Thursday, November 18, 2010

Humanists Dismayed by Obama’s Lack of Will to Fix Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives

Secular News Daily

Humanists Dismayed by Obama's Lack of Will to Fix Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives

Posted: 17 Nov 2010 12:59 PM PST

The American Humanist Association (AHA) leadership expressed frustration with President Obama's Executive Order concerning the regulations of federally funded faith-based initiatives. The changes, recommended by a President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Taskforce, affirm federally funded organizations' rights to retain their religious influence, and fail to prohibit religious tests in hiring.

According to a press release from the White House today, the Executive Order specifically affirms that religious organizations receiving federal funds may "use their facilities to provide social services without removing or altering religious art, icons, scriptures or other symbols" and "select its board members on a religious basis."

"This order does not properly address the discrimination impressed upon people of minority faiths and philosophies," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "As long as the government allows federally funded organizations to incorporate religion into the care and treatment of their patients, the wall of church and state separation is weakened, and those who suffer are those who need help the most."

While the order grants referrals to patients seeking non-religious care elsewhere, it also allows organizations to hire and fire on the basis of religion, retain religious scripture, artwork and references within their offices, and advertise religious activities taking place outside the organization's federally funded restraints.

"Obama campaigned on a platform that opposed proselytizing through tax-payer funded faith-based programs," Speckhardt said. "Since taking office he has done almost nothing to address the blatant violations these programs thrive on. This weakened response is too little, too late."

David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association and attorney from Massachusetts, adds, "For too long, Americans have seen their taxes support religious groups through the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. The entire faith-based program of subsidizing churches should be scrapped, but certainly at a minimum it's time for President Obama to make good on his word to end discriminatory hiring in faith-based programs."

Related articles:

1.       Humanists Dismayed With Philadelphia Boy Scouts Verdict

2.      Humanists Mourn the Loss of Lloyd Morain

3.      Humanists Hail Ruling on Defense of Marriage Act

In Brief: Prayer Vigil Planned for Detroit Lions

Posted: 17 Nov 2010 12:56 PM PST

A Detroit pastor believes that a prayer vigil will help the Lions win their Thanksgiving Day game. What do you think? Will an imaginary friend give the Lions a good offense?

More at

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1.       National Day of Prayer Ruled Unconstitutional

2.      In Brief: Prayer Day Politics: In Louisiana, Religion And Government Mix Like Oil And Water

3.      Catholic Church Issues Pre-Sex Prayer

Religion and belief largely absent from government's new vision for equality

Posted: 17 Nov 2010 10:50 AM PST

Mention of religion and belief was largely absent from the government's announcements on its new equalities strategy, launched this morning by Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Rt Hon Theresa May MP. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which was invited to attend the speech, has said that while there could be some positives in the new approach, the conspicuous absence of equalities policy on religion or belief could have a detrimental impact on equality and anti-discrimination across the board.

Earlier this month, the Secretary of State confirmed that the Government Equalities Office (GE0) would not be doing any work on the equalities area of religion or belief, which includes non-religious belief. The Minister was responding to a question from the BHA in a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, 'The government's new vision for equality seems to be firmly rooted in promoting equality of individuals, with a stated intention to move away from seeing and treating people simply on the basis of one marker of identity, such as religion. This could be positive and tackle in part the worrying situation whereby people are encouraged to identify with a faith group simply to be recognised, consulted or included in policy initiatives. We will be looking to see where religious representatives are given privileged status and treatment by government solely on the basis of religious identity, and hold the government to task against its new strategy.

'However, the Secretary of State also emphasised that public services would be handed over to communities and we know from experience that often means contracting to religious groups, which are permitted by law to discriminate in services and employment on religious grounds. If religious groups are to take control of the provision of public services particularly at local level, that poses serious risks of increased discrimination, not only against non-religious people but women and vulnerable minorities within faith communities, such as gay people.

'The fact is, if religion or belief really has been excised from the GEO's portfolio, and all related issues are to be dealt with by other government departments and placed firmly in the context of faith communities rather than equalities, then that could be very detrimental to wider efforts to forward equality across the board.'

Related articles:

1.       Parliamentarians discuss localism and secular public services

2.      Equality and Human Rights Commission release first Triennial Report

3.      British Government continues funding for 'faith' groups

Thinking Beats Believing Every Time

Posted: 17 Nov 2010 12:01 AM PST

Stories about the new "Consider Humanism" advertising campaign by the American Humanist Association (AHA) have generally focused on some obvious things: The fact that it's more "bold" than last year's "Be Good for Goodness Sake" campaign, where the money is coming from, reactions from various groups, etc. There is something else in the campaign, however, that people are not noticing, something that unfortunately has turned out to be more subtle than it should be–the juxtaposition of the words believe and think.

The print ads are where this comparison is most obvious, but the television ads contain it as well. The phrase "What some believe" is used and then a verse from the Bible or Koran, followed by the phrase "What humanists think" and a quote from a notable humanist or atheist. The "about" section of the website devoted to the AHA's campaign does not specifically mention that they ended up with this exact wording on purpose.

Example from "Consider Humanism" ad campaign

So, I sent an email to the AHA asking them if the decision for the wording was done on purpose. Executive Director Roy Speckhardt responded, writing, "In developing our ad campaign we considered our words very carefully. We chose to highlight how some people 'believe' scriptural quotes, because belief is most commonly associated with something taken on faith as opposed to evidence. We juxtaposed that with 'think' for humanist positions because it highlights our thinking way of examining questions and reaching conclusions."

It's nice to know this wasn't an accident.

For non-believers to use the word belief to describe their position when it comes to religion is something that believers often do unconsciously. The title of this blog post is a perfect example: "New atheist ads compare Bible, Quran to their beliefs." The irony of that headline is likely lost to almost every believer.

Believers seem to need to assign a belief to everyone, even non-believers, in order to try and make sense of things. Even though it is inaccurate to saddle a non-believer with beliefs, the mind of someone who lives in a world based on beliefs has a really difficult time with the idea of a non-believer.

Example from "Consider Humanism" ad campaign

This ad campaign uses think when quoting a non-believer, which is the accurate word. Non-believers don't believe, they think. It's a superior alternative because it's an active and ongoing process. When a person has a belief it means that a conclusion has been reached. Thinking has therefore stopped in favor of a state of rest.

It is a dangerous state of mind for several reasons, two of which are the following: 1) A belief can literally be anything, no matter how much contrary evidence exists, which means it's not a virtuous destination; and 2) it can become an overwhelming part of a person's self-identity, solidifying a potential falsehood into someone's view of the world.

A person who still thinks, however, is by default still actively using their mind and much more willing to accept new and more accurate information as it appears. Their self-identity is not tied up in a belief system, therefore it's not stagnant and solidified making it resistant to change.

Something that's in motion tends to stay that way and gets the benefit of experiencing a continuous change of scenery from new information. An object at rest also tends to stay that way and can only use what's within its static, paralyzed reach, not able to experience, let alone accept, anything new. One is unarguably better than the other.

I hope that people will notice the use of belief v. think, even if only subconsciously. It's a big deal.

Related articles:

1.       British Humanists lend support to the 'Equal Love' campaign

2.      Belief in God produces Hell on Earth

3.      Young kids can't help believing what they're told

1st Circuit rules in favor of godly pledge

Posted: 16 Nov 2010 07:16 PM PST

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on Friday issued a ruling against the Freedom From Religion Foundation's challenge of a New Hampshire statute requiring daily classroom recitation of the godly Pledge of Allegiance.

The federal challenge was brought by attorney Michael Newdow on behalf of FFRF and New Hampshire FFRF members with school-age children in November 2007. The lawsuit challenged a 2002 law requiring recitation of the pledge, and requiring that those who do not participate "be required to respect the rights of those pupils electing to participate."

The record shows that the law was intended to further "the policy of teaching our country's history to the elementary and secondary pupils of this state." The history of the pledge shows that it was secular from its 1892 inception until religious lobbies tampered with it in 1954, said Gaylor.

The American Religious Identification Survey 2008 shows that the Northeast region is the least religious area, with 22% identifying as nonreligious. New Hampshire is the least religious state with a whopping 29% identifying as nonreligious. Even the American Religious Identification survey 2001 showed that 13% of the adult population was nonreligious.

"The legislators who belatedly enacted this law in 2002 had the advantage of hindsight. They adopted this law at a time when they should have been aware that a significant number of state citizens are nonreligious," commented Gaylor.

"It shouldn't be OK to exclude nearly a third of the state's population in a daily school ritual that turns nonbelievers into political outsiders."

Gaylor also contested the decision's claim that students who don't participate can have many reasons besides religion. While that might be true at the secondary level, it is not true of elementary school students. The youngest nonparticipants are likely to be children of nontheistic parents or minority religions such as Jehovah's Witnesses who are conscious that their parents disagree with the pledge, she said. "It is farcical to maintain that a kindergartener or third graders would be sophisticated enough to have a 'political disagreement with reciting the Pledge, [or] a desire to be different.' "

Filing motions to intervene in the case were the State of New Hampshire, the United States of America and a student in the Hanover school district were joined by another group of students, their parents and the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic men's organization. The Knights of Columbus were one of several religious lobbies which successfully added "under God" to the previously secular pledge in 1954.

The interference of the Knights of Columbus proves the religious advancement of placing "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, noted Foundation Co-President Dan Barker.

The district judge, Steven MacAuliffe, widow of teacher Christa MacAuliffe who died in the disastrous 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger, ruled against FFRF and its plaintiffs in November 2009.

The appeals court, citing an earlier decision, said that "public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive."

"But our public schools are required to shield students by ensuring they do not establish a religion, or show a preference for belief over nonbelief," Barker added.

Citing a phrase from the Lynch decision, the appeals court stated "the Constitution does not 'require complete separation of church and state.' " The Lynch case approved a government-fostered temporary nativity display which was dwarfed by secular displays. The appeals court compared the pledge as a whole to a holiday display, and "under God" to a nativity within such a so-called constitutional display.

"It is absurd to argue that because of the rest of the pledge is patriotic and secular, that renders the words 'under God' somehow secular," commented Gaylor. "We are talking about students subjected to a daily pledge which ties piety to patriotism."

In 2002, Newdow won a historic ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declaring the words "under God" in the pledge to be unconstitutional. That challenge was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court for lack of standing. But Newdow, an emergency room doctor with a law degree, has broadened his challenge to other federal districts because of widespread protests of "under God" in the pledge.

Newdow and the plaintiffs are mulling over a challenge of the law in state court.

Related articles:

1.       Federal Court: "Under God" OK in Pledge

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3.      Enfield Graduation Appeal Denied

Relive 33rd Annual FFRF Convention!

Posted: 16 Nov 2010 07:11 PM PST

Did you know that the 33rd annual national FFRF convention was videotaped and broadcast by Wisconsin Eye (the Wisconsin equivalent of C-Span)?

Just click the link below to access to the whole convention. You may wish to fast forward to particular speeches/events. (Footage includes every event except Linda Greenhouse's speech and Tunes 'n 'Toons, which were not videotaped at the request of the presenters.)

FFRF Conference, Days 1 and 2 (Video Footage – click to watch)
Wisconsin Eye

October 29 & 30, 2010

Additionally, hundreds of photos of the convention by hardworking Convention Photographer Brent Nicastro are available now to view as a slideshow at FFRF's website. (Additionally, a smaller slideshow by photographer Tom Stringfellow can also be viewed):

Convention-goers have been sending us their digital photographs of the weekend to be posted in an FFRF Facebook album. If you would like your convention photos to be considered to be shared in the album, please e-mail them to Executive Assistant Bonnie Gutsch (and send your name so we can give you credit!). You may also share your photos on the FFRF members-only Forum.

Audios of most presentations will soon join the convention coverage. Every speech will be reprinted in Freethought Today, starting with student awardee Eric Workman's speech in the soon-to-be-delivered November issue.

Many FFRF members have asked when the 2011 convention will take place. Save this date on your calendar: Weekend of Oct. 7-9, 2010, Marriott Hartford Downtown, Hartford, Connecticut. A tour of Mark Twain's home will be offered for Friday early-birds who sign up, and there are many other historic sites of interest in Hartford.

Related articles:

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2.      FFRF places 5 "God-free" billboards in New Orleans

3.      Fargo, ND Freethought Convention Sept. 18

Education Minister reveals raft of meetings with religious groups

Posted: 16 Nov 2010 07:08 PM PST

The schools minister Nick Gibb MP has revealed that Department for Education ministers frequently meet with religious groups, and have not met once with non-religious representatives from the British Humanist Association (BHA) since the election. The BHA described the government's meetings only with religious representatives as a worryingly exclusive policy at these crucial times for education.

In response to a parliamentary question tabled by Dr Julian Huppert MP, a Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Mr Gibb disclosed details of meetings with religious organisations, including three with the Church of England's Education Division, three with the Catholic Education Service and two with the Board of Deputies of British Jews. By contrast, the BHA's three formal requests to meet with ministers were either ignored or turned down.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: 'The coalition government has already implemented some of the most radical changes to the schools system for many years, and is set to announce yet more reforms with the publication of a new education white paper. It is particularly concerning that, at this time of great upheaval, education ministers seem unwilling to meet with the BHA, while holding a number of private meetings with the churches. Education is far from being a concern only of the religious but the failure to include non-religious representatives indicates a worryingly exclusive policy by the Department.'

'With the increase in new 'faith' academies and free schools, the scaling back of Ofsted and the narrowing of the national curriculum, there will be fewer and fewer safeguards to guarantee broad and balanced teaching in all schools and to protect children even from extreme religious agendas. It is absolutely vital that we meet with ministers to discuss the reforms needed to ensure that schools and curricula are inclusive of pupils and staff, whether religious or non-religious.'

Related articles:

1.       Minister falls for 'easily-dispelled myths' about religious schools

2.      BHA tells parliamentary committee: government's education agenda poses threats and opportunities for human rights

3.      BHA: Religious 'free schools' are not the answer to extremism



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