The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘legislature’

How Secularists Should Respond to the SCOTUS Ruling on Sectarian Prayer at Government Meetings

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2014

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard the news about Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows sectarian prayers at government meetings.  My skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist has an excellent breakdown on the background of this case – check it out here.

Essentially, the SCOTUS ruled that explicitly Christian and other sectarian prayers are allowed in the opening of local government meetings (just as they have been for years in the federal and state legislatures) under the Constitution.  Regarding this ruling, I think the devil is in the details; specifically, the SCOTUS did not rule that only Christian prayers were allowed.  It ruled that sectarian prayers are allowed… from any religion (or non-religion)… which means that anyone can make a motion to pray at such meetings.  Further, Justice Kennedy stated in his opinion that:

“If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbeliev­ers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.”

Whoops, that’s already happened; just look at how there are some self-righteous fundamentalist religious jerks who misinterpret this ruling as saying that “only Christian prayers are allowed” - which is exactly the kind of thing more reasonably-minded members of the SCOTUS noted might happen.  Indeed, the problem here is that this ruling has a huge potential to cause even greater religious animosity and division at the same time our country is becoming ever more (non)religiously diverse (with as many as 20% claiming “no religion”).  Specifically, Justice Kagan said:

“The monthly chaplains appear almost always to assume that everyone in the room is Christian. … The Town itself has never urged its chaplains to reach out to members of other faiths, or even to recall that they might be present. And accordingly, few chaplains have made any effort to be inclusive; none has thought even to assure attending members of the public that they need not participate in the prayer session. Indeed, as the majority forthrightly recognizes, when the plaintiffs here began to voice concern over prayers that excluded some Town residents, one pastor pointedly thanked the Board “[o]n behalf of all God-fearing people” for holding fast, and another declared the objectors “in the minority and … ignorant of the history of our country.””

So… what is a secularist to do?  Shall we bemoan our fate, lamenting that “this was another win for the religious right”?  I think not.  In fact, I think this ruling can lead to a really big problem for the religious right; but don’t take it from me, take it from an evangelical Christian writer (and constitutional scholar) for Christianity Today magazine:

“So what’s the harm of government prayer? First, it leaves a few deeply resentful, with hearts hardened to Christianity. One need look no further than the two complainants here. Many more of our fellow citizens are confused about evangelical methods and motives when we hitch our wagon to Caesar, and they are misled about the nature of Christ’s invitation and a person’s freedom in response to him. Moreover, because what goes around comes around, municipalities in less friendly territory than Greece, New York, will seize this newly approved legality and use it to offer up invocational prayers that will be unrecognizable to evangelicals. Already this is occurring in the Town of Greece, where a Wiccan priestess has offered up prayers to Athena and Apollo. An atheist has also petitioned, by appealing to “inclusion,” that she be allowed to take a turn at rendering the invocation. She did so, not because she wanted to pray, to protest the city policy by rendering it absurd. The Supreme Court’s ruling means we will be seeing more of this mischief.” [emphasis added]

Did you hear that?  Mischief!  :)

la-abcarian-satan-pix-20140505

At the next county board meeting, ask if you can get a “Hail Satan!” (image source)

And he’s right.  Now that the SCOTUS has explicitly opened the door to sectarian (note, that’s a different word that “Christian”) prayers, then all those Christians who so badly wanted to win this case had better be prepared for people of other religious (or non-religious) beliefs to come calling for their turn to give invocations at local government meetings.  I’m guessing they won’t be too happy to have a Muslim imam, Jewish rabbi, Hindu priest, or humanist/atheist open with a prayer or statement; just look at how they threw a hissy-fit when a Hindu priest opened a session of the U.S. Senate with a prayer:

Well, these conservative Christians had better get used to it, because plenty of highly non-Christian folks are now more than ready to start attending local government meetings with the express purpose of opening them with non-Christian prayers/invocations.  For example:

**The American Humanist Association is planning to launch a program to “provide resources for atheists and humanists to deliver secular invocations during legislative meetings.”

**The Freedom From Religion Foundation has already announced “Nothing Fails Like A Prayer”, a nationwide contest for the best secular invocation delivered at a government meeting.

**And the Satanic Temple (yes, the same one that is petitioning to erect a statue of Satan outside the Oklahoma state house under their “religious monument” law) is getting in on the act, too.  In fact, they’ve already got the following prayer/invocation ready to go:

“Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is Done. Hail Satan.”

I have a message for all the conservative Christians hailing this ruling: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it  :)

 

 

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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 »

Help to Turn Back the Assault on Science Education in Tennessee!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 4, 2012

Finally getting back to completing my series of recent posts about evolution and creationism (see here and here for the previous ones), I wanted to pass along an update about a situation in Tennessee.  It seems that, in its infinite wisdom, the Tennessee legislature has decided to pass  its own version of the Louisiana “Academic Freedom” Law, which is little more than a touchy-feely way of saying that they want to protect teachers who want to teach creationism in public school science classes. The National Center for Science Education has an update on the bill…

Continued opposition to Tennessee’s “monkey bill”

Tennessee’s House Bill 368 was sent to Governor Bill Haslam on March 29, 2012 — and columnists in newspapers across the state are continuing to press the case against the bill. Nicknamed the “monkey bill” by former Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh, HB 368 would encourage 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.” Haslam now has till April 9, 2012, to sign the bill, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it.

The Murfreesboro Daily News Journal (March 29, 2012) editorially lamented, “At a time when Tennessee is becoming a national center for technological and alternative fuel research and development, it is odd — to say the least — that our state Legislature would push scientific debate back more than 85 years,” adding, “Science and teacher associations across the state and nation oppose this legislation, yet our Legislature is determined to impose its will on the classrooms of Tennessee, showing a general disrespect for scientific academia in favor of running its religious views up a flagpole.”

Writing in The Tennessean (March 29, 2012), Leslie Brunetta — a science writer and cancer survivor — argued that antievolution bills such as Tennessee’s “are bad for my health and the health of each of the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer every year,” for while evolutionary theory helps to guide cancer research, the “challengers of evolution theory” provide no actual research program. She concludes, “If you’re looking for a cure for your cancer, don’t look to evolution-deniers for hope. As for me, I give thanks to Darwin and the researchers who have stood on his shoulders.”

And writing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (March 30, 2012), columnist Pam Strickland commented, “Tennessee has already tried this teaching creationism once before, The story is known worldwide as the Scopes Monkey Trial and is told through the play and movie ‘Inherit the Wind.’” She added, “if Haslam or his staff is reading, they need to know that the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Association of Bioscience Teachers and the National Earth Science Teachers Association are all against HB 368.”

So that’s the bad news: the Tennessee legislature has passed the bill.  But there is good news: it seems that the governor of Tennessee is having serious reservations about signing the bill into law, seemingly because he sees it as ripe for a lawsuit which the state will inevitably lose while spending millions upon millions of dollars in court costs attempting to defend.  And, especially in a time when taxpayer dollars are so tight, it doesn’t make much fiscal sense to try defending a law which is highly likely to go down in flames.

That’s where you and I come in: we need to help encourage Gov. Haslam to veto this bad legislation!  To do so, please consider signing onto the following petition, and then spread the word to all of your friends – especially the ones who live in Tennessee!

Urge Tennessee Governor Haslam to support sound science and veto HB 368

As parents, educators, and concerned citizens, we call on you to veto HB 368, which encourages teachers to present scientific topics such as evolution and global warming as “controversial.” This bill is deeply misleading and will only serve to confuse students about well-established scientific concepts. Our children need the best education possible in order to excel in college, compete in a 21st-century job market, and cope with the future challenges of climate change. Governor Haslam, we strongly urge you to support sound science and veto HB 368. …

Click here to read the entire petition

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Maine Legislator Pushes Cell Phone-Cancer Woo

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2009

In another *facepalm* moment, the state legislature in Maine will soon be considering a bill that would require cell phones to carry warning labels that they, you guessed it, might cause brain cancer.  Ugh – I have posted about this topic before (in my post “Electromagnetic Fields & Cancer Myths”), and I cannot state strongly enough that there is no evidence that cell phone use causes cancer!  Not only is there no conclusive evidence that cell phone radiation causes cancer, but according to the known laws of physics there is no physical mechanism by which this is even possible. But that won’t stop some non-scientifically minded nut with political clout from pushing this nonsense into a useless law…

Maine to consider cell phone cancer warning

A Maine legislator wants to make the state the first to require cell phones to carry warnings that they can cause brain cancer, although there is no consensus among scientists that they do and industry leaders dispute the claim.

The now-ubiquitous devices carry such warnings in some countries, though no U.S. states require them, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. A similar effort is afoot in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom wants his city to be the nation’s first to require the warnings.

Maine Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, said numerous studies point to the cancer risk, and she has persuaded legislative leaders to allow her proposal to come up for discussion during the 2010 session that begins in January, a session usually reserved for emergency and governors’ bills.

And here’s my favorite part of the article…

While there’s little agreement about the health hazards, Boland said Maine’s roughly 950,000 cell phone users among its 1.3 million residents “do not know what the risks are.”

Ahem, Rep. Boland, this is an argument that is essentially begging the question… the assumption is that there is a risk, despite there being any conclusive evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship (not to be confused with correlation) between cancer & cell phone use AND a lack of any kind of physical mechanism to even facilitate that process.  Folks, this is what happens when you mix political power with the Paralyzing Precautionary Principle. Now this may be crappy science, but I’m sure it’ll raise Rep. Boland’s political profile – too bad she couldn’t just stick to the actual science as opposed to pushing pseudoscientific & fear-mongering woo woo.

Folks, if you live in Maine, please take a moment to contact your state representatives and ask them to – for the sake of good science & sound legislative policies – just throw Boland’s bill in the trash heap where it belongs.  I’m sure there are far better, more important, and real issues the Maine legislature could be dealing with on behalf of that state’s citizens.

Rep. Boland, this one’s for you…

Posted in environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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