On Jan. 20, millions of Americans witnessed a major religious ceremony held on the steps of the U.S. Capitol: the presidential inauguration. If you doubt this statement, consider the following facts.
The inauguration began with an invocation given by a Protestant minister, the Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham. The reverend strongly recommended that the new president look for spiritual guidance and values in leading the nation.
Next came a musical offering by the Manual High School Choir, which sang "America the Beautiful." The song contains such lyrics as "God shed His grace on thee" and, in the repeat lyrics "God mend thine every flaw."
Then came the swearing-in of Richard Cheney as the new vice president. Webster defines this action as: "to invoke the name of a sacred being in an oath." And this is precisely what happened in this obviously religious procedure. With his left hand on the bible and his right hand raised, Cheney proceeded to take the oath of office that ended with "so help me God."
This was followed by a soloist, a member of the military, who sang two selections, one of which was "God Bless America." This religious song, written by Irving Berlin, has a preamble that states: "Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer: God Bless America, land that I love . . . ."
George Walker Bush was next sworn in by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush had his hand on the bible and ended his oath with the usual "so help me God."
If people expected a secular inaugural address (which came next in the ceremony) from a man who, during his presidential campaign, stated that his favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ, they would have been greatly disappointed. Although the speech was not exactly a sermon, it did include such spiritual comments as "I know this is in our reach ['to build a single nation of justice and opportunity'] because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image."
He also stated that "church and charity, synagogue and mosque lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and in our laws," and "when we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side." These two pronouncements obviously provide the Christian justification for, and approval of, the welfare state.
Near the end of his brief inaugural address, President Bush declared: "We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with His purpose. Yet His purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another."
This is an unambiguous expression of a significant and basic Christian belief that permeates government and serves as the fountainhead of numerous local, state, and federal laws.
President Bush ended his speech with "God bless you all, and God bless America."
A benediction followed that was given by another Protestant minister, and the ceremony ended with the singing of the national anthem.
Appropriately, the inaugural weekend concluded with a Sunday-morning prayer service held at the Washington National Cathedral, a church that was chartered by Congress. In his book, The Bible in Stone, Robert Kendig wrote: "In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison signed the charter for the Protestant Episcopal Foundation that had previously been passed by Congress. This Charter has been called the 'cathedral's birth certificate.'"
The presidential inauguration is one of the most explicit and revealing ceremonies that clearly shows the true religious nature of government in America. Government at all levels in the United States is dominated by Christians, mostly Protestants, who incorporate their Christian philosophy into their legislative proposals and laws. Therefore, government in this nation is no more secular than the government found in the Vatican.
Make no mistake about it, America is a Christian nation, and has been throughout its entire history. So when you see the widespread corruption in government, you will know who to blame.
And if you are very wise, you will also see that you cannot turn to religion, based on the supernatural, as a source of moral guidance.
Foundation member Thomas L. Johnson is professor emeritus of biological sciences at Mary Washington College. This originally appeared in the Free Lance-Star [Fredericksburg, VA], Feb. 4, 2001.
Tiny church attendance. Adult church attendance in Britain is at 7.7% and only 2% now attends an Anglican church regularly. Source: Economist/New York Times, Dec. 22, 2000
A Titan trend. Nashville churches reported a 50% decrease in church attendance on the Sunday of the Titans' 11:30 a.m. home game in January, a dip that is part of a larger trend of sabbath apathy. Source: The Tennessean, Jan. 14, 2001
Beware pious politicians. 74% polled think politicians who talk about their faith 'are just saying what people want to hear.' Source: Nov. poll, 1,507 U.S. adults, Public Agenda; AP, Jan. 10, 2001
Up to 13%! Agnostics, atheists and nonreligious citizens are 13% of the population. Source: Nov. poll, 1,507 U.S. adults, Public Agenda; AP, Jan. 10, 2001
Help! The world's population of 6.1 billion--which doubled since 1950--is projected to swell to 9.3 billion in the next half century, with nearly 9 of every 10 people living in a developing country. Source: U.N. Population Division study; AP, 2/28/2001
Agnostic president has work cut out for him. Ricardo Lagos, Chile's president since March 2000, is a socialist agnostic and in his second marriage in a Catholic country where most divorce is illegal and abortion is banned. Source: The Economist/New York Times, Sept. 8, 2000
Uh-oh. The United States, with 62.5 million Roman Catholics (22.7% of the population), has the third-largest Catholic population, after Brazil and Mexico. Rhode Island is the only state with a Catholic majority (64.3%). Source: 2001 Catholic Almanac/AP, Feb. 7, 2001
16% Canadians nontheists. 84% of Canadians say they believe in God. Source: Ipsos-Reid/Globe and Mail, Jan. 6, 2001
Catholicism rules Wisconsin? Only 13% of groups receiving public funding offered birth control education as a way to assist "W-2 recipients" (formerly welfare clients in Wisconsin) to get off financial assistance, but 76% of recipients indicated they wanted birth control counseling. Source: Single Mother Needs Assessment Study, Dieringer Research Group (March 2001) (Submitted by Nora Cusack)
Dutch vs. dinosaur mentality. The teen pregnancy rate for 15- to 17-year-olds is 9.9% in the United States with its federally-mandated "abstinence" programs, but is less than 1% in Holland, which offers liberal sex education and free contraception. Source: "Teen Pregnancy 'Virtually Eliminated' in The Netherlands," Reuters Health, March 2, 2001
Beware motoring men of god. Insurers Bell Direct found that 29% of clergymen have had road accidents, compared with 26% of estate agents and only 19% of teachers. Source: [London] Sunday Mail, Feb. 11, 2001
Majority opposes public vouchers. More than half (54%) of Wisconsin citizens oppose using tax money for private (mostly religious) schools. Source: Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College poll; Capital Times [Madison, WI], April 27, 2001
Scots awa' wi' church. Europe is considered a "post-Christian" society. In Scotland, less than 10% of Christians regularly go to church. Source: Newsweek, April 16, 2001
Foundation staff member Dan Barker, a former evangelical minister who is now an atheist, spoke at Kansas State University-Manhattan, about "Losing Faith in Faith" on April 9. The event was the kickoff for "Freethought Week" organized by Individuals for Freethought (IF), a KSU campus student group.
The large auditorium was standing-room-only, packed with believers and unbelievers who were mainly polite and attentive. The only rudeness came from a local Baptist minister who stood up and interrupted the meeting, yelling "Blasphemy!" along with a loud rant about "judgment day." Otherwise, the talk was well received by students and covered favorably by the campus newspaper. A Political Issues instructor gave extra credit points to students who attended and wrote a paper on the speech.
Dan also performed a freethought concert at the Manhattan Unitarian Fellowship on Sunday, April 8, and did a campus radio interview the following morning, during which the student host played Dan's freethought blues, "You Can't Win with Original Sin."
Individuals for Freethought gave Dan one of their new orange T-shirts, sporting a bright yellow smiley face with the words:
"Smile. There is no hell!"
Thanks to Amy Walker, Leslie Veesart, Keiv Spare and Paul Youk for transportation, and to Marolyn Caldwell, Steve Mull, Amy & Marc Walker for hospitality.
Atheism debated in Arizona
"God is a Baritone!"
Dan Barker participated in a debate at Arizona State University-Tempe, with Bob Siegel of "Mission to the Americas" on April 11. The event was arranged by the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, spearheaded by hard-working Foundation member Susan Sackett, and co-sponsored by the ASU Freethought Society.
Almost 600 people attended the overflow debate. Many were seated on the floor and stood in the foyer, with about 100 turned away.
The Arizona Republic featured a pre-write in its Sunday edition.
Dan's father was in the audience, the first time he was able to attend one of Dan's debates. "I want you to meet Norman Barker," Dan said, when introducing him, "my only father."
During the debate, Siegel said he knows a god exists because he has a "personal relationship" and has had "personal encounters" with him, even hearing his voice.
"What does God's voice sound like?" Dan asked Siegel during the cross-examination. "Is he a tenor or a baritone?"
"He's a baritone," Siegel responded with a straight face.
After the event, a young man told audience member Joy Berry, a children's author: "I hadn't thought about it very much before, but I guess I'm an atheist!"
Dan extends thanks to Susan Sackett and the ASU Freethought Society, who were able to arrange the successful debate on less than a month's notice.
The smorgasbord of editorial cartoons on these two pages is a sampling of those presented by Steve Benson, the Arizona Republic's Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist, before the annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in St. Paul last fall.
"'Tooning Out Religion" was an encore presentation by Steve, who accepted a "Tell It Like It Is! Freethought in the Media" award at the 1999 annual convention.
Steve is the grandson of the late Mormon "prophet" Ezra Taft Benson, the former Secretary of Agriculture under Eisenhower.
He graduated cum laude in political science from Brigham Young University, 1979. Steve and his wife Mary Ann Christensen broke with the Mormon Church in 1993 in disagreement "over its doctrines on race, women, intellectual freedom and fanciful storytelling." Now an openly-admitted secular humanist atheist, Steve lists among the benefits of leaving religion, "another day off, a 10 percent raise and getting to choose his own underwear."
The headline-making cartoonist and his wife reside in Gilbert, Arizona, with their four children, "all of whom live under assumed names."
He recently completed a term as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
His cartoons appear in about 130 newspapers and magazines nationwide.
Steve was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1993, and has placed first in Best of the West editorial cartooning in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, and 1999. He cites his proudest achievement as receiving the "Parched Cow Skull Award" from the Arizona Office of Tourism for "the least positive contribution" to the winter visitor industry.
Since 1997 he has worked as a sworn police officer for the State of Arizona. When pulling over motorists who ask him what they've done wrong, Steve has been tempted to reply, "Do I have to draw you a picture?"
Among his many hobbies, Steve cares for a popular home zoo of dozens of small animals that includes (not counting his children) ferrets, iguanas, tortoises, birds, rabbits, rats, mice, dogs, and cats. He says working with the animal kingdom helps him "better understand lower forms of life--namely, politicians and the clergy."
His work proves the old adage, "a picture is worth a thousand phone calls."
Steve will present "'Tooning Out Religion" on July 6 at the Lake Hypatia Independence Weekend hosted by the Foundation's chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association.
An annual award recognizing statements about the shortcomings of religion by public figures was announced in April by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group working to educate about freethought and to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
The award, a statue, is based on the folk tale "The Emperor Has No Clothes," the Hans Christian Andersen story of two con men, weavers, who convince a gullible emperor that the cloth they supposedly have woven is so exquisite that only the very wise can see it. The emperor parades before his subjects in his imaginary finery until a child calls out: "But the emperor has no clothes!"
Religion, freethinkers contend, has a similar imaginary base.
The Emperor statue is described by Foundation president Anne Gaylor as "an engaging, golden figure clad only in shoes and a fig leaf" and carrying a mirror and sceptre. It was produced by the same firm that does the "Oscars."
The six public figures named for the awards are: Katha Pollitt, columnist; Andy Rooney, CBS commentator; Ted Turner, CNN founder; Janeane Garofalo, comedienne-actress; George Carlin, standup comic; and Jesse Ventura, Minnesota governor.
Gaylor noted that Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, consistently points out religion's devastating effects on women; Andy Rooney has written of his long-held freethought views; Ted Turner regularly is called on the Christian carpet for his candor; Janeane Garofalo and George Carlin both have witty, popular routines challenging religion's claims; and Jesse Ventura made lasting news with his Playboy interview (Nov. '99): "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."
The Foundation presented its debut Emperor award to Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, a renowned physicist, at the Foundation's convention in San Antonio, Texas (Nov. '99).
Prof. Weinberg said: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
The Foundation plans to make the awards an annual April event to coincide with the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birth (April 13, 1743). Jefferson, whose writings criticized religion and who especially valued separation of church and state, was one of the most skeptical of U.S. presidents.
The "Emperor" award was suggested and financed by a West Coast Foundation member who wishes to be anonymous.
Awards have been mailed or UPS'ed to recipients, except for Katha Pollitt who will be presented with hers in person when she comes to Madison to speak at the Foundation's 2001 convention the weekend of Sept. 21-23.
Here's a nearly foolproof way to find good flicks that freethinkers will enjoy: Find out which ones Michael Medved doesn't approve of.
Medved, longtime film critic and self-proclaimed "cultural crusader" for the faith-based family values crowd, used to be the host of "Sneak Previews" on public television. Now his daily three-hour radio program, broadcast from Seattle and funded by the Salem Radio Network ("Christian Radio's #1 News Network") reaches "1.8 million listeners in 118 markets coast to coast."
SRN (of Irving, Texas) boasts "the finest anchors and reporters in Christian journalism" and is the billing address for Medved's personal website, where his movie reviews and other addled opinions are archived. He's also a board member of the Dove Foundation, an organization that rates movies on the basis of "traditional Judeo-Christian values."
I knew I wanted to see the film "Chocolat" even before Annie Laurie Gaylor gave it a four-pansies rating (March 2001). Medved had already warned against it. "This . . . will only attract unthinking flies," he opined. "[Producer] Harvey Weinstein is so determined to show the horrid, intolerant, cruel nature of religious conservatives that he tries to do so by recreating an irrelevant and implausible struggle."
Similarly, Medved panned "The Contender," which Annie Laurie re-commended. "[A] feminist fantasy," said the cultural crusader, that could be the most disappointing and annoying movie of the year. "A woman's Ã"sacred' right to choose is the most important value in this movie."
Medved has a well-established history of criticizing those he finds at odds with his supposedly Judeo-Christian values. In addition to movie reviews, his website also offers examples of his Golden Turkey Awards--snide comments on people and activities he believes are misguided or silly. Targets of his criticism include efforts to end racism and hate speech, the Million Mom March to promote handgun controls, Democrats, environmentalists, gays and lesbians, controversial art exhibits, and, of course, any effort to keep religion out of public schools.
I first became aware of his involvement with the Christian right when "Hollywood vs. Religion" aired in 1996 on a PBS affiliate station owned by a private university in Indianapolis. The title and content of the film reflect Medved's book Hollywood vs. America, in which he depicts the film industry as an anti-religious cabal.
"It's important to understand that it's not some sort of organized conspiracy--a bunch of people in a room somewhere planning how they're going to knock organized religion," Medved says in the film. "What we are talking about is a tightly-knit creative community whose members happen to share some similar unspoken values and biases. And one of those biases involves a sincere and deep-seated contempt for organized religion."
Credits at the end of the film indicate that it was produced and directed by Michael Pack of Manifold Productions, Inc., for the Chatham Hill Foundation, another Christian-funded organization based not far from SRN in Texas. (Pack is a fairly well-known conservative filmmaker who has brought us, among other "documentaries," two films on Newt Gingrich.)
An Internet search revealed that Focus on the Family had put its Christian muscle into marketing the video through a mass mailing that announced the show's satellite feed in November 1995. Postcards sent to religious leaders and other supporters asked that they contact their local PBS affiliates to request that the program be telecast. Clergy were asked to inform their congregations and request their cooperation in the effort.
I contacted my local PBS affiliate to complain that "Hollywood vs. Religion" had been aired without comment about its political underpinnings, and was told by the station manager that they had received a number of calls. He invited me to participate in a panel discussion about the controversial film, and I accepted.
In a subsequent phone conversation, the station's news director revealed that Medved himself would also sit on the panel, and I (foolishly) said that I intended to bring up the nature of the film's production and distribution and the lack of disclaimer on it. The brave news director left me a voice-mail message around midnight, withdrawing the invitation for me to participate. My message to him, asking for confirmation of the time and location of the event so that I could sit in the audience, brought no reply.
The local media folks who were allowed to sit on the panel were all in fawning agreement with Medved. Only one panelist was brave enough to wonder if erosion of moral values could be fairly blamed on Hollywood, but he prefaced his remarks by saying, "I'm a man of faith also--just so you don't think I'm a godless atheist."
My friends and I were allowed to sit in the audience but were forced to submit our questions on index cards, promptly ignored. Instead, Medved carried on uninterrupted, denouncing the film industry as malicious and stupid and showing "disregard for the fundamental truths that animate the lives of most people."
Films that address those "truths" have been few and far between since "The Sound of Music" (1965), according to Medved. He offers as personal favorites such antiques as "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938), "Boys Town" (1938), "Going My Way" (1944), "The Bells of St. Mary's" (1945), "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "My Darling Clementine" (1946), "The Ten Commandments" (1956), "The Robe" (1953), "Samson and Delilah" (1949), and "Ben Hur" (1959). These movies portrayed faith and religious leaders in positive ways and were box-office hits. Priests used to be handsome, he laments. Nowadays they are "far less appealing."
Medved doesn't like "The Three Musketeers" (1993 version) because it portrays Cardinal Richelieu as a sexual predator. "Sister Act" is acceptable because its view of Catholicism is "benign," but "Household Saints" offers a cynical view of the church. "Agnes of God" is objectionable in many ways, not the least of which is Jane Fonda's role as an atheist psychiatrist.
A practicing Jew, Medved objects to humorous portrayals of Orthodox Judaism in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex," "Radio Days," and "Enemies, a Love Story."
Other films he finds unacceptable: "City of Joy" (spirituality cut out of the original story); "Doc Hollywood" (set in South Carolina, but no churches shown); "Hocus Pocus" (elevates a feminist type of spiritual practice); and "Little Buddha," "Heaven and Earth," and "Malcolm X" (offer positive views of non-mainstream religions).
"Star Trek V" has an anti-religious subtext. "We're No Angels" portrays religion as a crutch that doesn't reflect eternal truths. "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" characterizes religion as hocus-pocus. In "King David" the main character loses his faith. The Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ" "bears no resemblance to the Jesus of the New Testament . . . but is deeply troubled and possibly insane."
All of this is because "the religious practices of the people who create movies are very different from their audiences," he states. "[L]ess than 10 percent of the entertainment industry's leaders participate in religious services of any kind," he asserts, citing a 1982 study "recently confirmed by the University of Texas."
In movies, "ministers are murderous, evangelists are suckers and dupes, and fundamentalists want to take over the country," Medved wails, but "agnostics are always wise and wonderful."
Is that the result of deep-seated contempt for religion, or just an accurate reflection of our society? Medved makes a wonderful critic-in-reverse: I used the movies lambasted in Hollywood vs. Religion as a viewing guide, and have enjoyed every one of them.
Nominate Favorite Freethought Flicks
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a judicial version of a bible literalist, according to Foundation president Anne Gaylor, who, with other Foundation staff members, recently picketed Scalia when he spoke in Madison, Wisconsin.
At two Wisconsin university appearances in March, Scalia decried the idea of the Constitution as a living document:
"A dead Constitution--that's what I'm selling," Scalia told a closed audience at the University of Wisconsin Law School on March 15. He said his mission was to persuade them "to love a dead Constitution."
According to the Capital Times [Madison, WI] coverage, Scalia hinted that he would not find a constitutional right to women's suffrage under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, saying only the 19th amendment passed in 1920 provided that right. Scalia added:
"If you don't like the white males, persuade the people and lead a revolution. And you'll get beat, too."
Scalia calls himself an "originalist" or "textualist," saying judges must preserve the original meaning of the two-centuries-old Constitution. The Constitution provides no right to die, no right to an abortion, and no ban on the death penalty, he said. By implication he appears to believe there is no constitutional right to contraception.
"The death penalty--that's a laugher. Right to die--forget about it. Right to abortion--the same thing," according to Wisconsin State Journal coverage of the speech.
Scalia seemed to dismiss the broad liberties provided in the Bill of Rights: "The majority wins. If you don't believe that, you don't believe in democracy."
Scalia, a Roman Catholic, was valedictorian at a Jesuit prep school. He worships at a suburban Virginia parish popular with conservative Catholics, which erected a monument to "unborn children" to symbolize opposition to abortion. He is the father of nine children.
In 1971 Nixon gave Scalia his first political appointment. President Reagan appointed Scalia to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1982. Four years later, Reagan successfully nominated him to the Supreme Court.
Scalia became an outspoken opponent of affirmative action in the early 1980s. His dissenting votes have upheld prayer at public school graduations. Scalia wrote the decision handing George W. Bush the presidency.
Scalia may see his dream of a "dead constitution" realized, given the fact that Bush is expected to replace two or more justices during his term, including "swing" voter Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Her replacement by a Scalia/ Thomas clone would ensure a 5-4 rightwing majority on the high court.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has called on the U.S. Agency for International Development to investigate allegations that a federally funded quake relief project in El Salvador is overtly proselytizing.
According to an expose in The New York Times (March 5), AID has granted more than $200,000 to Samaritan's Purse, whose president and CEO is Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham.
In a letter to Don Pressley, Acting Administrator of AID, the Freedom From Religion Foundation called for an immediate probe and audit, and urged him to freeze further aid. The Christian ministry reportedly is slated to receive a second similar grant to continue its Christian mission in El Salvador.
Samaritan Purse's website describes itself as "a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people . . . with the purpose of sharing God's love through his son, Jesus Christ . . . to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."
According to Times reporter David Gonzalez's lead sentence, the evangelical relief group "has blurred the line between church and state as its volunteers preach, pray and seek converts among people desperate for help."
"This is not just a misuse of the public's money to promote religion, but to promote evangelical Protestantism in a predominately Catholic country," the Foundation wrote Pressley.
"If Samaritan's Purse wishes to conduct prayer meetings, to convert Catholics to Protestantism and to 'preach the word of God and receive the word of God,' it must do its mission without public funding, endorsement and support," said the Foundation.
Especially indicting is the statement of a needy villager quoted by the Times: "They said a lot, but the principal thing was god and that earthly things do not matter."
"We imagine Franklin Graham has many nice earthly things, and that it would matter a great deal to him were he homeless from an earthquake, and expected to attend Catholic mass to receive tax-paid help," noted the Madison, Wis.-based Foundation.
Also quoted by the Times was Dr. Paul Chiles, director for Samaritan Purse's project in El Salvador: "We are first a Christian organization and second an aid organization. We can't really separate the two. We really believe Jesus Christ told us to do relief work."
Granting tax money to a pervasively sectarian relief group is being justified by "charitable choice," promoted by Pres. Bush and Sen. Jesse Helms. In its letter of complaint, the Foundation noted that Bush's scheme to promote "charitable choice" beyond welfare reform at the federal level has not been authorized by Congress. "Nor has the untested concept itself passed Constitutional muster."
The Foundation currently has a lawsuit in federal court challenging the use of welfare reform money to subsidize an overt Christian ministry for addicts, which will be the first "charitable choice" lawsuit to be adjudicated in the nation.
"If it wants public money, this Christian group needs to play by the rules, to create a secular arm and be scrupulous in separating its private religious agenda from its public purpose of helping disaster victims," said a Foundation spokesperson. Religious activities conducted as part of federally-funded programs are believed to violate federal and contract guidelines. The Foundation has made a request to review the project application and AID regulations on religion under the Freedom of Information Act.
Mr Don Pressley, Acting Administrator
U.S. Agency for International Development
Ronald Reagan Bldg
Washington DC 20523
202/712-4810 Fax 202/216-3524
I don't believe in God.
--Actor Javier Bardem (nominated for "best actor," "Before Night Falls")
New York Times, March 4, 2001
I'm an atheist, although I had to look up the word in the dictionary way back when I realized I didn't believe in god as an all-seeing thing. I believe in Darwin and the natural world.
I don't like the way organized religion manipulates people. I don't like wars in history that have been about differences in religion. And what is this thing about swearing on the Bible in court? I don't need that to tell the truth.
--Choreographer Paul Taylor
"Paul Taylor, Ballet's Beloved Enemy"
New York Times, March 4, 2001
The obituaries in the newspapers and on television [of Steve Allen] were well done but none mentioned what ended up being an obsession with Steve. He was a student of the Bible and a dedicated atheist intent on proving the Bible was a seriously flawed book that many people who profess to live by it, don't know or understand.
Press-Enterprise, Nov. 5, 2000
"Church admits to shortage of miracles."
The [London] Times, June 8, 2000
You have been chosen by God to lead the people.
--Rev. Mark Craig to Dubya
Dec. 14 victory sermon New York Post, Dec. 15, 2000
There is, indeed, little question that religion--or, if one wants to be nice about it, the name of religion--has become increasingly associated with conflict around the globe. From Kosovo to Khartoum, from Jerusalem to Jakarta, the struggle for power and pelf both within and between countries can often now be cast in religious terms.
--Book Editor Mark Silk
Religion on the International News Agenda [Charleston] Gazette-Mail, Nov. 26, 2000
Terrific news from the Archbishop of Canterbury: we have become a society of atheists. In a startlingly pessimistic analysis of the role of the church in contemporary Britain, Dr. George Carey admits that "a tacit atheism prevails" and that people have stopped believing in life after death.
The Guardian, Oct. 30, 2000
I was looking at this woman [one of several CNN Washington newsroom employees with ashes on their faces] and I was trying to figure out what was on her forehead. At first I thought you were in the [Seattle] earthquake. I realized you're just Jesus freaks. Shouldn't you guys be working for Fox?
New York Post, March 8, 2001
If the outrage directed at the Taliban for destroying ancient religious figures were instead channeled into rescuing the living from the hell that is Afghanistan, there would be much more to celebrate [on this International Women's Day].
St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 8, 2001
I was born in Hildale, Utah, the 25th child of 31 total among my father's four wives. My mother was the third wife. Polygamy goes back on my mother's side clear to the days of Joseph Smith. That's eight generations of polygamy. . . .
We were just little girls in odd clothes and funny hair who thought we were going to hell if we didn't obey. Who would think, right here in the United States of America, fathers are trading their daughters away like trophies? It's brainwashing and slavery. It's a complete system of organized crime right in our backyard that for some reason the government has simply chosen to ignore.
--Laura Chapman, molested by her father, quit school at 11 to work without pay, married to a stranger at 18
Denver Post, March 4, 2000
Stephen Jay Gould . . . [in his book Rock of Ages] dubs his redemptive breakthrough Noma--an acronym for Non-Overlapping Magisteria . . . . The idea is that scientists and representatives of religion should agree to a "principled and respectful separation" of their activities. . . .
Noma is a non-starter, destined to plunge to the ocean floor straight from the launching ramp. . . The most obvious [reason] is Gould's glaringly inadequate account of religion. None of the things we normally associate with religion--churches, priests, dogma, belief in the supernatural, worship of a God or gods--are, Gould tells us, necessary to religion . . . [As for scientists] the suggestion that their expertise has nothing to contribute to moral discussion is tantamount to saying that moral discussion is better conducted by the ignorant.
. . . Superstition is merely faith by another name.
--Reviewer John Carey
Sunday [London] Times, Jan. 28, 2001
I think of them [convents] as dark centres of attempted brain-washing, run by women who take out their sexual frustrations on innocent children with a zeal bordering on sadomasochism. . . .
I remember being told when I was about 12 that my mother was "a slut," that I had "the mark of the Devil" and would probably go to hell because I had a "lazy eye."
"I think of nuns as dark sadists" [London] Times, Sept. 21, 2000
The alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all.
--Sir Peter Medawar
Nobel-prize winning British biologist
. . . It seems likely that the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives will soon become a highly effective patronage scheme.
New York Observer, Feb. 12, 2001
White House Correspondent Helen Thomas: Mr. President, why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and the state? And you know that the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter. I mean, the very fact that our country has stood in good stead by having the separation--why do you break it down?
Pres. Bush: Helen, I strongly respect the separation of church and state--
Thomas: Well, you wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did. . . . You are a secular official. And not a missionary.
--Bush's first press conference
Feb. 22, 2001
Our founders expected that Christianity--and no other religion--would receive support from the government. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.
--Family Research Council Press Release
Associated Press, Sept. 26, 2000
I have a problem with the teachings of Scientology being viewed on the same par as Judaism or Christianity.
--George W. Bush campaign remarks
New York Times, March 7, 2001
So why not augment all this [church-run charities] with a little governmental largess? Because even religious institutions that place a high value on serving the poor almost always place a higher value on saving souls. They should. That is why they exist in the first place.
. . . to suggest that the government should shift part of its welfare burden to churches, through tax-supported subsidies, is folly. Who will do due diligence on thousands of tiny projects to ensure that religion and government stay separate? Who will keep my church, or any other, from slipping federal funds from one pocket to another?
--Rev. Forrest Church
All Souls Unitarian Church
New York Times, Dec. 25, 2000
Those of us who live in New York can tell you how many problems arise when church and state start drifting together. This is the place where parking regulations turn into faith-based initiatives. . . . Everybody wants a piece of the action. . . . the New York political theory [is] that the way to honor the dignity of faith is by passing special-interest legislation for every religion in sight.
"Faith and Parking"
New York Times, March 7, 2001
At the national Prayer Breakfast, President George W. Bush said, "Faith crosses every border and touches every heart in every nation."
Yes, and sometimes the faithful carry bombs across borders to kill and maim people of different faiths. . . .
If tax money eventually goes to churches for charity work, the devil will be in the details.
Cox News Service Columnist
New York Times, Feb. 2, 2001
If you add religious passion to what are now merely public policy debates, you promptly add an element of fanaticism that can only destroy democracy.
We have only to look at Afghanistan and Iran to see what comes of mixing religious zealotry with politics.
--Columnist Molly Ivins
West County Times
Dec. 23, 1999
It was a miscarriage of justice when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled unanimously on February 13 to uphold the constitutionality of a statute requiring a "So help me God" oath on a tax form.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and our Missouri plaintiff Robert Oliver take some consolation in the Court's ruling that Mr. Oliver is permitted to strike the words "So help me God" from his personal property tax assessment form. But the Court should have overturned the statute for two reasons.
First, as the decision admits, "The guiding principle is that no one can be required by the government to acknowledge the existence of, or belief in, a deity." Then why did the Court approve a religious oath on a tax form?
Second, it should have invalidated the statute because it creates a double standard, requiring a mandatory oath to a deity on tax assessment forms for citizens in third and fourth class counties, but not imposing a religious oath on citizens in first class counties. Those living in first class counties are given the standard warning of the "pains and penalties" of perjury--which is the only appropriate way a government should remind its citizens of the legal implications of signing a statement attesting to the truth.
The unmistakable implication is that people who live in poorer, less populated counties need to be reminded of the wrath of a deity in order to be honest. A news reporter researching this issue concluded that this double standard dates to the turn of the 20th century when concern (or stereotypes) about the making of "moonshine" in rural areas was rampant!
People of good sense and good will should be able to agree that the State of Missouri is wrong in imposing a religious oath upon some of its citizens for discriminatory reasons.
If a resident of a third or fourth class county fails to sign the oath containing "So help me God" on the property tax assessment form, the statute provides for a misdemeanor conviction, with fines and jailtime penalties. Those living in first class counties who have scruples against signing a religious oath face no such dilemma or threat of prosecution.
The facts of this case are straightforward. Our plaintiff Robert Oliver refused in good conscience to sign the religious oath on his 1998 personal property tax form when he noticed it contained the words "So help me God." Instead he wrote and signed his own affirmation "under penalty of perjury," which the Christian County assessor's office refused to accept. This placed Mr. Oliver in legal jeopardy.
The state tax commission eventually instructed the assessor's office to accept Mr. Oliver's altered form in that particular instance. But later that spring the state tax office ordered all third and fourth class counties to comply with the statute, mandating the oath must be signed and must end with the words "So help me God."
That is when we decided to go to court.
Our lawsuit correctly invoked the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and its corollary clause in the Missouri State Constitution, both of which prohibit states from making or enforcing any law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens or denying any person "the equal protection of the laws."
The equal protection clause of the federal constitution was originally adopted to guarantee the rights of freed slaves, although its protections encompass anyone who faces invidious forms of discrimination.
Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White himself publicly and recently faced discrimination when his nomination to a higher court was sabotaged by John Ashcroft. How could Justice White and other justices so cavalierly dismiss the rights of another set of minorities?
Our complaint and briefs correctly pointed out that the Missouri Constitution provides for a far stricter separation of church and state than the federal constitution. Justice Michael A. Wolfe, who wrote the decision for the court, interpreted this to mean:
"Oliver and the Freedom From Religion Foundation seem to read our constitution as being hostile to religion."
That is untrue. We properly read the Constitution as requiring government neutrality toward religion and irreligion. We notice the Court did not argue that the absence of "So help me God" from tax forms designed for residents of first class counties indicates government "hostility."
The Court insultingly suggests that a person who wishes to make a secular statement should sign the "affirmation and simply ignore, without deleting, the references to 'swear' and to 'So help me God' . . . In any event, when a taxpayer opts to affirm, the words 'So help me God' are surplus." The court fails to note that neither the form nor the statute provides the taxpayer with a way to "opt to affirm." Ending a so-called "affirmation" with the words "So help me God" renders an affirmation absolutely meaningless.
This Court decision is doublespeak! Carving out an exception for one Missouri citizen does not address the inequity of the wording and the statutory double standard.
On one matter we do agree with the Court. That is when it admits that the religious oath "is indeed an invitation to express a belief in God."
The solution now rests with the Missouri Legislature, which should ensure that citizens in all its counties are given secular wording on tax assessment forms.
--Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freethought Today editor
This op-ed was published by several Missouri daily newspapers.
P.S. Five Missouri State Supreme Court judges were appointed by John Ashcroft when he was governor. Ashcroft-appointed justices are: John C. Holstein, Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., William Ray Price Jr., and Duane Benton. Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., is the cousin of Rush.