- You are your brand label
- Dr. Jonathan Tobert Joins CFI Board of Directors
- Have a Nice Fall: 11/18/10 Atheist Cartoon
- MP 'not convinced' by government plans to prevent extremism in religious 'free schools'
- Catholic League unleashes holiday assault on church-state separation, atheists
- Chester County, PA commissioners move to eliminate freethought Tree of Knowledge
- President Obama issues executive order implementing long-awaited reforms of the faith-based office
- Obama Executive Order On 'Faith-Based' Initiative Is Disappointing, Says Americans United
Posted: 18 Nov 2010 08:49 AM PST
My last post, on how people find secular alternatives to fill one particular emotional need traditionally fulfilled by religion (the need to feel in control), set me to thinking about another study that was published earlier this year.
The study looked at brands, which are a powerful form of self expression. People use brands to send signals about personality and wealth. Many people are, in a very real sense, defined by their brands.
Religion, too, provides a powerful sense of identity. When someone says they are a Catholic, or a Buddhist, they are saying a lot more about themselves than simply their other-worldly beliefs.
Maybe the two are interchangeable? It's a fairly old idea � the Branding Strategy blog put together an amusing (if pretty tenuous) list of parallels back in 2007. But now a team from the
First they showed that US States with a high number of branded stores (Macy's, Gap and Banana Republic) versus discount stores (Costco, K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart and Sam's) also have a low number of religious congregations. About half of this is explained by differences in average wealth. They dug around a bit more and found that education explains some more of it (educated States are suckers for branded goods), as did urbanization. But even after taking these into account the link persisted. It wasn't either that people in less religious states consumed less.
On its own that's not terribly convincing. But then they headed to the lab, and found that students who were primed to think about religion (by writing a short essay) were less likely to choose branded goods in a subsequent exercise.
In another study, they found that priming people to think about how religious beliefs and activities 'provide you with a sense of self�worth' made them less interested in brands than those primed to think about how religious beliefs 'provide you with a sense of safety and security.'
They also polled individuals on their preference for branded goods � apparently they got their participants from some database of people who are into taking these sorts of surveys, but who are selected to be representative of the
Now, none of this is particularly surprising. We know that people use brands as a badge of identity, and we know that, in this regard, religion is a particularly powerful brand. However, I don't agree with the pundits who try to take it further, and argue that brand identity is a kind of surrogate religion. For example, take a look a this, which is pulled from Schachar's Working Paper that he published back in 2007:
To me that sounds like 'just so' story telling � finding amusing parallels between a hobbyist group (one that just happens to have a focus on a brand) and a particular Western religion (Christianity). If those 5 themes are really what constitutes religion, then most people in the world are not religious!
Posted: 18 Nov 2010 08:43 AM PST
Richard Schroeder, Chair of the Center for Inquiry's (CFI) Board of Directors, is pleased to announce that Jonathan Tobert, MD, PhD, has joined CFI as the organization's newest director. Schroeder stated that "Jonathan Tobert is a strong addition to our current board, bringing practical knowledge about the use of science in the service of humanity, one of the underpinnings of the philosophy of the Center and our affiliated organizations."
Jonathan Tobert was born in the
Posted: 18 Nov 2010 08:40 AM PST
Posted: 18 Nov 2010 08:37 AM PST
In a debate in the House of Commons yesterday, the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, failed to give reassurances to MPs that religious extremists would be prevented from setting up 'free schools'. The 'Opposition Day' debate on education gave MPs the opportunity to discuss the government's education reforms, including on academies, free schools and curriculum issues. The BHA briefed MPs ahead of that debate.
In response to a question from Mike Gapes MP asking 'What safeguards are there against extremists, including Islamists and creationists, setting up free schools?', the Education Secretary said that he opposed Islamic extremism and had set up a 'due diligence unit' in order to deal with the threat of extremism.
However, Barry Sheerman MP, former chair of more than ten years of the House of Commons Education Select Committee stated: 'I am not sure that the answers we heard today about faith schools were entirely convincing.'
In July, when legislation to create academies and free schools was going through parliament, the government said it had no plans to stop creationism being taught in those schools.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips said, 'The government has consistently failed to give convincing assurances that adequate measures are in place to ensure that state-maintained 'faith' academies and free schools will be free from religious extremism either in the way they are run or what they teach. Setting up a 'due diligence unit' is one thing but falls far short of what is needed. We want to see the government introduce more robust safeguards, such as legislative change and statutory guidance, to protect children and young people from extreme religious views being imposed on them when they go to school.'
Posted: 18 Nov 2010 08:32 AM PST
Last week, the Catholic League unleashed its latest volley in the Religious Right-created "culture war" ― an attack on atheist and humanist advertising campaigns. Driving the point home, the attack was tied to a shipment of Christian nativity scenes to each and every governor, and the release of contact information to make harassment and haranguing easy should the displays not be placed in public view on government property.
From the Catholic League:
As Donohue says, the Catholic League "does not have to resort to negative advertising" like those "embittered atheists" who are "predictably hostile" and "appealing to debased motives".
No negative advertising there.
Thus far, only a few states have made an official response to Donohue. Washington state said thanks, but no thanks:
Meanwhile, Virginia's governor has told the Catholic League that the display will be set out in the executive mansion ― that is, not at the Capitol, and not in public view ― and two other governors have sent letters of thanks without any commitment to display the religious icon.
Have you seen stories about other states' responses? Let us know!
Posted: 17 Nov 2010 09:15 PM PST
Freethought activist Margaret Downey has coordinated the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia's Tree of Knowledge display for the last three years. One of the most conspicuous freethought/humanist alternative holiday displays in the country, it consists of a large outdoor tree decorated with reproductions of covers of current and classic freethought/humanist/atheist books. It stands alongside various religious holiday displays on the courthouse lawn in
Tomorrow, November 18, the Chester County Commissioners will vote to take control over all holiday decorations on the courthouse lawn, leaving the choice of decorations not only in the hands of three commissioners, but funded by taxpayers instead of by private citizens. The action will ban private displays of any sort ― including the Tree of Knowledge.
Please read Margaret's message below and take action!
Message from Margaret Downey :
Posted: 17 Nov 2010 09:05 PM PST
The executive order amends one issued by President George W. Bush in 2002 and clarifies some of the rules governing partnerships between the government and faith-based and community-based social service groups.
Among the changes are provisions that ensure compliance with constitutional standards prohibiting government-funded religion and protect the beneficiaries of federally funded social services. Specifically, organizations are forbidden from engaging in "explicitly religious" activities in the course of a program that receives direct federal financial assistance.
Click here to download the executive order in a pdf format.
The amended order also directs agencies that award government aid to establish procedures to ensure that beneficiaries can receive benefits from an alternative provider if the beneficiary objects to the religious character of the organization. Each participating organization is responsible for responding to objections and providing referrals to other programs, as well as timely notice of these options for program beneficiaries. This provision replaces and expands upon a weaker provision that was often criticized as blurring constitutional boundaries.
The executive order maintains protection of the character of faith-based organizations, allowing them to compete and participate in federal funding programs without varying their autonomy, expression or religious character. In addition, the organizations will not be forced to remove or cover religious symbols or icons, as long as they do not use direct government funds to implement an explicitly religious program.
In February, a task force of religious and secular leaders charged with reforming the White House faith-based office, including BJC Executive Director J. Brent Walker and chaired by former BJC General Council Melissa Rogers, presented 12 recommendations to President Obama's 25-member Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The recommendations were made to strengthen the constitutional and legal footing of public-private partnerships. The recommendations ask the administration to clarify the prohibited uses of direct financial assistance, provide guidance on the protection of religious identity while providing social services and assure the religious liberty rights of clients and beneficiaries of federal social service funds.
"The President's Executive Order makes major strides in more clearly identifying how government and religious organizations can work together effectively while honoring constitutional protections for religious liberty," he said. "As a member of the Reform of the Office Task Force, I was privileged to have had a part in contributing to this very helpful and needed executive order."
Not mentioned in the executive order was the issue of whether the government should require houses of worship to form separate corporations, such as 501(c)(3) organizations, to receive federal funding for social services and work to reduce barriers to obtaining 501(c)(3) status. The BJC has long-supported this approach as a way to avoid commingling federal dollars with financial gifts from parishioners.
"I regret that our recommendation requiring a separate corporation was not included, but the executive order embraced most of our recommendations,"
The amendments did not address the contentious issue of religious hiring in government-funded programs, leaving in place Bush-era regulations. This issue was not part of the Advisory Council's charge. The administration has stated that the issue will be treated on a case-by-case basis by the Attorney General and the White House Counsel.
"This admittedly divisive issue cannot be kicked down the road forever,"
Posted: 17 Nov 2010 08:58 PM PST
Today's White House executive order on "faith-based" funding fails to correct significant constitutional problems and leaves important civil rights issues unresolved, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Americans United applauded President Barack Obama's decision to require federal agencies to provide alternatives for people who do not want to receive social services at religious charities and also welcomed a process to create greater transparency in the program by requiring that recipient organizations be listed on government Web sites.
But AU is disappointed that the order allows public funds to go directly to houses of worship, allows publicly funded faith-based charities to display religious signs and scriptures and entirely dodges the issue of religious hiring bias by faith-based charities that receive federal funds.
"I'm disappointed," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This leaves much of George W. Bush's faith-based initiative in place. That's not the change many Americans hoped for when President Obama took office.
"I am particularly frustrated that President Obama still has done nothing to ban hiring bias by publicly funded religious charities," continued
"I don't believe Barack Obama wants to go down in history as the president who helped George W. Bush roll back civil rights and religious liberty,"
"Taxpayer money should never be used to underwrite religion or religious bias,"
Americans United has been wary of the faith-based initiative since the concept was first introduced in the 1990s by then-Sen. John Ashcroft. AU maintains that a special government program that looks for ways to funnel public funds to religious entities is inherently problematic under the First Amendment.
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