In case you haven’t seen it before, The Atheist Experience is a live call-in talk show hosted by The Atheist Community of Austin. The hosts take calls from theists and atheists alike, and the discussions are occasionally really good. The show is broadcast live on public access in Austin, Texas and over the internet on Ustream. For example, during today’s show, a Christian called in to challenge the hosts on whether or not an objective morality was possible without a god. The conversation was pretty amazing. Watch it for yourself and see!
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.
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.
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.
It’s not often that I feel inspired to respond to things I read in the newspaper.
Well, that’s not quite right. There’s enough madness in any given issue that I usually have a response to it. But a response in writing, submitted to the same newspaper? That’s a rarity.
So when a fellow atheist passed this story in the Albany Times Union on to me, I was mostly unimpressed. At first. And then I read the entire thing, and got to thinking.
I originally wrote this response in an e-mail to the opinion editor of that newspaper, but it’s been a couple of weeks now, and I haven’t heard back from them about whether or not it’d be published. So what the hell? Let’s publish it here.
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.”
If you haven’t seen the Showtime series Dexter… do. It’s about a forensic blood spatter expert working for Miami PD’s Homicide division who moonlights as a serial killer that tracks down other murderers. It’s a fantastic dramatic series, and it really makes you love a truly bad guy.
The new season has some seriously religious overtones to it. Dexter, who has never given a moment’s thought to religion, is trying to get his son into a good pre-school, which just happens to be a Catholic school, and has to deal with figuring out why people believe all this stuff. There’s also a ‘big bad’ serial killer going around using Biblical language and symbolism in his killings, apparently as a means of trying to bring about the Apocalypse in the book of Revelation.
Anyway… Eventually, at his high school reunion, Dexter tracks down a football player who killed his wife and made it look like a suicide, and plays with him in the usual Dexter style. Upon seeing that the killer has a tattoo of Jesus on his chest, the conversation turns to faith.
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.
The Schenectady Daily Gazette occasionally has a column by Carl Strock called “The View From Here.” It’s often inflammatory and a bit mixed-up on the various flavors of Christianity, but his column from today was pretty interesting. If you’re a Gazette subscriber, you can read it here, but everybody else who doesn’t want to shell out a few bucks to read it is out of luck. Fortunately, I have a physical copy of the Gazette on hand, so I’ll quote rather liberally from it…