"You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."
So chided Pope Francis yesterday in Manila, speaking after the terrorist murders of the staff of the French satiric magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
While claiming he wasn't blaming the victims, that the violent attack wasn't justified, that's precisely what the pope was actually saying.
"Provocateur" appropriately is a French term. "Provocative" is what the best freethought writers, social critics and cartoonists strive to be. Think of some of the greatest provocative freethinking writers or humorists: Voltaire. Thomas Paine. Mary Wollstonecraft. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Mark Twain. Ambrose Bierce. H.L. Mencken. Bertrand Russell. George Carlin. Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
The pope, who's been greeted with adulation for sounding a bit more human than his papal predecessors, has to date done nada to reform Roman Catholic doctrine. While telling church colleagues to quit obsessing over abortion, gay marriage and contraceptive messages, Pope Francis has yet to soften, much less rescind, the church's obsession over banning abortion, contraception and marriage equality globally. He's nothing but window-dressing.
Obviously, it's fine for religion and its various holy books to provoke and insult others. Think of the insults to women within the covers of the Hebrew and Christian bibles and the Koran, which are handbooks for women's oppression. Think of the barbaric injunction declaring homosexuality an "abomination" and ordering the death penalty for it: "their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13). Think of the provocations in the Old Testament, shared in common by the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions, which openly and often call for killing heretics, nonbelievers and apostates.
Yet Pope Francis dares call violence in the name of God an "aberration"?
One of the biggest myths on our planet is the assumption that if it's religious, it must be good. Those of us who make known our dissent from religion are constantly being told not to criticize or offend, to shut up. Or else. The only weapons of irreverent humorists are jokes, as New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff pointed out. Now we're being told it's natural for a joke against religion to be met with assassination.
We have the right and in fact the duty, like the child in the fairy tale, to proclaim that the Emperor has no clothes.
In response to the terrorism against Charlie Hebdo, Steve Benson, the Pulitzer-Prize winning editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic, drew a cartoon with a new variation on Voltaire's famous pledge.
The terrorist in Benson's cartoon is saying: "I may not agree with you, but I will defend to your death my divine right to kill you."
That's telling it like it is.
Green Forest High School, Ark., will no longer include prayers at school-sponsored events thanks to efforts by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
At a Veterans Day ceremony, a Green Forest teacher led a prayer. Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent Green Forest Public Schools a letter on Nov. 25, protesting the unconstitutional prayer. “While it is laudable for Green Forest High to organize an assembly to honor veterans, it is unconstitutional to allow any religious message or prayer to be party of a school-sponsored event,” wrote Grover.
An attorney for the school district responded Dec. 10, saying the school had assured him none of its staff would lead a prayer at a student assembly in the future.
The Paso Robles School Board decided not to start including prayer in its meetings after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the board a letter of complaint.
Upon learning the board was considering instituting invocations, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Board President Katy Griffin a letter, noting that the school context is different from the context of other government prayers, such as at city council meetings, the Supreme Court has deemed constitutional.
“Students and parents have the right—and often have reason—to go before or participate in school board meetings and deliberations. Fully 70 years of firm Supreme Court precedent bars religious indoctrination and rituals from public schools for the express purpose of protection of the rights of conscience of impressionable school children,” wrote Seidel.
FFRF’s complainant emailed Seidel on Dec. 10 to report that the board voted at its Dec. 9 meeting not to start their meetings with an invocation.
The Marin County Athletic League, which includes public and private schools, will no longer allow a Catholic school to impose prayers on public school attendees thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter Feb. 25, 2014, to the Tamalpais Union High School District, which participates in the league. Justin-Siena Catholic High School, another league participant, regularly had a priest offer a prayer before games held on their campus.
“It is completely inappropriate for official Tamalpais Union High School District athletic events to compel public student athletes to participate in or show obeisance to religious exercises at the behest of a private Catholic school,” wrote Seidel.
Marin County Athletic League Commissioner Susie Woodall responded on Dec. 3, informing FFRF that the Catholic school was prohibited from engaging in organized prayer prior to athletic events.
Aberdeen High School, Wash., pulled out of the Festival of Lights at The Grotto in Portland, Ore., after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Grotto is a Catholic shrine dedicated to Mary, and the public school choir was scheduled to perform in a church replete with Christian iconography. The venue, a private religious group, charges an entrance fee, which it pockets.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Aberdeen superintendent Dr. Thomas A. Opstad on Nov. 24, warning the district, “Taking public school students to a church, a place covered with religious iconography, is an endorsement of that church’s religion.”
Opstad responded on Dec. 2, saying that he had looked into the matter and decided that the choir would not be attending the festival.
After receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the City of Rice will not include religious symbols on newsletters.
The city’s Spring 2014 newsletter included a cross image next to the notice that the city’s offices would be closed on Memorial Day. “Including a Christian cross with the announcement of the Memorial Day closing excludes any non-Christian or non-believing veterans. It perpetuates the myth that there are no ‘atheists in foxholes’ and that the only veterans worth memorializing are Christians,” wrote FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.
An attorney for the city wrote Markert on Dec. 2, reporting that the city would be careful about the use of religious symbols in the future.