Archive for the ‘Religion and Government’ category

Modern Day Witch-Hunt in Polk County, Florida


Let’s imagine for a moment you have a daughter, Bethany, in high school with an absolutely clean academic and disciplinary records. One night, over dinner, Bethany reveals to you that her teacher, Mr. Duff, has been giving A’s to students who don’t deserve them and provides you with copies of the work in question as proof. First thing the next morning, you speak with the principal, Ms. Bolland, to see that this matter is dealt with. Giving better grades to students that don’t deserve them is not only a disservice to the student who received the better grade, since they’re ultimately unprepared for the next year, it is a disservice to the tax payers, because they are paying for a dishonest and poor educator, and to every other student in the school, since they earned their good grades the right way.

Later that week, you receive a call from Ms. Bolland with some upsetting news: Bethany has received detention. According to Mr. Duff, Samantha, one of Bethany’s peers, accused Bethany of smoking a cigarette behind the school during lunch. Bethany did no such thing. Mr. Duff is punishing her even though no one actually saw this and even though Samantha has a somewhat of a well-known grudge against your daughter and an ulterior motive in making these allegations. The following day, Ms. Bolland calls you again but this time with some news that is significantly more frustrating: Bethany is being punished with a week of in-school suspension. The allegations against your daughter have no evidence aside from hearsay. It’s clear Bethany is innocent of the things she’s been accused of. Mr. Duff is furious with your daughter for the trouble he sees Bethany as being the cause of (when the blame rests squarely on his shoulders for forging grades in the first place) and has no problem abusing his authority in getting some revenge.

This situation is analogous to the one EllenBeth Wachs, Lakeland’s most noteworthy atheist, finds herself in. She’s suing the city of Lakeland for their exclusively Christian “pre-meeting” prayers as well as potentially pursuing the same against the Polk County School Board for the same reason. Ms. Wachs has also drawn attention to Sheriff Grady Judd for his act of donating county sports equipment to eight Christian churches. This sports equipment had been refurbished with money from a county credit card, coordinated by Polk County deputies who were working on the taxpayer dime, as well as cost taxpayers in less obvious ways like the cost of fuel spent transporting said equipment and the inmates who were going to install the equipment, and etc.

EllenBeth Wachs has angered many local officials and they’re taking whatever opportunity they can to hit back at her by arresting her on trumped up charges and allegations. For a brief rundown of what Ms. Wachs is facing, read here, here, and here.


No, Sheriff, You Don’t Get To Aid Your Religion With Tax-Payer Property


This is a story from my neck of the woods. Sheriff Grady Judd, who’s proven himself to be somewhat of a publicity whore, has, in an attempt to make jail less “fun” for the inmates and less “appealing” to potential inmates, violated both the United States and Florida Constitution by donating basketball equipment from Polk county jails to eight local churches (as of writing this, only one church has received the equipment; the other seven have been chosen but have yet to receive said equipment). Apparently, no one who works in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is familiar with the very law they’re tasked with enforcing. According to Article 1, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution, “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.” Luckily, Atheists of Florida, a network of activists in support of church/state separation, have written a letter to the Sheriff’s Office reminding them of the law. Somehow, I doubt the law is going to stop Sheriff Grady Judd from believing he can do this…

As can be expected, the response from many towards the Atheists of Florida has been almost entirely idiotic. The usual cries of “these atheists need to mind their own business” and “I’m so sick of atheists complaining about blah blah blah” abound. Being the curious person I am, I have a couple of questions to those who are upset with the Atheists of Florida for reminding the Sheriff that he and his office are not exempt from obeying the law. What would you be saying if the recipients of our tax-payer funded sporting equipment went to eight non-Christian places of worship, for example a mosque, synagogue, or temple (Buddhist or Hindu), and et cetera? What would you be saying if the tax-payer funded sporting equipment went to one of any of them? What about to an atheist group? If your answer was that you wouldn’t like it, why, then, the double-standard? If your answer was that you had no problem with it, don’t you think it wrong of Sheriff Grady Judd to donate the equipment to only Christian churches? Don’t you think a synagogue or mosque would appreciate the sporting equipment also?

“Ground-Zero” Mosque


President Barack Obama recently made a statement concerning the infamous “Ground-Zero” mosque and many are in outrage over his “support” to those who wish to build it.  My question is why?  What’s so offensive about supporting the Constitution and, more specifically, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment?

First off, the “Ground-zero” mosque is not at “Ground-zero.” It’s actually a couple of blocks away. What’s being built there isn’t even a mosque. What’s being built there is a community center which is 13 stories in height and of those 13 stories the top 2 are designated as a Muslim prayer space.

There are lots of people claiming this to be a very patronizing and insensitive thing to do. I don’t buy it.  I have yet to see any credible evidence which suggests the community center is being built for reasons that can be considered malicious. Either way, feelings are ultimately irrelevant. You can get as upset as you want to get. It won’t change the Constitution. This public display of anger is just another attempt to deny these Muslims their rights. Those who are in opposition to the community center know they can’t stop it because the Constitution protects the right to freely exercise religion. They’re playing their little violins and sad music to try and convince the Muslims to deny themselves of their own rights as Americans. They’re trying to get the Muslim community to censor themselves.

Also, Muslim lives were lost on the morning of September the 11th.  Islam is a religion with approximately a billion adherents and the atrocities of that day were caused by a minority view within Islam so I find it worth emphasizing that a vast majority of Muslims are not our enemies and it is unethical to treat them as such by holding them responsible for the crimes of others.  That is not to say that Islam has done enough to denounce and stifle the extremism because in my opinion, it hasn’t.

A disgust of Islam, the taken life of a loved-one, and hurt feelings do not give anyone precedence to deny others, who had no hand in September the 11th, their rights, which is in this case, the right to freedom of religion as laid out in the First Amendment of the Constitution.  We constantly hear complaints from gun advocates concerning attacks on their Second Amendment rights.  These people obviously know how it feels to have their rights in danger.  This is analogous to just about every other civil rights issue: slavery, suffrage of blacks and women, segregation, homosexual discrimination, and atheist discrimination.  Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you have the right to take away others’ rights.

There’s a Wall Between Church and State, Not a One-Way Street


“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.” – Thomas Jefferson (in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists explaining the intent of the First Amendment)

The founding fathers built a wall between Church and State, not a one-way street in which the religious and their ideology can influence the government.  In order to know why the fundamentalist Christians who believe the latter are wrong, it is important to have a basic understanding of Virginia history.  In 1786, one year before the Constitution was written, Patrick Henry, one of the more radical founders that also happened to be opposed to replacing the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution, submitted a proposal to the Virginia legislature to have the colony publicly fund the teaching of Christianity in public schools.  Patrick Henry’s proposal was dismissed and instead Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which was passed and signed into Virginia law.  The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom barred tax support for religious institutions, prohibited religious tests for public office, and was the foundation for the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment in the Constitution.

If you happen to be one of the fundamentalist Christians I mentioned earlier, let this sink in.  Patrick Henry proposed to have the state endorse Christianity by having it used as a tool of indoctrination within public schools and Thomas Jefferson instead wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which was then adopted into the Constitution as the basis for the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.  This situation right here perfectly describes how some of the founding fathers felt about religious interference with government.  They did not want it!

Voting with Religion Undermines Our Freedom Of/From Religion


“I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.”

“Our goal must be simple. We must have a Christian nation built on God’s law, on the Ten Commandments. No apologies.”

“When I, or people like me, are running the country, you’d better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we’ll execute you. I mean every word of it. I will make it part of my mission to see to it that they are tried and executed.”

“There is going to be war, [and Christians may be called to] take up the sword to overthrow the tyrannical regime that oppresses them.”

– Randall Terry (Operation Rescue)

Religion is a personal endeavor and by being such, followers are completely free to subjugate themselves, and only themselves, to the creeds, codes, and dogmas that they deem to be true.  The moment religious citizens begin voting on proposition and legislation with their religious dogma, worshiping with their vote, they are voting against one of the very principles our nation was founded upon, our freedom of and from religion. It is a road to theocracy and we here in the United States have been walking down this road for decades.   This might sound confusing and contradictory to you; “How can voting with my religion be violating our principle of freedom of religion?  Doesn’t freedom of religion give me that right?”  The answer to both is no.  I may be opposed to homosexuality (I’m not, this is for sake of argument) for religious reasons but if I were to seek some sort of legislation criminalizing the act it would not be sufficient for me to point to my holy text or proclaim it to be God’s will.  I would have to explain why homosexuality violates some principle that anyone of any background and faith (or lack of) would be able to understand and agree upon.

Politics is the attempt to reach a consensus or agreement on issues and this is dependent upon topics being open for debate and susceptible to reason.  It is compromise.  At the most fundamental levels, religion does not allow for compromise.  Compromise within religion is amount to heresy.  If God issues an edict, his followers are expected to comply regardless of the consequences they might face here in society.  When people vote with their religion and win, they inject their religious principle into the government.  When enough religious principle and ideology has been injected into the government, a theocracy is born.  In a theocracy, a certain religious viewpoint is given endorsement, minimizing the value of all other religious viewpoints making the adherents of the newly minimized religious viewpoints outsiders and potentially, depending upon the specifics, criminals.  Does this sound like freedom of and from religion?

I have a few questions for those of you who disagree with me…What if your religion was not the majority and legislation was passed that somehow affected your freedom to worship the way you see fit?  Would you still be okay with it?  Doesn’t secularism seem a much more rational approach for the government to take?