The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Hemant Mehta’

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  🙂

 

 

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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 😀

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 »

We Shouldn’t Be Unreasonable About the Reason Rally

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 19, 2012

**Update (3-20-12): In the spirit of promoting unity, as opposed to divisiveness, among our community in regards to the Reason Rally, its organization and promotion, etc. I would like to give my friend Phil at Skeptic Money a shout out.  That’s because Phil has really put his money where his mouth is, because his company – Polaris Financial – is the first corporate sponsor of the Reason Rally!  I think we could take a lesson from Phil on a few things…

*************

So I just read a fantastic post by my skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist about the upcoming Reason Rally in Washington, DC this coming weekend (Saturday, March 24th).  Hemant is one of the organizers of the Reason Rally, and he and a lot of other people have basically been working themselves like crazy to get this thing together.  Indeed, it promises to be a historic event: the largest gathering of secular/atheist/non-religious/skeptical folk ever in our nation’s capitol.  Check out the Reason Rally’s website if you haven’t yet…

This brings me to Hemant’s post.  It seems there is a LOT of complaining going on in our community about some of the speakers at the Rally.  Here are some points from Hemant’s post…

So there’s a week to go before the Reason Rally and the complaining is already in full stride. As if all the organizers and volunteers don’t give a damn about reason and are just letting anyone with a pulse onstage…

… Look, the organizers spent a long time listening to the suggestions of dozens of people (representing tens of thousands of atheists) regarding who should speak at the Rally. They did everything in their power to contact all the “big names” that people said they wanted to hear at the Rally. They rustled up and managed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding needed to put on an event of this magnitude. They got every major organization in our movement to work together to make this work — and that’s not an easy thing to do. They had to deal with the speakers complaining about their prominence on our website (yep, it happened).

Just about everyone believes in something irrational. Including atheists. So, yes, you’re going to hear people at the Rally who hold ideas we think are completely unreasonable. Maybe even harmful.

If we got rid of every speaker who held an irrational belief, there would be no one left on that stage.

… You can argue that the Rally needs higher “standards,” but you’re missing the point. This isn’t just about us. This isn’t just about spreading science and atheism. This is about drawing attention to our movement. This is about getting media attention. This is about getting all those people not attending the rally (or who don’t even know there are so many other atheists out there) to notice us and maybe — just maybe — get the courage to come out of the closet or attend a local atheist gathering. … [emphasis added]

There are many more good points that Hemant made in his post, and I generally applaud him for sticking to his guns.  I, for one, think that he and the other organizers have done a damn fine job of putting this whole thing together (despite the fact that I have my own criticisms, which I shall keep to myself, thank you.)  And I say that not just as an onlooker, but also as someone who, like Hemant, helped to organize a major conference (though nothing on this scale!) in Chicago back in 2004.  As such, I can appreciate the headache that Hemant and his colleagues are dealing with now. It was enough of a pain that I don’t think I ever want to do it again, so bully for the Reason Rally organizers!

All that said, folks, I think all of this complaining and infighting is in many ways a good problem for our movement to have. It shows that our skeptical/atheist/reason-based/anti-woo/whatever movement has grown so large that it is getting to the point of divisions showing.  That’s called growing pains, folks; and note the important word in that description: growing 🙂

Posted in religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Attend Skepchicamp! Register Now!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 19, 2010

Brought to you in part by

And

The very first ever Skepchicamp! It’s Skepticamp, but Skepchickier!

Complete with real live Skepchicks!

Skepchicamp  is an informal convention with the goal of promoting skeptical thinking in the Chicago area.

Unlike formal conventions, everyone who attends Skepchicamp is expected to participate in some way – giving a speech, serving food, helping to set up a room, or donating money.

The goal is to create a laid-back event driven by the participants.

Skeptics believe that everything should be examined with scientific rigor, and generally choose to suspend belief (or agree to append beliefs) based on the availability of adequate evidence. Many skeptics do not believe in the supernatural simply have not seen enough credible evidence to convince us that they exist. They are not curmudgeons who dislike ghost stories. There are, however, there are many things that skeptics do believe in. Like love, the power of beauty, art, friendship, humor, and sports because we know these things to be true. Nothing falsifiable is exempt from scrutiny.

The organizers invite you to attend the first event on March 6, where you can both learn and teach others about skepticism.

“In the end, the Skepchicamp in which you partake

is equal to the Skepchicamp you make.”

If you’d like to attend but still have not made a contribution, please contact Elyse to find out where we still need help.

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Skepchicamp – The First Chicago SkeptiCamp – on March 6th at the Brehon Pub!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 3, 2010

I just wanted to share the news with you about the first Chicago area SkeptiCampSkepchicamp – being hosted at the Brehon Pub on Saturday, March 6th – Yeehaw!!!


For those who don’t know, the basic idea behind SkeptiCamps is that they are informal, community-organized conferences borne from the desire for people in the skeptical movement to share and learn in an open environment. Everyone from casual skeptics to the experienced participate, give talks and get to know each other.  Over the last couple of years, successful SkeptiCamps have been hosted in New York City and Denver and there are new ones planned in Atlanta, Ohio, and Vancouver, British Columbia… but our very own Skepchicamp is the first one to be hosted in the Midwest!  Woot!!! 🙂

Please note that if you wish to attend, in keeping with the spirit of SkeptiCamp, you must contribute to the cause in some tangible manner – this doesn’t necessarily mean a monetary donation (though we like loot 😉 ), as some people donate their skills & labor to help the camp go off without a hitch.  If you’re interested in volunteering to help out somehow, please contact the organizers of Skepchicamp. Here are the event details…

Skepchicamp

Saturday, March 6th @ 1pm-10pm

Brehon Pub

731 N. Wells Street

Chicago, IL

The Brehon Pub is an awesome venue for Skepchicamp!  This River North bar is easily accessible by public transit, has a strong wifi signal, and great food and drinks. For one day, the Brehon Pub will be half-Irish, half-Chicago, and all Skepchicamp.  We hope to see you there!  Contact the organizers for more info!

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Last Call!!! Skepchicamp FUNdraiser!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 21, 2010

**Note: Though I am helping to organize Skepchicamp, the first Chicago Skepticamp, I totally stole this announcement from Elyse Anders at Skepchick 🙂

Today the Skepchicks have their hats out. All we’re asking for is money, and all we’re promising is booze and Skepchicks and amazing fun and great skeptical topics and great skeptical women/role models and some chances to actually learn some things.

So, on top of our fundraising campaign for SkepchickCon2010 in Minneapolis, we’re also raising funds to Skepchicamp 2010 in Chicago.

This weekend is the first ever FUNdraiser for the first ever Skepchicamp, and time is running out to buy your tickets. We only have about 20 left!

What you get for $30:

  • Food
  • Booze
  • Fun
  • The chance to enter a cashitty cash cash raffle.
  • The chance to bid on a date with the Friendliest (and quite handsome) Atheist, Hemant Mehta
  • The address to the location

Skepchicamp is turning out to be far more popular than we ever imagined it would be… which means we’re going to need money to pull it off. Not only do we need funds for this year’s camp, but to help us form a stronger organization with bigger plans and events in the future. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves, but we need your help. Please?

All you have to do is free up your Saturday night and $30 for a great cause.

So all you have to do is register at our Eventbrite site, or click the kick ass widget on the Skepchicamp blog!

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Skepchicamp Fundraising Party!!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 22, 2009

On March 6, 2010, Chicago will play host to the very first ever Skepchicamp, Chicago’s and Skepchick’s take on the popular Skepticamp.

To make this event happen, and make it happen again, we’re going to need money. And to get that money, we’re going to offer you free* booze and food! The Skepchicamp planning team will be holding a fundraiser on January 23, 2010 at 7:00pm in the South Loop home of Chicago’s own skeptical pediatrician, Dr Jennifer Newport.**

Only 50 tickets available, so get them before they’re hot!

Ticket Price:

$30 until January 16

$40 after January 16 (if available)

Dress:

Black Tie and Pants Optional

SurlyRamics suggested

*Free with purchase of fundraiser ticket
** Dr. Newport’s address will be emailed to the guest list one week prior to the event. Approximate address is mapped.

Event Page: http://skepchicamp2010.eventbrite.com/

Buy your tickets now! 🙂

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Skepchicamp Venue Set!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 13, 2009

Chicago’s Galway Arms site of the first Skepchicamp

Skepchicamp, Chicago’s first skepticamp, will be held at the Galway Arms on Saturday, March 6.  Co-sponsored by Surlyramics http://surlyramics.com, Skepchicamp will be held in the upstairs room of the Galway Arms, located at 2442 N. Clark ST.  Skepchicamp will run from 12:30 PM to about 10 PM, and includes a dinner buffet.

Over twenty area speakers will give skeptical presentations on various subjects, including critical thinking, cults, science-based medicine, and diversity within the skeptical movement.  Notable local speakers include Hemant Mehta, creator The Friendly Atheist blog http://friendlyatheist.com, and Elyse Anders, a blogger with Skepchick,  http://skepchick.org.

Skepchicamp will also include a panel discussion with other Skepchick bloggers.  Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson is scheduled to join the discussion over the Internet.

Skepchicamp  is an informal convention with the goal of promoting skeptical thinking in the Chicago area.  The goal is to create a laid-back event, driven by the participants.  Admission is free, but all attendees are required to help to organize Skepchicamp.  Interested volunteers should contact Elyse Anders at elyse@skepchicamp.com for more information.

Skeptics believe that everything should be examined with scientific rigor, and generally choose to suspend belief (or agree to append beliefs) based on the availability of adequate evidence. Many skeptics do not believe in the supernatural simply have not seen enough credible evidence to convince us that they exist. They are not curmudgeons who dislike ghost stories. However, skeptics believe in many things, such as love, the power of beauty, art, friendship, humor, and sports, because we know them to be true. Nothing falsifiable is exempt from scrutiny.

Contact:
William Brinkman
wbrinkman@skepchicamp.com
Phone: 630 663 0194
http://www.skepchicamp.com

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Chicago Skepticamp Needs Speakers!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 10, 2009

I wanted to let everyone know about an effort I’m helping to organize to bring a Skepticamp event to the Chicago-area on March 6th, 2010 – we’re calling it Skepchicamp…

We are currently in the early stages of organizing the conference, and one of the things we need most right now are speakers.  Please read our latest press release for more information on this, and consider getting involved or at least passing along the news:

Skepchicamp looking for speakers

Skepchicamp, an informal skeptical convention scheduled for March 6, is looking for speakers.  Speakers are welcome to give a 15 minutes speech on any topic related to skepticism, followed by five minute of questions and answers.  In additions to speeches, demonstrations, magic shows, and panel discussions will also be considered.  While speakers are encouraged to focus on women in skepticism or women in science, it is not a requirement.  People interested in speaking should e-mail don@skepchicamp.com

Speakers currently scheduled to appear include Hemant Mehta, creator of the Friendly Atheist blog and author of “I Sold My Soul on Ebay” and Skepchick bloggers Bug Girl, Elyse Anders, and Jen Myers.

Skepchicamp  is an informal convention with the goal of promoting skeptical thinking in the Chicago area.  Unlike formal conventions, everyone who attends Skepchicamp is expected to participate in some way.  That can include giving a speech, serving food, helping to set up a room, or donating money.   The goal is to create a laid-back event driven by the participants.

Skeptics believe that everything should be examined with scientific rigor, and generally choose to suspend belief (or agree to append beliefs) based on the availability of adequate evidence. Many skeptics do not believe in the supernatural simply have not seen enough credible evidence to convince us that they exist. They are not curmudgeons who dislike ghost stories. There are, however, many things that skeptics do believe in. Like love, the power of beauty, art, friendship, humor, and sports because we know these things to be true. Nothing falsifiable is exempt from scrutiny.

Contact:
William Brinkman
wbrinkman@skepchicamp.com
Ph: 630 663 0194
http://www.skepchicamp.com

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