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

30 January 2009

Credit Pilot, Not God

By Diana Hsieh

The Rocky Mountain News published a good letter on the "Miracle on the Hudson" on January 28th:

Credit pilot, not God

Concerning US Airways Flight 1549, we are all elated that there were no deaths. However, several television stations reporting on the incident must have mentioned God more than 40 times as the reason everyone aboard survived.

Why don't we give credit to the real hero, the pilot? His quick thinking and calmness under duress saved many lives.

If there was a God involved, why would he have the plane crash to begin with?

We know that almost all air crashes involve most, if not all, passengers being killed. Do we ever invoke God when people are killed? A quick-thinking pilot and some luck saved all the lives on this particular flight.

Marc Tanenbaum, Longmont
For a more detailed analysis along similar lines, see Greg Perkins' post on NoodleFood.

A legal system -- particularly criminal or tort law -- cannot stand if God were seriously taken to the author of such events: everything would happen as a matter of God's perfect will, and so no person could regard himself as wronged by another. Unless, of course, God wanted you to right the wrong that he permitted to happen -- and then the law becomes an arbitrary game of guessing God's will.

The lesson? Capitalism cannot be grounded in religious faith.

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28 January 2009

End Government Prayers

By Diana Hsieh

Here's a surprisingly good letter to the editor recently published in the Colorado Springs Gazette on prayer at government meetings:

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Government-sponsored prayer sidelines those of different faiths

The case for respecting the true spirit of religious freedom by ending publicly sanctioned prayer was eloquently and rationally made by Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center ("Civil religion no longer fits nation of many, varied beliefs," Opinion, Jan. 19).

The activist religious right sometimes makes hysterical claims that the moral foundation of our culture is threatened without such state-sponsored displays of faith, or that eliminating official prayer "kicks God out of the public square."

They either fail to understand and sympathize with everyone's religious freedom, or don't value others' equal rights and want their own personal religious beliefs to be espoused as official state policy.

The absence of official prayer never precludes individuals from offering their own personal prayers. Many devout people of faith recognize that the separation of church and state protects their religious freedom, as well as others'. Numerous Christian principles themselves argue against pressing religious observances onto others, not least of which is Jesus' admonition to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

We should no more start a City Council meeting with a statement that God does not exist than begin with a sectarian religious prayer. Either is dismissive of a cross-section of our citizenry. Let's not wait for a court decision to end state sponsored public prayer; let's do it out of the goodness of our hearts.

Barb Ferrill Van Hoy, Executive director Citizens Project Colorado Springs

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26 January 2009

A Nice Segue into the Freedom of Choice Act

By Gina Liggett

President Barack Obama has signed an executive order eliminating Bush's "global gag rule" on U.S. funding of groups abroad that provide abortion services or counseling, of groups that provide family planning if they also provide abortion services, and of groups lobbying to reduce abortion restrictions. The original order was a product of the conservative social agenda of the Reagan administration, and has been one of the Religious Right's favorite political victories. The Religious Right is not happy about Obama's action, and is worried that Obama's next move will be the passage of the Freedom of Choice Act.

I think that would be a perfect next step. The Freedom of Choice Act was introduced in 2004 and again in 2007 by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), but never passed. In summary The Freedom of Choice Act:

Declares that it is the policy of the United States that every woman has the fundamental right to choose to: (1) bear a child; (2) terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability; or (3) terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to protect her life or her health. Prohibits a federal, state, or local governmental entity from: (1) denying or interfering with a woman's right to exercise such choices; or (2) discriminating against the exercise of those rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information. Provides that such prohibition shall apply retroactively. Authorizes an individual aggrieved by a violation of this Act to obtain appropriate relief, including relief against a governmental entity, in a civil action.
Despite the bill's limiting of abortions past the point of "fetal viability" only when the health or life of a woman is at stake (unrestricted abortion rights should apply at anytime during the pregnancy) this is a critically important and sweeping piece of legislation. It will help codify the absolute right to abortion, and help thwart the Religious Right's piecemeal actions to eviscerate abortion access across the country.

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. I'm going to hijack a term misused by the Religious Right and say: Let's build on this Pro-Life momentum and advocate for passage of the Freedom of Choice Act.

I have written the following letter to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) urging her to reintroduce her bill as soon as possible.
Dear Senator Boxer,

Let's build on the momentum of President Obama's executive order rescinding the "global gag rule." Please reintroduce your very important piece of legislation, the Freedom of Choice Act. The Religious Right has attacked a woman's fundamental right to choose in every possible way, at every level of government. It is time to codify a woman's right to choose--permanently and absolutely. This really is a pro-life issue in the correct sense of the term: for the woman whose rights are violated by anti-abortion measures. President Obama has promised to sign your bill. Please reintroduce it as soon as possible! Thank you.

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23 January 2009

No Miracle on the Hudson

By Diana Hsieh

Adam Reed posted the following excellent comment on an NPR story on the "Miracle on the Hudson":

Count on a politician - in this case New York Gov. David Paterson - to insult the competence and rationality of everyone involved, by calling their exercise of rational human virtue a "miracle on the Hudson." The designers of an airplane that can be landed on water and safely evacuated; the Captain and the crew and the emergency professionals who were prepared, knew what to do, and did it faultlessly; and the passengers, who stayed calm and rational as they acted together to secure their own and each other's lives - this is what our Human Civilization is all about. This is not any kind of arbitrary "miracle." This is about Humans, the animal of the mind, as we can be and can become, using our minds, our evolved organ of survival, for our life and our happiness on Earth.
For a more humorous take, try this YouTube video.

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21 January 2009

Catholic Ban on Kissing

By Diana Hsieh

Another mind-boggling news story via iFeminists:

In Ultra-Catholic Mexican City, Local Government Bans Public Kissing

MEXICO CITY -- Kissing in public will be punished with fines and even jail time in the central Mexican city of Guanajuato under a new municipal ordinance that also bans begging, using rude words and street peddling. The measure emerged Tuesday from a municipal government controlled by the rightist National Action Party, or PAN, which has been in power at the national level since 2000.

The ordinance also punishes tourism promoters who approach motorists, people who cross streets without using pedestrian bridges, those offering windshield-cleaning services and those who engage in street demonstrations. For example, the law bans "obscene words and attitudes in public places that offend third parties, as well as touching obscenely in public spaces." Those who fail to abide by the ordinance can be punished with 36 hours in jail and fines up to 1,500 pesos ($108).

Paradoxically, one of the tourist attractions of Guanajuato, capital of the likenamed state, is El Callejon del Beso (Kiss Alley), which as its name implies is an alley where, according to legend, visitors kiss in order to enjoy seven years of happiness.

For Mayor Eduardo Romero Hicks, the ordinance is neither excessive nor a form of persecution, and its goal is "to inculcate values and civility" among residents.

Opposition City Councilman Jorge Luis Hernandez does not agree - he told Efe Friday that the PAN measure looks like a "return to the Middle Ages."

He said that the text "lacks legislative accuracy and contains more than 100 errors."

For example, he said, the ordinance forces people to cross streets on pedestrian bridges that are often not suited for use by invalids.

The national leadership of the PAN distanced itself entirely from the Guanajuato ordinance.

In a communique, the party of Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that the "full and responsible exercise of individual freedoms is not only a right guaranteed in the judicial system of our country, but a fundamental condition for democratic coexistence."

Guanajuato is a university town with a rich cultural life where the International Cervantes Festival is held every October.

It is also considered one of the regions where the ultra-Catholic right has the greatest influence.
Two comments:

(1) This law is not as bad as the law against dirty words in public or to minors recently proposed in the United States by a South Carolina state senator. Although a $100 fine is absurd, at least it doesn't carry a possible five-year prison term.

(2) It is not the job of any government to "inculcate values and civility." The only proper function of a government is to protect individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Laws mandating some conception of virtue violate those rights: each person has a right to live according to his own values, so long as he does not violate the rights of others.

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19 January 2009

Hot Damn!

By Diana Hsieh

Eugene Volokh reports that South Carolina state senator Robert Ford -- a Democrat -- proposes a bill against "dirty" language, including the following provisions:

It is unlawful for a person in a public forum or place of public accommodation wilfully and knowingly to publish orally or in writing, exhibit, or otherwise make available material containing words, language, or actions of a profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature.
And:
It is unlawful for a person to disseminate profanity to a minor if he wilfully and knowingly publishes orally or in writing, exhibits, or otherwise makes available material containing words, language, or actions of profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature.
Violating either provision would be a felony -- with the potential for five years in prison: "a person who violates [either provision] is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."

Ah well, at least the Bible would be banned along with Atlas Shrugged -- and almost everything else, including swearing within earshot of your 17-year-old kid.

The bill is currently in committee. While I'm sure it won't go anywhere, the fact that such legislation could even be proposed in 21st century America is mind-boggling.

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16 January 2009

Should America Be More Like China?

By Diana Hsieh

Should America be more like China? Yes, says One News Now, a fundamentalist Christian news service: America ought to ban pornography.

The Internet search engine Google has bowed to China's demand that it clean up its act.

Google and other major Internet sites were threatened by China because of the proliferation of pornography. But Pat Trueman of Alliance Defense Fund reports Google formally apologized.

"They said they would eliminate all vulgar material 'which may have had a negative effect on web users,'" Trueman notes. "Well, of course it has a negative effect. Child pornography and hardcore adult pornography harm people -- and Google apologized to the Chinese."

Google's statement, which was posted in the company blog on its Chinese side, added: "Google is willing to be a law-abiding citizen in China."

Trueman contends that Google and others can control pornography just as much for America as they can for China. "They should apologize to the world -- particularly to the United States of America, where they are a facilitator of child pornography and hardcore adult pornography," says the pro-family attorney.

Google was one of 20 Internet companies singled out earlier this month by the Chinese government, accusing them of spreading porn and other material that could corrupt young people. China's most popular search engine, Baidu, also issued an apology "for the negative impacts we brought upon the society."
In fact, the religious right should apologize for ignoring 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."

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14 January 2009

Duty of Sexual Restraint?

By Diana Hsieh

The Hill's Blog Briefing Room reports the following:

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (RNC), is coming under fire Monday for making remarks this summer that gays and lesbians suffer from a "compulsion" that can be "restrained."

"You can choose to restrain that compulsion," Blackwell told radio host Michelangelo Signorile, a gay and lesbian advocate, this summer during the Republican National Convention. "And so I think in fact you don't have to give in to the compulsion to be homosexual."

"I've never had to make the choice because I've never had the urge to be other than a heterosexual," Blackwell added, "but if in fact I had the urge to be something else I could have in fact suppressed that urge."

Another RNC chairman candidate, Chip Saltsman, saw his bid derailed after circulating a CD to RNC voters that critics said was racially insensitive toward President-elect Obama.
The worst part of this statement is not Blackwell's bizarre hypothetical that if he did have homosexual urges, he knows that he could resist them. If by that, he means "I could remain celibate for the rest of my life," then sure, a person could do that. But the question is "Why?!?" In particular, why should gays and lesbians cut themselves off from the possibility of healthy, loving, fulfilling sexual relationships for their whole lives?

Ultimately, the only answer is because God forbids it. According to scripture, he commanded, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22). We are supposed to obey without question, whatever the cost to our own personal happiness -- just the faithful Abraham does in the story of the Binding of Isaac.

Of course, politicians are welcome to embrace the religious values of obedience and sacrifice, if they so choose. However, such beliefs ought to be regarded by all as private and personal -- not as relevant to public policy. After all, in a free society, every person has the right to enter into whatever consensual sexual relationships he wishes. The government has no business legislating sexuality.

Unfortunately, that's not the view of politicians today, particularly not in the GOP. So the worst part of this interview is that a person seeking the top job of a major political party in America -- a country founded on the principle of inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness -- would suggest that gays and lesbians have any kind of obligation to suppress their sexual desires. Given today's climate of pervasive statism, the step from such publicly-expressed opinions to attempting to restrict or even forbid gay and lesbian relationships is very, very short.

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12 January 2009

Obama on Faith-Based Initiatives

By Diana Hsieh

The Christian Science Monitor recently published an informative article on what Obama is and is not likely to do to change the Bush Administration's "faith-based initiatives": Obama's likely likely to retool Bush's faith-based initiative. The whole program ought to be scrapped, but that's not what is going to happen. Instead, the merger of church and state will continue, albeit likely with some greater restrictions on the churches -- for now.

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09 January 2009

The War on Birth Control

By Diana Hsieh

I recently found this 2006 Ayn Rand Institute op-ed by Keith Lockitch on the deeply anti-sex and anti-pleasure ideology underlying the religious right's increasing opposition to birth control. While we might have won some recent battles, the war for our political freedoms against the theocrats is ongoing. So a reminder of what is at stake and why is quite appropriate.

The Conservatives' War on Birth Control
By Keith Lockitch (September 19, 2006)

Religious conservatives are increasingly opposing birth control. The Bush administration has shifted funding from sex education endorsing condoms to programs preaching "abstinence only." And Bush F.D.A. appointees spent three years blocking nonprescription use of the "morning after" pill, despite overwhelming evidence of its safety. Shockingly, there has been an increasing number of Christian pharmacists refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions--in some cases even for ordinary birth control pills for married women. What is behind this disturbing hostility to reproductive freedom?

Religious conservatives insist that their growing opposition to contraception is not the product of some sort of puritan, anti-sex agenda. What they are concerned about, they claim, is irresponsible sexual indulgence. They decry what they see as a culture of mindless promiscuity spawned by the advent of effective and easily available birth control.

But blaming birth control for the irresponsible actions of those who misuse it is like blaming Sudafed for crystal meth addiction. Like any other technology, contraception is a tool that can be used rationally or abused--and used properly it enables people to be more responsible about sex. It is bizarre to crusade against irresponsible sexuality by crusading for the renunciation of responsibility: the conscious, deliberate rejection of rational family planning in favor of reproductive roulette. Clearly, there is something deeper underlying the growing antagonism to birth control.

It is significant that in opposing contraception, conservatives declare that sex must be inextricably tied to reproduction--that it is morally wrong to pursue sexual pleasure while deliberately preventing pregnancy. "To demand sexual pleasure without openness to children is to violate a sacred trust," writes Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. But this implies a certain hostility to sexual pleasure, as such: not its irrational, promiscuous pursuit, but the very act of enjoying sex as something separate from reproduction. What explains such hostility?

Consider that sexual desire is a response to personal values. For a rational person, it is not a desire for mindless, indiscriminate indulgence, but a feeling that results from the embodiment in one's lover of one's highest, most important values. For a couple in a serious, committed, romantic relationship, sex is a celebration of their love--an expression, in the form of intense physical pleasure, of the joy that each partner derives from the other.

But such joy is a selfish pleasure--a rationally selfish pleasure. It is a pleasure that people pursue for the sake of their own enjoyment and happiness, whether they choose to have children or not. And this, fundamentally, is what religious conservatives have against it.

Virtue, according to Christianity, consists of sacrificing one's desires and goals in the name of fulfilling one's duties to God. Sex, on this premise, is at best a necessary evil--a sinful act, justifiable only by the duty to procreate. To deliberately prevent pregnancy by using birth control is to assert one's right to enjoy sex purely for its own sake--not as a means to procreation, but purely as an end in itself. And this is what conservatives find unacceptable. What they object to is that a couple using birth control is placing their own, personal happiness above obedience to religion. They object to contraception not despite the fact that it removes the fear of unwanted pregnancy, but precisely because it removes that fear.

To proclaim categorically, as Mohler does, that "every marriage must be open to the gift of children" is to demand that a couple sacrifice their own dreams and long-range goals to an alleged duty to "be fruitful and multiply." Even a couple who wants to have children must, on this premise, do so out of submission to divine will--not because they value children as a source of personal joy. The rejection of birth control is the demand that couples surrender the power--crucial to their own happiness in life--of choosing when, or whether, to have children, and instead allow themselves to be reduced, by means of their healthy sexual desires, to the role of stock farm animals, breeding uncontrollably.

Though they claim their intention is not to condemn sexuality as such, but merely its indiscriminate pursuit, religious conservatives are in fact opposed to sexual happiness. They are opposed to the fact that sex is an exalted pleasure that people pursue as an end in itself. Their war on contraception is not a war against the alleged excesses of the "birth control revolution"--it is a declaration of war against the pursuit of happiness.

Keith Lockitch, PhD in physics, is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand--author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

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07 January 2009

Vatican Cites Environmentalist Objections to the Pill

By Diana Hsieh

Another news item of interest from the iFeminists news feed:

Vatican newspaper slams 'the pill'
January 4, 2009

The contraceptive pill is polluting the environment and is in part responsible for male infertility, a report in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said on Saturday.

The pill "has for some years had devastating effects on the environment by releasing tonnes of hormones into nature" through female urine, said Pedro Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, president of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, in the report. "We have sufficient evidence to state that a non-negligible cause of male infertility in the West is the environmental pollution caused by the pill," he said, without elaborating further. "We are faced with a clear anti-environmental effect which demands more explanation on the part of the manufacturers," added Castellvi.

The article was promptly dismissed by several organisations. "Once metabolised, the hormones contained in oral contraceptives no longer have any of the characteristic effects of feminine hormones," said Gianbenedetto Melis, vice-president of a contraceptive research association, quoted by the ANSA news agency. The hormones contained in the pill such as oestrogen "are present everywhere... in plastic, in disinfectants, in meat that we eat," added Flavia Franconi, of the Society of Italian Pharmacology. ...
The alliance between capitalism and religion in the 20th century in America was artifact of the rise of atheistic communism. It's not a sustainable union: a religious worldview cannot ground the rights of the individual to pursue his own happy life by his own rational judgment as required by capitalism. (On that point, see Ayn Rand's essay "Faith and Force" in Philosophy: Who Needs It.) More particularly, the Christian scriptures preach disdain for this world, blind obedience to the whims of God, abject sacrifice for the sake of the poor and weak, acceptance of sin, the positive value of suffering, and the moral corruption of wealth. A person who takes those values seriously cannot preach or practice capitalism. (See this LTE and this one.)

Consequently, I'm not surprised to see supposedly "conservative" religious institutions abandon their marginal respect for individual rights in favor of statist causes like the welfare states and environmentalism. Of course, the Catholic Church has never been a defender of individual rights, particularly not reproductive rights. But its embrace of environmentalist arguments to further that end is something new -- and ominous.

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05 January 2009

Conflating Birth Control and Abortion, Again

By Diana Hsieh

Here's a birth control case to keep on the radar:

The Illinois Supreme Court last month gave pro-life pharmacists a victory when it determined that they can proceed with their lawsuit seeking to overturn a mandate Gov. Rod Blagojevich put in place. The governor's order makes them fill all prescriptions, including those for the morning after pill. The pharmacists objected to being forced to fill orders for the drug on both moral and religious grounds and because the Plan B drug can sometimes cause an abortion. The state's high court said the religious objections of pro-life health professionals must be considered by the Illinois courts and sent the case back to the trial court.
(I found this story via the ever-useful iFeminists.net news service.)

By any rational definition, pregnancy begins with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall, not fertilization. That's because the significant biological changes to the woman associated with pregnancy begin with implantation, not fertilization. Moreover, starting pregnancy at fertilization would have bizarre implications. For example, a woman undergoing IVF would be pregnant while her fertilized egg remained in the lab, before it was ever implanted in her womb. So pregnancy does begin at implantation, and any method of preventing that implantation is rightly regarded as birth control, not abortion.

Nonetheless, in a free society, pharmacists should have the right to refuse to fill prescriptions that violate their moral principles -- whether those principles are right or wrong. They should not be required by law to become the slave of anyone with a script. Correspondingly, pharmacies should not be held in thrall to the whims of their pharmacists: they should have the absolute right to fire a pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription.

Tom Bowden of the Ayn Rand Institute offers a similar view in commenting on the Bush administration's attempt to shield anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive doctors from being fired for refusing to deliver such services this past summer. He writes:
This is the kind of political infighting that's inevitable when doctors, hospitals, and patients are denied freedom of contract. Such moral questions have no place in the political arena. Instead, the law should recognize each individual's right to deal, or refuse to deal, with others on a voluntary basis.

For example, a doctor has the right to refuse an employment offer from a Catholic hospital that forbids contraceptives and abortions. But if he takes the job, he has no right to force the hospital to abandon its religious taboos and allow him to perform abortions. Likewise, a hospital has the right to hire only those doctors willing to prescribe contraception and provide abortions. If one of those doctors refuses to perform such services on moral grounds, he must take the contractual consequences.

Patients have the same rights as doctors and hospitals to set their own terms of trade. A pregnant woman contemplating abortion has the right to seek treatment at a hospital whose doctors are unencumbered by religious superstitions about ensoulment at conception. But if that hospital denies her admission, she has no right to demand that the Catholic hospital down the street abort her fetus.

The correct path out of the 'conscience controversy' over abortions and contraceptives is not to adopt new regulations creating 'provider conscience rights.' The solution is for government to recognize and protect the individual rights of all participants in the health-care system. Doctors, hospitals, and patients should be allowed to deal with each other by voluntary agreement, with government's only role to enforce contracts and prevent fraud.
You can find more on that particular federal-level controversy in this PWG post.

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02 January 2009

Best of 2008

By Diana Hsieh

In the spirit of reflection engendered by the transition to a new year, I decided to select a few of my favorite posts to Politics without God to form a kind of "year-in-review" post. However, my plans went somewhat awry when I found far too many great posts in the archive. I haven't been able to pare them down, so I hope that you enjoy reviewing them as much as I did!

I'd like to thank my co-bloggers -- Ari Armstrong, Gina Liggett, and Paul Hsieh -- for their excellent contributions to this blog.

July 2008

August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
Also, thank you to everyone who contributed something interesting, useful, or funny to the comments! Happy New Year!

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