach at Breckinridge County High School. The coach took about 20 players on a school bus late last month to his church, where nearly half of them — including her son — were baptized.

Michelle Ammons said her 16-year-old son was baptized without her knowledge and consent, and she is upset that a public school bus was used to take players to a church service — and that the school district's superintendent was there and did not object.

* * *

But Superintendent Janet Meeks, who is a member of the church and witnessed the baptisms, said she thinks the trip was proper because attendance was not required, and another coach paid for the gas.

Meeks said parents weren't given permission slips to sign but knew the event would include a church service, if not specifically a baptism. She said eight or nine players came forward and were baptized.

Jim Downey's picture

What is the cost of allowing teachers to burn crosses into the skin of students?

Hey, remember the story of the nice Christian teacher who liked to impress the kiddies with the Power of the Lord by branding them with crosses?

Well, gee, guess what - the school district that used to employ him had to settle with one of the branded students:

District Settles With Student Who Accused Freshwater

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio—A Central Ohio school board has approved a $121,000 settlement with the family of a student who said his teacher burned the image of a cross on his arm.

School board members in Mount Vernon agreed Wednesday night to resolve a federal lawsuit by paying $5,500 to the boy and his family and $115,500 to their lawyers.

The family still has a similar suit pending against the eighth-grade teacher, John Freshwater.

So, we now know the cost: $121,000. Well, that and a small thing called the Separation of Church & State.

Oh, and just for extra fun: guess who else is suing the district? Yep:

Jim Downey's picture

"Render unto Caesar . . .

the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s."

Seems like some Christians could stand to re-read their bible:

School brass facing prison time for luncheon prayer

Two Florida school administrators face contempt charges and possible prison time for saying a prayer at a school luncheon.

Frank Lay, principal of Pace High School, and Athletic Director Robert Freeman are accused of violating a consent decree banning employees of Santa Rosa County schools from endorsing religion.

They face a non-jury trial September 17 before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers. The statute under which they are charged carries a maximum penalty of up to six months in prison, subject to sentencing guidelines.

Of course, the folks at Liberty U, who are backing the accused, say that this is an infringement of their 1st Amendment rights:

Jim Downey's picture

It's always popular to play to the fears of the majority.


Republican mayoral candidate Anna Falling said Tuesday that putting a Christian creationism display in the Tulsa Zoo is No. 1 in importance among city issues that also include violent crime, budget woes and bumpy streets.

"It's first," she said to calls of "hallelujah" at a rally outside the zoo. "If we can't come to the foundation of faith in this community, those other answers will never come. We need to first of all recognize the fact that God needs to be honored in this city."

Falling, who has founded several Christian nonprofit groups and is a former city councilor, also said the next mayor needs to appoint people to boards, authorities and commissions who will "honor God."

"We will also look for people who want to characterize the origins of both man and animals in a way that honors Judeo-Christian science that proves God as the creator," she said.

Man, it must be nice that everything is so rosy in Tulsa that getting a creationism display in the local zoo is public priority #1.


Jim Downey

(Via BalloonJuice.)

Jim Downey's picture

This DART missed the mark.

Gee, this is *so* surprising:

DART: Controversial Bus Ads Pulled

Atheist advertising signs on Des Moines Area Regional Transit buses that created a storm of controversy when they first went up on Aug. 1 have been taken down.

And what did these offensive, despicable, inflammatory advertisements say? Did they mock the absurdity of Zombie Jesus, or point out that the Mormon magical underwear was just silly? Did they cite conflicting verses of the Bible, or run a tally of how many people God killed in the Old Testament? Maybe show chanting kooks at soldier's funerals or members of the Taliban beheading some infidel?

Of course not.

What they did was say this: "Don't believe in God? You are not alone."

And then give the name of the group sponsoring the ads: Iowa Atheist and Free Thinkers. Here's their comment on the whole absurd thing:

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The Fragile Soap Bubble Of Faith

Duane Blake is a Bishop in the Upland, CA 1st Ward of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). He wrote a letter to the editor of the Bay Area's Contra-Costa Times, bemoaning the awful atheists trying to force all of the peaceful, persecuted Christians in America to "the religion of atheism" - by "removing God" from our government buildings, and from our society.

Notwithstanding the ludicrous notion that the absence of the word "GOD" equal "atheism" (Author's note: it doesn't. -Brent), and granting for the sake of argument the religionists assertions about this invisible god-thing, how the heck are us evil atheists supposed to "remove" a supposedly supreme magical being from anything - let alone an entire society? That doesn't make any sense even if we suspend our disbelief enough to look at it from their point of view! Preposterous!

The good Bishop says:

[link] In the great effort by many to remove God from our society they are, by default, forcing us into their belief system as an atheistic society.

There is just so much wrong here. I'll have to break it down into smaller chunks.

In the great effort by many to remove God from our society...

Where exactly is this "great effort" Bishop? Who are the "many" that you refer to? Yes, there are a few court cases a year where the Freedom From Religion Foundation, or the ACLU will sue a small city government, or a state government to stop what they believe to be gross violations of the United States constitution - specifically in reference to the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

But, "great effort"? "Many"? Please. You outnumber us nearly 9 to 1. Some of us try and address the worst civil rights and Constitutional violations in courts across the country. Yes, those cases get a lot of press because Christians are shocked - shocked I tell you! - that those uppity atheists would have the unmitigated gall to call them out for their bigotry and their dangerously theocratic, unconstitutional actions.

You also mention "removing God". This begs the question; which "God" are you referring to? Yours? Why does your particular flavor of magical man in the sky get such a prominent place on our buildings, our money, our Pledge of Allegiance, and in the speeches given by our politicians - despite the very clear concept of the separation of church and state being outlined in the First Amendment, then bolstered with 230 years of SCOTUS opinion and precedent?

...they are, by default, forcing us into their belief system as an atheistic society.

How does NOT engraving your deity's name on every new piece of masonry on government buildings at the taxpayers expense (many of whom are NOT CHRISTIAN) equal "forcing" citizens into "the religion of atheism"? How does NOT seeing "GOD" plastered all over everything strip you of your beliefs? Are your beliefs so weak that they must be constantly nurtured, and lovingly protected from criticism and - uh, absence on government buildings lest they dissapear in an instant like a soap bubble?

Goodness! What frail, delicate flowers you religious folks are! Your beliefs, so easily swept away by the cruel notion of government neutrality.

You know, the one outlined by our Constitution? The First Amendment? Heard of it before?

And just so you know, I could devote an entire post to that one stupidly willful misconception that religious folks LOVE to make. There is no excuse for an intelligent, grown adult human being to make a mistake of this nature. The phrase "religion of atheism" is something only an idiot, a religious conservative with a political axe to grind with atheists, or a very young child would say. Which are you Bishop? Let me guess.

Jim Downey's picture

They just didn't pray *hard* enough.

This is what happens when you let religion determine health policy:

Teen pregnancy and disease rates rose sharply during Bush years, agency finds

Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush's evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US's major public health body.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Should Atheism Be A Thought Crime?

You would think that most would say that the proposed blasphemy law in Ireland is a bad idea.

Well, you would be wrong.

[link] In the interests of rationality and common sense, the legislation should go further and label atheism a thought crime.

RickU's picture

Just a quickie

I just want to point you folks to a new newsweek article. I read it and was a little blown away by the middle ground that the article takes.

*** edited to add. I think this is a good article and positive press for non-theists.

You can see it here.

Paul Fidalgo's picture

Texas Crazy: Attack of the Evo-atheists!

Things are getting really scary in Texas. I'm not kidding. Something is bubbling in the Lone Star State, and it has the stink of 100 percent pure crazy.

First, science communicator Bill Nye was booed during a lecture in Waco for insisting that the Moon reflected light from the Sun. Then we have Chuck Norris advocating for secession and installing himself as president of Texas, presumably as part of Glenn Beck's lunatic "let's bring back the utter terror we all felt after 9/11" faux-movement ("We surround them" he assures his nitwit followers).

But you already knew about that, right?

Tonight I discovered a couple more things that scared the hell out of me. This post will cover the first, because I don't want to give anyone any ulcers.

Jim Downey's picture

5th Circuit Affirms Texas Schools' Moment of Silence Law

5th Circuit Affirms Texas Schools' Moment of Silence Law

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a Texas law that requires public school students to observe a daily minute of silence in order to pray, reflect or otherwise remain quiet.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans affirmed a district court ruling, saying the law is constitutional because it expressly allows any silent use of that minute, whether religious or not.

David and Shannon Croft sued on behalf of their three children, who are enrolled in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District. The suburban Dallas couple contended that including the word "pray" in the mandatory moment of silence law was a way for lawmakers to advance religion in schools. Another family joined the Crofts in filing the lawsuit but chose to remain anonymous.

* * *

Jim Downey's picture

As the Rude One so aptly puts it... an excellent (and fairly tame, by his standards) piece today:

In other words, the Obama administration, in both of these decisions, is saying that it's time to stop fucking with the Constitution. Whether it's the individual rights of women or the habeas corpus rights of prisoners, the law professor in the President knows that "liberty and justice for all" is an actual pledge.

Check it out.

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Atheist Equality In Arkansas?

Wow. Arkansas State Representative Richard Carroll of the Green Party introduced bill HJR1009 in the Arkansas 87th
General Assembly on 2-11-09 which seeks to amend the Arkansas state constitution to remove the language which prohibits an atheist from holding office there, or from testifying as a witness in any court case there. The resolution reads:


The bill would add the following amendment to the Arkansas constitution, strikes and all:

SECTION 1. Article 19, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution is repealed.

§ 1. Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness.

No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

The original prohibition is federally unconstitutional due to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1961 decision in the famous Torcaso V. Watkins case, and cannot be enforced, but I applaud Rep. Carroll for introducing this bill. It is an important symbolic step in recognizing atheists as full citizens of the state of Arkansas.

Now we'll have to wait and see if the Arkansas legislature votes to pass this resolution.

However, given the Arkansas legislature's track record on church-state separation issues, I am not holding my breath.

Jim Downey's picture

*bzzzt* - Wrong answer.

If you had any doubt about Kathryn Jean Lopez, the editor of the National Review Online, then read her current column at the National Catholic Register. It's pure, unadulterated revisionism with a side order of theocracy thrown in for good measure:

We’re a nation not just where you are free to believe or not to believe; we’re a nation founded for Him — so we could praise Him, so we could do His will. Warren began his prayer as a gentle reminder to those privileged with seats and every Joe sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:

“Almighty God — our Father. Everything we see, and everything we can’t see, exists because of you alone. It all comes from you. It all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory.”

After a morning of “Obama!” chants, I would have loved to hear some of the crowd — or the president-to-be — join Warren in praying the Lord’s Prayer.


Jim Downey's picture

I suppose if I had my choice . . .

. . . I'd opt for the naked women, as well:

"No God" bus ads banned in Italian city

ROME (Reuters) – Italian atheists have lost a bid to run "no God" advertisements on city buses after strong opposition from conservative political parties, a member of the group said on Saturday.

The ads reading "The bad news is that God doesn't exist. The good news is that you don't need him" were to have been put on buses in the northern city of Genoa, home to the Catholic cardinal who is head of the Italian Bishops Conference.

* * *

"Right-wing politicians criticized us ferociously," Villella said by telephone from the group's base, adding that at least one bus driver in Genoa said he would refuse to drive a "no God" bus.

"It's strange that in a country where ads depicting near-naked women wearing skimpy lingerie is permitted on buses that we can't run ads about atheism," Villella said.

Jim Downey

HT to ML - thanks!

Jim Downey's picture

"infuriating to God."

Oh, this is good:

Man Complains About Buddhas At KC Zoo

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Zoo has received a complaint about Buddha statues in an Asian-themed area.

David Engle, of Overland Park, Kan., complained after visiting the zoo on Sunday. He said it's "phenomenal to me" that the zoo would put up two smiling statues of Buddha when "we can't have a cross or a nativity scene on public property."

Engle, who said he is Christian, called the statues idolatry and "infuriating to God."

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