The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘law’

Creationism in Charter Schools: A Follow-Up

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2014

My most recent post - Texas Charter Schools Teaching Creationism? - outlined news that the charter school network in Texas is using public tax dollars to push religious dogma (specifically, fundamentalist Christianity) in public schools.  That, of course, is a real no-no legally, as outlined in the 1987 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard; it is also a no-no scientifically, as it has been shown, repeatedly and clearly, that creationism is not scientific and therefore shouldn’t be taught as such.

As a follow up to my recent post, I’d like to add on a couple of interesting data points.  The first is an article from Slate.com wherein they outline the fact that this isn’t just a problem in Texas:

Slate charter Creationism Map

Image Source

… A large, publicly funded charter school system in Texas is teaching creationism to its students, Zack Kopplin recently reported in Slate. Creationist teachers don’t even need to be sneaky about it—the Texas state science education standards, as well as recent laws in Louisiana and Tennessee, permit public school teachers to teach “alternatives” to evolution. Meanwhile, in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, taxpayer money is funding creationist private schools through state tuition voucher or scholarship programs. As the map below illustrates, creationism in schools isn’t restricted to schoolhouses in remote villages where the separation of church and state is considered less sacred. If you live in any of these states, there’s a good chance your tax money is helping to convince some hapless students that evolution (the basis of all modern biological science, supported by everything we know about geology, genetics, paleontology, and other fields) is some sort of highly contested scientific hypothesis as credible as “God did it.” …

As I and others have warned previously, because these questions are settled law (and that settled by the Supreme Court) then any school district participating in these shenanigans is likely to run afoul of some very unpleasant lawsuits.  Well, now it appears that shoe is dropping…

Texas Charter School System’s Use Of Creationist Textbooks Violates The Constitution, Americans United Says

Church-State Watchdog Asks Texas Education Agency To Prohibit Responsive Education Solutions’ Use of Anti-Science Materials Or Revoke Its Charter

Jan 30, 2014

The biology curriculum used by a system of taxpayer-supported charter schools in Texas promotes creationism in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a letter today to the Texas Education Agency’s Division of Charter School Administration, Americans United warned officials that Responsive Education Solutions must not be permitted to continue to aggressively undermine the theory of evolution while receiving public funds. Americans United told the agency to either prohibit the use of this curriculum or revoke Responsive Education Solutions’ charter.

“The U.S. Supreme Court said more than 25 years ago that creationism is a religious dogma that cannot be promoted by public schools,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It amazes me that we are still fighting this battle in 2014, yet here we are.” …

Yup, here we are… once again… fighting a battle in the 21st century against those with an outdated and defunct 18th century view of science.

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Satanic Temple Erects Monument at Oklahoma’s Statehouse

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 8, 2013

In the “truth is stranger than fiction” category, there’s this bit of news that I just read: the Satanic Temple plans to put up their own display on the grounds of the Oklahoma Statehouse (which is public property) right next to a display of the Ten Commandments.  And it’s all due to a law pushed through the OK legislature in 2009 by the religious right… message to all the right-wing fundamentalist Christians who wish to force their religious displays on public land: be careful what you wish for… LOL :D

Oklahoma’s 10 Commandments To Get A Sister Memorial … From The Satanic Temple

prayer-in-school

Remember the Satanic Temple, which performed a ritual to turn Fred Phelps’ dead mother gay? They are still at it, now in Oklahoma. The Satanic Temple has filed the papers to put up a memorial on statehouse grounds, next to the state’s display of the 10 Commandments. They are doing this by citing Okla.’s religious displays legislation, signed into law in 2009. And they are absolutely serious about it. …

… Okla., thanks to its argument for religious monuments on public display, now must accept the Satanic Temple and their memorial. The law allows them to put it right next to the 10 Commandments, if they so desire. Next week, who knows, perhaps the Satanic Temple will get the opportunity to name a new public school. It’s not like the state would be hypocrites who would only accept their own narrow religious views in direct violation of the US Constitution after all. Wouldn’t that be something to witness?

Incidentally, my skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist interviewed Lucien Greaves, the Satanic Temple’s spokesman for this issue.  Check out the interview if you’re interested.

I, for one, will be watching this situation with a great deal of interest.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the Oklahoma legislature and governor decided that all of this business about putting religious displays on public land is just too much trouble and banned them all?  It’d be nice if they, you know, actually respected the separation of church and state.

Until such a time as that day comes, however, I shall have quite a lot of fun watching the goings on in OK.

 

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Supreme Court Strikes Down Prop 8 and DOMA, Religious Right Collectively Loses Its Sh*t

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 26, 2013

Well, if you haven’t heard the news, here it is: today the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) struck down the discriminatory Prop 8 law in California outlawing gay marriage and aspects of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denied federal benefits to married same-sex couples.

**Applause!** :)

I applaud because, at it’s heart, these discriminatory laws are purely religiously based; that is, they have been pushed by those who wish to impose their particular religious belief upon the rest of us.  The religious right whack-a-loons want to use their narrow view of religion as the law of the land; in short, they wish to impose a theocracy here in the U.S.

If you have any doubt that the motivations behind these anti-gay laws are not rooted in fundamentalist religion, just look at the reaction of one of the biggest religious right-wing groups out there, the American Family Association, wherein they claim that this decision will lead to God’s judgement/wrath:

And everywhere I’ve looked so far, pretty much every religious right outlet is having the same reaction…

thestupiditburns

Of course, now that the religious bigots have lost in the courts, watch them start to get even crazier in the states. Expect to see different laws proposed placing more restrictions on gay couples getting married, “pro-family” laws, and similar nonsense. In short, the religious right is going to head into meltdown mode over this, but then they will only hasten their own collective demise because as they get ever more extreme and crazy, they will increasingly marginalize themselves from civilized society.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Necessity of Vigilance: Fundamentalists Ignore the Law in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2013

Well, you have to give the religious fundamentalists in this country (the United States) one thing: they are indeed persistent.  In fact, the situation in Texas public schools goes beyond the blatant teaching of creationism (which is a problem), because it extends to these fundamentalists pushing their narrow religious interpretations in public school “Bible classes”…

In Texas schools, failing grade for Bible courses

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the devotional use of the Bible by public schools, in its ruling on Abington Township v. Schempp.

But many school districts in the Lone Star State still haven’t gotten the message, according to a report released last month by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) entitled “Reading, Writing and Religion.”

Conducted by religious studies professor Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University, the study examines elective Bible courses offered in 57 Texas school districts and 3 charter schools and concludes that “evidence of sectarian bias, predominantly favoring perspectives of conservative Protestantism, is widespread.” (The full report is available at http://www.tfn.org/biblecourses.)

In other words, school officials in many parts of Texas convert public schools into Sunday schools in violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. … [emphasis added]

So there you have it.  When these fundamentalists lose in court they just ignore the law and continue with their illegal and unconstitutional proselytizing in public schools.  This shows the necessity of vigilance on the part of those of us who value a secular society which fosters good science education and keeps church and state separate.  So if your child attends a school with these kind of Bible courses, make sure to check up and see that they’re being taught in a constitutionally sound manner.

Posted in creationism, education, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Judge Proposes Cutting Ten Commandments Down to Six

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 10, 2012

For many years now, various fundamentalist Christian groups have been attempting to post the Ten Commandments (which version?  Good question…) in public buildings, using the lame argument that they serve a “secular purpose” as a way of skirting lawsuits for violation of church-state separation.  Well, now those folks have been hoisted by their own pertard :)

Image Source

Cut Ten Commandments down to 6?

Judge Michael Urbanski suggested a possible compromise to the issue that has been raging in the Giles County school system.

By Laurence Hammack 981-3239

Could the Ten Commandments be reduced to six, a federal judge asked Monday.

Would that neutralize the religious overtones of a commandments display that has the Giles County School Board in legal hot water?

That unorthodox suggestion was made by Judge Michael Urbanski during oral arguments over whether the display amounts to a governmental endorsement of religion, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by a student at Narrows High School.

After raising many pointed questions about whether the commandments pass legal muster, the judge referred the case to mediation – with a suggestion:

Remove the first four commandments, which are clearly religious in nature, and leave the remaining six, which make more secular commands, such as do not kill or steal.

Ever since the lawsuit was filed in September amid heated community reaction, school officials have said the display is not religious because it also includes historical documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

“If indeed this issue is not about God, why wouldn’t it make sense for Giles County to say, ‘Let’s go back and just post the bottom six?’” Urbanski asked during a motions hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

“But if it’s really about God, then they wouldn’t be willing to do that.” … [emphasis added]

I think this judge is a genius.  He’s asking the obvious question which clearly shows the motivations of these fundamentalists: to use public institutions to force their religious beliefs upon the rest of us.  Up until this point, the fundamentalists have tried to have it both ways, using the wiggle room argument of a “secular purpose” as a wedge.  But I think that’s the point of what the judge here is saying: to deny them any wiggle room at all. They must either step up and admit flat out that they had (and still do) a religious intent when displaying the Ten Commandments, and thus risk being on the losing end of a costly lawsuit; or they must accept the compromise, and thus risk encurring the wrath of their constituents. This lame attempt on their part to play coy and try coming up with an ad hoc “secular purpose” after the fact won’t fly with this judge.

They only have themselves to blame for getting into this position in the first place. If they bothered to follow the First Amendment Establishment Clause in the beginning, they wouldn’t have this problem; but nooooo, they had to try pushing their religious beliefs.

Quite frankly, they deserve the smackdown coming their way.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Tennessee “Monkey Bill” Becomes Law and Science Education There Backslides

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2012

The National Center for Science Education has reported that the infamous “Monkey bill” in Tennessee has now become law by default, because while Gov. Haslam didn’t sign the bill, his refusal to veto it led to it automatically becoming law after a certain waiting period.  More from the NCSE…

Governor Bill Haslam allowed Tennessee’s House Bill 368 to become law without his signature on April 10, 2012, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal (April 10, 2012). The law encourages teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

In a statement, Haslam explained, “I have reviewed the final language of HB 368/SB 893 and assessed the legislation’s impact. I have also evaluated the concerns that have been raised by the bill. I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools. The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by a three-to-one margin, but good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion. My concern is that this bill has not met this objective. For that reason, I will not sign the bill but will allow it to become law without my signature.” …

… Probably contributing to Haslam’s unwillingness to sign the bill were the protests from state and national civil liberties, educational, and scientific groups, the editorials against the bill from the state’s major newspapers, and the petition effort organized by Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University, which garnered thousands of signatures calling for a veto of HB 368.

What happens next seems inevitable: sooner or later, some creationist teachers are going to attempt to use this law as cover to teach creationism in public school science classes; they’ll get called out on it and taken to court; they will lose, likely costing the state many millions of dollars (plus giving them much-deserved embarrassment) in the process.

It looks like Tennessee has taken one step along the road presented by this graphic:

Way to go, Tennessee!  Welcome back to the 19th century!!!

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Science & Skepticism Triumph in the New Jersey Courts

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 29, 2011

It’s not often spoken of, but I think perhaps one of the most critical reasons why it is that we need to have a populace that is well educated in basic critical thinking and reasoning skills can be summed up in how our court system works.  In the United States, many trials in court are decided by juries, which are composed of everyday folk like you and me.  And, as is sometimes the case, juries that are tasked with making major decisions – such as in murder cases – can all-too-often fall victim to sloppy thinking.  And, unfortunately, sometimes this sloppy thinking is actively encouraged by rules set by the courts themselves!

However, recently there as a welcome challenge to the status quo: the New Jersey Supreme Court has issued new guidelines and regulations for how to take into account the validity of eyewitness testimony and the fallibility of human memory regarding identification.  Read the following article from The Innocence Project for more information…

New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Landmark Decision Mandating Major Changes in the Way Courts Handle Identification Procedures

Today the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a landmark decision requiring major changes in the way courts are required to evaluate identification evidence at trial and how they should instruct juries.  The new changes, designed to reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions by taking into account more than 30 years of scientific research on eyewitness identification and memory, require courts to greatly expand the factors that courts and juries should consider in assessing the risk of misidentification. …

… The court’s decision requires judges to more thoroughly scrutinize the police identification procedures and many other variables that affect an eyewitness identification. The court noted that this more extensive scrutiny will require enhanced jury instructions on factors that increase the risk of misidentification. These factors include:

• Whether the lineup procedure was administered “double blind,” meaning that the officer who administers the lineup is unaware who the suspect is and the witness is told that the officer doesn’t know.
• Whether the witness was told that the suspect may not be in the lineup and that they need not make a choice.
• Whether the police avoided providing the witness with feedback that would cause the witness to believe he or she selected the correct suspect.  Similarly, whether the police recorded the witnesses’ level of confidence at the time of the identification.
• Whether the witness had multiple opportunities to view the same person, which would make it more likely for the witness to choose this person as the suspect.
• Whether the witness was under a high level of stress.
• Whether a weapon was used, especially if the crime was of short duration.
• How much time the witness had to observe the event.
• How far the witness was from the perpetrator and what the lighting conditions were.
• Whether the witness possessed characteristics that would make it harder to make an identification, such as age of the witness and influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Whether the perpetrator possessed characteristics that would make it harder to make an identification.  Was he or she wearing a disguise?  Did the suspect have different facial features at the time of the identification?
• The length of time between the crime and identification.
• Whether the case involved cross-racial identification.

Folks, this is a big deal, because there is a mountain of strongly-supported research which shows just how untrustworthy and malleable memories can be and how this can lead to all manner of mistakes regarding the positive identification of suspects in court cases.  For example, take a look at some of the work done by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus on this subject of the misinformation effect and false memories.

Th main point here that I want to emphasize is that the new Jersey Supreme Court took a huge step in the right direction by relying on the most well-tested science to guide its decision.  And that is important, because science – more than any other human endeavor – has allowed us to collectively sort out the good ideas from the bad ideas regarding how the world works.  And how the world works includes how we, as fallible beings, interact with it and each other.

In closing, I want to emphasize my point about critical thinking in the courts, and specifically in the jury box and deliberation room, by encouraging you to watch one of the best movies ever on the subject: 12 Angry Men.  The original was made in 1957, but it was remade in 1997, and I think either version is excellent viewing.  If you have never seen either version, take some time to check them out on Youtube or rent them, because I can only hope that every jury in the world is as rational as this one…

Posted in politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Verdict on the War on Drugs: It’s Useless

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 22, 2010

I don’t usually post on purely political topics, but some recent news is making me get out of my usual rut.  I want to talk in this post about the U.S. drug problem… specifically, about how the “War on Drugs”, a.k.a. Drug Prohibition, is beyond useless – it has actually done far more harm than good.

Take a look at this recent news article showing how Drug Prohibition is a complete waste of time, money, resources, and essentially a civil war against our own citizens…

U.S. drug war has met none of its goals

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

This week President Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

Kerlikowske, who coordinates all federal anti-drug policies, says it will take time for the spending to match the rhetoric. …

Not only that, but at the high school where I teach there used to be a student supervisor who was a retired cop.  Over the years of his time on the force, he spent considerable time working the drug beat.  Just before he left the school, he confided in me a revelation he’d had: that all the work he and his colleagues had done in enforcing drug laws, fighting the dealers, and so on had done absolutely nothing to stop (or even limit) the drug problem.  Nothing.

That’s a startling revelation from someone whose profession it was to enforce the very laws and carry out the very War on Drugs which are supposed to protect us from this supposed scourge upon humanity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Simon Singh Wins Against the British Chiropractic Association!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 16, 2010

Good news!  It seems that the BCA has dropped its libel case against Simon Singh – this is a huge win for skepticism & free inquiry!  Here are the details… :)

The British Chiropractic Association has dropped its libel case against Simon Singh. Read Simon’s, our and some of our supporters’ reactions to the news here: www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/478 Keep an eye out for coverage about this today – there has already been lots, I’ll include a few links below.

We are so pleased for Simon that the BCA has dropped the case but the campaign is far from over. Until we have a public interest defence that can protect discussion and comment about evidence and research, scientists, commentators, bloggers, forum users, authors and NGOs will continue to be bullied into silence, and cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst is still fighting to defend his right to speak out about a medical device clinical trial.

With your support the Coalition for Libel Reform has secured manifesto commitments from all the major parties. But we need to continue to put pressure on politicians to make sure these promises are turned into meaningful reform once the new government is in place. We are organising a Free Speech General Election Hustings where you can come and question politicians on their commitment to libel reform for Wednesday 21st April in London. Check http://www.libelreform.org/ for more details about this soon.

The campaign reached 50,000 signatures of support last night. We really need to double this to keep the pressure up and make sure the politicians are aware of how serious the need for libel reform is. Please do all you can to help us reach our target by encouraging people to sign up at http://www.libelreform.org/

Best

Síle

Times Online Science writer Simon Singh wins bitter libel battle

BBC News Case dropped against Simon Singh

The Guardian Simon Singh libel case dropped

For an updated list of coverage see www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/478

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Update from Simon Singh & the Campaign for Libel Reform

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2010

I just wanted to pass along to you a quick update concerning the ongoing United Kingdom court battle of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association (my earlier blog posts on this matter are here and here).  In fact, Simon just recently received some very good news regarding the whole situation…

Sorry for the silence, but it has been a ridiculously hectic (and happy) time since last week’s victory at the Court of Appeal. However, I urgently wanted to get in touch to update you on the status of my case, the latest news on libel reform and what you can do today to push libel reform up the political agenda.

BCA v Singh

April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.

Libel Reform Campaign

This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.

The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.

What you can do today to pressure politicians

I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at www.libelreform.org/sign

The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!

You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and Twitter about it. In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.

You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to www.libelreform.org/sign. Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.

Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.

Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.

Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.

Simon Singh

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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