Church-State Separation

Jim Downey's picture

Atheism on "All Things Considered".

This afternoon's "All Things Considered" had a longish piece on the 'new atheism'  Here's the lead from their website:

In response to the growing power of religious extremism, a small group of atheists has taken a new approach. Going on the offensive, they target the tolerant, with both reason - and ridicule. Brooke Gladstone, host of NPR's On the Media, reports.

It wasn't bad at all.  Lots of comments from Sam Harris, some good perspective on how atheists are stereotyped.  If you didn't get a chance to hear it when broadcast, the full audio should be available this evening, 7:30 EST.

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Army Says Pat Tillman Is Worm Dirt - Deal With It, Grieving Parents!

American hero Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. You'd think that the Army would want to find out exactly what happened, and discipline those who were responsible.

Well, you'd be wrong.

Instead, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich has decided to blame everything on the Tillman family's atheism instead.

[link] Kauzlarich said he is confident the current probe will not result in criminal charges against the shooter or shooters. He said investigators would not still be examining the incident at all if it were not for Tillman's NFL celebrity — he walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals when he enlisted — and the pressure brought to bear by Tillman's family on a number of Washington politicos.

"His parents continue to ask for it to be looked at," Kauzlarich said. "And that is really their prerogative. And if they have the right backing, the right powerful people in our government to continue to let it happen, then that is the case.

"But there [have] been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide, and the parents have basically said, 'OK, it was an unfortunate accident.' And they let it go. So this is — I don't know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs."

In a transcript of his interview with Brig. Gen. Gary Jones during a November 2004 investigation, Kauzlarich said he'd learned Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother's body was returned to the United States.

Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family's unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.

In an interview with, Kauzlarich said: "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."

Asked by whether the Tillmans' religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, "I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know."

Asked what might finally placate the family, Kauzlarich said, "You know what? I don't think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don't know. Maybe they want to see somebody's head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can't bring their son back."

I think I'm going to vomit.

Jim Downey's picture

Sunday morning round-up.

Some quickies for a Sunday morning...

Via MeFi is a long and engaging article about a Christian nutter who thinks that he's the next Walt Disney. Except, you know, he builds houses and stuff.

The NYT has a nice piece about funding faith-based prison programs, part of their Christ's Mission, Caesar's Money series.

There's also a good story on the problems that the National Geographic Society has encountered with trying to establish a model for human settlement around the world through DNA samples of isolated indigenous people. They've run into problems with these societies being concerned that it may challenge their origin myths, among other concerns.

And lastly, if you didn't catch this entry over at PZ's place yesterday, go take a look. It links to this insane site, chock full of creamy nuttiness. Be sure to turn off your speakers before following that second link. Trust me on this.

Corporate Christmas

It is that merry time of year again when Bill O’Reilly and Jerry Falwell scream persecution from the secularists...based upon the semantics of the retail sector, or lack thereof.. The Christmas word...that is.

Does all this screaming at the retail sector mean that they are anti-capitalism? (We know they are not socialists.) So by deduction that only leaves a few isms hanging around that might suit them: Fascism or Authoritarianism. And come to think of it isn’t “Corporate Christmas” a malapropism?

From Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Making A List And Checking It Twice: Falwell Knows Who’s Naughty And Nice
It has come to this: So desperate is the Religious Right to prop up its claims of a “War on Christmas” that it is actually trolling retailers’ Web sites and blowing the whistle on those that fail to use religiously correct terminology.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell’s legal outfit, Liberty Counsel, has actually issued a list of companies it deems “Naughty” or “Nice” depending on the firms’ use of the word “Christmas.” (No, this is not a parody from “The Onion.”)

The list is quite illuminating.
read more at:

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Pro Wrestling And The Atheist Ethicist

I've been a big fan of Alonzo Fyfe's essays and writing since I first read his stuff back on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board. His post yesterday is fascinating and well worth the read. Alonzo's trademarked crystal clear thinking is applied to the current concern in the atheist community about the 'New Atheists' or the 'Evangelical Atheists' like Dawkins and Harris. I heartily recommend that you read it.

[Alonzo Fyfe] When I listen to atheists discuss strategy, I tend to think about a group of abused children discussing the best way to avoid a beating. Because of the children’s concern, they quickly turn against any child who dares to do anything that might upset the abusive guardian. History has shown that, once the guardian is riled, all of the children are in danger. So, it becomes important to ‘punish’ those who rile the guardian to promote an aversion to doing so.

Jim Downey's picture

Some quickies...

...just in case you missed them in the news. And besides, everyone needs a quickie now and again.

First off, from CNN comes news that the Marines in charge of the annual "Toys for Tots" campaign have resolved what to do with an offer for 4,000 verse-spouting Jesus Dolls. The company which makes the dolls just couldn't understand why the dolls wouldn't be suitable for everyone. *sigh* Show the Toys for Tots folks a little love, if you can.

Next up, Dan Savage has a great column in The Onion about why the whole Ted Haggard thing should be cause for rejoicing. I'm not gay, but I've seen what my GLBT friends have suffered at the hands of the ravin' fundies, and it is all due to the bullshit of "Give your heart to Jesus, and he will change you" mindset they have. The money quote from Dan:

If giving his heart to Jesus couldn't cure Haggard, what hope is there for the likes of me? If Jesus can't be bothered to work a miracle for the most powerful evangelical minister in the country, what "hope" is there for the average dyke?

Brent Rasmussen's picture

"You Belong In Hell"

A 16 year old high school student from Kearny High School in New Jersey named Matthew LaClair was a little uncomfortable when his history teacher, David Paszkiewicz, talked more about the Christian heaven, hell and Jesus than he did about history.

Oh, did I mention that this is a public school? And that the history teacher Paszkiewicz is also a a Baptist preacher in their town?

[link] "I would never have suspected something like this went on in a public school," LaClair said yesterday.

He said Paszkiewicz told students that if they didn't accept Jesus, "you belong in Hell." He also dismissed as unscientific the theories of evolution and the "Big Bang."

Nice. Well, being a smart kid, Matthew realized that no one would believe him about the proselytizing and that it would probably come down to a case of "my word against yours".

So, he started recording Preacher/Teacher Paszkiewicz's public schoolroom religious rants on audio CDs.

[link] On Oct. 10 - a month after he first requested a meeting with the principal - LaClair met with Paszkiewicz, (Kearny High School Principal) Somma, and the head of social studies department.

At first Paszkiewicz denied he mixed in religion with his history lesson and the adults in the room appeared to be buying it, LaClair said. But then LaClair reached into his backpack and produced the CDs.

At that point Paszkiewicz remarked, according to LaClair, "Maybe you're an atheist. You caught the big Christian fish."

"I don't hate this man," LaClair said yesterday. "But if you're going to preach your religion in a public school ... and lying in a meeting about it, then I think he must have some problem he can't deal with in a public school."

More below the fold...

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Self Proclaimed Morons

Update: See Glorious Revolutionary People's Hero Comrade Ball and his fellow Revolutionary Partisians here.

This guy looks like every conservative Christian's worst stereotype of a subversive, communist atheist troublemaker. It looks as if he has gone out of his way to look like this. Look, Jason old pal, appearances do matter, regardless of what you might think. You have to live within the boundaries of your society or risk being ostracized as an outcast - and how is that going to help your cause? The sooner you learn this, the better you will be able to assist with atheist activism. Give Lori Lipman Brown a call and ask for some tips, for goodness sake. Until you do, don't say anything ever again and associate yourself with atheists like me. I don't doubt that you are an atheist, but your other ideologies are "irrelevant to the business" of atheism. Don't conflate your personal belief system of communism/socialism, with the lack of belief in a god or gods. That's what fundamentalist Christians do!

Jebus. This is all we need. Some imbecilic, pea-brained college student equating communism and atheism in the public mind again.

[Reuters][LifeSite News] The Student government of Orange Coast College in California, voted 3-1 this week to eliminate recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance from its weekly meetings.

According to news accounts, student Board member Jason Ball, a self proclaimed atheist, called the flag salute "irrelevant to the business of the student government," and referred to a 2002 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on a possible "church-state conflict." Ball, wearing black boots, a beret and a hammer-and-sickle pin, was quoted as saying, "Nationalism is something that divides people."

College students are morons sometimes. That goes without saying. I was a moron when I was in college. Communist college students who are "self proclaimed" atheists are studying hard and failing to become morons.

Yes, yes, Comrade Ball, the Pledge is not relevant to the business of student government. Yes, you're an atheist. You're a communist who wears black boots and a beret. How very revolutionary for you, tovarische. We get that part all too clear, hammer & sickle boy.

But would you do the rest of us atheists a favor and shut the fuck up from now on? Thanks. You're not helping. Trust me.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

My Irony Meter Just Exploded

Austin Cline from About Atheism has been busily constructing satirical propaganda posters pointing out hypocrisies and absurdities in the current American political system and how it kowtows to the religious right. In the poster below, in my opinion, Austin nails what seems to be the way that Christian Nationalists view non-theistic and secular attempts to actually get the government to follow the First Amendment.

Who knew that his satire was so close to the truth?

[Austine Cline] The above image is taken from a World War II poster exhorting soldiers to take good care of their boots -- it has no direct bearing on the war itself or the causes at issue in the war. In this context, however, it seemed an appropriate image to depict how Christian Nationalists seem to perceive the alleged threats to their treasured religious symbols.

Irony, thy name is William Donohue of the Catholic League.

[William Donohue] Cline may want to pass this off as satire, but any fair-minded person who looks around his site will understand that his brand of atheism is explicitly anti-Christian. The altered poster is, in fact, a true characterization of the anti-Christian animus at work. Moreover, it offers a glimpse into the mindset of radical secularists who seek to neuter Christmas.

Watch out, Austin, or your own irony meter could explode and you could lose an eye or something!

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The United States Witch Doctors Corp

The United States military Chaplain Corps has had a privileged place in the American military system ever since it was formed in the First World War. Theses are our shamans, our witch doctors, casting chicken bones and invoking the protection of the god of war to protect our warriors.

In recent years, in response to soldiers complaining that their own faith was marginalized or that they were proselytized to, the Chaplains Corps has attempted to transform itself into a more secular organization that provides not only equal-opportunity magical incantations to our soldiers, sailors, and airmen, but also "counseling" in the field of war, and during wartime. Think "Father Mulcahy" from M.A.S.H. Untrained, bigoted "counselors" who have direct and unfettered access to our soldiers at the lowest, most vulnerable points in their lives.

Here's the kicker: We pay for them. You are paying the salary of a person who dismisses you as a hellbound liar. Someone who makes the claim that you aren't really an atheist and an agnostic, but instead just someone who pretends that there isn't a god so that you can go out and sin like crazy without feeling guilty. Someone who states in a smug voice that there are "no atheists in foxholes", like they just made it up on the spot.

Think I'm kidding?

[link] But as a military chaplain, Father Jaramillo ministers to all the soldiers of his unit, regardless of their denomination.

"I know we have soldiers of all persuasions and religious bents," he said in an e-mail to The Leaven, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan. "We have two agnostics, one atheist and one Wiccan listed on the roster. I would bet anything that when push comes to shove, the four of them will come knocking on my door or seeking a higher power for some peace of mind."

The Chaplain Corps will probably never go away. As long as there are religious folks, the majority will force the rest of us to pay for supporting their stone-age superstitions and their own magical shaman. The military shamans will continue to dehumanize and ridicule the atheists in their foxholes, the only sane ones in the bunch. In the long run, there's really not much we can do about it except to complain. Both ours and their numbers are just too small to really make any sort of real difference.

But, it sure rubs me the wrong way every time I hear or read about one of these prancing, deluded witch doctors pontificating about some obscure magic spell - and I realize that I'm paying him to talk nonsense like that.

Yes, I realize that in the big picture, the long view, the Chaplain Corps doesn't really matter much - but as a veteran I can't not speak up when this sort of thing happens. I have too much self respect to stay quiet.

mtully's picture

A Response to Daniel Dreisbach’s “Origins and Dangers of the ‘Wall of Separation’ Between Church and State”

Text of Dreisbach's speech can be found at

When I read Dreisbach’s speech I was reminded of the words of theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who, after having read a particularly poorly researched and developed paper of a junior colleague said this: "This isn't right. It's not even wrong." So how did Dreisbach reach such a high level of “not rightness” that “wrong” is not a strong enough word? Generally an argument is considered wrong if it is either a, is based on a wrong premise; b, is not supported by the evidence; or c, utilizes fallacious logic to reach it’s conclusion. In Dreisbach’s case he not only hits all three he even manages to combine them by giving red hearing arguments and then unabashedly even failing to support those with evidence.

Dreisbach begins by tracing the origins of the Danbury Baptist letter and does a good job describing the politics of the time and Jefferson’s intentions to alleviate the fears of the Baptists that he would not as Chief Executive attempt to interfere with their religious freedoms. But, he then goes on to make the allusion that because the letter endorsed freedom of conscience that it somehow meant that Jefferson was concerned only with the separation of powers between the state and federal governments rather than the separation between the federal government and religion. To make this grand jump Dreisbach references the Kentucky Resolution. This is interesting in that while the resolution did discuss some of the principles of federalism, it had absolutely nothing to do with church-state entanglements. It was in fact an attempt by Jefferson to pressure Adams into repealing (or at least not enforcing) the Alien and Sedition Acts. You see the Sedition Act offended Jefferson’s sense of freedom of speech. But, why would Dreisbach want to wander into the topic of freedom of speech when the topic was separation of church and state? Well, perhaps if he had probed Jefferson’s views on that topic he wouldn’t have liked the results. Jefferson was a prolific writer on the subject of separation and left a detailed trail of his thoughts on the matter. With respect to the idea that separation was a one-way wall Jefferson made clear that the state had no standing to interfering with ecclesiastic matters and additionally would not allow the clergy assert any privileged influence on the government. These attitudes can be seen in two letters he wrote to his longtime friends Richard and Benjamin Rush:

Jim Downey's picture

The threat is underestimated.

Last night I had a strange and disturbing dream. I no longer remember the details, but it was a more-or-less contemporary setting, and involved some kind of ritualistic fighting. With knives.

Perhaps it was just the haunting of evil memories. During my ill-spent youth, I was involved in some such fights (in self defense). And a real knife fight is bloody and way too close quarters for comfort - something to be foreseen and avoided if at all possible. That was a lesson I learned some 30 years ago, and I haven't been involved in violence since.

I don't know if you get over to Digby's place much. But take the time today to read The American Theocracy Movement by tristero. His thesis is that those of us on the left/who are non-dominionists fail to grasp the real level of the threat presented by the christianist movement. Here's a good passage:

The notion that America was founded by christianists is now so widespread that scholars have been working overtime churning out books to remind this country that there is absolutely no truth to the meme. The war against fucking continues unabated, with serious people actually debating the utility of abstinence-only sex education and the "ineffectiveness" of condoms. The assault on embryonic stem-cell research is a national disgrace. And most important of all, the meta-myth of christianism - that a good leader should not listen to reason but to his heart - is so much the norm in America's concept of politics that very few dare question it in public.

Jim Downey's picture

Under 30? Unmarried? The gov. says you should stop having sex.

Via Pandagon comes this USA Today news item on how the Department of Health and Human Services is expanding it's "abstinence only" education efforts to now include 19 to 29 year olds. From the article, citing Wade Horn, an assistant Sec. at DHHS:

"The message is 'It's better to wait until you're married to bear or father children,' " Horn said. "The only 100% effective way of getting there is abstinence."

Yeah, that's gonna work. Now these idiots are extending their fundie-based belief in sex outside of marriage being bad to more than just kids in schools who have to listen to their crap.


Brent Rasmussen's picture

Foxhole Atheist Philip Paulson Dead At 59

He fought the good fight. His case was solid and his theocratic opponents finally had to use the full power of the current federal government to force the issue out of local San Deigo jurisdiction by using a shady legal loophole. I am proud to have been his fellow foxhole atheist, and my sincerest sympathies go out to his friends and family.

He will be missed and remembered.

[link] Philip Kevin Paulson, who fought a 17-year legal battle to remove the Mount Soledad cross from public property, died Wednesday of liver cancer. He was 59.

Paulson, a 6-foot-5 Vietnam veteran who lived in City Heights, became so passionate about the separation of church and state that he filed a civil lawsuit against the city of San Diego in 1989 without an attorney. He won the case, and as the appeals dragged on he became one of the county's most reviled and respected characters.

During interviews with The San Diego Union-Tribune in September and October, a few months after doctors told him he did not have long to live, Paulson said he was unconcerned about death and proud of the stand that defined his life.

“The real message is equal treatment under the law, and religious neutrality. That's the purpose of why I did it,” said Paulson, who turned away from religion early in life. “It has nothing to do with me being an atheist or whether I was a Bible-thumping fundamentalist Baptist preacher.”

Jim Downey's picture

Well, perhaps that explains it...

So, according to Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld's excellent leadership is inspired by God.

According to a news report from AFP on Yahoo News, Pace said at a ceremony at the Southern Command in Miami that Rumsfeld "leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country".

Charming. So not only do we have a President who acts on the voices in his head, but now the civilian in charge of the military makes decisions about our defense on the same basis. And the top general in the military thinks that this is a good thing.

No wonder we're in such a world of hurt with the debacle in Iraq. It's one thing for a soldier to think that God is gonna take care of him/her in the middle of a war. It is another thing altogether for the military to be making strategic and tactical decisions based on faith, or being so unquestioning of the leadership that they do not challenge bad policy because that leadership has been imbued with the infallibility of Sky Daddy's touch.

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The Miracle Pill

Sometimes theistic apologists go to great lengths to rationalize their belief in an imaginary magical man in the sky who poofed us all into existence with magic.

One of the silliest arguments that I read and hear all the time is the argument that while science is all well and good for, you know, those unimportant material things like kitchen appliances, automobiles, spaceships, and life saving medical pharmacology, the really important immaterial things, like "God" and "why are we here", can only be answered by religion - specifically, the apologist's own personal religion.

The Rev. Dan Marler, pastor at the First Church of God in Oak Lawn, IL, writes an opinion column today in the Daily Southtown and asks the question, "Are faith and science enemies?"

More below the fold...

Jim Downey's picture

"The fourth part of the trinity."

I'm almost comforted by the idea that the Bush administration is as cynical and manipulative as I've always thought of them. Almost.

In case you haven't been following the latest news and rants from the right, David Kuo, formerly the deputy director of the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, has a new book out. A book that is a tell-all of how the pols in the Bush administration sought to use the Religious Right to bolster their power in Congress, all the while mocking the leaders of the Religious Right.

Last night there was a segment on 60 Minutes in which Kuo elaborated on this betrayal of his compassionate conservatism. You can find the transcript and video here.

Anyway, as I said, I almost find it comforting that the Bush administration was perfectly willing to use the Religious Right to advance their own agenda, in a way that Kuo describes as the melding of God and political power, calling politics "...the fourth part of the trinity." In some ways, it is better to know that the White House is in the hands of someone capable of such cynicism rather than in the hands of someone who actually believes all the crap they've said.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Ugly Stereotypes

We've all heard the stereotypes that are thrown about so callously. Jews are rich. Black men have unusually large coupling gear. Gay men swish when they walk and lisp when they talk. Rednecks are stupid. Asians are smart. Women are bad drivers. All men think about is sex.

Atheists are evil.

Nowadays, most journalists and news organizations conscientiously avoid perpetuating stereotypes like the ones listed above because they are not generally true and can be incredibly bigoted and hurtful to the people targeted with their broad brush. They avoid it - except for the last one.

Atheists have become the new whipping boy of choice here in America. We have supplanted the dreaded "liberal" in the minds of a conservative majority as domestic enemy number one, ranking somewhere below middle-eastern terrorists in the "people I wouldn't want my daughter or son to marry" list.

Incredibly vile, bigoted, hurtful statements are thrown around about what atheists do or don't do, how they live their lives (amorally), how they "hate god", and how they are just plain Evil with a capital "E".

Of course, the fact that none of this is true in the general sense does not seem to make much of a difference to the people continuing these types of harmful stereotypes. Individual atheists may or may not be evil, or immoral, just like individual theists can be evil or immoral. Atheism and theism does not indicate any of those characteristics in any way, shape, or form. The words simply indicate the presence or absence of god-belief in a human being - and nothing else. To say that "atheists kicked God out of school," is just as silly and just as bigoted as saying "Jews killed Christ", and for exactly the same reasons.

Atheists are the last minority group in America that it is OK, and even encouraged, to discriminate against.

Take for example the Republican Party of Texas. They recently called Ben Franks, the Democratic nominee for a seat on the 6th Court Of Appeals a "professed atheist".

[] The Austin-based Republican Party of Texas played the religion card in a Sept. 21 online newsletter. As alleged in the newsletter, Texarkana solo E. Ben Franks, Democratic nominee for a seat on the 6th Court of Appeals, "is reported to be a professed atheist" and apparently believes the Bible is a "collection of myths.'"

Jebus. Replace "atheist" with "communist" and it feels a whole lot like McCarthy Red Baiting back in the 50s. The sad part is that this strategy will probably work.

The Dickson Herald, a small newspaper serving Dikson County, Tennessee, writes a story about a Russian judge who visited Dickson County recently. The headline for the story which was reported as actual news?

"Russian judge shows compassion after God enters her life"

She never, ever showed compassion before she started hearing voices in her head? Not once? I find that very difficult to believe. Sounds like tabloid sensationalism to me.

[link] Before God came into her heart, Chief Justice Gulnara Belenkaya was a diehard communist atheist.

But, she said God began speaking to her after a serious car accident and how she views the people who come before her in court.

Belenkaya, a born-again Christian, recently spent several days in Dickson County talking about her conversion and spoke Monday at the Charlotte Courthouse annex. As the American equivalent of a Circuit Court of Appeals judge, she said prior to her conversion she had always believed the people appearing before her were guilty.

She would sentence them and then go on about her life, never giving a thought to what might happen to them in prison.

But at Monday’s presentation, she told of a man who she had sentenced for killing someone and after her conversion, of how she went to his cell to pray with him and tell him that God loved him.

Let me tell you something - if she was a heartless, cruel bitch before she went insane and started hearing voices in her head and praying with convicted murderers, then it wasn't because of her "atheism" - it was because she was a heartless, cruel bitch. Now she's a crazy heartless cruel bitch who mixes church and state all together and piously preaches from the bench. Yep, that's sure better than an objective, logical secular judge who can fairly look at all sides of a case and render a fair sentence in accordance with the law.

"The Devil made me do it" doesn't fly with me. Take some responsibility for yourself for a change, Chief Justice Belenkaya. Quit blaming your own mistakes on imaginary friends.

If we don't get a handle on this discrimination against atheists by good old regular Joe and Jane American, we could very well be heading into a period of "Godless Baiting". And with the suspension of habeas corpus, and the inability of people to recover court costs on First Amendment violation cases, are "Atheist Internment Camps" complete with "re-training" techniques like waterboarding far behind?

Yeah, I know. Probably not. Am I paranoid? You bet I'm paranoid. I'm not an idiot and I can see the way the wind is blowing. I just don't want to be caught sleeping when the other shoe drops.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The Official God Of Lexington

In Lexington, Pennsylvania a middle school student brought a razor blade to school. The girl was a "cutter". Her fellow students let school authorities know about the blade and it was taken away. The girl was counseled, I assume. In another school, a high school in Lexington this time, two girls got in a fight and one of them was cut in the neck by a razor blade.

This prompted the city of Lexington to hold a town forum to address the problem of violence in schools. Speaking at the forum was Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts. Sheriff Metts is an elected county official, and his comments carry the imprimatur of the government. You'd think that he would keep his wacky personal religious beliefs out of his official remarks, you know, due to it being unconstitutional and all.

You'd be wrong.

[link] “We know that it’s a realistic problem, and we know it’s going to continue to operate until we do one thing, and that’s get God back in our schools,” Metts said. “The Supreme Court did us all an injustice when they ruled against prayer in our schools.”

Many in the audience responded by shouting, “Amen!” Some suggested a church sponsor each school and provide after-school programs so students won’t face the possibility of being home alone.

This is the problem with the mixing of church and state. As well-intentioned as Sheriff Metts is, this is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to prevent for everyone's benefit. No one cares what Sheriff Metts does in his own personal life, or what god he worships. He can pray to a shrine made of Campbells Soup, for all I care. But when he assumes that his god is the same as everyone else's god, then proposes to place his god into schools that are attended by children from many different faiths or no faith at all, then he has at the very least stepped over a Constitutional line into unconstitutional territory.

Let's be very clear about this. Sheriff Metts wants his god back in our schools. He doesn't want the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Jew, or Hindu family's god back in our schools - wants his own personal god back in schools.

There are secular, religion-neutral ways of dealing with violence in our schools that do not violate the First Amendment. The after-school programs mentioned above are also a good way to handle things. It allows each family to choose where they want their children to go.

The "church sponsorship" of each school is fine, but it should not be an official, government-approved sponsorship, and the goverment should not be involved in any way, shape, or form with choosing the sponsorships.

"God" was never "kicked out of school". What happened was that schools were prevented from mandating that one religion was taught to children who were required to be there - even if they did not happen to be of that particular faith tradition. That was unconstitutional, and it was stopped, as it should have been. The "kicked out of school" rhetoric is an empty, Dominionist-driven political buzzphrase designed to rile up the Christian Right and eventually lead to a Christian Dominionist theocracy in this country. It needs to be pointed out every time it happens.

School violence is indeed a problem - but crushing the First Amendment rights of the public school's religious minorities is NOT the way to address it.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

First they came for the Jews...

My wife and I were at our friend's house this weekend to play cards and relax after a too-busy Saturday. During a break, sitting outside on the patio having some drinks, I was thinking about the bill, the "Military Commissions Act of 2006", approved by the Senate by a vote of 65-34 that would suspend habeas corpus for anyone labeled as, and I quote from the bill, an "unlawful enemy combatant engaged in hostilities or having supported hostilities against the United States".

I looked around at my friends and asked them all out of the blue, "does anyone here know what "habeas corpus" is?" At best I got blank stares. At worse I got chuckles because old Brent was spooling up to say something again. Heh. Ah, well. It was too important to not say. I needed for my friends to understand what was going on.

So, I attempted to explain it. I said, "The concept of 'habeas corpus' means that when you get arrested, the government has to either charge you with a crime, or release you. It was first conceived of in the year 1215 in the document called the 'Magna Carta'. It was the only civil right deemed important enough to be added to the main body of the Constitution by our Founding Fathers." I then went on to explain that our other civil rights were added to the constitution later, in the Bill of Rights. "It has been the foundation of English Common Law, the system that our own system is based on," I continued, "for more than 800 years."

Ack. More blank stares. One of our friends piped up, "Isn't that one of those court things?"

Dammit. This is why we are losing our civil rights. These are ostensibly educated, adult citizens. My friends are funny, good at their jobs, kind to their children and pets, able to drive a car without killing themselves or others, helpful to strangers, able to buy a home...

...and abysmally, sadly, HUGELY ignorant about our country and the Constitution which makes our country even possible.

Let's recap what has happened just in the last two years:

  • Our First Amendment civil rights have been dealt a body blow by the "Public Expression of Religion Act of 2005". This would bar the recovery of attorneys' fees to those who win lawsuits asserting their fundamental constitutional and civil rights in cases brought under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Basically, this means that only filthy rich people could take the government to court and fight for their First Amendment rights because regular folks like us couldn't afford it, and even if we won the case, couldn't recover our costs.
  • Now, the "Military Commissions Act of 2006" tanks the only civil right explicitly spelled out in the main body of the Constitution, habeus corpus, which now can be suspended by our President at any time simply by identifying someone, anyone, as "an enemy combatant".

More below the fold...

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