It’s beginning to look a lot like a Satanic Christmas in Michigan.

Here’s a prime example of the old maxim “be careful what you wish for” from my home state.

whycelebratechristmasFor reasons I’ve never been able to understand, Christians are always trying to get their religious displays on Government property around this time of year. They claim it’s not because they’re trying to foist their religion on everyone else or to imply that the Government favors their particular religion and everyone knows they’re lying and that’s totally what they want.

They have a problem, however, with that damned pesky Constitution amendment saying that the government is supposed to be neutral about religion resulting in various court rulings over the years that have basically said: Sure, you can put your nativity scene on the lawn of your state capitol/courthouse/city hall/other random government building so long as you allow other religions to offer up displays if they want to. To their great luck for many, many years the only other group that would ask were the Jews so they could slap up a menorah and pretend they were complying with the law. Hell, half the time they’d slap one up even if the Jews didn’t ask because they thought it was fooling everyone into thinking they were being all diverse and shit.

Recently, however, there’s been an increasing tendency for people with other, yucky, religions — or, GASP, no religion at all — of asking to put up their own displays alongside the Christian ones. Needless to say this has caused all manner of hand wringing with some state and local governments deciding they should probably get out of the whole religious display business and banning them from government property (as they should). This came to a head this year as The Satanic Temple has been particularly active in getting permission for displays in Oklahoma (since put on hold due to the destruction of the Christian Ten Commandments display it was meant to offset) and in Florida’s Capitol holiday display.

Here in Michigan we’ve been stuck under a Republican led state congress (both houses) and governorship for several years now thanks to the gerrymandering they managed to get in place during the last census. They like to think they’re pretty smart for having pulled that off so they put their thinking caps on and tried to come up with a way to allow a nativity scene in our capitol while keeping those other, yucky, religions out. What they came up with was a new requirement of no permanent displays. More specifically, any display you put up in the Michigan State Capitol has to be torn down at the end of the day and then put back up the next morning. Surely a rule this tedious would keep out all but the most devout Christians, right?

Satanic holiday display is coming to Capitol

The display, which depicts a snake wrapped around the Satanic cross presenting a book as a holiday gift, will be featured on the northeast lawn at the Capitol Dec. 21 to 23, said Jex Blackmore, a member of the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple. The cross reads, “The greatest gift is knowledge.”

“Encouraging families to have important discussions and to learn from each other and to spend the holidays promoting knowledge … is just something we think is important,” Blackmore, whose phone number begins with the digits 666, said today.

[…] Blackmore said her group requested the display after the Capitol Commission last month received a request for a Christian Nativity to be displayed at the Capitol. With lame-duck lawmakers debating a controversial religious freedom bill, Blackmore said the Satanist display “provides some poignant commentary about the diversity of beliefs represented by Michigan citizens.”

Oops. The folks at the Detroit chapter of The Satanic Temple have someone who is more than willing to comply by the rule of putting it up in the morning and taking it down at night and repeating the process the next day.

Here's what it will look like.

Here’s what it will look like. What a horrible message to convey! They want you to be smart!

That’s not the best part of this story, though. This is:

The Nativity, meanwhile, has been scrapped. Truscott said today the Nativity was approved but the out-of-state person backing it couldn’t find someone to put up and tear down the display each day. That’s necessary because Capitol rules forbid permanent displays.

Truscott said the person behind the Nativity, who hasn’t been named, is still trying to find someone to manage the display.

Cue the outrage from the government flunky who had to approve it:

John Truscott, a member of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, which approved the display, said the commission had to OK it because members were “constrained by the Constitution” and must “recognize everybody’s First Amendment rights.”

But Truscott added, “Personally, I think this is absolutely repulsive and I’m very frustrated by it. I don’t appreciate a group trying to hijack a Christian holiday.”

Fuck you, John Truscott. I don’t appreciate Christians trying to hijack my government to promote themselves. Don’t want a Satanic holiday display at the capitol? Then don’t allow any religious displays at the fucking capitol. It’s really very simple. If you allow one then you have to allow them all and if your prefered group is too fucking lazy to follow the rules you put in place to try and prevent others from participating, well, that’s their fucking problem. Besides, it’s not like the Christians didn’t hijack this holiday from the Pagans to begin with.

Here’s the cherry on top of this cake. Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist reached out to The Satanic Temple spokesperson about this news story and got the following awesome comment from them:

When Jex first reached out to the Capitol Commission to learn how she could submit our display, she refrained from mentioning that she is a representative of the dreaded Satanic Temple.

Jex was told at that time that the new requirement for holiday displays (that they be taken down each evening and replaced again in the morning) was a result of trying to deter “that group from Florida” — clearly a reference to The Satanic Temple — winning the right to exhibit our holiday display in the Florida Capitol Rotunda.

That’s right. The rule that makes this delicious bit of schadenfreude possible was specifically meant to keep The Satanic Temple out of the Michigan capitol. It’s a mistake to assume your followers are less lazy than any other religion’s followers.

I’m guessing that as this story goes viral the out-of-state asshole who wants to put a nativity at the state capitol will find someone willing to put it up and take it down every day if for no other reason than to ensure the Satanic display isn’t the only one there. Christians get mad when they have to share with other religions as it is. They sure as hell aren’t going to sit by and let some other group, especially Satanists, have the spotlight to themselves. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the rules change again next year.

On prayer in school.

prayerinschool

If you really think we need school-led prayer, then consider the fact that to be legal it would require your kids to participate in prayers by any religion that wishes to be included. Imagine your kids reciting a Islamic or a Hindu prayer. How about a Wiccan spell, which is like prayer in many ways. Shinto prayers can be interesting and, if pressed, I’m sure even us Atheists could come up with something in the way of a Secular Invocation. Would you have a problem with your kids being required to participate in any of those things? If so then shut the fuck up about schools not being allowed to lead kids in your Christian prayers.

A young atheist looks for input on a proselytizing teacher.

ifyouarentevangelizingyouarentsuccessful1I received this email the other day and thought I’d share it with you. I’ve already sent off my reply, but I offered to post an anonymized version of it if he wanted to hear what others might have to say. He agreed so here it is:

 Hi Les, if you’re reading this, I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to do so. I’m sure you get hundreds of emails every day from fans and freaks alike, so I wouldn’t blame you if you happened to not read some of them.

Anyway, my purpose in writing to you is to share with you a ridiculous religious speech that I was forced to endure in my high school history class. The way my teacher runs the class, there isn’t much actual teaching done on her part (she doesn’t even know most of the material herself) but last week she decided to share some of her “knowledge” with us.

I’m not sure how it actually started, but she got my immediate attention when she said that “Numerous people throughout history have tried to prove the contents of the bible wrong, but always ended up failing or proving it correct and then becoming Christians”. She then continued to say that the bible was a largely important and accurate historical reference and that basically it’s infallible. She said that the reason that the bible has been censored and edited by rulers throughout history was because they were making it closer to the “original” which according to her, was written by the apostles not long after the death of Jesus. Which is obviously completely false. She also stated that there are many examples of contemporary people writing about Jesus when he was alive and that it was “clearly” documented by Pontius Pilate himself. Another false statement.

This entire thing just really got on my nerves, not only because she is supposed to be a teacher (and therefore separating church from state) but because the bullshit that she was telling us was actually believed by my ignorant classmates. I was just wondering what your take on this was.

I don’t know many atheists at my school, I live in the bible belt – so I decided to come talk to you about it because after reading your blog, I’ve realized that our views on most subjects are basically identical and I think you’re a cool guy.

So, what’s your guy’s take on this? What, if anything, do you think our young friend should do about the situation?

Porky Pig recites the Pledge of Allegiance minus “under God.”

There’s something missing in this recital of the Pledge of Allegiance by Porky Pig:

Now that’s a pledge I can support and one I think we should go back to. Or, even better, I think we should use the version Francis Bellamy wanted which included the word Equality alongside Liberty and Justice.

As it stands now, I won’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it doesn’t include me.

Found over at Friendly Atheist who notes that yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the addition of the words “under God” to the Pledge.

Pennsylvania town bans holiday displays after atheists ask to participate.

Talk about taking your ball and going home. Rather than allow an atheist group to erect a secular statement honoring atheist soldiers next to a Nativity scene that they had allowed for years, the Chambersburg borough council decided to ban all town-square displays:

Earlier this month, PAN Capital Area director Carl Silverman of Camp Hill wrote the borough a letter stating its intention to erect the sign. While the group believed it did not need the borough’s permission because the creche required none, it was submitting a proposed design in “the spirit of cooperation,” the letter said.

“We didn’t want to take Jesus out of the public square,” Silverman said. “We want to put atheism in the public square.”

Bill McLaughlin, president of Chambersburg’s borough council, said that after discussion with the borough’s solicitor, two practical options emerged — it could either allow everything or allow nothing to be displayed on the fountain. Council chose to allow nothing, he said.

At least they’re smart enough to know that it’s an all-or-nothing situation, unlike many small towns that think they can be selective in who they allow to put up displays on public land, and they’re not hiding their biases and prejudices in any way either:

McLaughlin said he took PAN’s letter as “a demand, with an implied threat of legal action.”

“The down side of ‘everything’ is it means everything,” McLaughlin said. “It would mean this group, and groups that are much more odious.” That was something, he said, council could not live with.

A letter submitted in “the spirit of cooperation” is considered an implied threat? That’s a new one. Still it’s refreshing to see that he doesn’t consider the atheists to be the worst of the possibilities.

So just what was on the atheist’s sign that was so terrible that the council could not live with it? Actually, not all that much:

The sign, which he said has not yet been made, would have had a picture of a sun rising over the words “Celebrating Solstice. Honoring Atheist War Veterans.” The sun would have had an italicized “A” in the middle.

Wow, that’s just horrible!

The response from the True Believers™ has, of course, been nothing but positive and supportive as they always are. Yeah, right:

Robert wrote:
May “GOD” send you and your organization straight to “HELL”!!! I’am a true believer and when an parasitic organism like yours starts ruin the wonderful Christmas holiday season for everyone. May you all drop DEAD MAGGOTS!!!

William wrote:
You people are fucking nuts. You want to advertise NOTHING. Do we really need signs that say believe nothing. Funny how I am a Jew and yet a nativity scene has NEVER affected my life. Guess what? It never will because I am not a fucking loser like you. I hope one day you happen to walk on my posted property.

mike wrote:
Thanks for screwing up our town, Chambersburg. I was in war and I know for a fact that there are no Atheists in war. If you dispute that then feel free to go to war and find out for your self, I know a great front line position just waiting on people like you. I am looking forward to seeing you in hell while we sit in heaven looking down on you Atheists

No one seems to realize that the folks at PAN didn’t win anything at all. They weren’t out to have the creche removed. They just wanted to be able to participate in the display, which they have every right to do. It was the council that decided to ban all displays if they couldn’t legally restrict it to just the one they wanted. It’s an all or nothing situation. You either allow everyone to participate or you don’t allow anyone to do so.

At least the True Believers™ have an option open to them:

A solution may be on the horizon. Central Presbyterian Church, on the square across from the fountain, is considering construction of a perch on its property where the Nativity scene could be displayed.

Which is where the damned thing should have been in the first fucking place. Why these Christians feels they should have a right to be the sole display on public property is beyond me. Well, it’s not really beyond me, they think that because they are the majority that gives them the right. As exemplified by this comment:

Lisa Blackstock of Mercersburg is spearheading a demonstration at noon Saturday in Chambersburg’s downtown. She believes the majority of people in the community want the creche to remain. “This is Christ-mas. It’s a no-brainer if you ask me,” Blackstock said. “There’s no way people in Chambersburg should let (PA Nonbelievers) win.”

In other words: We’re the majority and, ignoring how it came about, it’s our holiday so we demand special favor from the government.

Because that’s what Christmas is all about. Lording your superiority over all the lesser world views.

Spencer Iowa school board proposal would put religion back into schools.

It seems the religious nutcases in one town in Iowa want to waste a lot of taxpayer money on the inevitable lawsuits that will come of this:

The school board in Spencer, Iowa is proposing a sweeping policy change. A change that will sanction prayer at graduation exercises and other extra-curricular activities, allow for the distribution of religious materials on school grounds, and allow the employee (e.g. teachers) expression of personal religious beliefs. In addition, the school district wants religion in the curriculum, mandating two classes: “The Bible in History and Literature” and “Critic of Darwinism, a scientific approach”.

The proposal, “Religious Liberty at Spencer Community Schools”, if adopted, paves a road to school-sponsored evangelizing. While it is possible the officials may have good intentions, the actual proposal is a blatant endorsement of Christian beliefs. If school sanctioned prayer and the allowance for distribution of religious materials on school grounds is not enough evidence for religious bias, than mandating two classes, Bible Study and a pseudo-science class challenging evolution, simply fails to pass the smell test. Add to that list “the employee expression of personal religious beliefs” (e.g. How Mr. Brown the Phys. Ed. teacher “got Jesus”) and the proposal becomes a first amendment land mine. Why would any public school policy encourage teachers sharing their religious beliefs with students?

The obvious answer is because they’re trying to promote Christianity as the dominate religion. This is a blatant violation of the Establishment clause and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s challenged in court before it even goes into effect. The only real question will be how much money will be wasted before they give up on this stupid plan.

ADF recruiting Fundies to challenge IRS ban on churches endorsing politicians.

The Fundies are getting worried that they’re losing the Culture War it seems. The Alliance Defense Fund is looking for pastors to challenge the IRS rules against churches endorsing political candidates:

CHICAGO—Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

[…] The battle over the clergy’s privileges, rights and responsibilities in the political world is not new. Politicians of all stripes court the support—explicit or otherwise—of religious leaders. Allegations surface every political season of a preacher crossing the line.

What is different is the Alliance Defense Fund’s direct challenge to the rules that govern tax-exempt organizations. Rather than wait for the IRS to investigate an alleged violation, the organization intends to create dozens of violations and take the U.S. government to court on First Amendment grounds.

“We’re looking for churches that are serious-minded about this, churches that understand both the risks and the benefits,” Stanley said, referring to the chance that they could lose their coveted tax-exempt status or could set a precedent.

Fortunately this challenge isn’t going.. uh… unchallenged:

Yet an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADF’s “Pulpit Initiative” an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state.

Backed by three former top IRS officials, the group also wants the IRS to determine whether the nonprofit ADF is risking its own tax-exempt status by organizing an “inappropriate, unethical and illegal” series of political endorsements.

“As religious leaders, we have grave concerns about the ethical implications of soliciting and organizing churches to violate core principles of our society,” the clergy wrote in an advance copy of their claim obtained by The Washington Post.

[…] Former IRS lawyer Marcus S. Owens, however, opposes the ADF’s strategy and its legal reasoning. Working with the Ohio-based clergy, he contends that the Supreme Court would be unlikely to overturn appellate court rulings on the issue or a related precedent of its own.

Owens also criticizes ADF and its lawyers for “actively advising churches and pastors that they should violate the tax law and offering to explain how to do that. The tax system would be shut down if you allowed attorneys to counsel people on how to violate the tax law.”

Owens, a former director of the IRS office that regulates tax-exempt organizations, will ask the tax agency to investigate ADF lawyers for “this flagrant disregard of the ethical rules.” He is joined by former IRS commissioner Mortimer M. Caplin and Cono R. Namorato, who headed the office of professional responsibility at the IRS until 2006.

The two Ohio pastors, the Rev. Eric Williams and the Rev. Robert F. Molsberry, have called for hundreds of clergy to preach on Sept. 21 about the value of the separation of church and state.

Even given the Conservative bent of the current Supreme Court I’d still be very surprised if they overturned the IRS rules considering the rather large number of court challenges that have failed as well as a precedent setting SCOTUS case in the past. That said perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have them challenge it as they risk their tax-free status in doing so. Personally I think Churches should be stripped of their tax-free status and then they can endorse politicians all they want. Make the tax scale progressive so the biggest churches pay more taxes than the smaller churches and things would be just dandy.

Obama says he will expand Bush’s “Faith-Based” initiatives.

Somehow I had a feeling Obama was too good to be true. There had to be something about him that was eventually going to disappoint me. And now I know what it is:

CHICAGO – Reaching out to religious voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush’s program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support some ability to hire and fire based on faith.

[…] Obama does not support requiring religious tests for recipients of aid nor using federal money to proselytize, according to a campaign fact sheet. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxypayer funded portions of their activities, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy.

I suppose so long as he’s including more than just the Right Wing Nutsacks Evangelicals in handing out government money that’d be at least somewhat of an improvement over Bush’s plan, but I’ll believe it when I see Muslims or, even better, Wiccans getting a grant. The Right Wingers, of course, are going to have a hissy fit when they’re suddenly no longer the only ones sucking on the taxpayer teat. Expanding the program, however, is not the ideal solution:

Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, criticized Obama’s proposed expansion of a program he said has undermined civil rights and civil liberties.

“I am disappointed that any presidential candidate would want to continue a failed policy of the Bush administration,” he said. “It ought to be shut down, not continued.”

Agreed. The government has no business being involved with the funding of religious organizations of any kind. Looks like it will continue to do so, however, even if the Republicans aren’t in control.

Lawsuit already filed over “I Believe” license plates.

One of the stories making the rounds of various atheist blogs recently was about attempts in some southern states to pass legislation for new vanity plates for True Believers™. The plates would have the words “I BELIEVE” with a picture of a cross on a stained glass window. Needless to say, the imagery raises some church/state concerns. South Carolina is the first state to actually pass the legislation to make these plates possible and it’s already resulted in a lawsuit by the folks at Americans United:

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A group that advocates separation of church and state filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to prevent South Carolina from becoming the first state to create “I Believe” license plates.

The group contends that South Carolina’s government is endorsing Christianity by allowing the plates, which would include a cross superimposed on a stained glass window.

You just know the conservative Christians are going to have a field day over this lawsuit claiming it’s us nasty atheists trying to push God out of the public square once again, but as it turns out there’s no atheists involved in the lawsuit:

Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Christian pastors, a humanist pastor and a rabbi in South Carolina, along with the Hindu American Foundation.

Not that that’ll stop them from claiming it’s anti-religious sentiment that’s prompting the lawsuit:

Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell said residents asked for a way to express their beliefs, and legislators responded.

He disputed Lynn’s accusation that they were pandering to constituents in an election year.

“That’s what critics always say when they see something they don’t like,” Harrell said. “I think this has less to do with the First Amendment and more to do with their disdain for religion generally.”

An argument that’s obviously flawed due to the fact that religious leaders are the ones involved in the suit:

But a Methodist pastor who joined the lawsuit, the retired Rev. Thomas Summers of Columbia, said the plate provokes discrimination.

“I think this license plate really is divisive and creates the type of religious discord I’ve devoted my life to healing,” he said.

Another of the ministers, the Rev. Robert Knight of Charleston, said the plates cheapen the Christian message.

“As an evangelical Christian, I don’t think civil religion enhances the Christian religion. It compromises it,” Knight said. “That’s the fundamental irony. It’s very shallow from a Christian standpoint.”

Get ready to cue the gnashing of teeth and whines about us atheists at Wing Nut Daily in 5… 4… 3…

 

H.R. 888 rewrites history to support “Christian Nation” myth.

I was going to write a long rant about House Resolution 888, but vjack over at Atheist Revolution has done such a good job I’m just going to repost his entry here and hope he doesn’t mind:

House Resolution 888, sponsored by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA-4th District), seeks to rewrite American history to include a number of falsehoods perpetuated by Christian extremists. This should be of grave concern to every American atheist as well as anyone who values historical accuracy.

For many specific examples of the misinformation contained in H. Res. 888, see Chris Rodda’s excellent post at Talk To Action. It is long, but it really is a must read. Rodda has done an impressive job of debunking many of the claims contained in the resolution. Plain and simple, this is revisionist history intended to promote the “Christian nation” myth through deception.

For more information about the implications of H. Res. 888, talking points you can use when discussing what is wrong with it, and even a sample letter you can send to your Representative in Congress, see Bruce Wilson’s helpful post at Talk To Action. Contacting your Representative is especially important if he or she happens to be on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. You can find the letter I sent to my Representative here.

And why exactly should you care about any of this revisionist history stuff? Here are a few reasons:

Please join me in helping to spread the word about this one.

Contact your representatives and let them know your stance on this issue. I’m working on my letters as soon as I finish this entry. And if you don’t already have vjack’s blog in your blogroll then add it in. Good stuff.