Monday, February 14, 2011

Pious Pandering: Ky. politicians court Christian conservatives with Bible curriculum, anti-evolution bill, more



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Subject: Secular News Daily: Pious Pandering: Ky. politicians court Christian conservatives with Bible curriculum, anti-evolution bill, more


Secular News Daily: Pious Pandering: Ky. politicians court Christian conservatives with Bible curriculum, anti-evolution bill, more


Pious Pandering: Ky. politicians court Christian conservatives with Bible curriculum, anti-evolution bill, more

Posted: 12 Feb 2011 05:48 PM PST

Sandhya Bathija is the Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Kentucky's SB56, requiring a Bible curriculum for public schools, passed 34 - 1.

Is being a foe of church-state separation a prerequisite to being elected in Kentucky? How else can you explain all the work Kentucky government officials have done in the past two months to chip away at the church-state wall?

Yesterday, in the latest anti-separation move, the Kentucky Senate passed a measure that would mandate creation of an official Bible curriculum for Kentucky’s public schools.

SB 56, which sailed through 34-1, directs the Kentucky Board of Education to create guidelines for a social studies elective on the Bible. (Kudos to Sen. Kathy Stein, a former AU National Advisory Council member and the lone vote against the measure!)

State Sen. Joe Bowen introduced the bill this year. Last year, the same measure passed the Senate, but failed in the House – a scenario that (hopefully) may repeat itself this year.

“No doubt about it, the most important book ever written, and obviously, it’s had so much influence on our society and all of Western civilization,” Bowen said of the reason why he wants to ensure Kentucky students have a chance to learn about the Bible.

The courts have deemed that courses on the Bible may be taught in public schools, so long as they are taught from an academic perspective, not as a way to indoctrinate.

Bowen claims SB 56 is merely providing a roadmap for how teachers can successfully teach these courses. The measure states the board should create guidelines for a course on the Bible’s influence on “literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy.” It mandates that the course maintain “religious neutrality” and respect “the diverse religious views of students.”

But is this measure really about academics and “religious neutrality?” And what does Bowen mean when he intimates that the Bible has a role in “public policy?”

Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, who voted for the measure last year, took a “closer look” this year before deciding not to cast a vote at all. He said the legislation includes a provision that permits students to use their own texts for the course. That “throws academic credibility out the window,” he noted.

State. Rep. Reggie Meeks also criticized the Senate for pandering to conservative Christian voters.

“It’s like waving meat in front of a dog, OK? You give them what they want,” Meeks told a local news station.

You give them what they want – even if it comes at the Constitution’s expense – and the expense of religious minorities and nonbelievers who may not want their public schools promoting one faith’s sacred scriptures.

Gov. Steve Beshear also seems eager to cater to religious voters. He recently apologized to self-anointed “chaplain to the state capitol” Lee Watts for mistakenly denying Watts’ request to place a display in the state capitol of religious phrases wrenched from their original contexts in historical and governmental documents.

(Although referred to by both politicians and the media as a “legislative chaplain,” Watts is nothing of the kind. In fact, he’s just another Religious Right activist doing everything in his power to usher in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. His “God and Country Ministry” says America was “founded as a Christian nation, and she can be again, but it will take a new generation of patriots.”)

Initially, State Curator David Buchta, head of the Kentucky Division of Historic Properties, made the right call and denied Watts’ requests based on concerns about church-state separation. But Beshear’s office soon stepped in.

“We are disappointed in this misunderstanding,” said Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear. “We have advised Chaplain Watts that Mr. Buchta was incorrect, and the governor’s office is working with Chaplain Watts to post historical documents in the tunnel.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Kentucky legislators have also introduced an anti-evolution bill this session, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has unveiled a new standard-issue license plate with the words, “In God We Trust.”

Beshear has also voiced his strong support for the building of a creationist theme park featuring a full-scale replica of Noah’s ark – and lots of fundamentalist proselytizing. He has promised developers tax incentives to build in the Bluegrass State.

It’s clear Kentucky needs help. If you live in the Commonwealth, write to your state legislators and Gov. Beshear and let them know you want a strong wall between separation of church and state. The state has a lot of problems that need addressing; elected officials ought to focus on those, not meddling in religion.

Related articles:

1.       ‘Science Guy’ Speaks Out: Bill Nye Says Nay To Anti-Evolution Crusade, As Bills Pop Up In The States

2.      Kentucky Moves to Teach Bible as Literature

3.      Secular Coalition for America Opposes Elena Kagan for Supreme Court

Grammar Nazi? Then you’re probably an atheist!

Posted: 12 Feb 2011 12:41 PM PST

If you’re on a first date, how can you find out how religious your dating partner is without asking outright? Well, it turns out that you can just ask for their opinion on grammar!

OKCupid is an internet dating site. Lovelorn individuals sign up and put in a little bio, filling in some responses to standard questions. All that adds up to a an unparalleled database for delving (and the best bit is that, as a private company, there’s no bothersome ethics committees to navigate!).

They have a whole blog devoted to it, squirrelling out all sorts of nuggets. The latest post is devoted to the surrogate questions you can put to your date in order to discover deeper truths about them.

So, it turns out, if you want to find out if your date is religious, you can just ask them “Do spelling and grammar mistakes annoy you?” As they report:

If your date answers ‘no’—i.e. is okay with bad grammar and spelling—the odds of him or her being at least moderately religious is slightly better than 2:1.

As someone who is not himself a believer, I found it rather heartening that tolerance, even on something trivial like this, correlated with belief in God, although I should’ve figured out that religious people are okay with small mistakes. Next to intelligent design, what’s a couple typos?

 But there’s more. It turns out that last year they analysed the the writing level of individual’s profiles, and compared that with religion and also how seriously the individual took religion.

What they found is shown in the figure. Atheists, agnostics, Buddhists and Jews were the most literate. Protestants and Catholics are the least.

I guess the respondents are all in the US, so this suggests a clear link between the dominant religion and illiteracy.

None of this will come as a surprise to readers of this blog. Last year, research by Darren Sherkat showed that fundamentalist beliefs are closely linked to poor verbal skills.

Now it’s clear that these poor skills aren’t a problem for them – at least not in a prospective mate!

Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

Related articles:

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2.      Will the financial crisis turn people to religion?

3.      Religion causes wealth inequalities

Non-Prophet Week: AHS Student Federation raises money for charity

Posted: 12 Feb 2011 12:37 PM PST

This week, 7th-13th February, the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS), which is facilitated and supported by the British Humanist Association, has been encouraging its members to raise money for a wide variety of charities.

‘Non-Prophet Week’ is off to a great start, with over £1,400 having been raised over the first three days, and over 50 events are planned by 20 different societies. The formula for events is very simple: Societies ‘choose the charity, raise the money, give the money to the charity, have the fun, compete with other societies to see who can raise the most, and boast about their results to the wider world.’

AHS President Richy Thompson commented, ‘There is a common misconception that the religious do more for charity than the non-religious, brought about by the fact that whilst the religious give to religious causes, the non-religious give to neutral, secular causes such as humanitarian charities. During this week we will still be giving to secular charities, but in a more visible way.’

AHS Secretary Nicola Jackson, who has been coordinating the week, added, ‘It’s great to see so many societies participate in this event, which is running for the first time. We will continue to monitor activities during the week itself – you can see more on the Non-Prophet Week website.’

Related articles:

1.       BHA comments on ‘Interfaith Week’ 2010

2.      Secularists Donate to Haiti, Too . . . So Can You

3.      FFRF qualifies again for federal charitable campaign

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK! Freedom Bill and Collective Worship

Posted: 12 Feb 2011 12:35 PM PST

We are asking people to let us know why scrapping the law on collective worship should be included in the government’s new Freedom Bill, and we’ll use some quotes in our parliamentary briefing for MPs.

The government has finally published its Freedom Bill, which is meant to get rid of bad, restrictive laws and to restore liberties. There is, however, a rather conspicuous omission from the ‘Protection of Freedoms Bill’ – the law on compulsory collective worship in English schools.

In a press release (11/02/11) celebrating the publication of the Freedom Bill, the Liberal Democrats state that the Bill ‘also drew on views put forward by the public through the radical Your Freedom website set up after the coalition government came to power.’

As we reported back in July 2010 , on the very first day the ‘Your Freedom’ website was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a suggestion to repeal the law requiring compulsory collective worship in UK schools became the most popular idea suggested.

In fact, under the civil liberties section of the ‘Your Freedom’ website, where people were able to make suggestions of laws which they wanted to see repealed and also to comment on the suggestions of other participants, scrapping the law on collective worship in schools became the most rated idea within an hour of being submitted.

Yet, there is not even a hint of a mention of this law in the new Freedom Bill! The law requiring worship in schools clearly impinges on freedom, is discriminatory, unnecessary and should be one of the first restrictive laws to be scrapped.

We are going to brief all MPs about why compulsory collective worship is an outdated, restrictive and rights-infringing law that should be scrapped through the Protection of Freedoms Bill – see below for some more convincing reasons why! But we need your help. In that briefing, we want to include comments from ordinary people (we’ll anonymise them) about why the law requiring all schools to hold a daily act of collective worship is a bad law that restricts freedom and liberties.

How to tell us what you think!

Tweet us @BHANews – use #freedombill and tell all your friends!

Comment on our Facebook page

Email with #freedombill in the subject (we may re-tweet suggestions)

You can also use our specially set-up facility to email your MP about collective worship


What is the law on worship?

See our website for detailed information about the law on worship in schools

In England all state maintained schools are legally required to provide daily collective worship for all their pupils. In community schools the majority of the acts of daily collective worship that are provided in a given term are legally required to be of a ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’.

In ‘faith schools’ the act of worship is provided in accordance with the school’s trust deed or the tenets and practices of the religion or religious denomination of the school.

Just some reasons to scrap law on collective worship:

If the government wishes to free schools from prescriptive legal regimes, then it is difficult to see why the law on collective worship, which requires all schools to hold a daily act of worship, should not be one of the first laws to be thrown on the bonfire.

It’s really unpopular: teachers, parents and pupils themselves have repeatedly opposed this legal requirement.

It infringes on young peoples’ rights to freedom of belief by forcing them to pray or worship in other ways.

Scrapping the law would reduce bureaucracy in schools and unnecessary obligations on hard-pressed teachers.

The law impedes schools’ ability to provide good inclusive assemblies.

The parental right of withdrawal is not a satisfactory solution – most pupils cannot opt themselves out.

Teachers are often put in an invidious position, having to lead acts of worship which may not reflect their own beliefs.

The removal of the compulsory nature of collective worship would not prevent faith schools from holding assemblies which reflect their religious character.

Scrapping the law would simply mean that schools could decide for themselves what kind of assembly is best for their pupils.

Related articles:

1.       Gove called on to scrap restrictive law on compulsory collective worship in schools

2.      Curriculum Review: Religious Education and collective worship must be included in review

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

‘Science Guy’ Speaks Out: Bill Nye Says Nay To Anti-Evolution Crusade, As Bills Pop Up In The States

Posted: 11 Feb 2011 06:53 PM PST

Sandhya Bathija is the Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

With Darwin Day (Feb. 12) just around the corner, scientists, educators and citizens across the world are gearing up to celebrate the birth of Charles Darwin and his contributions to science.

As Bill Nye “The Science Guy” recently put it, teachers’ reluctance to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution is “horrible.” Scientific advances that benefit everyone could be at risk if students don’t learn sound science.

“People make flu vaccinations that stop people from getting sick,” he said. “Farmers raise crops with science; they hybridize them and make them better with every generation. That’s all evolution. Evolution is a theory, and it’s a theory that you can test. We’ve tested evolution in many ways. You can’t present good evidence that says evolution is not a fact. ”

Yet some Religious Right-oriented state legislators across the country want to derail the teaching of evolution and weaken science education in public schools. We are barely into 2011 and, according to the National Center for Science Education, already four states are pondering anti-evolution bills, including: New Mexico, Oklahoma (where there are two anti-evolution bills!), Missouri and Kentucky.

All of these measures are carefully crafted with creationist code language intended to sidestep decades of federal court decisions preventing creationism from being taught in public schools. These courts have ruled time and time again that creationism is religious dogma and our Constitution prevents our public schools from favoring any religious belief.

The latest bill, out of New Mexico, HB 302, would allow teachers to inform students “about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses” pertaining to “controversial” topics. The bill would protect teachers from “reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so.”

The Oklahoma Senate bill, SB 554, provides that teachers and administrators be free to inform students about “relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses of controversial topics in sciences,” where such topics “include but are not limited to biological origins of life and biological evolution.” The bill also ensures that teachers not be disciplined for teaching science in this manner.

Oklahoma’s House Bill, HB 1551, sponsored by the Religious Right favorite Sally Kern, an avid anti-evolutionist, requires that teachers be permitted to teach the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”

Missouri’s HB 195 uses similar “academic freedom” type language, calling on teachers to encourage students to explore “scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.” The bill also requires teachers to find “more effective ways” to teach scientific controversies.

Kentucky’s HB 169, the first anti-evolution bill of 2011, would allow teachers to “use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”

Most of these bills are similar to legislation introduced in past years that have failed to become law. The bad news is that those who want our public schools to adopt poor science standards just won’t go away.

If you live in any of these states, let your state legislators know you want strong science standards in your home state.

As “The Science Guy” said, “”Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back.”

Related articles:

1.       Oklahoma Defends God Against Evolutionists

2.      Teaching of evolution in school science under new threat

3.      Pious Pandering: Ky. politicians court Christian conservatives with Bible curriculum, anti-evolution bill, more



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