Texas politico adds “under God” to State’s mandatory Pledge.

They really like to promote their ignorance proudly down in Texas it seems. State Rep. Debbie Riddle successfully introduced a bill that adds the words “one state under God” to the Texas Pledge of Allegiance. A pledge that all school children are require to recite by Texas law:

Students must remember ‘God’ in Texas pledge | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, who sponsored the bill, said it had always bothered her that God was omitted in the state’s pledge.

“Personally, I felt like the Texas pledge had a big old hole in it, and it occurred to me, ‘You know what? We need to fix that,’ ” said Riddle, R-Tomball. “Our Texas pledge is perfectly OK like it is with the exception of acknowledging that just as we are one nation under God, we are one state under God as well.”

By law, students who object to saying the pledge or making the reference to God can bring a written note from home excusing them from participating.

The sad part is that no one will bother to challenge this any time soon and then after 50 years or so you’ll have people who argue that it proves that Texas was founded as a Christian State because it has the words “under God” in its pledge because people are too ignorant to know their own history. Any attempts to change it at that point will have people screaming that it’s not a religious statement and should be kept out of some idiotic sense of tradition. Much like the Pledge of Allegiance today.

And one more crack appears in the Wall of Separation. Which is, of course, exactly the goal of the Debbie Riddles in this world.

The Pillars of Blind Faith

I love my local newspaper, the Mobile Press-Register.  There’s a section of the paper that changes each day, one day it’s the Senior Living section, the next it might be Neighbors section. On Saturdays it becomes the Religion section (because we need to justify the salary of our local Religion editor) and on Sundays, it’s the Insight section.  On every day other than Sunday, the editorials and letters to the editor are found toward the back of Section A – the front page section.  Today, we find this beauty in the letters:

God’s time is infinite

It has been said that science is man’s effort to understand how God runs his business.

God is infinite. He always has been and always will be. Our finite minds find it difficult thinking of God as timeless. To understand God and his religious ways requires faith.

According to creation, God created all things in stages (and the evening “and the morning were the first day,” according to Genesis 1:5).

We are so used to thinking of days as being 24 hours of time. But go back and read the creation account again. We know the Earth’s rotation gives us 24-hour days. Yet, the sun and moon were not placed there until the fourth day.

This truth tells us that the first three days could have been millions of years of time. Remember, God is timeless. He has no beginning or ending. Our limited minds try to compact six days of creation into six 24-hour days.

Think about this, theologians, preachers and Bible teachers. Let us admit we were misled. According to this truth, scientists are justified in expressing time in terms of millions.

W. S.

Saraland

So, once again we find some yokel trying to resolve the whole Science/Religion dilemma.  In this case, W.S. takes the tack of arguing that, since God is infinite, we cannot know how He measures time, so the dilemma is solved by quibbling over the meaning of a day.  According to W.S., we cannot take the meaning of the word “day” in the Book of Genesis to literally mean what we know as an “Earth day”.  One might hear some nerdy SciFi fans rejoice, as the word “hour” is not what we know as an “Earth hour” either. 

So, W.S., if we cannot accept the creation story in the Book of Genesis literally, then what other portions of the bible must also be seen as metaphor or allegory rather than literal truth?  Upon what criteria   do you sift the literal from the metaphorical? 

Ah, there’s the rub. 

There are two grand pillars of blind faith.  The first pillar is an unwavering belief in holy writ.  The second is trust. As in, believers trust that someone will tell them what is literally true and what is metaphor, especially when that first pillar begins to crumble.  That someone is usually a person that claims to be closer to God than the rest of the congregation.  You know, someone with a vested interest in having their interpretation of convoluted biblical minutiae accepted as the real truth.  A truthier truth than that proposed by religious rivals from within and without who claim the same position of privileged understanding of God and his or her mysterious ways.  A better, stronger truth than that supported by direct observation and measurement of physical evidence.  A more comforting truth than those derived from the laws of physics, or mathematical proof, or prior history, or predicted by sound theory building, or by rational and critical thought. 

This second pillar, the appeal to some human authority, is what I believe exposes all religions for the frauds they are.  Beneath the sweet facade of piety we find a dirty mechanism designed for social control.  Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  What then of those to whom countless millions have freely given the power of their absolute trust?  What then of those millions who stumble around as if drunk in a world darkened by a rejection of what their own better senses tell them, all the while believing they are God’s special little angels?

What then?  Well, they’re running the show now, aren’t they? 

John Adams also has a famous saying concerning power: “There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”  If you look at our short US history, you’ll see that we’ve endured our share debacles that arose from misplaced public trust.  The most glaring examples in recent memory run the gamut from McCarthyism, past Eisenhower’s warning about the dangers of the military industrial complex and the ensuing Vietnam war, over the tarnishing of the presidency by both Nixon and Clinton, to the current era of warrantless wiretaps, secret government prisons, a blizzard of presidential signing statements, and a perpetual state of war against “evildoers”.  During the whole time, American faith has not wavered one iota.  During that time, many of our religious leaders have said, “Trust us” and we have forked over billions, because as a people, we tend to believe and trust in the invisible.  In recent years, government has curried favor from religious extremists, granting greater power in exchange for the votes of their faithful, trusting congregations.  As with other manipulative political strategies, this cozying up to the religious right works: power is maintained.  The price of that power, however, may be more than we can pay while retaining the integrity of our federal constitutional republic.

So there we are: we start with a proposal to mend the rift between science and religion by appealing to the supernatural time-perception of an arguably infinitely invisible imaginary being.  What we end up with is the same – an America balancing on the razor thin edge between a rational secular democracy and a powerfully dangerous and irrational theocracy.  Don’t be fooled my friends.  There are some very bad and dangerous people around.  Unfortunately, many of them smile like Ted Haggard, and are in positions of power that they wish to keep.  And they will, with our help, and unwavering trust.

Gallup Survey: Most Republicans Reject Theory Of Evolution

According to CBS News, a recent Gallup Survey shows that 68% of Republicans “Disbelieve Scientific Explanation of Creation”:

A Gallup poll released Monday said that while the country is about evenly split over whether the theory of evolution is true, Republicans disbelieve it by more than 2-to-1.

Republicans saying they don’t believe in evolution outnumbered those who do by 68 percent to 30 percent in the survey. Democrats believe in evolution by 57 percent to 40 percent, as do independents by a 61 percent to 37 percent margin.

As Jon Stewart might say, “Republicans, meet me at camera three”.

OK, Republicans, we understand that you’re devout.  We understand that you love God.  That’s simply beautiful, it really is.  Regardless of that, you have to stop cherry-picking the facts.  Evolution is a fact, just like some of those other facts that are somewhat less controversial, like Heliocentrism.  OK, this is less controversial now.  The church no longer arrests and executes people who believe that the sun is at the center of our solar system because there’s just simply such an abundance, a cornucopia if you will, of observational evidence,  that no rational person would claim otherwise.

The same is true for the facts of evolution: That species emerge and change over very long periods of time.  That some species that used to exist, no longer exist.  Further, it is a fact that humans appeared relatively recently in the history of our world.

The facts are irrefutable.  They are written in the very bedrock of our planet.  They are there for everyone to see, everywhere: older species in strata below newer species.  Never an exception.  No human jawbones have ever been found in a Tyrannosaurus nest. No dinosaurs after 65 million years ago. No Australopithecenes after about 2 million years ago.  No homo sapiens before about 500,000 years ago. None.  Anywhere.

Now, while you can certainly take a religious position on the explanation of evolution, you cannot take a religious position on the existence of evolution.  In other words, you can certainly disagree with the leading scientific Theory of Evolution, which explains how such facts as we observe everywhere in the world came to be (and does so quite nicely, thank you very much), but you can only disagree with the facts of Evolution to the same extent that you can disagree with the fact that the sun is at the center of the solar system, or that Pasteurization helps preserve foods, or that DNA codes genetic information for all species on earth.

We need to remember that, as Stephen Jay Gould said, there’s a difference between a fact and a theory, and Evolution is both:

Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.

If you’re planning on rejecting the Theory of Evolution, you know, the scientific mechanism that Darwin proposed almost a century and a half ago, you have to follow the rules.  The rules are simple.  Come up with a better explanation for the Fact of Evolution.  Just make sure it doesn’t require anything beyond what we can expect from our normal, natural, very nonmagical world.

Crossposted from Smugbaldy.com

Asshat Laura Mallory loses case to ban Harry Potter…

… but she’s not done with her fight yet:

Laura Mallory, who argued the popular fiction series is an attempt to indoctrinate children in witchcraft, said she still wants the best-selling books removed and may take her case to federal court.

“I maybe need a whole new case from the ground up,” Mallory said. The woman, who said two of her four children attend public schools in the county, was not represented by an attorney at the hearing.

The ruling by Superior Judge Ronnie Batchelor upheld a decision by the Georgia Board of Education, which had supported local school officials.

You may remember Ms. Mallory from an entry I wrote about her last year in which she tried to use school shootings to justify banning Harry Potter books and reintroduce the Bible into schools.

During her day in court she tried a new tack to try and convince the judge that Harry had to go. WARNING: Your sense of irony may be over exerted from reading the next two paragraphs:

At Tuesday’s hearing, Mallory argued in part that witchcraft is a religion practiced by some people and, therefore, the books should be banned because reading them in school violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

“I have a dream that God will be welcomed back in our schools again,” Mallory said. “I think we need him.”

OK, got that? She’s all for the separation of church and state when it would keep Harry out, but she’s hoping to get God back in presumably by bringing back compulsory Bible readings as she’s advocated in the past.

Personally I’d be happy to see Ms. Mallory attempt a federal lawsuit so she can waste more time and money being slapped down one more time. Perhaps she’ll take her case all the way to the Supreme Court for the ultimate smack down. Some people just seem to need to learn things the hard way…

eSkeptic Finds Anti-Science Agenda At Creationist Museum

In today’s issue of the eSkeptic, Stephen Asma reviews New Creation Museum that recently opened in Kentucky.  If you recall, I wrote a bit about this museum a while back, and at the time I thought that the most interesting thing would be how they managed to deal with dinosaurs.

It turns out that explaining how dinosaurs might have thrived in an alternate universe populated with magical arks that floated safely over the world-wide-wet with the rest of the animal kingdom involves a degree of mental gymnastics that would make any self-respecting schizophrenic cringe at its implausibility.  According to Ken A. Ham, the director of the new Creation Museum in Kentucky:

“We don’t know for sure, but from a biblical perspective we know that all animals were originally herbivores.” (Carnivore activity only happens as a result of the Fall — animals did not experience death before Adam’s sin.) “So it is possible that carnivores [including carnivorous dinosaurs] ate plants and grains while they lived on the ark. Even today we know that grizzly bears eat grass and vegetation primarily, so it’s not true that an animal with sharp teeth and claws must eat meat or must be a carnivore. At the very least, the carnivores could survive on vegetation for a significant time span.”

Um … sure.  Let’s not even start with how idiotic that is from a scientific perspective.  It doesn’t even make good sense from a biblical perspective.  Apparently, they want us to believe that about 4500 years ago, Noah was not only able to get two of every kind of animal on the ark, but that the menagerie also included dinosaurs.  On top of that, all the carnivores ate sticks and berries because they weren’t yet carnivores.  In my bible this detail of the time line is pretty clear:  The fall of man came before Noah.  So if the fall precipitated the conversion of all carnivores from a blissful life of veganism, then it clearly occurred prior to the mythic flood.

Aside from such foolishness, Professor Asma detects a recurring theme at the museum:  That sciences like geology and evolution that favor an “old-earth” worldview make the average person feel small and insignificant, which naturally results in all the social ills that we see today.

It’s one thing to be ignorant of science.  It’s quite another to look at scientific evidence and the scientific method and claim that they’re evil.  If you’re a blind-faither, however, evil is what other people do. 

If you ask me, I think it’s likely that this well-funded museum will get get a decent amount of press, and that people large and small will marvel at how nice the dinosaurs were before we started all that thinking for ourselves crap.

While there’s no report on this, I hope there’s carrousel music playing in the background of this museum.  Stupid people need something with which to fill their empty little heads.

 

First Freedom First.

I’ve been meaning to write up something about the folks over at First Freedom First for some time now as I’ve been on their mailing list for awhile and I think it’s worthy of mention, but, as with a lot of things, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Then I came across the following video clip over at Boulder Dude’s blog and I realized I could let them speak for themselves:

This weekend they’re having a Blog Against Theocracy event that I may try to participate in if I can think of anything to write about it.

Supreme Court lets ruling stand in Maine school voucher case.

Now for a bit of good news. The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the Separation of Church and State in Maine by not taking up a court case filed by the “Institute for Justice” over whether or not school vouchers could be used for religious schools. A lower court had ruled that using vouchers for religious schools would be a violation of the Establishment Clause and the Supreme Court let that ruling stand:

School districts in 145 small towns in Maine that have no high schools currently offer tuition for 17,000 students to attend high schools of their choice, public or private, in-state or out-of-state. But religious schools are no longer on the list. Maine’s school system dates back to 1879.

In 1980, the state attorney general said the program violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause. The Maine Legislature made it law in 1983.

Last April, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that restrictions on tuition vouchers are a valid, constitutional enactment. The court said the state attorney general and the legislature were motivated by a desire to respect and comply with the Constitution rather than any religious hostility.

Dick Komer, the senior litigation attorney for the Institute for Justice, said Maine is engaging in blatant government discrimination against parents who choose religious schools and that it is “appalling that the nation’s highest court” lets it continue.

Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Government funded religious discrimination courtesy of President Bush.

Way back in September of 2002 I wrote an entry in which I bitched about President Bush doing an end-run around Congress to enact his “faith based” initiatives that would gut several important protections of the Wall of Separation and allow religious organizations to receive taxpayer money without all those pesky strings that required them to not discriminate in hiring.

It’s been almost four years since then and what’s the end result? Pretty much what you would expect:

In 2005 alone, more than $2-billion in federal tax money went to faith-based programs for such services as job placement programs, addiction treatment and child mentoring. Overwhelmingly, this money went to groups affiliated with Christian religions.

This reallocation of social service money from secular agencies to religiously affiliated programs has also resulted in shifting employment opportunities. But some of these new employers have a shocking job requirement – only Christians need apply.

Goldberg cited the publicly funded Firm Foundation of Bradford, Pa., as a blatant example. The group provides prison inmates with job training, something one would think any trained professional could do. Well, think again. According to Goldberg, the group posted an ad for a site manager. It said that the applicant must be “a believer in Christ and Christian Life today, sharing these ideals when the opportunity arises.” Apparently, experience and qualifications are secondary.

Transforming social welfare into conversion therapy was Bush’s design when he made faith-based initiatives the priority of his administration’s domestic agenda. And his success has been astounding.

I’ll say it has. To date no legislation from Congress authorizing the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has ever been passed despite continued attempts by the Republicans to get it pushed through after Bush had issued his Executive Order and yet almost no one in Congress has ever bothered to challenge the Administration over it. As you can imagine as soon as the restrictions against discrimination in hiring were removed a number of organizations decided it was time to purge themselves of the non-Christians in their ranks:

In Lown’s experience, the Salvation Army had always in the past been meticulous about keeping its evangelical side from mingling with its provision of social services, but all that changed in 2003. She attributes the change directly to Bush’s policies. A lawsuit filed by Lown and another 17 current and former employees of the Salvation Army alleges that religion suddenly pervaded the agency’s personnel decisions.

Lown says she was handed a form that all employees were expected to complete, asking for list of churches she attended over the last 10 years and the name of her present minister. Lown says she was told that indicating “not applicable” was not an option. A lawyer for the Salvation Army says the form was modified after complaints were received.

Margaret Geissman, who is also part of the lawsuit, claims that she was asked by a supervisor to point out gay and non-Christian employees, with the overt suggestion that there would eventually be a purge of sorts. The Salvation Army denies this.

Despite the Salvation Army’s disclaimers, Goldberg cites an internal Salvation Army document describing a deal struck in 2001 with the White House. In exchange for the administration passing regulations protecting faith-based groups from state and local antidiscrimination regulations relative to gays, the Salvation Army agreed to promote the administration’s faith-based agenda.

Despite the yanking of the antidiscrimination requirements the OFBCI does still have a requirement that FBOs “may not use direct government funds to support inherently religious activities such as prayer, worship, religious instruction, or proselytization”, but a June 2006 report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) says that no one’s really watching to see if the groups are complying with this law:

“While there weren’t any surprises, and it was blandly worded, nevertheless the GAO report was quite an indictment of President Bush’s faith-based initiative,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, told Media Transparency in a telephone interview. “After two readings, I couldn’t find any summary of what they thought the safeguards should be. It left me wondering whether the administration has any safeguards in place.

“It also left me questioning how the government was monitoring the grants they’ve given,” Gaylor said. “After all, there is no indication in the report that anyone is doing site visits and following up on the grants.”

“While I hope it will motivate changes by the administration, I don’t think the report with fundamentally change the Bush Administration’s approach,” said Gaylor, whose organization has been one of several in the forefront of challenging the initiative in the courts. “It is difficult to imagine the faith-based initiative being challenged if so many Democrats support it in one way or another.”

“I hope other members of Congress, in addition to Rep. Stark and Rep. Miller, wake up and realize that the several billion dollars given to religious organizations is going down the drain, while at the same time, the wall of separation between church and state is being eroded.”

As that article at Media Transparency points out, though, the OFBCI isn’t going away anytime soon:

Despite the GAO’s critical report and recent court rulings against religious groups misusing government funds, the president’s faith based initiative is here to stay, at least in the short term. And while there has been not yet been congressional action on a comprehensive faith based bill, riders exempting religious organizations from civil rights laws have been tucked into several bills. Meanwhile, there have been congressional moves to fully institutionalize the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Consider the faith based initiative a permanent part of the political landscape.

The best critics can hope for is that strict standards regarding the use of government money by religious organizations is adhered to, an effective monitoring system – including audits and on-site visits – is established, and that watchdog groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State continue to keep their eyes on discriminatory practices by religious organizations.

All of this just makes me glad I decided to make Americans United for Separation of Church and State my choice during the recent Blogathon.

Couple of good (if infuriating) articles on AlterNet.org today.

Been doing a little catch up reading on AlterNet today and came across two articles worthy of pointing out. The first is Three Ways (Out of 100) That America’s Screwing Up the World by John Tirman which excerpts three sub-chapters from his book 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World, natch. Here’s a small sample:

1. “We Don’t Do Body Counts”

When U.S. General Tommy Franks uttered those words in 2003, he was conveying the new sentiments of the American military and its civilian leadership, that counting the dead of “the enemy” was not necessary or useful. Franks, who may be remembered as the only general in the annals of American history to lose two wars, was simply repeating what his political handlers told him to say, as all active duty generals do. In this case, it was an attempt to deflect the moral consequences of a “war of choice,” a lesson Frank’s generation learned from Vietnam. But the “no body counts” policy reverberates around the Arab and Muslim world, to America’s detriment.

The policy is an insult and a mistake for two reasons. First, it lends the impression—or is it a fact?—that the United States does not care about civilian casualties. In the autumn of 2005, in a fairly typical sequence, the military announced that a sweep of Anbar province in Iraq had resulted in the death of 120 “terrorists.” No civilian casualties were reported by the U.S. government, or by the American press. Al Jazeera, the Arabic news organization, had firsthand accounts of dozens of casualties. And it is inconceivable that major military operations of that kind would not result in casualties of the innocent. This is an embittering legacy of the war: not merely the fact of large numbers of war dead, but the neglect of even acknowledging that this could be occurring or is important enough to investigate.

The other two screwups listed are the War on Drugs (“The one remedy that has not been tried, of course, is legalization.”) and Torture (“The torture, the illegal detentions, the unnecessary killings, the grisly prisons—not a single benefit has been shown from this tawdriness and moral depravity.”). Good stuff and a book I’ll have to add to my collection.

The other article of note is Public Stoning: Not Just for the Taliban Anymore by John Sugg on the growing threat posed by Christian reconstructionists such as Herb Titus and Gary North:

“I don’t want to capture their [mainstream Americans’] system. I want to replace it,” fumed North to a cheering audience. North has called for the stoning of gays and nonbelievers (rocks are cheap and plentiful, he has observed). Both friends and foes label him “Scary Gary.”

Are we in danger of an American Taliban? Probably not today. But Alabama’s “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore is aligned with this congregation, and one-third of Alabama Republicans who voted in the June primary supported him. When you see the South Dakota legislature outlaw abortions, the Reconstructionist agenda is at work. The movement’s greatest success is in Christian home schooling, where many, if not most, of the textbooks are Reconstructionist-authored tomes.

These people are out to make America into a Theocracy and they’re not even pretending to hide that fact. Anyone with even a moderate concern over the eroding of the Wall of Separation would do well to keep an eye on these folks and speak out against them and their policies.

Congratulations, Kansas!

It turns out that my native state is not a complete embarrassment after all. In the primary elections for the state Board of Education, two pro-science candidates picked up seats to join a third, retained pro-science seat. From Ed Brayton’s Dispatches From the Culture Wars:

It’s pretty much settled now. We picked up two seats (Cauble and Shaver) and retained a third (Waugh). That is enough to shift the power back in favor of science and against ID, 6-4. An absolutely huge victory, especially given how much money and effort the DI, IDNet and others put into their candidates. Congratulations, Kansas, and welcome back to the reality-based community.

Sure, it’s only a primary election, and the actual election is yet to come in November, but this is a wonderful sign nonetheless. A native Kansan girl can hope, can’t she?