Church vs. State: Religious Freedom vs. Freedom of Speech

Just when we thought the HHS “Contraceptive Kerfuffle” was resolved! So-called “social conservatives” from the religious right are attempting to hijack the issue from the Catholic Bishops to put a two-pronged political and religious spin on it.

  1. The President ordered a change to the HHS ruling so that health insurers automatically provide the coverage at no additional charge to any insuring employer.
  2. Brooks and Shields agree that the Administration pulled us back from the brink of “religious war.”
  3. The Catholic Church, ACLU, women’s groups and Planned Parenthood all seem mollified.
  4. GOP candidate Romney finally announces “that attacks religious liberty and freedom of speech.”
  5. Brooks shows how the Administration’s original ham-fisted proposal for universal access to birth control, and the recent California court overturn of the ban on gay marriage, have emboldened the religious right.
  6. The religious right will step up its long-standing assault on personal choice it opposes.

Well, Catholics having been somewhat mollified, we should have been able to predict this would only prompt the religious right “social conservatives” to step in where Bishops care not to tread. Brooks explained the religious right would be opposed to any aspect of the HHS bill anyway, since the original proposal concretized their claim that the whole “Obamacare” program is an unwarranted government intrusion upon their religious freedom, not to mention the untouchable private sector.

As we’d expect from any religion-driven political movement, this is partly political and partly because in the view of the religious right, reproductive preventative services of any kind are a violation of the word of the Creator who blessed only their interpretation of our founding state papers. We only need a Supreme Court to rubber-stamp doctrinaire edicts from the great pulpit on high. The constitutional separation of church and state is being broken down, piece by piece.

In other words, in the “social conservative” view, religious freedom must trump personal freedom of choice every time. In that view, religious freedom requires an imperative to impose upon others sharia, i.e. religious law, by force of political legislation. Never mind that this is unconstitutional in the United States.

Do you want fries with that? Did you know that the very organization which aggressively defames gays and lesbians has its own anti-defamation league? The irony is that we find freedom of speech and religion being used here as a tool to silence personal liberty. See:

2. Right Wing Watch
3. Christian Anti-Defamation Commission

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Contraception: Controversial Health Care Mandate

The U.S. Health and Human Services department (HHS) recently announced a controversial ruling that would compel most religious organizations to offer contraceptive services as part of their basic health care package. Churches themselves would be granted the “religious exemption.”

Sometimes it may seem hard to defend organizations which in many cases push intrusive meddling upon the rights and private lives of American citizens. Here we have a case where the exact same wrong is being perpetrated upon some of those religious groups. The danger in each case is that the wrongs are perpetrated through the offices of the United States government.

What was HHS thinking? Who would be beneficiaries of this new ruling? PBS reports that while churches themselves are exempt from the new rules, Catholic hospitals and universities must comply. Continue reading

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Science Denial and the Texas Board of Education

In another century and simpler time (1999) I wrote my signature article about the Kansas Board of Education (KBOE)  — dissecting our massive modern schism between science and biblical literalism. We didn’t even have the term “science denial” in those comparatively innocent days.

Darwin’s world of science clashes once again with the recidivist views of those who would turn the pages of the world body of knowledge back to the Roman Catholic Inquisition of 1615.  That nearly executed Galileo for  heliocentric blasphemy.

How have we fared since? We deplore all sorts of agenda-driven rhetoric when the source is the Taliban extremism of Mideastern Islamic fatwas.  We somehow condone it as just another opinion if it comes from Christian fundamentalism and Holy Roller biblical literalism.

American regional sectarianism is celebrated with equal parts amusement and proof of our rich cultural tradition of diversity and tolerance, but no one so far has seriously suggested the private religious beliefs of one or more of those regional cults should drive national government policy.

Nor has anyone yet seriously challenged Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” [Wikipedia]

Libertarians preach that “this kind of [science-oriented] government interference is intolerable”, yet their evangelical supporters have brought interference in education and dumbing-down of our children to a whole new level.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously  quipped “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” He’s currently enjoying a well-deserved revival.

As commentators in science, media and education note with alarm, we find GOP frontrunner candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on record as questioning both global warming and evolution itself. Evangelical Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry told a school child on national TV that evolution was a theory that has “got some gaps.” So as to avoid conveying the false impression that Texas encourages the same science education that propelled America into the post-Sputnik Age of the 1950’s, he claims schoolchildren there are taught both “theories” as if both have equal credibility. There’s grave danger that science denial will actually storm through the doors of the White House in 2012.

The respected conservative Dr. Charles Krauthammer (a political commentator and Harvard-trained physician presumably well grounded in science) stated yesterday on Inside Washington that Global Warming has to be looked at seriously, but is still a theory. Qualifying that, he explained that man-made CO2 injection into the atmosphere is geologically unprecedented, but Earth has self-healing counter-mechanisms such as carbon sequestration (all true enough) … so we should look at the phenomenon more carefully before investing trillions in greener energy resources.

“I’m perturbed when I hear Republicans talk about Evolution as a theory like Keynesian economics,” Krauthammer says. Scientists say “it’s so” of global warming and Krauthammer says “it probably is,” but he questions the scientific models predicting the scope and intensity of potential disaster.

That may work in practice, but it won’t hold up in theory.

To the anti-science Republican Party that invented the “if it walks like a duck” theory of fact validation, it would seem the “it’s just a theory” dismissal of global warming would be more plausible if the polar cap were icing over, the Northwest Passage refroze, polar bears were thriving on an ice floe paradise, ocean levels were dropping, air quality was as good as Mauna Kea’s globally, and Phoenix was hitting summertime highs of 86.

In a bizarrely dangerous reversal of separation of church and state, science education is now politicized to a degree that wouldn’t have been tolerated a decade ago or two. Covering this epidemic was this morning’s PBS “Need to Know,” which presented a short section on the herculean effort of the Texas Board of Education (SBOE) to rewrite history and science in the Texas classroom.

Episode #168H Duration: 56:46 STEREO
TEXAS TEXTBOOKS – Despite Governor Perry’s statement that Texas schools teach evolution and creationism, Texas recently voted not to add creationism or intelligent design to its science texts. But the actions of the state’s school board continue to be closely watched by the nation. NTK caught up with the Board last May, as it was considering changes to be made in its social studies curriculum – changes that critics said inserted politics and religious beliefs into textbooks. Shot in Austin, Mt Pleasant and Bryan Texas. Interviews include Don McLeroy (SBOE), Thomas Raitliff (SBOE), and Kathy Miller (TX Freedom Network).

For anyone who has followed science denial for the last decade, there is little new in the theory of revisionism here, but the level of micro-management has escalated in the choice of religiously “correct” science and history and even in the choice of English textbook words used to describe those studies.

For example, SBOE members objected to the frequent textbook use of the word “propaganda” to describe U.S. Government efforts to rally public support for the World War I and II war efforts. To them, “propaganda” only connotes the sort of lies the bad guys promoted in wartime Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union, or anything President Obama says. The SBOE voted to substitute a neutral word like “public information” in Texas history books.

PROPAGANDA: Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect. —

“Propaganda” is also used to educate about the need for rationing, conservation, job creation and other vital public concerns. It is a legitimate dictionary word with a rich historical backdrop. In point of fact, a government information campaign to “Buy War Bonds” is propaganda whether we approve or not.   As for the negative connotation of the word, maybe it hits too close to home. That is exactly what the SBOE is doing, and it must be stopped.

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Tax Credits for Education

Back in my university days, a number of us fancied a libertarian concept known as “tax credits for education”. The idea seemed so simple. Parents pay taxes for the public education system; middle- and lower-income parents have little or no money left over to choose the private school option. Why not give them a tax credit, letting them vote their dollars to the school that best achieves their educational goals? But in 2010, nothing is ever so simple …

When we passed out the leaflets on campus, other students scowled at us like we were from Mars. Perhaps we were.

Today. our “idea from Mars” is federal law, as the IRS explains on their Education Credits web page.

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Evolution and Fake Science

From Darwin to DSC and Intelligent Design

Amazon Book link [available for pre-order]

Here we’ll discuss the science of Evolution, the religious views of Creationism and Intelligent design, and we’ll move briefly to Theology, Politics and Rhetoric, tracing the pattern set by the Discovery Institute, which follows a manifesto for the remaking of America … in its own image.

Ever since the naturalist Charles Darwin published his famous On the Origin of Species, the western world seems to have progressively divided into two camps: those who see the advances of scientific investigation in the past 150 years as overwhelming evidence we can no longer regard the “theory” of evolution as mere theory, and those who see Evolution as an unproven threat to Christian interpretations of Biblical Creation.

We all know that several school districts have, at various times, banned the teaching of Evolution and ordered the teaching of Creationism. Since the famed Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee (which Clarence Darrow lost), the courts have ruled with remarkable consistency that teaching Creationism in the classroom constitutes a violation of the constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. Hoping to make an end run around the courts and public opinion, proponents of intelligent design seek to reformulate Creationism into an intellectually defensible scientific theory, complete with documentation, footnotes and the jargon of science. The new thrust: since they’re both theories, why, in “fairness”, should schoolchildren be denied a learning opportunity about the other theory?

The current controversy is no longer so much what people are free to believe, but what constitutes legitimate science, and whether we remain free to teach scientific inquiry. Continue reading

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On the Age of Man

Here at we frequently avail ourselves of the rich opportunities to slam creationist sects for their perverse backward dogma that mankind was created out of earth, air, fire, water and a rib some 6,000 years ago. Yet this picture of the “true believer” is unsatisfyingly incomplete, and perhaps unfair. In my own 60+ years I myself have never met an individual who claimed to actually believe this, or who even asserted that the Bible “says so”.

In an essay on Herodotus I recently wrote: “The question that has always bothered me: how could presumably intelligent and articulate Creationists fatally wound their own beliefs with such wildly out-of-whack dates?”
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God and Mormon on Pennsylvania Avenue

There it was, over conversation at the restaurant, right after “please pass the pepper”:

“I don’t think I could vote for Romney because he’s a Mormon, and he would have to do what the Mormon Church tells him to do.”

Following that were a litany of concerns about the LDS establishment’s stand on women, gays, blacks, and the very time and personal life of its Saints. There’s the tithing. And the missionary work. And the indisputable historical track record of what happens to members who stand up against the church and its beliefs, or even those who criticise, directly or indirectly, the teachings, traditions, and doctrinal stance of the church.
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Zionism and De Tar-Baby

“Brer Rabbit keep on axin’ ‘im, en de Tar-Baby, she keep on sayin’ nothin’, twel present’y Brer Rabbit draw back wid his fis’, he did, en blip he tuck ‘er side er de head. Right dar’s whar he broke his merlasses jug. His fis’ stuck, en he can’t pull loose. De tar hilt ‘im. But Tar-Baby, she stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.” — from The Wonderful Tar Baby Story

There is a troublesome article in the July 30 New Yorker, The Apostate, by David Remnick. It is about a controversial Cassandra, a social critic and Zionist gadfly named Avraham Burg. Burg, a former Speaker in the Knesset, is author of a book “Defeating Hitler”, the central point of which seems to be that the mindset of the modern Israeli state has not changed much from the siege mentality in the early years of the Jewish State after World War II.
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Science vs. Religion: Debate Derailed?

An ages-old theme resurfaced in the current Scientific American, namely, the “problem” of whether there should even be a dialog between people of science and people of faith. Put that way, right there you can see the lines being drawn in the sand: if you are on the other side of that line, experience has taught me that you are the enemy, and we cannot even talk, and the real “problem” is one of “containment”: how do we draw a circle in the sand and confine you to it?

In the July feature article “Should Science Speak to Faith?” , Scientific American contributors Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss debate “about the best ways to oppose religiously motivated threats to scientific practice or instruction.” Both are scientists, both work in their spare time to keep Creationism out of the classroom, and they don’t always necessarily agree on methodology.
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Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize 1989

I read a fascinating story about the Beijing-Lhasa Tibet Railway, a monumental engineering feat by any accounting.

The article by correspondent Pankaj Mishra, The Train to Tibet, appears in the April 16 New Yorker. (The text of the article is not available online).

Tibet Railway

As an armchair railway buff, I was struck by the engineering difficulty of constructing track on the fast-melting permafrost (global warming), the systems to deliver oxygen-rich air to passengers at 16,400 feet, and the political side of the railway that we do not hear so much about. The railway serves as a delivery system for trainloads of Han Chinese, who already dominate the Tibetans, now a minority, living in their own capital of Lhasa. Many also view the railway as a British-style colonial device for plundering rich mineral resources and diverting them to Beijing.
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