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

26 August 2010

Catholic Theocracy

By Diana Hsieh

At first, I thought this video -- which calls for restricting the vote to faithful Catholics and installing a Catholic monarch -- must be satire. However, Real Catholic TV is genuine. Watch it for yourself... and be amazed.



Notably, Real Catholic TV posted a non-clarifying clarification here.

Quite often, I've heard from my fellow atheists that talk of theocracy in America is absurd. Is it? I think not, and here's why:

  • Much grassroots political activism is driven by religious dogma today, as we've seen up close and personal in Colorado. For example, every group pushing for Colorado's "personhood" amendment is deeply religious: Colorado Right to Life "commits to never compromise on God’s law, 'Do not murder.'" Personhood USA seeks to "honor the Lord Jesus Christ with our lives and actions," and they do so by acting as "missionaries to preborn children."
  • Fundamentalist Christians and their mouthpieces like the American Family Association claim that America was founded as a Christian nation and that the Bible is the foundation for our laws. They do that, even though the Constitution is a thoroughly secular document, even though the 1797 Treaty with Tropoli denied that the US was a Christian nation, and so on. Their strategy of evasion seems to be effective. A 2007 USA Today article reports that "55% [of Americans] believe erroneously that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation." (75% of evangelicals and Republicans thought so.)
  • A slew of well-funded and deeply-motivated Christian groups actively seek to reform America's laws in keeping with the will of God. So the basic mission of Concerned Women for America, for example, is to "bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy."
So should we dismiss a call for Catholic theocracy as too looney to take seriously? I think not. For too many Christians, the only problem with it is that the culture must be forced to be thoroughly Christian too... oh, and they would vastly prefer their sect to be in power. That's hardly comforting.

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24 August 2010

Christian Indoctrination in America's Military

By Diana Hsieh

I heard about this disturbing case via the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Here's part of the initial report posted to Truthout:

Pvt. Anthony Smith is the type of guy who stands up for what he believes in. That's why he decided to hold his commanding officers accountable for punishing him and fellow soldiers after they refused to attend an evangelical Christian rock concert at the Fort Eustis military post in Virginia.

After a day of training at Fort Eustis, Smith and other trainees were normally released to have personal time, but on May 13, Smith and dozens of others were "required" to march in formation to a concert headlined by an evangelical Christian rock band. Smith spent six months training at Fort Eustis before moving to Arizona to serve on active duty with the National Guard.

"No option was presented to us off the bat," Smith told Truthout about the required concert.

The Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert that Smith and others were told to attend was headlined by BarlowGirl, a "band of tender-hearted, beautiful young women who aren't afraid to take an aggressive, almost warrior-like stance when it comes to spreading the gospel and serving God," according to the group's web site.
Even worse, soldiers were discouraged from filing a complaint about the incident. Even apart from the coercion of these soldiers, why oh why is our military hosting and paying for a "Spiritual Fitness Concerts" promoting evangelical Christianity? Here's a bit on that:
The brainchild of Maj. Gen. Chambers, the Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert series was created at Fort Eustis when he was the commanding general there. In June 2008, Chambers brought the Christian concert series to Fort Lee, when he became its commanding general.

The point behind the concert series was to connect to young soldiers. "The easiest way to get to Soldiers today is through a phone or music," Chambers told Fort Lee Public Affairs back in 2008. "Through those means, you can change behavior, and that's what I'm looking forward to more than anything else."

There isn't much doubt that the concert series promotes religious belief. Chambers admitted as much to Fort Lee Public Affairs. "The idea is not to be a proponent for any one religion," he said. "It's to have a mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds."

But Smith says he hasn't heard of any act performing who wasn't Christian. "I never once heard of a Muslim event or an atheist event," he said. "The vast majority of them have to be Christian events."

According to MRFF, the DoD has spent at least $300,000 on Christian musical acts for these events. For instance, since 2008, the DoD has paid $125,000 to the Street Level Artists Agency, which describes its mission as "Christian radicals ... bringing the Gospel into the rock 'n roll vernacular of the common man," for performances at Forts Eustis and Lee since 2008, according to records on USASpending.gov. The agency represents Christian performers like David Phelps and Phil Keaggy, both of whom have played the concert series.
I hate to say it, but our military seems to be operating under the motto of "onward Christian soldiers." That's seriously disturbing.

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17 August 2010

Why Sam Alexander is Wrong on 'Personhood'

By Ari

In an August 15 letter to the Denver Post, Sam Alexander offers the following argument in favor of Amendment 62, the "personhood" measure that will appear on November's ballot:

As an obstetrician/gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist, I can assure [Ed] Quillen [see his article] that human development -- from the embryo to the fetus, infant, child and adult stages -- is an uninterrupted continuum; a human being is always present. We do not value human beings based upon functional capacity, but upon the intrinsic properties which make us human. Consequently, all human beings in a liberal democracy should be treated with the respect due a person, with full rights and dignity.
Alexander ignores two fundamental facts. First, a zygote is a clump of largely-undifferentiated cells without any human organs or capacities. Second, until birth, a zygote, embryo, or fetus is wholly contained within the woman's body and utterly dependent on her body for sustenance. Thus, while there is no doubt a "continuum" of development from fertilization through adulthood, an individual person with legal rights emerges at birth. (Until that point, the law properly supports a woman's desire to protect her fetus from outside aggression, as an extension of her body.) For the more complete case, read the paper by Diana Hsieh and me (or the soon-to-be released updated version of the paper).

I do think it's worth pointing out the obvious logical fallacies that Alexander commits in his letter.

Consider the following statements: "Stubble grows into a beard; therefore, stubble is a beard." "An acorn grows into an oak tree; therefore, an acorn is an oak tree." "A caterpillar develops into a butterfly; therefore, a caterpillar is a butterfly." "An adult human develops into a corpse; therefore, an adult human is a corpse."

Like Alexander's statement, these are all examples of the logical fallacy known as the "argument of the beard" or the "continuum fallacy." Something can in an "uninterrupted continuum" develop into something else and yet be become a basically different thing. That is precisely what happens when an egg is fertilized and develops into a born infant. The obvious fact that a zygote (in the proper environment) develops into a born infant -- a person -- does not imply that a zygote is a person.

Alexander's second logical fallacy is an equivocation on the term "human being." The cited paper explains:
In fact, the advocates of Amendment 48 [now Amendment 62] depend on an equivocation on “human being” to make their case. A fertilized egg is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA. It is also a “being,” in the sense that it is an entity. ...[T]he fact that an embryo is biologically a human entity is not grounds for claiming that it's a human person with a right to life. Calling a fertilized egg a “human being” is word-play intended to obscure the vast biological differences between a fertilized egg traveling down a woman's fallopian tube and a born infant sleeping in a crib.
Finally, Alexander appeals to his own authority, when in fact his expertise shed no light whatsoever on the (faulty) conclusions he draws.

Given the obviously deficient arguments Alexander offers in his letter, might I suppose that he has underlying motives for endorsing "personhood" that he did not mention in the letter?

This post was originally published on Ari Armstrong's blog.

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14 August 2010

Ed Quillen on the Slavery Argument

By Diana Hsieh

Ed Quillen commented on the analogy between zygotes and slaves drawn by "personhood" advocates toward the end of his recent Denver Post op-ed on Amendment 62:

If you ponder those possibilities and their ramifications, then it seems about four kinds of weird that the supporters of Amendment 62, an outfit called Personhood Colorado, bring up slavery in their marketing.

They've run a radio ad featuring a fictitious American slave, telling us that "I was held as property as a child. Even before my birth I was called a slave in an America you wouldn't recognize. But folks like you helped me escape North to freedom and in 1864, I joined the infantry to fight for my country. I fought so all slaves would be recognized as persons, not property. And we won . . . . This November, vote 'yes' on Amendment 62. Amendment 62 declares unborn children persons, not property. And that's the America I fought for."

But if Personhood Colorado gets its way, every woman of child-bearing age would have to be supervised lest she injure the rights of the person she may or may not be gestating. Every home miscarriage would have to be investigated by the coroner, for it's his legal duty to look into all deaths of persons that do not occur under medical supervision.

In other words, Colorado women would be required to be reproductive vessels, their lives limited and monitored, all in the guise of protecting "unborn persons." And that sounds a lot like slavery.
Indeed it does.

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12 August 2010

Eric Daniels: Religion in American History

By Diana Hsieh

This course by historian Eric Daniels was recently made available for purchase through the Ayn Rand Bookstore, and I highly recommend it. (I highly recommend everything by Dr. Daniels, in fact!)

Religion in American History
by Eric Daniels

This course investigates the historical development of religion in American history from the importation of the Puritan theocracy in the seventeenth century to the growth of evangelical ideas in the twenty-first. It illustrates how religion developed institutionally and in American culture. Dr. Daniels evaluates the role religion has played at crucial moments in our history and arms listeners against those who would give religion a central role today.

(4 hrs.,35 min., with Q & A)

Audio CD; 6-CD set: $61.95

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06 August 2010

Colorado Senate Candidate Ken Buck on Abortion

By Diana Hsieh

Much to my dismay and disgust, Colorado's two Republican candidates for Senate, Jane Norton and Ken Buck, have endorsed Colorado's 2010 "personhood" amendment, a.k.a Amendment 62. That proposed amendment would grant full legal rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization.

As Ari Armstrong and I explained in our soon-to-be-updated 2008 policy paper -- Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person -- this "personhood for zygotes" amendment would have dire legal consequences if passed and enforced. It would require abortions to be punished as first-degree murders, except perhaps to save the woman's life. It would ban any form of birth control that might sometimes prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus -- including the birth control pill. And it would ban viable forms in vitro fertilization because the process usually creates more fertilized eggs than can be safely implanted in the womb. In short, the measure poses a grave threat to the life, liberty, health, and happiness of the women and men of Colorado.

Many Republicans in Colorado seem to be evading the plain meaning of the amendment. As Ari Armstrong explains, they claim to support it, while denying that it's anything more than a symbolic gesture. So where do the Ken Buck and Jane Norton stand?

Ari Armstrong has discussed Jane Norton's anti-abortion views here. She's in favor of Amendment 62, because she believes that "life begins at conception." Of course, when "life" begins is not relevant: my pancreas is alive -- and human. The question is when rights begin -- and that happens at birth. Moreover, Norton would allow abortions in cases of rape and incest, even though such abortions would violate the supposed rights of the zygote or fetus just as much as any other abortion.

Even more than Norton, Ken Buck seems to endorse "personhood for zygotes" wholeheartedly. Via the Colorado Independent, we find Buck's basic statement of his views:

QUESTION: How do you feel about abortion? Are you for abortion, against abortion, are you for it? In what instances would you allow for abortion?

BUCK: I am pro-life, and I'll answer the next question. I don't believe in the exceptions of rape or incest. I believe that the only exception, I guess, is life of the mother. And that is only if it's truly life of the mother.

To me, you can't say you're pro-life and say -- if there is, and it's a very rare situation where one life would have to cease for the other life to exist. But in that very rare situation, we may have to take the life of the child to save the life of the mother.

In that rare situation, I am in favor of that exception. But other than that I have no exceptions in my position.
So if the life of a pregnant woman is merely in peril, as opposed to facing certain death, then Ken Buck would deny her an abortion, until perhaps too late. Or if the pregnant woman's health would be permanently ruined, such that she'd be disabled for life, Ken Buck would deny her an abortion.

Ken Buck seeks to force women to sacrifice their lives, their health, their dreams, their values to a tiny clump of cells without any human qualities except DNA.

That's not "pro-life" ... it's frightfully anti-life. And if it's not opposed on moral grounds, people like Ken Buck will eventually have their way.

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04 August 2010

"Personhood" Paper Pledge Drive Results: Success!

By Diana Hsieh

I'm pleased to announce that Ari Armstrong and I will be plowing forward with our updated policy paper on Colorado's new "personhood" amendment. We've raised a bit more than the $2000 that we required.

If you pledged, thank you, thank you! Please don't send any money now. Before that happens, Ari and I need to fulfill our end of the bargain. When we release the paper, I'll send each pledger an invoice with payment instructions.

However, I'm most displeased to report on one problem that I didn't clearly foresee with these pledges.

In violation of free speech rights, Colorado's campaign finance laws require financial disclosure of donations and spending from any group that supports or opposes any ballot measure. As a result, the Coalition for Secular Government must register as an "issue committee," then report on these pledge donations to the state. In particular, we must provide the state with the name and address for any donations of $20 or more, as well as the occupation and employer for contributions of $100 or more. Those records will be public.

Consequently, if anyone wishes to amend their pledge due to this violation of privacy -- whether to void it or reduce it -- please e-mail me with that request. I won't think ill of anyone who doesn't want their private information to become part of the public record.

Also, I've decided to keep the pledge drive open until we deliver the paper in late August. As I mentioned at the outset, we're only seeking $2000. Since we've raised more than that, we'll be pro-rating pledges accordingly. Consequently, any additional pledges will reduce the amount that each pledger owes. So if you missed the original pledge drive but wish to support our efforts, your pledge now will enable the other pledgers to support some future activist projects.

In addition, we might need some more pledges if enough people void or reduce their pledges due to the disclosure requirements. So more pledges would be gratefully received as a hedge against that possibility too.

Again, our many thanks to everyone who pledged! You've made our work against the worst theocrats of the religious right possible!

Here's the pledge form:

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