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

23 February 2009

Taxes and Religion in Schools

By Ari

Reposted: Mike Adams is irritated that a teacher at Los Angeles City College called a student a "fascist bastard" for promoting religion in a class presentation. And Adams has picked an easy target; the teacher's behavior is inexcusable. However, the target is so easy that Adams neglects to put more serious issues in his cross-hairs.

Adams writes, "In November, Jonathan Lopez attempted to give his informative speech on God and the ways he has seen God act miraculously in his life and in the lives of others. In the middle of that speech, Lopez spoke of God and morality and read the dictionary definition of marriage. He also read two verses from the Bible."

Curiously, Adams neglects to mention what the two Bible verses were, but it's clear where this was headed. The teacher, Adams relates, is a supporter of gay marriage.

The teacher, John Matteson, left a note with the student: "prostyelsyszing [sic] is inappropriate in a public school."

You could make a pretty good case that any teacher who refers to students "fascist bastards" -- as this teacher apparently did twice -- should be fired. What a jerk. Yet Adams fails to seriously explore matters of free speech in the context of tax-funded institutions.

Adams equates the teacher's conduct with censorship with a "chilling effect on First Amendment expression." (I would be interested to learn whether Adams is similarly committed to overturning censorship of pornography and unsavory language.)

The basic issue, then, is whether the student has a Constitutionally protected right of free speech to rail against homosexuals in a tax-funded classroom. The only possible answer is that no answer is possible. Forcing others to fund religiously motivated attacks on homosexuals violates their rights of free speech -- people have the right not to fund speech they find offensive. But excluding such speech violates the rights of the student and his supporters, who also pay (or will pay) taxes. Forced wealth transfers for the propagation of ideas inherently violates people's rights.

The only solution that consistently upholds people's right of free speech -- along with their rights of property -- is to stop the forced wealth transfers. But Adams, along with practically all conservatives, show no interest in that. Instead, many conservatives look to increase tax funding of "faith-based initiatives" and the like.

On a free market, should schools allow speeches, in speech class, of a religious or bigoted nature? I think so. However, a school that allows attacks on homosexuals is going to have a hard time banning racist speeches. My sense is that the student should be able to meet the assignment according to his own judgment, and if he's an idiot, he will earn a reputation as such. Teachers obviously can grade down for lack of cogent argument. Surely there are lines that no school would like to cross, such as neo-Nazi marches on campus. But these are tricky issues best left to the boards and leaders of private institutions.

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19 February 2009

Light Posting Schedule

By Diana Hsieh

Due to the demands of my dissertation, teaching, and other non-negotiable obligations, Politics without God will be on a reduced schedule for the next month or so. I'll likely only be able to post once or maybe twice per week.

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18 February 2009

Jesus On the Dole

By Ari

Reposted: Apparently God needs more welfare. Via Diana Hsieh:

Declaring that "there is a force for good greater than government," President Barack Obama on Thursday established a White House office of faith-based initiatives with a broader mission than the one overseen by his Republican predecessor.
The article discusses the problem of tax-funded religious groups hiring on religious grounds. But that is merely a peripheral problem. The gigantic problem is simply the forcible transfer of funds to faith-based groups. Any such program inherently violates the rights of conscience and property of those who do not wish to finance such organizations.

Obviously the other major problem is that the expanded program will bring religious organizations more under the power and influence of federal politicians. He who pays the piper calls the tune. The bipartisan faith-based initiatives threaten to undermine the separation of church and state that has significantly contributed to the relative liberty of the West.

Everyone who cares about religious liberty, believers and nonbelievers alike, must criticize Obama's effort at every opportunity. Faith-based welfare should not be expanded, it should not be reformed, it should be completely eliminated, in the name of liberty.

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16 February 2009

Muslim Man Beheads His Wife in Buffalo

By Diana Hsieh

This story from The Buffalo News shows the horrifying reality of the Islamic view of women as chattel:

Prominent Orchard Park man charged with beheading his wife
By Gene Warner

Orchard Park police are investigating a particularly gruesome killing, the beheading of a woman, after her husband -- an influential member of the local Muslim community -- reported her death to police Thursday.

Police identified the victim as Aasiya Z. Hassan, 37. Detectives have charged her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, 44, with second-degree murder. "He came to the police station at 6:20 p.m. [Thursday] and told us that she was dead," Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz said late this morning. Muzzammil Hassan told police that his wife was at his business, Bridges TV, on Thorn Avenue in the village. Officers went to that location and discovered her body.

Muzzammil Hassan is the founder and chief executive officer of Bridges TV, which he launched in 2004, amid hopes that it would help portray Muslims in a more positive light. The killing apparently occurred some time late Thursday afternoon. Detectives still are looking for the murder weapon.

"Obviously, this is the worst form of domestic violence possible," Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said today. Authorities say Aasiya Hassan recently had filed for divorce from her husband. "She had an order of protection that had him out of the home as of Friday the 6th [of February]," Benz said.

Muzzammil Hassan was arraigned before Village Justice Deborah Chimes and sent to the Erie County Holding Center.
Honor killings are commonplace in Europe, as this excellent 2005 article in Der Spiegel details. To refer to such murders as "domestic violence" trivializes them: they are pure barbarism. And if Americans do not wish to see more of them, we must treat them as such.

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13 February 2009

Huckabee: Stimulus Is Anti-Religious

By Diana Hsieh

I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised by this news: Huckabee: Stimulus is 'anti-religious':

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee warned supporters Tuesday that the $828 billion stimulus package is "anti-religious."

In an e-mail that was also posted on his blog ahead of the Senate's passage, Huckabee wrote: "The dust is settling on the 'bipartisan' stimulus bill and one thing is clear: It is anti-religious."

The former Republican presidential candidate pointed to a provision in both the House and Senate versions banning higher education funds in the bill from being used on a "school or department of divinity."
The valid reason to oppose the stimulus -- and the bailout before it -- was that it authorized frighteningly irresponsible government spending without any regard for the principles of limited government or individual rights. Funding some churches wouldn't have changed that one iota; it only would have further entangled church and state.

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11 February 2009

A Terry Schiavo Case in Italy

By Gina Liggett

Remember in 2005 when then-President Bush rushed back to Washington to get the Republican-dominated Congress to intervene directly in the Terry Schiavo right-to-die case? Terry Schiavo had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, alive only because she was receiving nutrition through a feeding tube. Her husband and legal guardian--who knew she would never want to live like that--fought Terry's staunchly Catholic family in the court system for years over her right to die in such a circumstance. A Florida state appeals court agreed with Terry's husband and allowed the feeding tube to be removed in spring of 2005.

Out of all legal options, the family went to the top of the political ladder, and got President Bush and his religious-right powerhouse in Congress to counteract that ruling. Congress passed, and Bush signed, emergency legislation, sending the case back to the federal court. But wisely, the federal court did not overrule the previous decision. The feeding tube was not reinserted, and Terry was allowed to die.

The case was a sickening display of not only the breach of the separation of powers as well as the separation of church and state, but also of how quickly and deeply one's personal life can be penetrated by a government. A federal appeals court judge in Atlanta quite eloquently admonished Congress and the White House for acting “in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers’ blueprint for the governance of a free people — our Constitution.”

Fast forward to 2009, and there is an eerily similar kind of family nightmare in Italy. A 37-year old woman, Eluana Englaro, has been in a coma since a car crash in 1992. Her father, who claims that her daughter would not want to live in such a vegetative state, has spent years petitioning the Italian court system to allow her to die. Finally, doctors were allowed to implement a medical protocol for withdrawing Eluana's artificial nutrition--that is, until Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, after consulting with the Vatican, issued an emergency decree stating nutrition cannot be withdrawn.

Magnifying the absurdity of the Italian government's and Vatican's interference in the private lives of these citizens is the Prime Minister's justification for his decree: physically at least, Eluana was "in the condition to have babies."

Allow me to elucidate. Irregardless of the comatose woman's inability to consent to anything, the Italian Prime Minister and the Vatican are in effect saying that it would be acceptable for someone to impregnate this woman, have her body incubate a fetus, then deliver it; but to allow her to die a natural and dignified death by withdrawing artificial nutrition would be immoral, despite what Eluana would have wanted.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who pleaded with Berlusconi to not permit Eluana to die, told him "We have to stop this crime against humanity." (I must say, I find it ludicrous and ironic that the religious institution responsible for the horrific crimes of the medieval Crusades and the systematic enabling of pedophilia in the priesthood has the audacity to say anything about crimes against humanity.)

In these two right-to-die cases, Terry and Eluana were young when they suffered their irreversible brain damage and had not made their wishes explicitly known in writing. But those closest to them and legally responsible for making decisions on their behalf have a better idea than the government or the Church about whether or not they would want to linger for decades in an unconscious state.

Even more fundamentally important than the ethics of proxy medical decision-making is the right to die. I think this right is a corollary of Ayn Rand's concept of the right to life: "There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life."

In their quest to take away the right-to-die, the Vatican and America's Religious Right are basically taking away the right to life, claiming your life belongs to God, not to you. This religious view is the reason the Schiavo family fought Terry's right to die; this was the reason they took their case to a President who actively promulgated religious initiatives; and this is what the Italian father is fighting.

Your right to life includes your right to end your life according to your values. If you would not want to be kept alive for decades in a comatose state--and your proxy decision makers know that--then they have the ethical and legal obligation to carry out your wishes. And any governmental or church interference with that right is an immoral and egregious offense to the citizens of a society obligated to uphold their Constitutional rights.

An update: Eluana died Monday Feb. 9 as the Italian legislators debated her case. The Italian government plans to continue to push for an anti-right--to-die law.

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09 February 2009

School Prayer Stupidity

By Greg Perkins

Radio/TV host Glenn Beck had James "Focus on the Family" Dobson on to talk about a recent court decision that a 'moment of silence' rule in a public school was a sham to introduce sectarian religious belief into the classroom.



Beck poses as a victim, asking why it is that the 10% of the country who doesn't believe in God is pushing the other 90% around and forcing their nonbelief down their throats. Believers don't do that, he says, so why not just let people be? Of course, striking down a mandatory moment of silence-or-prayer isn't forcing nonbelief down peoples' throats -- it's only stopping believers from forcing their religion down others' throats via violations of individual rights. Talk about spin. Even purely secular-sounding "moments of silence" only exist because of believers' desire to get God into the classroom to indoctrinate children.

Beck goes on to exaggerate that "it's been deemed unconstitutional to even say the word 'prayer' to our children," and Dobson says that "they just have to eliminate even the possibility that someone might pray." Um, no: the kiddies are free to pray anywhere at any time as long as they aren't being disruptive. What's been deemed unconstitutional is taking money from taxpayers by force to fund schools students are compelled to attend, and then requiring them to do or be indoctrinated in your religion. Reading the text of the ruling, you can see how the judge traces out where and how the line is crossed. (Of course, if we didn't have government schools that people are forced to fund and required to attend, then this would be a non-issue. Don't like your school's policy regarding religious indoctrination? No rights violation there, and you're free to find or form another school. Have a nice day.)

So, does it count as dishonest or just weak-minded when Beck turns to a wider point to claim that "in this country, our rights come from God" and to ask the rhetorical question, "if you take God out of the picture, then where do rights come from?" Oh, I see your point: you don't seek to ram your religion down peoples' throats... but we really do have to make sure your religious ideas are rammed down peoples' throats lest civilization collapse. Got it.

But I'm happy he asks about the basis of rights, because it reminds me that more people need to appreciate the analysis Ayn Rand offered in her classic essay, "Man's Rights":

The concept of individual rights is so new in human history that most men have not grasped it fully to this day. In accordance with the two theories of ethics, the mystical or the social, some men assert that rights are a gift of God -- others, that rights are a gift of society. But, in fact, the source of rights is man's nature.

The Declaration of Independence stated that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Whether one believes that man is the product of a Creator or of nature, the issue of man¿s origin does not alter the fact that he is an entity of a specific kind -- a rational being -- that he cannot function successfully under coercion, and that rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival.

"The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A -- and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational." (Atlas Shrugged)
Once again, the answer to the idea that our options are restricted to either religion or anything-goes subjectivism is that this alternative is malformed. Rather: it is either objectivity and facts, or whim. The right-religious whimsy approach to "rights" is just as wrongheaded and dangerous as the left-secular whimsy approach to "rights."

[HT: Pharyngula, crossposted to Noodlefood.]

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06 February 2009

13 Year Old Girl Stoned to Death

By Diana Hsieh

The BBC reports on a horrifying case of a young girl stoned to death for being raped:

A young woman recently stoned to death in Somalia first pleaded for her life, a witness has told the BBC.

"Don't kill me, don't kill me," she said, according to the man who wanted to remain anonymous. A few minutes later, more than 50 men threw stones.

Human rights group Amnesty International says the victim was a 13-year-old girl who had been raped. Initial reports had said she was a 23-year-old woman who had confessed to adultery before a Sharia court.

Numerous eye-witnesses say she was forced into a hole, buried up to her neck then pelted with stones until she died in front of more than 1,000 people last week.
That such could happen in this day and age -- anywhere in the world -- is horrifying. Is a worse injustice possible? I think not. Yet such injustices are the inevitable result of blind adherence to religious dogma: the facts of this world do not matter in face of God's will. As one of the Islamic administrators said, "We will do what Allah has instructed us." So they did.

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04 February 2009

Mexican Court Case on Abortion

By Diana Hsieh

The AP reports on a court case in Mexico worth watching:

Mexico's Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to hear a challenge to recent changes in the Baja California state constitution that grant legal protection to children from the moment of conception.

The court accepted for review an appeal filed by Baja California state human rights officials, who argue a constitutional clause enacted Dec. 26 appears intended to overturn the current legal status for abortions in cases of rape or danger to the mother's life.

"An individual is granted legal protection from the moment in which they are conceived," according to the new version of Article 7 of the state's constitution.
...
This constitutional provision is basically the same as Colorado's defeated Amendment 48. As Ari Armstrong and I argued in our policy paper on that measure, any attempt to grant rights from the moment of conception entails not just a total ban on abortion (except perhaps in cases of dire risk to the woman), but also a ban on hormonal birth control and the most common methods of in vitro fertilization.

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02 February 2009

Dirty Tricks in Kansas

By Diana Hsieh

Kansas' Lawrence Journal reports on yet another attempt by the religious right to intimidate women into forgoing their right to abortion:

Topeka — The House Judiciary Committee's chairman has opened the Legislature's annual debate on abortion with what he calls a "woman's right to know and see" bill. Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, introduced legislation Monday requiring that 30 minutes before performing an abortion, the doctor give the woman a chance to see a sonogram and get a copy of the image. If fetal heart monitoring is done, the woman would have a right to listen.

"There is no better way to know the physiological development than to see," Kinzer said. "This bill is a sincere attempt by those of us on the pro-life side to find an area where we can have some consensus." Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the bill "is basically trying to use ultrasound as a political tool rather than a medical procedure."

The bill also requires that 24 hours before an abortion, the woman must be provided a list of free sonogram locations. She also must receive information about counseling and other assistance for medically challenging pregnancies, and contacts for free perinatal hospice services.

Brownlie said Planned Parenthood already provides that information to women. Kinzer's proposal also requires that abortion clinics post "anti-coercion" signs so that women will know their legal rights. "Every woman submitting to an abortion should only do so after giving her voluntary and well-informed consent," Kinzer said.

Brownlie called the signage "unnecessary and intrusive." "It is based on a made-up theory that lots of women are coerced into having abortions," he said.

Many of Kinzer's proposals were included in a wide-ranging abortion bill vetoed last year by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who supports abortion rights. Kinzer said none of the provisions in this year's bill were singled out by the governor in her veto message.
Abortion is a medical procedure like any other. It ought to be treated as such in the law. Opponents of abortion have every right to speak their mind in the forums open to them. They have no right to interject themselves into a woman's relationship with her doctor. They have no right to impose government controls on abortion providers in order to discourage women from exercising their rights over their own bodies. That's reprehensible -- and I hope this bill dies a quick death.

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