Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Silver Spring's (MD) Edd Doerr had this letter published in the Feb 13-26 issue of the National Catholic Reporter ---

“Push on climate change”

Pope Francis, Tom Roberts and Brian Roewe (NCR, Jan 2-15) are to be commended for their forward push on climate change. Many of us are hoping that Francis will do the one thing that he and he alone can do about climate change: rescind Paul VI’s 1968  Humanae Vitae encyclical, promulgated in defiance of the vast majority of his own advisers.

Since 1968, there have been 1.5 billion abortions worldwide, 50 million in the US alone. Vacating Humanae Vitae would seriously lower the abortion rate, save women’s lives, and contribute to reducing overpopulation and such concomitants of climate change as resource depletion, environmental degradation, deforestation, soil erosion and nutrient loss, biodiversity shrinkage, rising sea levels (40% of the world population lives in coastal areas), and increasing sociopolitical instability and violence.

Monday, February 16, 2015

In Griswold We Trust

By Mathew Goldstein

David B. Parker is a professor of history at Kennesaw State University who specializes in Civil War history.  As any academic historian steeped in the Civil War knows, there are sometimes two conflicting histories, the history found in the historical record and a popular "history" that originates in someone's head the same way as fiction originates, but is nevertheless promoted as factual by individuals or groups with political, commercial, or other such non-academic agendas, and is subsequently repeated over and over again by growing numbers of other people, and as a result becomes accepted by public opinion as being factually true.  This happens in multiple different contexts.  If you think that Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are likely fictional characters (unlike the historical warrior Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibnʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim (a.k.a. Muhammad) or the historical con-man Joseph Smith) you may want to keep this insight to yourself lest you be mischaracterized as a foolish atheist ideologue who disregards the generally accepted evidence that all sensible people, including non-religious people and people of other religions, allegedly know demonstrates that these were historical people.

And so it is also with the claims that George Washington appended "so help me god" to his first presidential oath of office and all subsequent presidents did the same.  For many years the Senate Historical Office, speaking as the experts on presidential oath history on behalf of the U.S. Senate, and therefore also on behalf of the United States government, endorsed the first claim as historical fact.  For multiple years, starting shortly after we began our correspondence with them, they also published a "so help me God" video on the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies' (JCCIC) website that endorsed the second claim as historical fact.  Years after several of us first corresponded with the Senate Historical Office to point out that neither claim is supported by the historical record, they continued to endorse both "facts" on the website. The Senate Historical Office justified their stance by pointing out that historian Douglas Southall Freeman, who won a (posthumous) Pulitzer Prize for his six-volume biography of Washington published in 1954, claimed GW appended that phrase.  We responded that the eyewitness document cited by Freeman in his biography did not assert that GW appended that phrase.  From then on we got no more responses from the Senate Historical Office to any correspondence we sent them. Even though they eventually conceded their second claim was not justified they continued to assert it on the website.  Frustrated by the years of no response from the Senate Historical Office, one day I visited the Senate Rules Committee office, which owns the JCCIC web site.  I was dismissed by the youthful staff there, somewhat rudely, as if I was a crank.

Yet people did pay attention and began reporting the history correctly, and the JCCIC website eventually also followed. Professor Parker subsequently took an interest in the origin of these two related myths about George Washington's first inauguration and about all presidential oaths.  His conclusions were recently published in Common-place The Interactive Journal of Early American Life, volume 15, no. 1 and are available for all to read under the appropriate title "In Griswold We Trust".

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Ideoplogy and Religion Mix at the National Prayer Breakfast

by Gary Berg-Cross

The National Prayer Breakfast often stirs up controversy, although different ones in the secular and religious communities. In the past, for example, we had the context of the  Hobby Lobby Case and we found there was a link to  a somewhat
“secretive group" called "The Family” playng a role of hosting the  National Prayer Breakfast. This was reported on the  MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, by author Jeff Sharlet who publicly accused "The Family" of this role.

This year I was at a discussion group after the Breakfast event and the buzz was about Obama’s “crusader” comment:

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

As the Post noted, “Critics pounce(d) after Obama talks Crusades, slavery at prayer breakfast”
There was lots of ideas and symbols wrapped up in the spaces between the words and suggestive connections to other parts of the speech.  An example is that patriotic, hot button issue of American exceptionalism. Well, as noted, the Greeks think their country i special, too). Then there is the contrast with uncomfortable Bush-era practices such as those interrogation practices, euphemistically called “harsh” for years, but in the Obama era more correctly called  torture that goes along with the invasion of Iraq a tragic, hubristic mistake. Perhaps we should pray for forgiveness for these things as well as our prior heavy hand in Central and South American.

Are these things too sensitive and ideological to discuss at a “prayer” meeting or ask forgiveness for?  Do they downplay ISIS evil too much?   Well conservatives like The Family and Baltimore’s Ben Carson believe so. Any number of outraged Republicans voices could be heard such as former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore who said,

“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

Well it  seems to some of us as a good use of the Prayer Breakfast pulpit to talk about the moral side of things and for the Religious-American complex to take an historical,  self-reflective stance. It is a timely context seeing something bad done in the name of Religion to humbly note that Faith, and not just one Faith, can be perverted and its name used to justify revenge killing and harm.  It’s about the need for the prayerful to”stand up against those who try to use faith to justify violence, no matter what religion they practice.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Is the Measles Vaccination Discussion a Teachable Moment?

by Gary Berg-Cross

Fifteen years ago, the CDC was proud to announce victory over measles. More recently there is has been a creeping increase in measles outbreaks attributed in park to the growing number of parents have opted to not to have their children vaccinated. Fear is involved backed by an old claim that there is a link between vaccines and autism. I guess the small success of the flu shot this year also lowers the confidence that they work. And so we have this, according to the CDC, 1 in 12 children born in the United States is not being vaccinated as recommended. That's a huge percent for something the best science seems to say is effective and safe.

The measles vaccine dust up is what Adam Frank called a "teachable moment" for everyone as the anti-vax movement is suddenly thrown into the spotlight. Collectively, we can see the Disneyland outbreak and the various responses for what it could be — a wake up call for informed decisions and rational discussion about science denial and the relation of parental rights (freedom) and responsibility to the public at least.

Below is a portion of what Frank wrote on what he called living in "a strange moment of human history" :

We have this thing called science. Through its fruits (medicines, technology, etc.), many of us live lives fundamentally different from the tens of thousands of generations preceding us. At the same time, through science's unintended consequences, we have also changed the "natural" world in ways likely to pose daunting challenges to our ongoing "project of civilization." But strangest of all, in the midst of these profound changes, one growing response to the tough questions science raises in our lives has been to act as if it didn't exist.

I am, of course, talking about denial. The anti-vax movement, like climate change denialism, rests on the assumption that if you disagree with certain established scientific results you can just ignore them. You call the science lies — or claim the scientists have a political bias."

Indeed people ignore or trump science based on emotional feelings (fight or flight) vague values of freedom and such. So parent's get to chose is proclaimed as an absolute.  It has an ideological-religious fever to it. But on this issue of parent’s choice there is also the question of what is behind the choice and what is a good choice.Recently, NPR's Morning Edition had a 4 minute segment called The Psychology Behind Why Some Kids Go Unvaccinated. We could use some of what was said there as part of this teachable moment.

We can start by asking why do some people believe that these particular vaccinations are dangerous? Can’t they understand the facts?

It turns out that (some) telling parents that are afraid to vaccinate kids the facts makes them less likely to vaccinate them. It’s a general belief phenomena of the emotional brain we can demonstrate and understand to some degree.

Some of it is the near term pain vs. more distant or less obvious gain.  But also Dartmouth research by Brendan Nyhan was cited on the belief dynamics which challenge the teachable moment opportunity for some.

The frame of the research is the idea hat beliefs are shaped by pre-existing views, filtered by motivated reasoning (energized by Worry ) through loyalty to our group allegiance (tribe’s) belief.  For example, take groups and give them facts to show that Obama was born in the US. Some are not persuaded by that facts and believe that Obama was born in Africa. Who? Those who didn't like him to begin with. Not everyone is open to the facts, your ideology filters things and indeed can motivate people to use their thinking in a defensive way.

Once you believe in something strongly with emotions it is hard to debunk. And this theory of child vaccinations leading to autism has that rigidity. It came from a 1998 article in a good Journal, Lancet,

suggesting such a link, but the study was later retracted and has been widely discredited. It was, for example only an 11 kid sample and later couldn't be replicated and then the author was shown to have mad up the data. But it is hard to stop the meme. Especially when it is promoted by tribes with a megaphone.

The Morning Edition talked about the collective action dilemma – We can get a free ride sometimes when others do the hard work like with vaccinations. It means that I don’t have to deal with the risk and this is also called the tragedy of the commons. I’d say it is a general problem we face. Letting everybody act in their own self-interest isn't optimal although some believe that.

How to solve the dilemma?

Some cultures force or apply public-social pressure (e.g. You are a moron–if your child is not vaccinated I won’t invite her over for a play date.)

Social scientists think these (force and shame) are not the best ways. While a little social pressure is good, experts who have studied the psychology of the vaccine doubters say it's counterproductive to be accusatory — or even to try provide a little well-meaning education.

Below is some discussion of this from researchers as part of a different article:

"When you attack somebody's values, they get defensive," said risk communication expert David Ropeik. "It triggers an instinctive defensiveness that certainly doesn't change the mind of the vaccine-hesistant person."

And some of the criticism on cable television, social media and in mainstream newspapers and magazines is starting to look like bullying, Ropeik and other experts said.

"There are millions of people who are ambivalent to some degree. When they hear the people being picked on defend their views, that has the real prospect of turning some of those people against vaccines."

The anti-vaccine movement is nothing new. People have been questioning the safety and efficacy of vaccines for decades, especially once the illnesses the vaccines protect against started to disappear, and the risks of the vaccine began to loom larger when there was no backdrop of death and disease.

But simply telling people their views are stupid, or even not fully informed, will not work, said Dr. Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth University (also cited in the NPR story).

"It could make the problem worse. Imagine what calling people selfish and dumb can do," Nyhan said. "If people call me selfish and dumb, it doesn't make me more open-minded, and I don't know why anyone would think otherwise in this case. I think it's really short-sighted. People enjoy lashing out at anti-vaccine folks, (but) it turns into an 'us versus them' thing."

Nyhan conducted a study last year with Freed that found that when they gave ambivalent parents facts that show vaccines do not cause autism, they were even less likely to vaccinate their kids than they were before.

"They are committed to that point of view. You can provoke a kind of backlash reaction if you are not careful," Nyhan said. "That is why it is important to test the messages that we use and avoid the counterproductive type of messaging seen in the wake of Disney."

Telling people they are wrong will just make them dig in their heels, said Nyhan.

"There is a psychological tendency called disconfirmation bias. Information we don't want to hear, we try very hard to reject it. That is especially true for beliefs that are central to our identity," he said.

Most Americans support vaccination. A survey from the Pew Research Center published last week found that 68 percent of American adults believe that vaccinations of children should be required, while 30 percent say that parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their kids.

But groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center view and position themselves as courageous visionaries who challenge a flawed, mainstream point of view. Libertarian leaders such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., are taking on the issue of vaccination as a question of personal freedom.

Bottom line, how might we get people to vaccinate their kids?

Build relations and trust – acknowledge the fear and discuss it without force or shame.

And, of course, a similar approach may be useful for the secular and intellectual community on other issues.

Note- Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described "evangelist of science."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Religion, Faith and Belief – well covered in the Media, but with different slants

By Gary Berg-Cross
Lots of media (newspapers, magazines, radio and online types like blog sites etc.) have a Religion section or its equivalent.  WaPo has it online under the National section where you can read about the “Latest Religion News.
This includes local Religion events from around the Washington area including music
(Dixieland jazz), Martha’s Table, food drives, Super Bowl Fellowship, Bible study, yoga, wellness, organ recitals.

Under the WAPO  RELIGION heading you read how the ubiquitous  (and Controversial)
Koch brothers give big (again) to Catholic University. But you can also find related  coverage under the Metro or Style section which has On Faith.
The NYT has a Religion and Belief section with occasional posting like:
Mark Oppenheimer Beliefs column. A January post observed that many faiths struggle with concept of animal ensoulment; cites proliferation of pet cemeteries throughout the United States.

An earlier one in January was about former NY Gov Mario Cuomo willingness to speak publicly about his religious beliefs.

On Xmas day atheist Mark Bittman Op-Ed article cross-posted there that reflects that 2014 was the 100th anniversary of Christmas truce during World War I, when soldiers from both sides took break from fighting to be festive together.

Also on Xmas dayT M Luhrmann had a cross posted Op-Ed article about people attending God-neutral, growing in popularity movements like Sunday Assembly around Xmas Yes even for atheists group ritual is important to make sense of the world.

Even the Guardian has a Religion section and moving to online phenomena the news aggregating blog site called  the Huffington Post has a Religion news section. It’s under its Voices category. As a liberal site I find its coverage includes a bit more critical tone than most of the others. You can read about “Why Julianne Moore Stopped Believing In God” They break faith down into several categories and also have a  Religion and Science section that features "blog posts and news reports that address the ongoing conversation and tension between religion and science. The page has a pro-science and pro-faith point of view and highlights smart, sophisticated perspectives from all religious traditions on how to best improve relationships between these two fields of inquiry."

These feature research and fact-oriented coverage and not just opinion. Recent examples include, Children Exposed To Religion Have Difficulty Distinguishing Fact From Fiction, Study Finds”  and “Religious Objections To Vaccines Are A Threat To Public Health.

Still I find most of these sites could be considered religiously or faith oriented. They are labeled so.

A bit different is the Belief section of the very liberal blog aggregator Alternet.  Here we are beyond a religious and religious faith slant to one of the more general topic of belief including secular belief. Atheism is pretty prominently featured and discussed and discomfort to faith-based belief folks is likely.  They cover issues in a more confrontational way - sort of like a New Atheist style, but they include articles that might take on that topic too.

Recent posting included:
E. O. Wilson: You don't have to be an atheist to know that religion is harming the Earth.
Of course some of the coverage discusses the religio-political connections such as:

AlterNet-Jan 28, 2015
20 percent of Americans have no affiliation with organized religion. Only 0.2 percent of Congress says the same. By Zaid Jilani.

Another one with political connections was “This Week in Religion: Huckabee Claims God Blessed Him, and Mormons Back LGBT Rights.” 

Dan Arel, author of Parenting Without God and blogs at Danthropology, authors the This Week in Religion section. Just in January he has covered some critical topics:

Other recent posts on include some overviewing non-belief in a bit of the way other media feature an established religion.

AlterNet-Nov 17, 2014
The answers tell us a lot about religion and non-belief in America. ... Not all of them identify as atheist or agnostic or a non-believer, but plenty do, and while there are many people offering to defend this particular community, few are willing to speak for them. ...

Still other posts are critical of religious leaders such as:
Billy Graham's Son Is One of America's Most Dangerous Islamophobes. This one by Bill Berkowitz  was aggregated from another liberal blog site TruthOut.

Alternet is one of those challenging sites.  No one is going to agree with everything they feature, but you get some interesting topics, usually documents and well reasoned if a bit argumentative – sort of like the New Atheists. An example is the “12 Worst Ideas Religion Has Unleashed on the World” By Valerie Tarico who argues that these 12 dubious concepts advocate conflict, cruelty and suffering. Among them are things hard to disagree with:

The idea of  Heretics, kafir, or infidels (to use the medieval Catholic term) are not just outsiders, they are morally suspect and often seen as less than fully human. In the Torah, slaves taken from among outsiders don’t merit the same protections as Hebrew slaves.”  Or Holy War – If war can be holy, anything goes.”  Blasphemy the notion that some ideas are inviolable, off limits to criticism, satire, debate, or even question. is of course on the list, but the #1 listed was:

Chosen People –The term “Chosen People” typically refers to the Hebrew Bible and the ugly idea that God has given certain tribes a Promised Land (even though it is already occupied by other people). But in reality many sects endorse some version of this concept. The New Testament identifies Christians as the chosen ones. Calvinists talk about “God’s elect,” believing that they themselves are the special few who were chosen before the beginning of time. Jehovah’s witnesses believe that 144,000 souls will get a special place in the afterlife. In many cultures certain privileged and powerful bloodlines were thought to be descended directly from gods (in contrast to everyone else).

Religious sects are inherently tribal and divisive because they compete by making mutually exclusive truth claims and by promising blessings or afterlife rewards that no competing sect can offer. “Gang symbols” like special haircuts, attire, hand signals and jargon differentiate insiders from outsiders and subtly (or not so subtly) convey to both that insiders are inherently superior.

No feel good Super Bowl Fellowship coverage likely at, but lots of thought poking topics.  It not only makes you think, it makes you want to think. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Blasphemy and Issues around Free Speech

by Gary Berg-Cross

The recent Charlie Hebdo shootings have stirred a range of discussion, some reasoned and some emotion driven about persistent topical ingredients such as;
·         How do we and should we define the border between freedom of expression and hate speech?
·         Does religion or associated ethnic groups with their values have special status to consider?
·         What is the role of history, including facts and law in deciding these things?
·         How does this debate relate to extremists and to establishment power structures?

People, cultures and groups will differ as to what “facts” and assumptions are to be used in the debate, some of which we see embedded in the above questions. Some very liberal people’s preference is to defend freedom of all kinds of expression, including mockery and
incitement without any limitations. That's really free and there are no real borders to worry about.  There is no hate speech. It’s a mature & proper view and perhaps take maturity, tolerance and polite reflection all around to work.  Maybe it is the goal, but we have various types of hate speech or its equivalent enshrined in law. So we have to deal with gray areas that may vary from country and culture. there is also the idea of civilized discourse. I'm in favor or that too and the idea of this can also vary from place to place.  There may be practical issues to get to the idea of free speech and civilized discourse on the way to enlightenment without conflict or giving in to bullies and crazies. Every culture has some small percentage of unstables and events often afford them opportunities to make an impact and get into the spotlight.

Then there is the emotional vs. rational aspect of our behavior. We are not always reflective or tolerant and some things get the emotions fired up, even among rational, secular folks. Take something as simple as the proposition to respect a person’s right to believe whatever they want – so long as that belief does no harm to others. Of course harm is a judgemental thing -hurting a believer's mothers feelings may not be harmful to me, but it may be the way a belief culture wants things to be and mutual politeness may allow this if all other things are equal.  Alas, they are rarely so.  It is this unevenness that makes finding a useful position difficult.  Indeed certain groups are protected by laws and others by convention which builds in some unevenness. 

Non-believers might think a "no harm respect-all" standard is an improvement over what we have now– believers should respect nonbelievers as people and not disrespect them as people.  We are human too and recent events might offer a teachable moment for respecting people.  Whether we should respect the belief itself is quite another matter that eventually leads to argument. When can we speak up about the silliness of other's belief?  

In a simple respect position non-believers would leave faith-based believers to their own thoughts.  And indeed this seems to me what many of us on the nonbelief side do - new atheists and anti-theists aside. This might be a nice peaceful world, if that was all there was to it. But there is history and custom to consider  and these conflict respect for people with having to respect certain beliefs - the religious ones for example.

For a long time, well maybe for as long as we know, believers don’t leave non-believers alone.  Believers have their hooks into the power structure and get laws, such as Blasphemy statutes, passed, which do beyond disagreeing with the belief and take action on non-believing people, such as not allowing them to hold office. 

For evidence let’s look at the International Humanist and Ethical Union. They have released their annual global report Freedom of Thought Report 2014, on discrimination against humanists, atheists, and the non-religious, and their human rights and legal status. As input to the report, a group  called Atheist Ireland contributed information about religious discrimination in Ireland as part of the overall process of developing the Report.

Here are some of the General systemic issues noted on how nonbelievers are affected in Ireland: 

§  There is systematic religious privilege
§  Preferential treatment is given to a religion or religion in general
§  Religious groups control some public or social services
§  State-funding of religious institutions or salaries, or discriminatory tax exemptions
Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief; Establishment of religion
§  Official symbolic deference to religion

Much of this is due to article 44.1 of the Constitution of Ireland in which

 “the State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion”.

This clause, smells of the concept of blasphemy - the act of insulting or showing a lack of reverence for God, religious or holy persons or things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.

This Irish thing is surprisingly close to a foundational tenet of Islam, namely, submission to Allah (the Arabic word for a universal “God”). There may be thankfully fewer acts of violence seen in Ireland than the Middle East for a variety of reasons. These things happen when people are stressed and conflicts are ongoing. There are sometimes sparks from a real war with people being killed and tortured that lead to violent response.

Coming back to what we saw for Ireland, a contextual question might be “Is it legal to draw and publish caricatures like these in Europe?”

Well we think clearly yes, but it turns out with reservations, legal ones at times.

There are still laws in Europe criminalizing blasphemy, although there has been a trend to decriminalize it over the last 40 years. In the Netherlands, it was only abolished completely in 2014
In the US prosecution for blasphemy is in theory "unconstitutional” after the 1952 Supreme Court case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson. But there are still laws on the books.  So although we aren't whipping people anymore we aren't pure on this issue of free expression that we hug to our breast.  We can do better.

The extremist claiming the attack in Paris declared that it was revenge for the publication of caricatures in the Charlie Hebdo symbolically depicting the Prophet Muhammad, as a terrorist, but also as revenge for torture they cited in Iraq.  The equating of a proclaimed prophet as a terrorist is certainly provoking.  As some have noted characterizing killers of abortion clinics as Christians, perhaps with a picture of Jesus doing the bombing would not be a fair, mocking characterization.  We don't blame world wide Jewry of depict Moses as a bomber of Palestinians in Gaza. A few fringe zealots and defenders of belief turf may take react violently, but we don't blame or satirize an entire religion.  They are often few, such as our US Koran burners or government building bombers, but allow broadly the scapegoating of the other side and may use religious cover for this. But then the caricature of the Prophet is also broad in seemly condemning an entire religion using its prophet symbolically.  It would seem that civilized cartooning as part of debate could be smart enough not to smear an entire religion in anger.  But maybe that is the point and one that can be debated in a civilized fashion.

There is another practical side to this too.  Some defend a more limited conception of freedom of expression to avoid the downsides.  The idea here is that some speech may incite violence and cause hate speech. Certainly we recognize this is some aspects of social media.  Ever been banned from a web site for heated argument?  What about police who crack down on targets that talk back.  Their speech seems quite limited, but perhaps if they used satire it would go better.  Well maybe not.  We read how French police are rounding people up because of the stuff they "said", including a drunk driver who was arrested for apparently feeling his freedom expression too much, and talked tough.  As troubling as well, is a know French comedian who made a joke in poor taste on Facebook. He was arrested.  There seem to be practical limits, especially if you are talking to the power structure in your society as opposed to one that your power structure is in conflict with. And that is another point people have made about Charlie Hebdo. Their criticism has been characterized as more of punching down to a minority group and its religion in the country but at odds with the power Charlie H rarely punched up against that power structure it is claimed. As one letter to WaPo put it:

It is easy to claim to promote and stand for freedom of expression and to wrap oneself in the mantle of righteousness at the expense of those who are already beleaguered, downtrodden, marginalized and oppressed. But it is a gross abuse of a worthy principle, and there is nothing admirable or praiseworthy about it.

 Freedom to speak is not nearly absolute especially when it makes groups in power uncomfortable. Secularists have understood and experienced this for a long time. You might have a right to say what you feel to the law yet you might get arrested or charged with disrespecting a law officer. Some have been killed.

As advice here, consider this practical, civilized point of  view from the David Ignatius posting , “Sorry, but this war-on-terror mobilization is the wrong response to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.” It would repeat mistakes the United States made in its reaction to Sept. 11, 2001.

“The role of religion in all of this is dangerously exaggerated,” says a former State Department official who now organizes private-sector efforts to counter extremism. “When we get stuck in a religious debate we are never going to win, we miss the point, which is that extremists are offering young people a sense of belonging, an outlet for adventure, and some kind of enhanced status. To combat this, we have to appeal to them as young people more than we have to appeal to them as Muslims...
Cracking a joke or publishing satire has its place in this discourse, but so does delicacy and civility. If we want to rise above barbarity, sometimes our humor needs to rise above as well. It doesn't mean we need remain silent in the face of fraud, atrocity or illiberality or discard our fundamental right to free expression. It just means instead of a sledgehammer, sometimes the knife of subtlety is a much better tool..”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Humanism and church-state separation

by Edd Doerr

Humanist Manifesto II (1973, excerpts): “The separation of church and state and the separation of ideology and state are imperatives. . . . The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized.”

Unitarian Universalist General Assembly resolution (1982, excerpts): “Defend the democratic, pluralistic public school, opposing all forms of direct or indirect public aid to support sectarian private schools, such as tuition tax credits or vouchers. . . . Uphold religious neutrality in public education . . . oppose religious indoctrination in public schools [and] the introduction of sectarian religious doctrines, such as ‘scientific creationism’. . . . Uphold the constitutional privacy right of every woman, acknowledged by the Supreme Court in 1973 in Roe v Wade  and other rulings, to plan the number and spacing of her children and to terminate a problem pregnancy in collaboration with her physician, opposing all efforts through legislation or constitutional amendment to restrict that right or to impose by law a ‘theology of fetal personhood’.”

In 1982 prominent Humanist leaders/writers Edward Ericson and Sherwin Wine founded Americans for Religious Liberty (ARL) to defend precisely what the two above statements proclaim. To head the new organization they picked Edd Doerr, a columnist in The Humanist and editor of Americans United’s Church & State magazine since the early 1970s (and, incidentally, the author of the UUA resolution above and an original signer of Humanist Manifesto II) and currently a columnist in Free Inquiry magazine. Joining the ARL staff in 1990 was Al Menendez, an expert election analyst. Doerr and Menendez are the authors of over 60 books.

In its third of a century ARL has published 129 issues of its quarterly journal, Voice of Reason, the only church-state separation journal that reviews books in this important but neglected field, and over two dozen books and studies. All of ARL’s over 30 years of journals may be accessed on its web site –

ARL has reached millions through print and electronic media and public speaking, has presented testimony at congressional hearings, has been a member of various relevant coalitions, and has been involved in over 60 major church-state lawsuits, some before the Supreme Court. In one successful suit in the late 1980s, a challenge to the diversion of US aid to sectarian schools abroad brought in cooperation with the ACLU, the plaintiffs included Isaac Asimov and Corliss Lamont.

Attached in pdf is ARL’s most recent journal.

ARL would like to invite you to join and support this unique organization. It’s only $25 per year (tax deductible) and brings you the Voice of Reason either in print or pdf format. ARL is solely dependent on individual donations. Further information on request.

Edd Doerr
Americans for Religious Liberty
Box 6656
Silver Spring, MD 20916

Stop diverting public funds to faith-based private schools

by  Edd Doer

Wall St Journal on Jan 8 ran a piece titled “Letting Education and Religion Overlap”, by Robert Maranto and Dirk  van Raemdonck, pushing school vouchers. Below is my response. The best way to obtain the article is by Googling to its title. It appears that  2015 will see renewed efforts in Congress and the states to divert public funds to private schools. The address for letters to the WSJ is – Edd Doerr

Robert Maranto and Dirk van Raemdonck (“Letting Education and Religion Overlap”,  Jan 8) are wrong about diverting public funds to faith-based private schools for at least the following reasons:

1.      In 28 state referendum elections between 1966 and 2014 many millions of voters, of all faiths,  from Florida to Alaska and from Massachusetts to California have voted against vouchers, tax credits and all similar gimmicks by an average margin of 2 to 1, most recently in Florida in 2012 and Hawaii in 2014.

2.      As faith-based schools are pervasively sectarian institutions that tend to  separate children along religious, ideological, ethnic, socioeconomic status and other lines, tax support for them would fragment our student population and greatly worsen our social divisions.

3.       Three fourths of our state constitutions clearly forbid taxing citizens to support religious institutions.

4.      Our religiously neutral public schools, serving 90% of our kids, operate to protect America’s enormous religious diversity and religious liberty.

The Maranto/Van Raemdonck article is a simplistic screed that seeks to undermine two important pillars of American democracy,  religious freedom and public schools.

Edd Doerr President
Americans for Religious Liberty
Box 6656
Silver Spring, MD 20916