Posts Tagged ‘SCOTUS’
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! :)
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: Bible, Christian, Christianity, Constitution, court, decision, Devil, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, freedom of religion, Friendly Atheist, fundamentalist, Galloway, God, government, Greece, Hemant Mehta, invocation, Jesus, law, legislature, Lucien Greaves, Lucifer, meeting, New York, prayer, religion, right wing, ruling, Satan, Satanic Temple, SCOTUS, separation of church and state, Stephens, Supreme Court, United States | 1 Comment »
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:
… 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…
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: academic freedom, Americans United, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, AU, Bible, biology, charter, charter school, Christianity, courts, creationism, democracy, education, Edwards v. Aguillard, evolution, experts, federal, fundamentalist, ID, intelligent design, law, private, pseudoscience, public private partnership, religion, science, scientific creationism, SCOTUS, separation of church and state, Slate, Supreme Court, Texas, theocracy | Leave a Comment »
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.
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…
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: AFA, American Family Association, bigot, bigotry, California, civil rights, civil union, court, Defense of Marriage Act, discrimination, DOMA, fundamentalist, gay, God, homosexual, law, lesbian, marriage, politics, Prop 8, religion, religious right, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, United States | 2 Comments »
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”…
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: Bible, Christianity, church, class, course, court, creationism, devotional, education, First Amendament, fundamentalism, fundamentalist, God, Jesus, law, preach, proselytize, public, religion, schools, SCOTUS, separation, state, Supreme Court, Texas, Texas Freedom Network, TFN, unconstitutional | 2 Comments »
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…
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: 12 Angry Men, court, defense, Elizabeth Loftus, eyewitness, eyewitness testimony, fallibility, fallible, false memory, guilt, ID, identification, innocence, investigation, justice, law, memory, misinformation effect, New Jersey, not guilty, police, procedure, prosecution, punishment, science, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, suspect, The Innocence Project, Twleve Angry Men, United States, witness | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 2, 2011
In a bit of good news, it seems the SCOTUS has produced a pretty strong science & reason-based ruling on the issue of vaccinations and lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. This is also, indirectly yet very importantly, a big blow to the anti-vaccination movement…
The Supreme Court ruled that federal law shields vaccine makers from product-liability lawsuits in state court seeking damages for a child’s injuries or death from a vaccine’s side effects.
The high court on Tuesday ruled for Wyeth, which is now owned by Pfizer Inc, in a lawsuit brought by the parents of Hannah Bruesewitz, who suffered seizures as an infant after her third dose of a diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine in 1992.
Pfizer and other vaccine makers had argued that a Supreme Court ruling for the plaintiffs could open the door to a flood of lawsuits — many by families who believe vaccines cause autism — and threaten the supply of childhood vaccines. … [emphasis added]
That last point is a major win for the pro-vaccine team, folks. That’s because if the SCOTUS had ruled differently, you can bet your bottom dollar that Jenny McCarthy, Andrew Wakefield, and their legions of true-believing followers within the anti-vax movement would have been clogging up the courts for years (or decades, even) with frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit lamenting about how “vaccines caused my kid’s autism” or “the jabs took my little Johnny’s soul away” or similar garbage (because, yes, some people actually believe that crap). And since I am on the topic of mentioning frivolous lawsuits, allow me to reference the SCOTUS ruling on that point…
“Vaccine manufacturers fund from their sales an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries; in exchange they avoid costly tort litigation and the occasional disproportionate jury verdict. Congress enacted this deal to coax manufacturers back into the vaccine market,” [Justice] Scalia said.
In short, if the vaccine manufacturers didn’t have at least some kind of protection against lawsuits, they would get out of the (not-very-profitable) vaccine business altogether, with the resulting loss of widespread vaccination & herd immunity being highly detrimental to society. Of course, one reason why the anti-vaxxers would have liked to have seen this SCOTUS ruling go the other way is because then it would have opened the door to a tsunami of frivolous lawsuits, which then would have led to many vaccine manufacturers giving up the business, which would lead to lower vaccination rates…
… which would kill a lot of people. But hey, the anti-vax goons would feel pretty good about that, wouldn’t they, because then at least those “evil vaccines” weren’t around any more, right?
Of course, the response from the anti-vax loons is all-too-predictable. I’m going to use my “amazing psychic powers” and guess that it’s going to be something along these lines:
Posted in medical woo | Tagged: Age of Autism, Andrew Wakefield, autism, Big Pharma, conspiracy, diptheria, DTaP, DTP, Hannah Bruesewitz, Jenny McCarthy, lawsuits, manufacturers, mercury, pertussis, Pfizer, SCOTUS, squalene, Supreme Court, Tdap, tetanus, thimerisol, United States, vaccine, vaccines, Wyeth | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 19, 2010
Here is some excellent news, folks! In a twist of reality that was almost weirder than fiction, back in 2005 a group called The Association of Christian Schools International filed a lawsuit against the university system of California because they claimed that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college. In other words, the Christian school coursework was pushing creationism as science (and not teaching evolution), and the university system said that was inadequate preparation and refused to accept the “science” credits of those students.
Aside: one can easily see the slippery slope here. If creationists were to get away with this kind of malarkey, then how long until New Age gurus demand that their quantum flapdoodle nonsense be accepted as “physics” credits for universities?
Well, it all came to the end of the line recently for the creationists in this case, because a few days ago the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the case, essentially locking in lower court decisions against the creationists :)
Read more about it from the National Center for Science Education…
The end of ACSI v. Stearns
On October 12, 2010, the Supreme Court declined (PDF, p. 12) to review Association of Christian Schools International et al. v. Roman Stearns et al., thus bringing the case to a definitive end. The case, originally filed in federal court in Los Angeles on August 25, 2005, centered on the University of California system’s policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. The plaintiffs — the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school — charged that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college.
Creationism was prominent in the case. The plaintiffs objected to the university system’s policy of rejecting high school biology courses that use creationist textbooks as “inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community.” Michael Behe, a proponent of “intelligent design” creationism, served as a scientific expert witness for the plaintiffs, although his defense of the creationist biology textbooks was unavailing. Wendell Bird, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, is a former employee of the Institute for Creation Research; he defended Louisiana’s 1981 “equal time” act all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled to violate the Establishment Clause in the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).
Relying in part on the view of defendants’ expert witnesses Donald Kennedy and Francisco J. Ayala (a Supporter of NCSE) that the creationist textbooks were not appropriate for use in a college preparatory biology course, the trial judge in ACSI v. Stearns granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on August 8, 2008. The plaintiffs appealed the decision, but in a January 12, 2010, ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, which is now reaffirmed by the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case. Documents from the case are available on NCSE’s website, in a special section devoted to ACSI v. Stearns.
Expect to hear the creationists moan on and on about “activist judges” and “religious discrimination” and similar goofiness. While I relish this admittedly important victory in the courts, I am not going to fool myself that these folks will simply go away quietly – they’ll be back, with another frivolous lawsuit or some other angle to attempt to tear down good science education. So keep your eyes & ears open…
Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: ACSI, activist, Association of Christian Schools International, atheist, California, Christian, court, creationism, discrimination, education, God, ID, intelligent design, judges, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, religion, religious, science, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, United States, university | 1 Comment »