Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | church-state separation

Jan/14

11

The Devil Rides Out

Satan OklahomaCould some Satanic kitsch be about to descend upon Oklahoma City?

The Daily News reports:

A satanic group unveiled designs Monday for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan it wants to put at the Oklahoma state Capitol, where a Ten Commandments monument was placed in 2012.

The New York-based Satanic Temple formally submitted its application to a panel that oversees the Capitol grounds, including an artist’s rendering that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard that’s often used as a symbol of the occult. In the rendering, Satan is sitting in a pentagram-adorned throne with smiling children next to him.

“The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond,” temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said in a statement. “The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”

The Satanic Temple maintains that the Oklahoma Legislature’s decision to authorize a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol opened the door for its statue. The Ten Commandments monument was placed on the north steps of the building in 2012, and the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued to have it removed…

And (as the Daily News had revealed earlier) Satan might not be the only new arrival:

Days after a Satanist group expressed a desire to construct a monument on the grounds of Oklahoma’s state capitol, a Hindu organization announced that they would also like a slice of that religious freedom pie.

Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, announced plans to erect a statue of the revered Hindu god Hanuman, the monkey king, outside the capitol.

Hanuman is an important deity in the Hindu pantheon. He is revered for his life of service and his devotion to the powerful god Rama.

And there are other candidates to stand alongside the Ten Commandments too.

Somehow, I don’t think that the Oklahoma State Legislature had this quite in mind. In an age of multiculturalism, a strict view of the separation of church and state may be about to win some unexpected converts.

Man plans, God laughs.

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Sep/12

12

Having Eyes, See Ye Not?

Cardinal Dolan, absurd:

“The threats to our “first and most cherished freedom” are abundant, but let me list just two. One comes from those called secularists, who will tolerate religion as long as it’s just considered some eccentric private hobby for superstitious, unenlightened folks, limited to an hour on the Sabbath, with no claim to any voice in the public square.”

Notwithstanding the efforts of fanatics like that sad bunch of atheists opposed to the 9/11 cross, this is nonsense. America’s “public square” is filled with religious voices. That’s fine. That’s good. And to claim that it is under threat is ludicrous.

The rest of Dolan’s speech is worth a serious look. This passage caught my attention:

“Government has no business interfering in the internal life of the soul, conscience, or church.”

Putting to one side the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has been active in trying to persuade government to adopt positions that give profound offense to the beliefs of quite a few (restrictions on assisted suicide might be one example, the church’s support for the ‘right’ to universal healthcare another), the idea that the church is somehow immune from laws that applies to everyone else can, if taken beyond a reasonable understanding of the First Amendment, be a proposition somewhat difficult to reconcile with e pluribus unum,

There is a fine line between defending religious freedom and supporting the creation of religious privilege. I wonder if Cardinal Dolan recognizes that it exists.

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Sep/12

2

“Religious Freedom”

Via The New York Post:

Two children are dead, more are injured — yet a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis say they plan to defy a health order in the name of religious freedom.

Less than a year after a Brooklyn tot died following an ancient circumcision ritual, the rabbis say they will ignore a proposed law that would mandate parental-consent forms before performing the dangerous procedure.

Over the past decade, at least one other newborn died after contracting herpes from the rite, in which the rabbi draws blood from the penis with his mouth.

But ultra-Orthodox leaders are lashing out at the city’s “evil plans” ahead of the Board of Health’s vote next week.

About 200 rabbis signed a proclamation claiming the Health Department “printed and spread lies . . . in order to justify their evil decree.”

“It is clear to us, that there is not even an iota of blame or danger in this ancient and holy custom,” the letter states.

Most modern mohels — men trained to perform religious circumcisions, who are usually rabbis or doctors — remove blood from the baby’s wound using a sterile pipette.

But some Orthodox Jewish parents insist on an ancient “suction by mouth” ritual called metzitzah b’peh.

The city’s law would require mohels to distribute consent waivers, detailing the herpes risk, before the ritual.
Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, said no one will comply with the law, even if it’s passed.

“For the government to force a rabbi who’s practicing a religious act to tell his congregants it’s dangerous is totally unacceptable,” Niederman told The Post

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Jul/12

9

Don’t Confuse the Children!

Commenter Kevin S. kindly responded to my earlier posting on Bobby Jindal’s voucher program with a link to this Reuters story. It’s worth paying some attention.

An extract:

Louisiana’s plan is by far the broadest. This month, eligible families, including those with incomes nearing $60,000 a year, are submitting applications for vouchers to state-approved private schools.

That list includes some of the most prestigious schools in the state, which offer a rich menu of advanced placement courses, college-style seminars and lush grounds. The top schools, however, have just a handful of slots open. The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, for instance, has said it will accept just four voucher students, all kindergartners. As elsewhere, they will be picked in a lottery.

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students — 314 — is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains “what God made” on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.

“We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children,” Carrier said.

Hmmm…

Allowing vouchers to be used for religious schools doesn’t bother me overmuch, but here’s a part of what I wrote before:

The key is regulation. To secure eligibility for voucher-status, religious schools, and what they teach (not too much mumbo jumbo, please, admission for both sexes, and members of all faiths and of none, and so on), would have to go through a tough vetting both to begin with and, say, annually. And, if the experience in the UK is anything to go by, you’d probably need to vet the vetters too.

I’m not sure that there’s a lot of that going on here:

In Louisiana, Superintendent of Education John White said state officials have at one time or another visited all 120 schools in the voucher program and approved their curricula, including specific texts. He said the state plans more “due diligence” over the summer, including additional site visits to assess capacity.
In general, White said he will leave it to principals to be sure their curriculum covers all subjects kids need and leave it to parents to judge the quality of each private school on the list.

Yes, hmmm.

With the US public education in such expensively bad shape, vouchers are a terrific idea. It would be a shame if Jindal’s (dare I say it) “fundamentalist” belief in the sorting powers of the market were to bring a much-needed tool for educational reform into disrepute.

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Jul/12

7

Whoops!

Former exorcist and current Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has (to quote the Friendly Atheist) “pushed for a voucher program that would allow state funds to be used to pay for religious schools.” The Friendly Atheist is not so keen on the idea (he believes it to be unconstitutional), but I’m inclined to be more relaxed. A little mumbo jumbo is a cheap price to pay for a good education. Religious schools in this country (and elsewhere) have a long record of delivering an education that can be of lower cost and higher quality than that provided for in the state system. And they also have a long and shameful record, not least in corners of the Islamic world, as perpetrators of ignorance and division.

The key is regulation. To secure eligibility for voucher-status, religious schools, and what they teach (not too much mumbo jumbo, please, admission for both sexes, and members of all faiths and of none, and so on), would have to go through a tough vetting both to begin with and, say, annually. And, if the experience in the UK is anything to go by, you’d probably need to vet the vetters too. I don’t know whether Gov. Jindal’s legislation provides for all this or not, but, in any event, it would be unlikely to be enough for one Louisiana (Republican) lawmaker. Valarie Hodges.

Livingston Parish News takes up the story:

WATSON — Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said…HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups…Hodges, who represents District 64 on the northwest side of the parish, and another freshman lawmaker in the local delegation, Clay Schexnayder from Dist. 81 in the southwest, voted with the House majority in favor of HB976.

The school funding mechanism, however, did not come up for a vote until the end of the session. By then, a Muslim-based school had applied for support through the new voucher system.

During debate over the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) funding formula, Hodges learned more about the consequences of the educational changes. She voted against the new MFP funding formula; Schexnayder voted for it.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said.

Oh dear. I’m not necessarily opposed to (mild, constructive, gently patriotic, and minimally superstitious) state religions, but I suspect—well over two centuries into the First Amendment—that the time for that in the US may have passed.

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Apr/12

28

Balkanization Watch

Via the Washington Post:

The Hutterites are Protestants similar to the Amish and Mennonites who live a life centered on their religion, but unlike the others, Hutterites live in German-speaking communes scattered across northern U.S. states and Canada. They don’t pay wages, don’t vote and don’t enlist in the military. They make their own clothes, produce their own food and construct their own buildings.

“Their core belief is that they have no property. All the property and labor they have, they contribute to the colony,” Ron Nelson, an attorney for the Big Sky Colony, told the Montana Supreme Court.

The state’s high court on Wednesday heard arguments by the colony and the state on whether Montana’s requirement that employers carry workers’ compensation insurance can be expanded to religious organizations. A state judge has already ruled the 2009 law expanding the workers’ compensation law to force the Hutterites to pay for the insurance violated their right to freely exercise their religion.

The state is asking the high court to reverse that decision, arguing the new law deals only with commercial activities and stays out of the Hutterites religious affairs.

The Hutterites’ argument that everything they do is tied to their religion cannot exempt them from regulation when they voluntarily enter into an outside commercial activity, assistant Attorney General Stuart Segrest said.

“They’re not allowed to become a law unto themselves,” Segrest said

Quite.

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Apr/12

22

Hatch, Back?

As Orrin Hatch is forced to face a primary challenge, here’s a little reminder from 2009 about the (very) long-serving senator’s attitude towards taxpayers’ money:

WASHINGTON — Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

It would have a minor effect on the overall cost of the bill — Christian Science is a small church, and the prayer treatments can cost as little as $20 a day. But it has nevertheless stirred an intense controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state, and the possibility that other churches might seek reimbursements for so-called spiritual healing.

As I wrote back at the time, in this context I could not care less about the separation of church and state, but I do care a great deal about the separation of the taxpayer from his money. Senator Hatch clearly did not.

In the event, the proposed change did not get through, but that Hatch even tried this stunt is a reminder that, when it comes to protecting the taxpayer, Hatch is not a man who can be trusted.

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Aug/11

24

The Favored Pew

Via the Wall Street Journal:

As Congress scrutinizes every nook and cranny of the budget for possible revenue, a surprising court decision is allowing clergy members to buy or live in multiple homes tax-free. The U.S. Tax Court ruled that Phil Driscoll, an ordained minister and Grammy Award-winning trumpeter who went to prison for tax evasion, didn’t owe federal income taxes on $408,638 provided to him by his ministry to buy a second home on a lake near Cleveland, Tenn.

Under a provision of the tax code known as the parsonage allowance, first passed in 1921, an ordained clergy member may live tax-free in a home owned by his or her religious organization or receive a tax-free annual payment to buy or rent a home if the congregation approves. The Tax Court ruling, made final in March, extends the parsonage allowance to an unlimited number of homes, which may be owned either by the religious organization or the clergy member.

In a 7-6 ruling, a panel of Tax Court judges sided with Mr. Driscoll’s argument that the word “home” is equivalent to “homes,” just as “child” is interpreted to mean “children” elsewhere in the tax code. The Internal Revenue Service declined to comment on the decision. In May, the agency appealed it to a federal appeals court in Atlanta. Experts say the parsonage allowance was originally included as a way to minimize taxes on clergy members, whose compensation was often meager. It still is widely used for that purpose, church officials said, although the IRS doesn’t track usage of the benefit.

“For most of them the housing allowance is modest because their compensation is modest,” says Daniel Gary, an attorney with the United Methodist Church in Nashville.

Similarly, D. August Boto, general counsel of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, says for leaders of the organization’s 46,000 churches “the housing allowance is critically important for making ends meet—it is not a luxury.”

However, some experts are concerned that the new ruling opens the door for the allowance to be applied to multiple homes used by leaders of wealthier ministries…

You don’t say.

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Apr/11

17

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Via the New York Times:

In the Hasidic enclave of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, there are many things that women can’t or just don’t do: Be counted as one of the 10 people needed to make up a minyan, or prayer quorum. Walk around in pants. But vote?

According to the bylaws of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, a social service agency and community pillar that has received millions of dollars in government grants over the years, only those who meet the following requirements can vote for its leadership:

Jewish and religiously observant residents of Crown Heights
Married, previously married or at least 30 years old
Male

Now Eliyahu Federman, a Crown Heights resident and recent law school graduate, is challenging that last requirement, saying he believes it to be unconstitutional.

In Crown Heights, religion and life are inextricably interwoven. But the council itself is not a religious organization, Mr. Federman argues. And in 2008, according to the most recent tax filings available, the council received $1.9 million in government grants. “Women, especially widows and divorcees, are gravely impacted by decisions regarding the distribution of food stamps, housing subsidies and other vital social services” that the council handles, Mr. Federman, 26, wrote in an April 7 letter to the council and the local rabbinical court. “It should hurt us to see religion being misapplied to wrongfully subjugate women in a context that has no basis under Jewish law and is probably unconstitutional.”

Since Mr. Federman first raised the issue, in 2009, he has heard several explanations for the policy: that voting is immodest, that this is how it’s always been done — and that allotting women votes could sow discord among married couples, working against the ideal of “Shalom Bayit,” or marital tranquility.

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Apr/11

3

What Happened to Those Fiscal Priorities? (2)

Via the New York Times (emphasis added):

The state budget plan that moved toward enactment on Wednesday calls for 10 percent cuts in aid to public colleges and universities, but it would add about $18 million a year in tuition assistance for students attending some private religious schools.
The added money would be available to any theological student who met a new set of criteria for the state’s so-called Tuition Assistance Program grants. The major potential beneficiaries would be an estimated 5,000 men who attend dozens of Orthodox rabbinical schools in New York, state officials and religious leaders said.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat whose Brooklyn district includes a large Orthodox population, called the additional financing “a matter of equity, to rectify the fact that New York State has denied rabbinical college students tuition assistance for all these years.”

Mr. Hikind and other lawmakers have sought unsuccessfully for about 10 years to adopt the new criteria by amending the Tuition Assistance Program rules, eliminating a long-established ban on state tuition assistance for undergraduate students who attend religious schools, like yeshivas, that are not chartered by the state Board of Regents.

In negotiations this month, Republican leaders in the Senate asked that the new rules be included as part of the 2011-12 budget agreement. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Democratic leaders in the Assembly have agreed, said Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesman for the State Division of the Budget.

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