Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

29 August 2008

Death Sentence for Apostasy

By Diana Hsieh

This news is horrifying, but not surprising:

A Saudi man working with the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice recently killed his daughter for converting to Christianity.

According to sources close to the victim, the religious police member had cut the tongue of the girl and burned her to death following a heated debate on religion.
...
Saudi religious scholars have frequently warned against the dangers of Christian internet websites and satellite TV channels which attract Muslim youngsters to change their religion.

They decreed that watching these channels or browsing these websites which call for conversion to Christianity by various means is against the teachings of Islam.
The coercion of religious belief -- such as by blocking contrary views and punishing apostasy -- might seem like a show of power: it's the crushing of the thinking mind by sheer brute force.

Yet the attempt to coerce belief in some religion or squash criticism of its tenets is the ultimate confession of weakness. It says, loud and clear: "These beliefs cannot withstand rational scrutiny. They are not based in fact and logic. I'm so afraid that they will wither and die in the light of reason that we must cover them with the dark shroud of brute force."

However, such weakness can be dangerous -- just as this man's killing of his own daughter shows.

Read more...

28 August 2008

Churches Should Keep Out of Politics, Poll Says

By Ari

Reposted: This is an interesting survey (thanks to Kelly M.); a slim majority of Americans (52 percent) think churches should keep out of politics. This is up from 44 percent just four years ago. Perhaps when people got a taste of the religious right via the Bush administration (which only partly tried to appease the religious right), they figured out that maybe faith-based politics isn't so great, after all.

This surprised me a bit:

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that most of the reconsideration of the desirability of religious involvement in politics has occurred among conservatives. Four years ago, just 30% of conservatives believed that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Today, 50% of conservatives express this view.
Yet it's not hard to figure out that, with government programs such as "faith-based initiatives" come government strings. And perhaps many religious conservatives are figuring out that, when they alienate independents and the secular free-market movement, they no longer participate in a winning coalition. Grover Norquist points out that, when the religious right merely calls on government to leave religious beliefs alone, the faction can play nicely with others. But when religious conservatives try to impose faith-based restrictions and spend tax dollars to promote religion, they make enemies out of those loyal to liberty.

Read more...

27 August 2008

Media Release: Faith-Based Politics Is a Losing Strategy

By Diana Hsieh

MEDIA RELEASE: COALITION FOR SECULAR GOVERNMENT

Faith-Based Politics Is a Losing Strategy

Sedalia, Colorado / August 27, 2008

Contact: Diana Hsieh, founder of the Coalition for Secular Government and co-author of "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life," Diana@SecularGovernment.us

The wholehearted embrace of faith-based politics by Democrats is the big news of the Democratic National Convention. "It's a losing strategy, particularly in more freedom-minded states like Colorado," said Diana Hsieh, founder of the Coalition for Secular Government.

A recent Pew survey showed that Americans are growing more wary of the persistent attempts of politicians to inject their private faith into public policy. A majority of Americans of all political stripes oppose the mixing of politics and religion.

In Colorado, the Republican Party's determination to enact laws and policies based on sectarian Christian values has resulted in stunning defeats in recent elections. Colorado was once a solidly red state, but now it's purple, and turning blue.

"Despite these losses, the religious right is still on the warpath in Colorado," Hsieh said. "This election, they're attempting to force God's law on the state via Amendment 48, the ballot measure which would grant fertilized eggs all the legal rights of persons in the Colorado constitution. If passed and implemented, the amendment would criminalize abortion as murder and ban the the birth control pill. It would be a disaster for the men and women of Colorado." See "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life," a Coalition issue paper by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, available at http://www.SecularGovernment.us/docs/a48.pdf.

Now the Democrats are imitating this losing strategy by infusing liberal politics with religious fervor. They're holding interfaith prayers, opening their platform to religious opponents of abortion, and supporting faith-based initiatives. Ironically, they're doing so in Colorado, the very state that was handed to them as a result of voter disgust with the religious right.

"It's political suicide. The Democrats will only alienate the majority of Americans committed to the principle of secular government," Hsieh said. "Who can those voters support, when both Republicans and Democrats seek to govern by their personal faith rather than rational principles?"

"To protect freedom of religion and conscience, Republican and Democratic leaders must embrace the separation of church and state on principle. Politicians should govern according to the secular principles of individual rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, not religious scripture," Hsieh said.

The Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us) advocates government solely based on secular principles of individual rights. The protection of a person's basic rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness -- including freedom of religion and conscience -- requires a strict separation of church and state.

Read more...

26 August 2008

Pastor-In-Chief?

By Diana Hsieh

This letter to the editor in The Tennessean was a breath of fresh air:

Cal Thomas' column, "Forum exposes Obama's faith flaws," exposes his and many other voters' "faith flaws." My preference would have been that the candidates respectfully declined the invitation to attend the Saddleback Civil Forum.
Advertisement

Their very participation furthers the notion that we are electing a pastor-in-chief, rather than a president for the United States. Our hard-won right to a government that is not based on a particular religions' beliefs — a secular government — is undermined by questions to candidates on their religious faith.

Questions like "What does it mean to trust in Christ?" create a religious test for public office and should have no place in the political discourse for a secular office. America is the most religiously diverse country in the world, and Christianity is only one of those faith traditions. Millions of voters could feel disenfranchised by this and some of the other questions posed in this forum.

Certainly our religious beliefs and values and practices should have an impact on politics and policy. Most important issues of the day have moral components and many have been brought into the public arena. However, different faith traditions lead to different positions on public issues.

No one religion has the privilege to spend public money on furthering its version of a particular religion. And no candidate, at any level of government, has the right to promote his or her religious expression over others.

Public discussion of personal theology has no place in this political campaign, either on the part of the candidates or their questioners.

Carolyn Oehler

Brentwood 37027

Read more...

25 August 2008

Striking a Nerve

By Diana Hsieh

My letter to the editor published in The Oklahoman on August 15th must have struck a nerve, as five (!!) letters were printed in response on August 22nd. To refresh your memory, here's my letter:

Thu August 14, 2008
Kern seeking to destroy protective wall

Regarding "Kern vows to fight for morals in government; The legislator's anti-gay remarks drew ire earlier this year" (news story, Aug. 6): State Rep. Sally Kern describes herself as a "cultural warrior for Judeo-Christian values." Such claims should raise alarm bells for patriotic Americans. A free society can't be founded on Judeo-Christian principles. The Bible doesn't uphold capitalism, nor support our individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. It demands only that we suffer and sacrifice in obedience to God's will.

Individual rights are based on the objective requirements of human life in society. A person must be free to act on his own rational, independent judgment -- without forcible interference from others -- to survive and flourish. The only proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. For a government to do anything else -- including promote religion -- is tyranny. That's why a free society must, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, build "a wall of separation" between church and state.

Kern and her fellow culture warriors seek to destroy that protective wall, thereby paving the way for a repressive theocracy. In the name of freedom, they must be opposed at every step.

Diana Hsieh, Sedalia, Colo.

Hsieh is founder of the Coalition for Secular Government, which supports homosexual rights and opposes restrictions on abortion, tax exemptions for churches and government-sanctioned faith-based initiatives.
Here are the five replies:
Foundation of our freedom

Diana Hseih (Your Views, Aug. 14) displays her ignorance of the Bible, U.S. history and current world events. What country not founded on biblical values has ever been free? The rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness don't come from government but from our Creator. The "wall of separation" between church and state that Thomas Jefferson referred to in an 1802 letter to a Baptist church is intended to protect the free exercise of religion from government interference.

Christians founded this nation and Christians established the principles of individual liberty, limited government, and societal tolerance (within limits) that permit Hsieh to live without interference from others today. If Hseih thinks she'd be better off in a non-Christian nation, she's free to travel to places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, China or North Korea to see how women, minorities and gays are treated where other worldviews dominate.

Will and Cindy Wright, Oklahoma City

Tyranny anyone?

Diana Hsieh (Your Views, Aug. 14) says that a free society can't be founded on Judeo-Christian principles. David Barton of Wallbuilders Inc. has done extensive research on America's founding and the men involved. He says that out of all Founding Fathers, only about a dozen weren't Christians. Hsieh says a free society "must, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, build 'a wall of separation' between church and state." The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Jefferson also said that the Bible is a good book and every student should study it. He founded the University of Virginia and felt that the Bible should be part of the mandatory curriculum in the state university.

Hsieh says for government to "promote" religion is tyranny. Daniel Webster said that whatever makes men good Christians makes them good citizens. Is this tyranny?

Kay Simpson, Oklahoma City

Name those principles

Diana Hseih (Your Views, Aug. 14) makes the absurd statement that a free society "can't be founded on Judeo-Christian principles." If this great country wasn't founded on Judeo-Christian principles, would Hseih please identify the principles on which it was founded? Would she kindly point to a country that has more freedom than our free and happy land?

I'm a firm believer in the adage that if ain't broke, don't fix it. That's how it was until the Supreme Court discovered that the Constitution says our kids may not pray in our schools. Taxes, speed limits, declaring war and all those sorts of things are the business of government. Morality and religion are the province of our churches, and the government should not but does mess with them.

Hseih is wrong when she says this great nation is in danger of becoming a theocracy like the Muslim countries. The real danger is that the government might make us into a godless nation like Communist Russia was. That would evidently suit Hseih just fine.

Joe Freeh, Oklahoma City

A firm belief

Diana Hsieh (Your Views, Aug. 14) is misguided. The "wall of separation" that Thomas Jefferson spoke about in the letter to the Danbury Baptist congregation was referring to the fact that Congress is not to institute a state religion, such as England, Germany and Italy, nor is Congress to interfere with our right to practice our religion, whether it's Christianity on my part or atheism on yours. One of the definitions of faith is a firm belief in something for which there's no proof. Can you prove to me that what you believe happened that caused the beginning of the world is any more correct than mine?

Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. The Founding Fathers understood that rights (such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) come with responsibilities. The order in which they put these was important -- after all you can't have liberty without life and you can't have the pursuit of happiness without the freedom to pursue it.

Douglas Thompson, Oklahoma City

Thompson is serving his country in Iraq.

Historical ignorance

Diana Hsieh (Your Views, Aug. 14) shows her historical ignorance of Thomas Jefferson's famous "separation of church and state" phrase. In Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists dated Jan. 1, 1802, he assured them that they didn't need to be afraid of the government interfering with their free exercise of religion. Jefferson believed that God, not the government, was the author and source of our rights and that the government was to be prohibited from intruding on those rights.

The "wall" of the Danbury Baptist letter was not to limit public religious activities; instead it was to limit the power of government involvement in religious expression. The Congressional Record documents the months of debates of the 90 Founding Fathers who structured the First Amendment during which not one (Jefferson included!) ever mentioned the phrase "separation of church and state." Wouldn't you think that if this had been their intent for the First Amendment, at least one of those 90 men would have mentioned that phrase? None did.

Jay McCurry, Edmond
(I'm surprised that the newspaper didn't correct the misspelling of my name in many of those letters, but perhaps they didn't notice that "Hseih" is not the same as "Hsieh".) I know that some supporters of the Coalition for Secular Government wrote good responses to those letters. I hope that the newspaper is willing print one or two of them.

Read more...

22 August 2008

Wafa Sultan on Sharia

By Diana Hsieh

Courageous former Muslim Wafa Sultan speaks out against the creeping influence of Muslim sharia law in the West:



The imposition of biblical law -- like Colorado's Amendment 48 -- is equally threatening to human life and happiness. See CSG's new issue paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person, for all the horrible the details.

Read more...

21 August 2008

The Emerging Religious Left

By Diana Hsieh

My letter to the editor on the emerging religious left was published in the Rocky Mountain News yesterday. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have printed my affiliation with the Coalition for Secular Government. Here it is, as printed:

Democrats falling prey to religious influence

Diana Hsieh, Sedalia

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The First Amendment of the Constitution upholds freedom of religion as absolute. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, it builds "a wall of separation between church and state."

For the past 30 years, that wall has been under attack from the religious right via "intelligent design," "faith-based initiatives" and now Colorado's own "definition of a person" amendment.

Alarmingly, Democrats are jumping on the faith-powered bandwagon. A powerful religious left is emerging within the Democratic Party, determined to entangle politics and religion. The ideal espoused by John F. Kennedy that the religious views of a politician should be "his own private affair" is dying.

Democrats, religious or not, must speak out for freedom of religion. If they don't, their party will soon be in the iron grip of savvy Christian evangelicals, just like today's Republican Party.

Read more...

20 August 2008

Why I Am an Abortion Doctor

By Diana Hsieh

In this op-ed, a physician explains why he's so committed to performing abortions, despite two serious attempts on his life. It's eye-opener.

Along similar lines, here's a blog written by abortion providers: Abortion Clinic Days.

Precisely because abortion is a very private matter, the reports of these insiders helps clarify the importance of legal access to abortion.

Read more...

19 August 2008

Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life

By Diana Hsieh

I'm delighted to announce that the Coalition for Secular Government has just published its first issue paper:

Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters
That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person


by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh
Colorado's Amendment 48 -- the proposed constitutional amendment that would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs -- would usher in disastrous government controls on abortion, birth control, and in vitro fertilization. It would do so by grossly violating individual rights -- in the name of the faith-based fiction that a fertilized egg is equal to a born infant.
Here's the press release:
MEDIA RELEASE -- COALITION FOR SECULAR GOVERNMENT

New Paper: "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life," an issue paper by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, published by the Coalition for Secular Government is available on the web at:

http://www.SecularGovernment.us/docs/a48.pdf

Contact:

Diana Hsieh, co-author of "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" and Founder of the Coalition for Secular Government, diana@SecularGovernment.us

Ari Armstrong, co-author of "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" and editor of FreeColorado.com, ari@freecolorado.com

AMENDMENT 48 IS ANTI-LIFE, NEW PAPER SHOWS

"Amendment 48, the ballot measure that would define a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights in the Colorado constitution, is profoundly anti-life," said Diana Hsieh, founder of the Coalition for Secular Government.

"It would obliterate basic reproductive rights in Colorado based solely on the faith-based fiction that a fertilized egg is the moral equal of a born infant. The biological facts show just the opposite: that only the pregnant woman, and then the born infant, are persons with rights," Hsieh said.

"Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life," written by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh and published by the Coalition for Secular Government, shows that the ballot measure is hostile to human life in myriad ways:

* Given existing criminal statues, Amendment 48 would subject women and their doctors to life in prison or the death penalty for abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity.

* It would prevent doctors from properly treating non-viable ectopic pregnancy until the woman's life and health was in serious danger, thereby causing needless deaths.

* It would force thousands of women each year to bear unwanted children, whatever the cost to their own lives and happiness.

* The measure would ban popular and effective forms of birth control, including the birth-control pill, thereby increasing unwanted pregnancies.

* It would outlaw the fertility treatments responsible for the birth of hundreds of Colorado babies to eager parents each year.

"The voters of Colorado must protect their reproductive rights against this dangerous assault. They must vote 'NO' on Amendment 48," Hsieh said.

Read more...

18 August 2008

The Preciousness of a Finite Existence

By Gina Liggett

Most religious or "spiritual" values include the belief in eternal life, such as an afterlife in heaven or reincarnation into another life after death. The common theme is the idea that each person has an eternal soul that lives beyond the physical body after death.

Meanwhile, in the here and now, a key goal of modern religious activism is advocacy for what many faithful call the "sanctity of life". Believers are taught that life is given by and belongs to God, and therefore we must not meddle in the godly matters of life and death.

This is the biblical basis for prohibitions against abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research, even though these practices are for the purpose of relieving suffering and improving the lives of living individuals. (And it is also the moral basis for the Colorado ballot proposal to grant rights to fertilized eggs.)

But when the religious interpretation of the "sanctity of life" is the law of the land, people are forced to endure suffering. For example, a woman who is impregnated by a vicious rapist must forever live with the psychological and social burden of raising a child she doesn't want. A terminal cancer patient with agonizing pain only has the option of withering away using ever-increasing mega-doses of pain drugs rather than being allowed the choice of ending his life with dignity. These examples demonstrate the opposite of respect for the sanctity of life.

How do the faithful psychologically tolerate these indignities? By believing in an eternal life: that when it's all over, one's soul will live on. It may go to heaven to be with God in a state of eternal bliss, or it may reincarnate and advance to a "higher plane" of existence with "lessons learned" from the previous life.

But this belief comes at a high price: believing in an eternal soul essentially renders one's life in the here and now expendable. If you live forever, it doesn't ultimately matter if you suffer in this life. All that matters is that humans must not "play God" by taking ownership over their own their lives.

One of the most difficult truths we face as humans is that our existence is finite. This is something we have to learn to accept and cope with. The religious belief in an afterlife is a total evasion of this blunt truth.

The fundamental fact that we all die means that it is this life that is sacred. Therefore, we must have a society that protects the unique, finite and precious life of each living individual. Such a society based on rational egoism has a moral code founded on the realities of our finite existence and the requirements of human life.

But a faith-based society that unquestioningly accepts the idea of an eternal soul can rationalize doing anything it wants to individuals in the name of God, because people get eternal life anyway.

A proper sanctity of life is for the living. It is not for potential life, a dreamy "eternal" life, or for God.

Read more...

15 August 2008

Against the Christian Warriors

By Diana Hsieh

I'm pleased to report that my letter to the editor on the evils of entangling government and religion was published in The Oklahoman today. The letter was in response to this article: Kern vows to fight for morals in government. It reads:

Thu August 14, 2008
Kern seeking to destroy protective wall

Regarding "Kern vows to fight for morals in government; The legislator's anti-gay remarks drew ire earlier this year" (news story, Aug. 6): State Rep. Sally Kern describes herself as a "cultural warrior for Judeo-Christian values." Such claims should raise alarm bells for patriotic Americans. A free society can't be founded on Judeo-Christian principles. The Bible doesn't uphold capitalism, nor support our individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. It demands only that we suffer and sacrifice in obedience to God's will.

Individual rights are based on the objective requirements of human life in society. A person must be free to act on his own rational, independent judgment -- without forcible interference from others -- to survive and flourish. The only proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. For a government to do anything else -- including promote religion -- is tyranny. That's why a free society must, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, build "a wall of separation" between church and state.

Kern and her fellow culture warriors seek to destroy that protective wall, thereby paving the way for a repressive theocracy. In the name of freedom, they must be opposed at every step.

Diana Hsieh, Sedalia, Colo.

Hsieh is founder of the Coalition for Secular Government, which supports homosexual rights and opposes restrictions on abortion, tax exemptions for churches and government-sanctioned faith-based initiatives.
The description of the Coalition -- written by the newspaper -- isn't fully accurate. As stated in our mission, the Coalition doesn't support homosexual rights: it opposes government discrimination against homosexuals. (That's a fine distinction, I know.) More importantly, the Coalition doesn't oppose tax exemptions for churches, but rather opposes any special exemptions from the tax laws governing all non-profits for churches.

In any case, I'm delighted that they printed it.

Read more...

14 August 2008

LTE: Separation of Church and State Versus Amendment 48

By Diana Hsieh

On June 19th, the Vail Daily published my letter to the editor opposing the proposed "Definition of a Person" Amendment (a.k.a. Amendment 48) to the Colorado constitution.

Re: "Protect reproductive rights"

Thank you for your editorial opposing the proposed "personhood amendment" to the Colorado constitution.

Unfortunately, some people in Colorado are eager to impose their religious dogmas on others -- by whatever means necessary. They demand that everyone submit to their values, including people who disagree with their dubious interpretations of scripture, deny the morality of blind obedience to divine commands, and reject faith in God as irrational superstition -- as I do.

By any rational standard, that demand for submission is morally wrong.

These theocrats reject the very principle protecting their own freedom to worship: the separation of church and state. Under that principle, each person practices whatever faith he chooses, including none at all -- as a matter of right. He may live as he sees fit, according to his own values, without forcible interference from others. So if opposed to abortion, he can refuse any involvement with the procedure.

The proposed "personhood amendment" embodies the opposite principle: government entanglement with religion, particularly the enforcement of Biblical law. Adopting that principle would subject matters of private conscience to government meddling. Everyone who wishes to live in a free country should vigorously oppose it.

Diana Hsieh, Sedalia

Read more...

13 August 2008

Pro-Life Physicians?

By Diana Hsieh

The Association of Pro-Life Physicians is frighteningly consistent in their total opposition to abortion, as seen in their page Are There Rare Cases When an Abortion Is Justified? They write:

We must respond to all tragic circumstances of pregnancy from the unshakeable foundation of two indisputable premises: human life begins at conception, and it is always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. The unborn child's right to life and liberty is given by his or her Creator, not by his or her parents or by the state. ... It is never right to intentionally kill an innocent person, even if it does relieve another's emotional or physical suffering. ...

We find it extremely unfortunate that many pro-lifers have regarded the health of the mother to be a consideration in whether or not she should have the right to terminate the life of her pre-born baby. ... To intentionally kill or condone the intentional killing of one innocent human being precludes one from being considered 'pro-life' at all. A murderer of one person is not any less a murderer if he allows thousands to live, nor if he saves thousands from dying!
As Ari Armstrong notes, "Contemplate that for a moment. This allegedly "pro-life" position would subject women to agonizing physical suffering and the risk of death to maintain the faith-based fantasy that a fertilized egg is a person." (Ari has more on the anti-abortion approach to risk to the pregnant woman here.)

The far-fetched reasoning for denying women a chemical abortion in case of a totally non-viable ectopic pregnany was particularly alarming:
A chemical abortion with a medicine called methotrexate is often recommended by physicians to patients with early tubal ectopic pregnancies, when the baby may still be alive, to decrease the chances of a surgical alternative being necessary later, but we have found this to be an unnecessary risk to human life. We offer the following true case to demonstrate this point.

One patient was diagnosed with a tubal ectopic pregnancy by her obstetrician, and he informed her that they were fortunate to have made the diagnosis early and that she should have a methotrexate abortion. The patient was pro-life, and did not want to take the medicine, but the physician insisted. The baby was not going to survive, he argued, and a chemical abortion now could prevent the need for a surgical procedure later. The chemical abortion would lessen her chances of a rupture of her fallopian tube and subsequent life-threatening hemorrhage. The chemical abortion was also better at preserving future fertility than surgical removal of the ectopic pregnancy later. Feeling like she had no other reasonable alternative, she took the methotrexate.

However, there was a complication. Two weeks later, she still had vaginal bleeding and pelvic discomfort. A repeat ultrasound confirmed the physician's worst fears: his patient was pregnant with twins - one in the fallopian tube, and one in the uterus! He missed the uterine pregnancy in his ultrasound examination, and that baby was dying from his prescription.

Holding off surgery and watchful waiting in this case might have resulted in spontaneous resolution of the tubal pregnancy or would have required surgical removal of the tubal pregnancy when the embryo was likely to be dead, but in both cases the uterine pregnancy would probably have survived. Unfortunately, the chemical abortion killed both babies, much to the dismay of this young pro-life woman.

It is only ethical to remove the tubal pregnancy if spontaneous resolution does not occur after watchful waiting and if the physician is 100% certain that there are no twins. At this point, the embryo in the fallopian tube is likely to be dead and, even if not, the death is unavoidable and unintentional, and the procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother.
So every woman should be forced by law to endure all the risks of emergency surgery for ectopic pregnancy -- rather than the much safer alternative of a chemical abortion at the time of diagnosis -- because of some wild chance that she might be pregnant with another embryo.

Under that policy, women would suffer and die. Yet these physicians wouldn't blink an eye -- because they're doing God's work.

Read more...

12 August 2008

Breast-Feeding Kills Babies?

By Diana Hsieh

Recently, a draft proposal by the Health and Human Services to change the standard definition of pregnancy was leaked to the press. If implemented, the proposal would alter the definition of pregnancy so that it would start with fertilization of the egg, not with the implantation of the embryo in the womb, as in the medical understanding of pregnancy. The change is a special concession to the religious zealots who believe that a fertilized egg is a human person: it would allow them to deny perfectly legal medical services to sometimes-desperate women, despite tax funding, under the false banner of religious freedom.

I sent the following letter to the editor to the Wall Street Journal in response to that news about two weeks ago. Since I don't think it will be published, I'll reproduce it here:

The Bush Administration's attempt to define conception as the start of pregnancy rather than implantation -- thereby classifying the birth control pill as abortion -- is an ominous sign for reproductive freedom in America ("Treating the Pill as Abortion, Draft Regulation Stirs Debate," Jul 31). If adopted, that standard would ensure that any future ban on abortion would apply equally to the birth control pill. Millions of women would be cut off from their preferred method of preventing unwanted pregnancy.

Even worse, the principle underlying this rule would justify banning all contraception. The religious right's new-found opposition to birth control methods that prevent implantation shows that they regard all women as obliged to make their bodies hospitable to pregnancy. God's will, not human reason and choice, must govern the creation of new life. By that vicious principle, all birth control, from condoms to sterilization, must be banned as defiance of God's will.

If that doesn't show contempt for human life, then nothing does.
I've seen quite a few good responses to the proposed rule change, but my favorite by far is the fantastic satire William Saletan dishes out in Slate. The subtitle encapsulates the essay perfectly: "The pro-life case against birth control, nursing, and exercise." I highly recommend it.

Also, Bloomberg columnist Ann Woolner also makes the following astute observations:
Why call contraception abortion? It's not as if anti-abortionists can stop either one of them.

But while waiting for the Supreme Court to strike down Roe v. Wade, they've been persuading state legislatures and Congress to restrict abortions in every imaginable way, making it as difficult as possible for women to get them.

Now they want to make it just as hard to get contraception.

Contraception as most women practice it is part of the "culture of death," declared Susan Orr, whom President George W. Bush put in charge of the Office of Population Affairs.
The Religious Right does not merely wish to prevent women from terminating unwanted pregnancies. They want to prevent women from using the most effective means, apart from sterilization, of preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Read more...

11 August 2008

Airtight

By Diana Hsieh

In a totalitarian society, individuals lack any kind of private life. Individuals are only a means to the end of society, everything -- from one's purchases to one's friendships -- is the province of the state.

That same totalitarian impulse is present in American churches today, as illustrated by this news story on a pastor's prophetic sermons:

Last Sunday, pastor Irwin Alton, 62, preached against several specific sins during his sermon. Some people in the audience gasped with recognition. "When he talked about skipping mid-week service to go to the lake, and buying a new boat when you haven't tithed, I felt nailed to my pew," said one man. "It was like the Holy Spirit was speaking right to me."

But it wasn't the Holy Spirit -- it was the man's own blog where he had posted photos of himself and his buddies on his new boat on a Wednesday evening.

Pastor Alton, who cultivates a reputation as a computer illiterate techno-phobe, is actually an avid reader of MySpace pages, blogs and personal websites of the people in his congregation. "I appear, shall we say, un-hip," he says. "Therein lies my advantage."

Though he publicly refers to the Worldwide Web as the "Worldwide Waste" and e-mail as "sin-mail," in his home office is a bank of computer screens with more than 170 bookmarked sites -- personal web pages, blogs, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr and more. Each week Alton surfs the sites for hours to find evidence of questionable behavior by people in his church. He jots offenses down and incorporates them into his Sunday sermons.

He even checks the blogs of friends of people in his church. That's where he found photos of Emily Dotson, 31, at a local sports bar. During the service last week Alton paused mid-sermon to say, "Some of you have been visiting places you shouldn't be seen in as a Christian, drinking establishments and the like." Emily was taken aback.

"He was speaking right to me," she says. She came forward and repented for being at the sports bar, even though she'd been celebrating a girlfriend's birthday. "I knew I shouldn't have lingered in that environment," Emily says. "I could have gone in, said hi and left."
[Update: Doh! It's actually a satire, even if a bit too close to real life for many Christians.]

Liriodendron quotes a portion of that article, then writes the following:
As for my own personal experience, I spent one year in a church that was dangerously close to Pastor Alton's. Right after college, I accepted a teaching position in a private Christian school in south Florida in order to take a year off from my education. In my incredible naivete, I assumed that the school would be as free-thinking as my Christian college had been, and I was assured that I would be able to teach evolution. Nevertheless, the school that I taught at was incorporated along with the church. As a condition of our employment, we were required to attend church weekly, "voluntarily" tithe 10% of our pre-tax income to the church, and serve on at least one church charity or ministry project. As someone who accepted the premise of altruism [at the time], I had no problem with these rules.

My students got a good dose of actual education about evolution, but not without some parents discussing this matter with the administration. It became apparent that I was only to teach evolution from the standpoint of exposing its supposed fallacies. My most important lesson was learning what a consistently Christian life was all about. If your life is lived consistently according to religious values rather than your own implicit values, it becomes an agonizing web of deceit and dishonesty -- both with oneself and others. It was the worst, most stressful year of my life. There were several aspects of my personal life that I kept very secret, dreading the day when some church member might find out about it. One day I was confronted by the school/church administration for using the word "crap" in my classroom -- a student had reported that. I can't possibly hope to communicate with others who think Christianity is benign how oppressive a consistently Christian life is. It is something you must experience for yourself.
If Christians choose to live in such personal confinement within the bounds of their own church, that's their right. However, they have no right to use government force to herd the rest of us into a such confinement via controls on obscenity, drinking, drugs, blasphemy, abortion, birth control, homosexuality, dress, and the like.

For those of us who reject Christian morality -- who regard Christian values of faith, sacrifice, suffering, and submission as positively immoral -- such a life would be intolerable. That's precisely why I formed the Coalition for Secular Government: I do not wish to attempt to eke out a meager existence in an airtight Christian world.

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09 August 2008

God: The Ultimate Abortionist

By Ari

(Posted from AriArmstrong.com): Amendment 48 would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution. The presumption behind this initiative is that God infuses a fertilized egg with a soul, so it's immoral for a woman to choose to abort it. There's just one little problem with this view; as Pamela White writes in her outstanding overview of the implications of 48:

[A]bout 30 to 70 percent of the time, the fertilized egg fails to implant and is flushed from the woman's body during her next menstrual period without her ever knowing about it. This is not considered a miscarriage because the egg never implanted and never initiated the physical changes of pregnancy.
Those who want to ban all abortions and the birth-control pill (which prevents implantation of a fertilized egg) believe that it's God's will whether a sperm enters an egg and the egg implants. In other words, according to the assumptions of the Amendment 48 crowd, God commits abortion in 30-70 percent of all cases of fertilization.

"Abortionist" is the smear term used by anti-abortion zealots against doctors who perform abortions. But God is the ultimate abortionist, having performed (I'm guessing) millions of times more abortions than all "abortionist" doctors combined. Anti-abortion zealots routinely refer to abortion as a "holocaust." Then what is it that God is perpetrating?

This points to a deeper problem with this sort of theology. The point of ethics, so goes this line of thought, is to conform our will to God's will. The reason not to murder is that God said so. But if God says to kill your own son, then it would be immoral to refuse. Similarly, God allegedly says that having an abortion is wrong. But if God wants to abort 30-70 percent of all fertilized eggs, then that's perfectly fine. What matters is conformity to God's will, in this view.

This points to the ultimate irony of the anti-abortion crusade. A big part of that movement is a criticism of moral subjectivism at the personal level. But barely beneath the surface of these religious beliefs is moral subjectivism at the supernatural level. Morality is what God says it is, end of story.

What's needed is neither personal subjectivism nor supernatural subjectivism, but an objective morality rooted in the facts of human life.

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08 August 2008

Boulder Weekly on Amendment 48

By Diana Hsieh

The Boulder Weekly just published a superb cover story on Amendment 48, the proposed constitutional amendment that would grant fertilized eggs all the legal rights of persons. It begins with three gripping stories:

A young woman arrives in the emergency room with pelvic pain and heavy bleeding. A doctor examines her and realizes the woman is in the midst of miscarriage. Rather than focusing on her treatment, however, the doctor calls in a specialist -- a forensic gynecologist -- who will examine the young woman whether she consents or not in order to determine whether the miscarriage was natural or whether her uterus is a crime scene.

A couple who thought they were expecting a baby rush to the hospital, the wife doubled over in agony. An ultrasound shows that the fetus isn't in her uterus, but is implanted in one of her fallopian tubes. The pregnancy is doomed, and the woman's life is in very real danger. Rather than terminating the pregnancy immediately, however, doctors admit the wife and let her wait out the agony, watching for the fetus's heart to stop beating -- or for the wife's fallopian tube to rupture. Then they will have no choice but to operate if they hope to save the wife's life.

A college student moves to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado. She heads to the pharmacy to pick up her month's supply of birth-control pills, only to have her prescription seized by the pharmacist, who apologetically informs her that all kinds of hormonal contraception are now illegal in this state.

Welcome to the new world of Amendment 48.
Read the whole thing.

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07 August 2008

James Dobson Endorses Amendment 48

By Diana Hsieh

James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the fundamentalist Christian powerhouse in Colorado Springs, has just endorsed Amendment 48, the proposed amendment to the Colorado constitution that would grant fertilized eggs all the legal rights of persons. The announcement from Focus on the Family's own CitizenLink says:

Colorado Voters to Decide on Pro-Life Amendment

Human life needs to be protected at every stage, beginning at the single-cell stage.

Colorado's Personhood Amendment (Amendment 48), which defines life as beginning at fertilization, goes to voters in November.

"A founding principle of Focus on the Family -- and a driving belief of Dr. Dobson's -- is that all human life is sacred and that life begins at the single-cell stage of human development," said Carrie Gordon Earll, senior bioethics analyst at Focus on the Family Action. "Amendment 48 articulates this belief and challenges us to declare the inestimable worth of all members of the human family.

"The foundational message of Amendment 48 is clear: All human life has value. Colorado voters should support Amendment 48, and vote for it in November."

Kristi Burton, sponsor of the initiative, said: "It's fact that life has been cheapened over time and Amendment 48, by defining an unborn child as a 'person,' can restore the dignity and respect unborn children have lost."
The fact that Dobson has finally thrown his weight behind Amendment 48 will make its crushing defeat more difficult. Many evangelicals in Colorado will be inspired to activism and voting by his endorsement.

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06 August 2008

Dirty Tricks

By Diana Hsieh

5280, Denver's upscale magazine, has an excellent article on the new strategies and tactics of the anti-abortion movement in their August issue. The first part focuses on Amendment 48, the proposed constitutional amendment that would grant fertilized eggs all the legal rights of persons. That ballot measure represents an abandonment of attempts at incremental restrictions on abortion, like waiting periods and parental notification, in favor of sweeping change.

The second part of the article details the protests of Denver's Planned Parenthood by anti-abortionists. Shockingly, while Planned Parenthood's new Stapleton offices were under construction, anti-abortion activists protested at the homes of the executives of the Weitz Corporation, the lead contractor for the construction.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, in particular, has had practice [in dealing with protesters]. Colorado Right to Life and other religious groups regularly pray, chant, and picket as close to Planned Parenthood clinics as the law will allow (100 feet, according to Colorado statute). But during the recent construction of its brand-new health center and administrative headquarters in the Stapleton neighborhood of Denver, Planned Parenthood became the target of some of the most vehement and visible protests in Colorado to date.

A group called the Collaborators Project, led by 25-year-old Will Duffy of Lakewood, set up camp almost daily outside the chain-link-fenced construction site. But even that activity wasn't considered out of the ordinary. It was the group's extension of its consternation to those actually building the facility that seemed to write a new chapter in the pro-life playbook.

Duffy declared it his personal mission to make a "national example" of the Weitz Corporation, which was the lead contractor for the $6.3 million Stapleton center. His Collaborators Project spent weekends and holidays, including Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday, and the Fourth of July, on the sidewalks and streets outside the homes of Weitz's corporate executives. Collaborators Project volunteers toted bullhorns, video cameras, and graphic signs. A "truth truck" (borrowed from a national anti-abortion group) plastered with pictures of aborted fetuses and the words "Weitz Co. takes blood money to build abortion mills" patrolled the executives' suburban neighborhoods. Duffy publicized the names, phone numbers and addresses of company officials via Web postings and YouTube videos.
Wow. What a nightmare. Happily, the company stood its ground:
Both [Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains] and Weitz hired extra security to keep workers safe during the construction process. APPRMnd Weitz steadfastly refused to back out of the project, despite threats of satellite protests of its offices and even its other clients around the country.

"I have nothing but praise for Weitz," [Leslie Durgin, senior vice president for community development for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains] says. "The targeted attempts at contractors and their neighbors' homes to force them off the job failed totally."
The whole article is worth reading. It certainly does seem that abortion might become a huge issue at the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month.

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05 August 2008

No Punishment for Abortion?

By Diana Hsieh

In this amazing YouTube video (embedding forbidden, unfortunately), experienced anti-abortion activists are asked what the punishment should be for women who seek and obtain abortions if abortion were outlawed. None is able to give the only answer consistent with their stated view that embryos and fetuses are full-fledged human persons with a right to life, namely that the woman should be punished with years in prison for murder. Most think that she shouldn't be subject to any kind of legal punishment whatsoever.

That's shocking.

The anti-abortionists claim that abortion is the murder of a unborn baby. They claim that an embryo/fetus has exactly the same right to life as a baby. Yet deep down, they clearly don't believe that. At least implicitly, they recognize some significant difference between a baby and an embryo/fetus. In fact, they regard that difference as so significant that they hold that the willful, deliberate killing of a baby should merit the harsh legal punishment years in prison (if not life in prison or the death penalty), whereas the willful, deliberate of an embryo/fetus should merit no legal punishment whatsoever.

The point isn't that these anti-abortionists are hypocrites. Hypocrisy involves some conflict between a person's stated ideals and his actions. For an anti-abortionist to seek an abortion because she doesn't want another child would be hypocrisy. In that case, she would know that she's acting against the very principles she advocates. That's not what is happening here.

Instead, this video shows that these anti-abortionists seriously fail to understand the full meaning and implications of their own principles. They cannot face the awful prospect of sentencing a 19-year-old girl who terminates an unwanted pregnancy because she was rightly terrified at the impossible burden of raising a child alone with 20 years in prison. Yet that's exactly what their principles demand.

Perhaps that means that some anti-abortionists might be amenable to gentle persuasion about the real meaning and implications of their views. I hope so, but I won't hold my breath.

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04 August 2008

Our Secular Constitution

By Diana Hsieh

The Christian theocrats are attempting to transform America into a thoroughly Christian nation in her laws, institutions, and mores. They demand that abortion be banned, solely based on their tenuous interpretation of scripture. They vigorously campaign against any attempt to allow loving homosexual couples to secure their bond by law. They demand that all television be prudishly "family-friendly," without a boob or butt in sight.

One of the most common arguments of these theocrats for their coveted religious transformation is based on an appeal to our Founding Fathers. The Founders, they say, were devout Christians seeking to establish a Christian nation. The Founders, they say, never envisioned anything like the secularism of today's society and government.

Most Americans feel some reverence for our Founding Fathers, yet they know little of the actual words and deeds of the men who shaped our country: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and others. (Thanks, government schools!) So too many American can be bamboozled by these claims of the theocrats. The snippets so often quoted by Christians to support their case are usually ripped from their proper context, then interpreted through Christian lenses. Any mention of God is read with an endorsement of Christianity and Christian government. The deism of many prominent Founders is ignored, as is their strident opposition to any kind of promotion of religion by the government.

However, the most clear evidence that the Founders intended their new government to be independent of any religion is found in three places in the Constitution:

First, the Preamble:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Notice what is missing from that basic statement of purpose: God. Moreover, the Constitution attempts to secure the very kind of this-worldly goods like peace, security, and justice that Jesus admonishes his followers to ignore. And it does not aim to promote the otherworldly goods like the salvation of one's soul that Jesus admonishes his followers to seek above all else.

Second, Article 6:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
So all government officials are required to uphold the Constitution, yet none can be subject to any kind of religious test. They cannot be required to espouse belief in Jesus, nor even belief in God, nor even in some vague Higher Power. Surely, if the Founders wished to create a Christian nation, they would have required that government officials be Christian.

Third, the First Amendment :
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment forbids the government from interfering in people's religious lives, whether by forbidding or promoting certain religious beliefs and practices. If a Christian nation was their aim, then the Founders should have required the government to promote Christianity -- not forbidden it from doing so.

In future blog posts, I will say more on the relationship of the Founding Fathers to religion, as the half-truths and outright lies spread by the theocrats must be combated. Yet it's amazing that a clear look at just these few passages from the Constitution wholly undermine their basic claim that America was founded as a Christian nation.

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01 August 2008

Young Earth?

By Diana Hsieh

The funny geek-cartoonist xkcd has a great cartoon on the "young earth creationists" who believe that the earth is just a few thousand years old (!!) based on the genealogies of the Hebrew Bible. I won't ruin the twist at the end: check it out for yourself.

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