Monday, June 29, 2015

Majority of Americans give public schools high marks

Edd Doerr, president, Americans for Religious Liberty, Silver Spring, Md. notes this posting in the 

Herald-Mail   ----   June 20, 2015

Majority of Americans give public schools high marks

This letter is in reference to Larry Smith’s June 18 letter criticizing Allan Powell’s June 12 column on Nevada’s unconstitutional lurch toward school privatization.
While our public schools, like everything else, can stand improvement, 40 years of annual Gallup surveys of public opinion on educational issues have shown that two-thirds of Americans consistently give an A or B rating to the public schools attended by their own children. And Maryland public schools consistently rank among the best in the United States.
Can our public schools be improved? Yes. And leading educators have shown how — with more adequate and more equitably distributed funding, smaller classes, universal pre-K education, wraparound social and medical services, enriched curricula, serious efforts to deal with the poverty that afflicts more than a quarter of our kids, and an end to the diversion of public funds to special-interest private schools that tend to fragment the school population along religious, ideological, social class, ethnic and other lines.
School privatization is definitely not the answer. As educators Christopher and Sarah Lubienski show in their 2014 book, “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools,” any apparent advantage of private schools is due to their undemocratic selectivity.
Further, as Powell noted, millions of voters from coast to coast in 28 statewide referenda have rejected all devices for diverting public funds to private schools by an average margin of 2 to 1. In Maryland, voters defeated tax aid to private schools in 1972 and 1974 referenda, as did Washington, D.C., voters in 1981 by the astounding margin of 89 percent to 11 percent.
Finally, most state constitutions ban tax aid to religious institutions (about 90 percent of private schools are run by religious organizations) because, as Bill of Rights architect James Madison made clear in his 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, it is a violation of religious liberty for government to compel citizens to support religious institutions, their own or anyone else’s.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Original intent is ahistorical

By Mathew Goldstein

The Obergefell v. Hodges decision supporting marriage equality for same gender couples is one more precedent for the principle that the U.S. Constitution protects the civil rights of minorities against a sometimes recalcitrant majority. Decisions like these depend on interpreting the Constitution as containing broadly applicable assertions of general governing principles. This explains the vehemence of the dissents by four of the Supreme Court Justices. The four dissenting Justices exhibit a substantial discomfort with ordering new equal protection before the law protections nationwide for traditionally disfavored minorities. To avoid that outcome they advocate for interpreting the constitution as freezing in place the animus towards disfavored minorities found in the 18th century laws when the constitution was written.

The Obergefell v. Hodges dissenters, however, deny that 18th century laws exhibit any animus. Instead, they claim that laws limiting marriage to couples of opposite genders were, and still are, properly justified by a government interest that is narrowly confined to regulating procreation. This claim is incoherent and thus should be understood to be an effort to mask their own animus. If regulating procreation is the primary government interest here then why do marriages everywhere remain legally in force after the female completes menopause? Why are mixed gender couples that are known in advance to be incapable of joint procreation always permitted to marry? Why are the marriages of mixed gender couples that are subsequently found to be incapable of joint procreation not routinely annulled? The judges who cite procreation as the primary government interest served by marriage fail to address these questions. The reason for this failure is easy to fathom, it is because they cannot. Marriage is, and always has been, about more than procreation. It is also about jointly raising children (who may have been procreated by a different couple) and about regulating a variety of related financial and social interactions. Today there are approximately one thousand federal benefits and regulations associated with marriage. What are the reasons for denying same gender couples access to these benefits in the 21st century? No sensible answer is ever given.

The irony of the comatose, "it's the 18th century forever," approach to constitutional interpretation, which is often referred to as original intent, is that it is claimed to be rooted in following the historical intent of the founding fathers, yet history does not support it. The 18th century authors of the constitution were well read students of history and philosophy. They were aware that the governing customs and practices of their own time and place, let alone of the 16th century 200 years in their past, were not exemplary. They sometimes criticized popular traditions and mores of their day and believed that they could facilitate future changes for the better. They wrote out specific and detailed instructions when they wanted the law to be fixed and specific and they wrote more general instructions when they preferred that the law be more flexible and broad to support future progress. They understood that the constitution was being written for a future that would be different from the present in unanticipated ways. They wanted the new constitution to retain its relevance and be adaptable for future generations. 

Interpreting the constitution to support only those claims that uphold standards already fully realized in the 18th century is hidebound and cowardly. If there are hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods then the culprit will be indifferent physics, not an angry god. The authors of the constitution, and the broad, timeless, principles articulated in the constitution that they wrote, merit more respect. The Equal Protection clause was added to the Constitution by a 19th century action (14th amendment) as an additional broad principle that is consistent with the original intent as expressed in the Bill or Rights, and it clearly applies to all citizens of the United States. Maryland legalized same gender marriage in 2013 and it is also legal in D.C.

The four votes against equal protection is only one vote short of winning and four votes too many. 

"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Jefferson to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval), July 12, 1816

Nevada Lawmakers Betray Trusts



  Edd Doerr fins a column titled “What part of ‘no’ don’t Nevada Republicans understand?”, by Allan Powell, interesting.  It was published in the Hagerstown (MD) Herald-Mail on June 12. Powell is professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College and writes a regular weekly column for the paper. He is the author is a number of books on Maryland history and is a member of the ARL advisory board. Powell, a crewman on a Catalina in the Pacific during WW II ( by the way), is a Humanist.


  Nevada Lawmakers Betray Trusts

          Lawmakers in Nevada join a growing number of state legislatures that take pride in breaking two trusts; the pledge to support public schools and pledge to abide by their constitution. According to the Washington Post (6/14/15), a law that "any parent in Nevada can pull a child from the state's public schools and take tax dollars with them, giving families the option to use this money to pay for private or parochial school, or even for home schooling". This is choice, out of control.
          Edd Doerr, President of Americans for Religious Liberty, a lifetime defender of the principle of separation of church and state, was prompt and clear in charging the writers of "utter contempt for the religious freedom of all tax payers who will be forced to support religious institutions they would not support voluntarily". He is also correct in pointing out that they violated the demands of the constitution of their own state. Article XI, sections 9 and 10 read as follows: "No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or university that may be established under this constitution" and "No public funds of any kind or character whatever, state, county or municipal, shall be used for sectarian purposes". What part of no, don't they understand?
          For those that might be curious about what the Maryland constitution has in print, I have a book that includes every state's requirement. In a portion of Article 36, we find "Nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain any place of worship, or any ministry, nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror on account of his religious belief ...."
          Author Doerr points out that in 28 statewide referenda held between 1966 and 2014, support for vouchers is down by "landslide margins". Voucher plans have been rejected as recently as 2012 in Florida and 2014 in Hawaii. Doerr also notes that voucher attempts are by Republican political leaders. This was the case in Nevada where Republicans of both houses supported the vote.
          According to the account of the Nevada law, its supporters got help from the same education foundation started by Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. This must be seen as a national effort with the goal of privatizing public school systems. In addition, this law was praised as a "... huge victory for the children of Nevada" by Robert Enlow, the leading executive of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice which promotes the philosophy of Milton Friedman. He, it will be recalled, is known for teaching the economics of a free market.
          What could the chief executive of a for-profit organization mean about "A huge victory" for a school system that changes from a clearly public school outlook to a business model? Education grounded on a business outlook will be cost centered rather than a service centered institution. Success will be judged by higher test scores in competition with other countries. Love of knowledge for the sake of knowing would seem odd. Development of character and quest for noble values would be secondary to market interests. Community service would give way to personal enrichment.
          Citizens must realize that every dollar transferred to vouchers is a drain from what could be used to improve the public schools. Further, public schools expect to serve all classes and races of students.
          Those who study the movement to offer vouchers, do not fail to point out that it is primarily a Republican enterprise. The vote in Nevada followed party lines. One Republican leader who worked for passage averred that "This is the wave of the future". This lack of support of our public schools seems so unreal to those of us who grew up long ago and remember how close we were to the schools in our neighborhood.
          We well remember how patient our teachers were. During the Depression era, most of us tried to find ways to earn small change. We were not model students and teachers were well aware of our struggle to get food and clothing. We did not blame teacher for shortcomings in time and preparation for class. We looked up to those who were in public education and there was little tension in the community about the need to get into constitutional debates about the job of educators. One of our great gifts in life is our public schools - they deserve our thanks and support.

Allan Powell, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy, HCC

School Choice Letter Omits Research, Distorts Polling

 Edd Doerr suggests that this letter was published in Education Week on June 15 might be of interest

School Choice Letter Omits Research, Distorts Polling

Paul DiPerna’s letter touting school vouchers and education savings accounts (“Governor’s School Choice Essay Ignores Research, Critic Says,” May 20, 2015) conveniently did not mention the research and published findings of University of Illinois education professors Christopher and Sarah Lubienski showing that the apparent private school advantage is due to those schools’ selectivity (The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Further, the results of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice survey in Delaware that were mentioned in Mr. DiPerna’s letter should be viewed with skepticism as, according to the group Americans for Religious Liberty, they run substantially counter to the results of 40 years of Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa education polls and 28 state referendums over the years, such as those in Hawaii in 2014 and in Florida in 2012.

Dennis Middlebrooks 
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Recent Journal of Secularism and Nonreligion articles

By Mathew Goldstein

"Anti-Atheist Bias in the United States: Testing Two Critical Assumptions" by Lawton Swan and Martin Heesacker (http://www.secularismandnonreligion.org/articles/abstract/10.5334/snr.ac/) examines the  veracity of the following two assertions: a) that when people report negative attitudes toward atheists, they do so because they are reacting specifically to their lack of belief in God; and (b) that survey questions asking about attitudes toward atheists as a group yield reliable information about biases against individual atheist targets. They confirmed both assertions.  A recent Templeton Foundation funded study also supports this result by comparing the impact of Dr. Francis Collins arguments that religion and science are harmonious against the impact of Dr. Richard Dawkins arguments that science and religion are in conflict on people who first read a short biography of the authors of the competing arguments. Research shows that people are significantly more likely to listen and accept what a public figure is saying if they see themselves as similar to that figure. "Given that there are more people in the U.S. population (and hence in our data) who would identify as a Christian than atheist, Collins is likely to have more impact with that audience", see more at: http://news.rice.edu/2015/06/17/how-science-popularizers-influence-public-opinion-on-religion/#sthash.rWa20rZN.dpuf.

J. Tuomas Harviainen reviews a book, "Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not", by Robert N. McCauley (http://www.secularismandnonreligion.org/articles/abstract/10.5334/snr.af/).  This review says that the crux of the argument in the book is that religion relies more on commonplace, unreflective explanations as differentiated from the more abstract, reflection-requiring explanations of science and religion has a less restricted view of the role of agent causality than science.  It is inherently easier ("more natural") for people to accept commonplace explanations and causality via agents.  Therefore people tend to favor "theologically incorrect" religions.

"Explaining Global Secularity: Existential Security or Education?" by Claude Braun (http://www.secularismandnonreligion.org/articles/abstract/10.5334/snr.ae/) concludes that formal education alone explains loss of religious beliefs and that the positive correlation between secularism and material safety is not a causal relationship. Thus, religion’s primary function in the world today is being replaced, not so much by better living conditions, but by contemporary education – extensive knowledge of contemporary cultures, philosophy, modes of thought or processes of reasoning.

"Non-Theists Are No Less Moral Than Theists: Some Preliminary Results" by Justin Didyoung Eric Charles and Nicholas Rowland  (http://www.secularismandnonreligion.org/articles/abstract/10.5334/snr.ai/) determined from a survey of 114 undergraduate students that, contrary to the commonly held stereotype that non-theists are less moral than theists, religious identity did not conclusively determine that an individual was more moral or more altruistic.

Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission: Stop sponsoring Christian cross

By Mathew Goldstein

The American Humanist Association, et. al. v. Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission lawsuit has been in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland since February 2014.  The lawyers for the plaintiffs recently filed a motion with a supporting memorandum requesting a summary judgment from the court that the continuing Maryland state government sponsorship of a large crucification cross on state government property violates the Establishment Clause.  They are proposing as a remedy that either the two horizontal arms of the cross be removed or the entire cross be removed. Details about the lawsuit can be found on the web site of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ask State Department to oppose all blasphemy laws

By Mathew Goldstein

The House of Representatives recently introduced House Resolution 290 calling on President Obama and the State Department to demand the repeal of blasphemy laws worldwide. Will you take just one minute to write to your Representative and ask her or him to support this bill?
As you know, blasphemy laws greatly affect atheists in particular—their efforts to promote critical thinking and progressive values are often seen as “hatred” toward the majority religion. This results in dangerous consequences—from serving jail time to even capital punishment.  Contribute an email to this worthy American Humanist Association effort.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Critiques of Pure Arrogance Intellectual or Political?

by Gary Berg-Cross

Disciplined insincerity & confident ignorance are already evident in this spectacle we call the primary season.  Well it’s still the money primary I guess, but there is a steady effort to test market ideas for the later campaigns. It’s already evidenced an unhealthy dose of arrogance to go along with the insincerity & ignorance (not to mention those flashes & dashes of egoism, conceit, intolerance, sub-surface anger, quarter truths, & light, gossipy slanders.  

I’m thinking of, for example, of Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s sharp-tongued & perhaps dimmer-witted comments.  These started at the winter meeting of the free market Club for Growth winter economic conference in February.  It was a good time to be Palm Beach, but perhaps too comfy an environment for well-reasoned arguments. I’m already tired of people who want-to-be-in-charge of things saying “I’m not a scientist” followed by an awkward opinion that back hands real scientific understanding out of the conversation. In Jeb’s case it was his opinion about climate change, an important topic for Florida and the rest of the world.  Ok, so you are not a scientist or an economist but why not get informed?  There are advisors.

Perhaps we can be disappointed but not surprised with the opinion, since he is very much a politician fitting George Bernard Shaw comment in Major Barbara :

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points
 clearly to a political career.” 

But it gets worse, because Jeb was just starting on the not-being-humble path. More recently in New Hanpshire he upped the attack as one sees from the headlines:



It is one thing to be “not a scientist” (Re climate change.) and another to attack scientists for their inconvenient evidence, if not a good approximation of reality.  Why are they not to be believed?  Well their explanations are too complicated – he used the more manipulative work “convoluted” in comments reported by CNN.  Then we have the pithy punch:

“For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you,” ... “It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it, even.”

Well I think that was a swing at President Obama as much as at Science. He’s speaking up.  But it is easy to believe that the arrogance (perhaps anti-intellectual arrogance in this case) really dwells in those politically conservative people.  Sure, one can perceive strength as arrogance in fact-based people, who are right but the not believed. They have a lot to go on. Evidence-based belief comes from the various climate scientists who actively publish research, 97 percent agree that humans cause climate change. Further the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
leveraging research  from ~ 800 climate experts across the globe,  concludes that  it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities are the main cause of atmospheric and ocean warming since the 1950s. Scientists speak in probabilities, how’s that for arrogance?  Well pulling math on you seems arrogant to some, I guess.

I think that the more dangerous arrogance is this.  It is the acted upon and emotion-centered belief of people who are wrong on the evidence (see above), don’t like testing evidence (what is the trend for the next decade?) and for one reason or another can't face this reality and projected reality.  This type of arrogance is manifested in Jeb's attack on the evidence based community and is especially true of political leaders who need to comfort the flock.


Unfortunately, this is just an early, primary season example of the attack on intellect, facts and critical thinking. We are likely to have more as part of 2015-16 silly season. I know that I will still be upset when I see  how many hands get raised this year when the candidates are asked about their belief/non-belief in evolution. Sort of a reverse American Exceptionalism demonstration.