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Lauryn Seering

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Senate finally acknowledges freethinkers

The U.S. Senate is finally addressing the concerns of freethinkers.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation's largest nontheistic organization, sought to put these matters front and center in a list of questions it recently sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general nominee. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a member of the committee, seemed to be channeling the letter during the confirmation hearings. 

On the first day, Whitehouse asked Sessions his views about Justice Department attorneys "with secular beliefs," since Sessions had in the past criticized such lawyers.

Whitehouse asked: "And a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious, correct?"
Sessions replied: "Well, I'm not sure."

1senatevideo

Watch the video here.

The back and forth, as Slate reports, stunned the Senate into silence.

On the second day of the hearing, Whitehouse again stood up for secular attorneys — and, by extension, all secular Americans — saying that they shouldn't be punished for being nonreligious.

In its letter, FFRF specifically highlighted Sessions' problematic views on this subject.

During a panel discussion at the Republican National Convention last July, in reference to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's comment that "there is no objective stance, but only a series of perspectives," Sessions reportedly stated, "If you have secularization in the world and don't believe in a higher being, maybe you don't believe there is any truth."

FFRF asked: Is it Sessions' contention that not believing in a god makes someone categorically an undesirable citizen?

During the hearing, Whitehouse closely echoed FFRF's line of questioning.

FFRF again expresses its concerns at Sessions' troubling perspective on the issue and applauds Whitehouse for his defense of the nonreligious.

"Sessions doesn't seem to have let go of his biases, making him unfit for the attorney general position," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Sen. Whitehouse deserves cheers for highlighting and combating this narrow-mindedness."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), representing more than 26,000 members across the country, has as its purposes the protection of the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government, and the education of the public about nonbelief.

1Ben Carson by Skidmore with lighting correctionThe Senate needs to closely scrutinize Dr. Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development secretary nominee, on how his zealotry might affect his leadership.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is requesting that the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs query Carson closely at his confirmation hearing on Jan. 12 about his religious bias possibly interfering with his supervision of HUD. FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor have written a letter to the members of the committee with questions to ask the intensely devout former neurosurgeon and presidential candidate who is looking to take charge of the nation's public housing sector.

Carson has previously stated: "The First Amendment . . . guarantees the freedom of religion. It says nothing about freedom from religion." He has also said he would "not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation."

But HUD's mission is to help citizens of all or no religious faiths, and it is barred from funding activities involving worship, religious instruction or proselytization. FFRF, a state/church watchdog, often is requested to advocate for HUD recipients who've had religion imposed on them.

Carson should be asked: "Will you commit to HUD serving all American equally and without discrimination, regardless of their religion or lack thereof?"

Carson has also termed the Big Bang theory to be a "ridiculous" idea put forth by "highfalutin scientists," and has even called evolution the work of the devil. Given his rejection of scientific ideas that conflict with his religious beliefs, Carson should be quizzed about whether he will listen to experts "even if their conclusions differ from your religious values."

Carson claims there is "no conflict" between "God's law" and the laws of the United States. FFRF advises the committee to therefore inquire: "If there is a conflict between the law and your religion, for instance, if your office were required to extend housing to a gay couple, would you be able to uphold the law?"

Finally, Barker and Gaylor raise concern over religious exemptions from neutral zoning ordinances. Carson should be probed about what he would do to ensure the rules apply equally whether the exemption is for a Christian church or a Muslim mosque.

FFRF represents more than 26,000 nonreligious members nationwide.

Photo by Gage Skidmore via CC 3.0.

1plannedparenthoodlogoThe Republicans must cease their relentless assault on Planned Parenthood.

For the umpteenth time, the GOP-controlled Congress has threatened to cut off reimbursement funds for the organization, this time as part of a larger plan to repeal Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan recently announced Republicans will move to strip all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. This could cost the organization hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, and it's a highly unscrupulous ploy.

This must be emphasized: Planned Parenthood does not receive any direct funding from the federal government. It does get reimbursed for family planning services, which do not include abortion (except in narrow instances).

But that hasn't stopped the attacks on Planned Parenthood from members of the Religious Right and their elected representatives — attacks based on deception and misinformation. In reality, theocrats are seeking to not just deny low-income women access to abortion on religious grounds, but also access to contraception.

"Planned Parenthood has been a political target for years," NPR reports. "But recently, the partisan polarization has gone beyond abortion rights and into any federal funds going to the organization."

The primary organized opposition to reproductive rights in this country always has been religion, as FFRF co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor has repeatedly emphasized. Virtually every vocal opponent of contraception and abortion argues against these rights on the basis of God and the bible. In fact, the Freedom From Religion Foundation came into existence in good part because of the organized religious opposition to abortion rights. It is what opened the eyes of FFRF principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor to the dangers of dogma being enshrined in in our laws.

The causes of freethought, women's rights and family planning are all inextricably linked.

"No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body," freethinker and contraceptive rights crusader Margaret Sanger stated. "No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother."

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has vowed to offer full resistance to the GOP onslaught. "Not without one hell of a fight, they aren't," she recently tweeted a response to the defunding efforts.

FFRF stands in full solidarity with Planned Parenthood.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), representing more than 26,000 members across the country, has as its purposes the protection of the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government, and the education of the public about nonbelief.

 

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