Tag Archives: separation of church and state

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re out of Congress.

Until last Tuesday, atheists had precisely one out-of-the-closet representative in Congress: Representative Pete Stark of California’s 13th district.

In the run-up to the election, there was excitement from atheist blogs and from groups like the Secular Coalition for America about Kyrsten Sinema, who (it was believed) was an openly-bisexual, openly non-theistic candidate. The news hit big blogs like the Huffington Post, and was mentioned in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section.

There’s just one hitch: She’s not an atheist.

She’s spoken before the Secular Coalition for Arizona, and she won an aware from the Center for Inquiry for “Advancement of Science and Reason in Public Policy,” but she avows that she is not an atheist. According to her communications director Justin Unga:

Kyrsten believes the terms non-theist, atheist or nonbeliever are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character. … She does not identify as any of the above.

In an e-mail to Hemant Mehta, Mr. Unga added:

She does not identify as any of the above, nor does she choose a label to describe what she believes is deeply personal for every individual.

“Not befitting her life’s work or personal character?” Honestly? Clearly, either she or Mr. Unga (or both) think there’s something wrong with being a non-theist, an atheist, or a nonbeliever. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that she’s not comfortable using a label that would portray her as anything other than a god-believer.

She does exhibit an attitude toward governance that I find (mostly) commendable:

Though Sinema was raised in a religious household, she draws her policymaking decisions from her experience as a social worker who worked with diverse communities and as a lawmaker who represented hundreds of thousands.  Sinema is a student of all cultures in her community and has learned that responsible stewards must consider all faiths with respect and dignity.   She believes that a secular approach is the best way to achieve this in good government.

That last sentence? That’s what separation of church and state is all about.

Regardless, this leaves atheists without an openly nonbelieving representative. That’s troubling, especially when we see people like Paul Broun – a man who said that evolution, embryology, and the big bang theory were “lies straight from the pit of hell,” meant to tell people they don’t need a savior – winding up on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Combined with President Obama’s re-election, the Religious Right is sure to be whipped into a furor over the next four years. It could make for interesting and distressing times.

It’s really quite simple.

A local public school has recently attracted the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation for teaching a song that made explicit mentions of ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ to elementary-aged kids. As the article mentions, previous case law has specifically identified the song, “Thank You for The World So Sweet,” as being a prayer. This should really be an open-and-shut case.

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You bet it can.

Fascinating and terrifying stuff: “Can Religion Justify Bullying Children?” (a talk by Sean Faircloth.) If you’ve got a spare half hour or so, I highly recommend giving this a watch. Never let it be said that fundamentalist Christianity isn’t a threat to nonbelievers or believers of other stripes.

50 years of prayer-free schools! Well…

That’s a stretch. But 50 years ago today, in the Engel v. Vitale decision, the US Supreme Court declared that government-written prayers were not to be recited in public schools and were an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause.

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A victory for church/state separation in Rhode Island!

Jessica Ahlquist is a high school student and atheist who volunteered to act as plaintiff in a case against her high school, which for several years has hung a school prayer on a banner in its gym. I’ve written about her before, and from the public’s perspective, her case has been quiet for a while now.

Good news today from Rhode Island: Jessica and the ACLU have won their case, and U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux issued a decision in the case against the prayer banner, ordering it to be removed!

The story linked above has a nice little poll in it:

Do you agree with the court order for the prayer mural at Cranston West be removed?
  • Yes – 261 (84%)
  • No – 48 (15%)

I’m amazed to see the numbers like that, considering how strongly opposed most of Jessica’s town was to her actions. Then again, this is the internet, so I doubt it’s just local folks voting. Disregard the madness in the comments on that story; three cheers for the First Amendment! Go show Jessica some love on Facebook.


I can’t believe I missed these great bits from the judge:

Lagueux states that “no amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that.”

“The Prayer concludes with the indisputably religious closing: ‘Amen;’ a Hebrew word used by Jews, Christians and Muslims to conclude prayers. In between, the Prayer espouses values of honesty, kindness, friendship and sportsmanship. While these goals are commendable, the reliance on God’s intervention as the way to achieve those goals is not consistent with a secular purpose.”

Too true!

We’re dangerous!

We can always count on Republican politicians to give us clarity! Today, the GOP presidential candidates (sans Rick Perry, who was apparently off fighting wildfires) met in South Carolina to hold a forum where they shared their views on various subjects. Newt Gingrich said something that has had remarkably little coverage in the mainstream press, save for this one story:

At a GOP candidates’ forum in South Carolina, Gingrich maintained that everyone, especially a president, needs God’s help in “a world where evil always lurks.” He added that someone who faces serious issues without praying “would be a person who totally misunderstood the nature of life and who would be dangerous holding a major office.”

Apparently, it’s still okay to say stuff like this about atheists. Well, then, I guess we can just ignore Article 6, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution!

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Good to know you can disregard the Constitution as much as you like and still be considered a serious candidate so long as you believe in a god.

Maybe Texas can catch a break after all!

It’s a good day for science education in Texas. According to the National Center for Science Education, the Texas Board of Education voted unopposed in favor of supplementary educational materials that promoted sound science, and didn’t approve any of the pro-Creationism propaganda. NCSE director Eugenie Scott is very happy:

“These supplements reflect the overwhelming scientific consensus that evolution is the core of modern biology, and is a central and vital concept in any biology class. That these supplements were adopted unanimously reflects a long overdue change in the board. I commend the board for its refusal to politicize science education.”

Always great to hear good news in the political battle between real science and nonsense.

Now if only Texas could do something about its teen pregnancy rates, which have grown to some of the highest levels in the nation ever since they adopted abstinence-only sex ed… or, better yet, if only they could convince potential presidential candidate Rick Perry that abstinence-only sex ed isn’t working:

Abstinence makes the heart grow randy.

At least all those frisky teens will finally have access to good science education!

Texas can’t catch a break.

When it comes to its education standards, Texas has had a lot of bad luck these last few years.

Whether they were contending with a willfully ignorant dentist whom Texas Governor Rick Perry somehow thought was qualified to chair the State Board of Education (SBoE) and who decided it was his job to stand up to the experts on the subject of evolution, or debating how to keep radical ideologues from revising the social studies curriculum to take emphasis off of the influence of the Enlightenment on America’s founding fathers and “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority,” advocates for good education have had their hands full for quite a while.

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Atheist Teen Fights for Separation of Church and State

At Cranston West High School in Cranston, Rhode Island, a mostly innocuous banner has hung in the school gym for several decades. The banner, titled “School Prayer,” exhorts “Our Heavenly Father” to make students desire to improve themselves in a number of ways. In full, the banner reads:

Our Heavenly Father,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
Amen.

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Why so hateful?

For those who don’t know, I’m one of the ‘answerers’ over at Ask The Atheists. It’s a nifty little site where people can anonymously ask a bunch of atheists questions about pretty much anything you can imagine. Lots of the questions are the sort of thing you’d expect a theist to ask an atheist (What if you’re wrong? Why don’t you believe in gods? Isn’t the universe proof that God exists?). Today, one popped up that I found particularly grating:

Why do Athiests [sic] HATE so much?
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