Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | Texas

Dec/13

9

21 Years

Witchcraft_at_Salem_VillageWitch trials. Still with us.

The Guardian reports:

Dan Keller has left an Austin jail, a week after his wife was released – and 21 years after the pair were given a 48-year sentence for sexual assault during America’s “Satanic panic” era. Fran Keller, 63, was released on bond last week after the Travis County district attorney agreed that the trial jury was probably swayed by the faulty testimony of an expert witness.

To supporters of Dan, 72, and Fran Keller, 63, their 1992 trial was a modern-day Texas witch-hunt that recalled the hysterical delusions of seventeenth-century Salem. The fuse was lit in August 1991, when a three-year-old girl on the way to a behavioural therapy session told her mother that Dan Keller had spanked her at the preschool he ran with his wife in Austin.

The girl told the therapist that Keller had sexually assaulted her using a pen and “pooped and peed on my head”.
In subsequent months, two other children made similar claims about the Kellers. By the time the couple went on trial in November 1992, the allegations were significantly more lurid and involved allegations of ritual abuse, murder, dismemberment and animal sacrifice.

The Kellers were found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child, even though the three-year-old girl at the centre of the case recanted her claims in court.

The only physical evidence against the Kellers was the testimony of Dr Michael Mouw, who examined the girl in the emergency room of a local hospital after the therapy session and said he found tears in her hymen that potentially indicated that she was molested.

Mouw signed an affidavit last January in which he affirms that he now realises his inexperience led him to a conclusion that “is not scientifically or medically valid, and that I was mistaken.”

In an appeal filed on behalf of Fran Keller earlier this year, her lawyer, Keith Hampton, also argued that the state presented misleading evidence about the cemetery, relied on a false witness confession and the testimony of a “quack” satanic abuse “expert”, and that suggestive interview techniques had encouraged the children to make “fantastical false statements”.

According to police reports and trial records, the children said that Dan Keller killed his dog and made children cut it up and eat it, “baptised” kids with blood and disembowelled pets, forcing children to drink the blood.The Kellers were also said to have decapitated and chopped up a baby, put the remains in a swimming pool and made the children jump in. In one account, the Kellers were said to have stolen a baby gorilla from a park and Frances cut off one of its fingers.

The pair, who apparently liked to wear robes, were said to have dug graves in a cemetery to hide dead animals and a passer-by who was shot and carved up with a chain saw…

21 years.

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Jun/13

16

Rick Perry’s “Merry Christmas”

East 14th St, NYC (Dec 2011) (AS)MSN reports:

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed a law protecting Christmas and other holiday celebrations in Texas public schools from legal challenges — but also stressed that freedom of religion is not the same thing as freedom from religion…Dubbed the “Merry Christmas” bill, the bipartisan measure sailed through the state House and Senate to reach Perry’s desk.

It removes legal risks of saying “Merry Christmas” in schools while also protecting traditional holiday symbols, such as a menorah or nativity scene, as long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also reflected.

It is, of course, sad and stupid that there can be “legal risks” associated with exchanging Christmas greetings in schools. If the new law fixes that, it’ll be all to the good, but quite what makes a “secular symbol” eludes me. I’m with the atheist shoemakers in Berlin who said this:

There are already hundreds of symbols for atheism and none of them tickle us in quite the right place… either they’re too sciency, or too literal, or just plain ugly… Well, our solution is inspired by a Christian friend (thanks Matt) who accused us of having god-shaped-holes. And we think a gaping, BLACK HOLE is absolutely perfect… And what says “I believe in nothing” better than nothing?

Quite. But it’s difficult to imagine a black hole nestling between the manger and the menorah. There is, however, another candidate, jovial, genially syncretic and refreshingly appreciative of the joys of consumerism.

Yup, Santa would do very well indeed.

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In a mildly encouraging development (and one that follows a somewhat similar case concerning politicians playing doctor, but in New York) a federal judge has blocked at least part of the new Texas sonogram law. Over at the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen has the details:

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked key provisions of Texas’ new law requiring a doctor to perform a sonogram before an abortion, ruling the measure violates the free speech rights of both doctors and patients. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks upheld the requirement that sonograms be performed, but struck down the provisions requiring doctors to describe the images to their patients and requiring women to hear the descriptions.

The law is an example of Big Government Conservatism at its most offensive. To hear Republicans tell it, the GOP’s line on health care is straightforward: the party wants government to steer clear of the doctor-patient relationship, and certainly has no use for bureaucrats making medical decisions and imposing care instructions based on some kind of ideological agenda. For that matter, it’s important, Republicans say, for politicians to appreciate growing health care costs, and not mandate unnecessary medical procedures.

The Republicans’ sonogram measure in Texas ignores all of those principles, forcing government into the examination room and empowering state officials to make a medical decision, while imposing care instructions based on an ideological agenda.

Indeed, under this Texas law, women would not only have to receive a sonogram whether it’s medically necessary or not, but medical professionals would be forced to tell their patients, against their will, what Republican policymakers want the patients to hear. Doctors who refused could face criminal penalties and the revocation of their medical license.

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Aug/11

4

A Multitude, Maybe Missing

Via CNN:

It’s likely not the response Rick Perry was expecting.

Earlier this year, the Texas Governor called on Christians across the U.S. to come to Houston for a prayer event aimed at bringing God’s help to a “nation in crisis.” Organizers of the religious gathering, dubbed “The Response,” say only 8,000 people have registered on-line to attend this Saturday’s event at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, a venue with a seating capacity of 71,000.

Eric Bearse, a “Response” spokesman and former speech-writer for the potential GOP presidential candidate, says attendance numbers are a non-issue.

“Not concerned whatsoever. We think it will be a powerful event whether it is 8,000 or 50,000. The only people concerned about numbers are press,” Bearse said.

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Mar/10

13

The Texas Curriculum

Razib, there are, of course, idiocies in the changes in the Texas curriculum (as described in that New York Times piece), not least in choosing Thomas Aquinas over Thomas Jefferson as an influence on the revolutions of the late 18th century, but I was also struck by how sensible at least some of the changes (opposed by all the Democrats, it seems) appeared to be. Including von Hayek and Friedman as economists to be studied alongside the “usual” (the adjective comes from the New York Times report) list of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and nutty (not the New York Times’ adjective) Karl Marx seems very reasonable. Throwing in some history of the Venona papers in the context of a discussion of Joe McCarthy is not entirely stupid either….

Mar/10

13

It must come back into balance…eventually

Conservatives in Texas won a curriculum change battle. But another event also occurred which was of note:

The Religious Right suffered a surprise setback in Texas when incumbent Don McLeroy—a creationist and critic of church-state separation—narrowly lost his re-election bid for the powerful State Board of Education to challenger Thomas Ratliff in the March 2 Republican primary.

McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan, lost by fewer than 900 votes. Since no Democrat filed for the race, Ratliff will assume the seat next year. Ratliff, a legislative consultant and lobbyist from Mt. Pleasant, is the son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.

I have pointed out before that Republican elites are split on evolution. One dynamic which has played out repeatedly since the 1980s is that the Religious Right has taken over school boards and attempted to push Creationism, which usually results in a successful reaction by those in the Republican establishment who mobilize to “take back their schools” and the like. Eventually with the victory the motivation for turnout and organization for these generally low publicity positions declines, at which point the Religious Right can move back in again. And so the cycle begins anew.

It might seem strange that Republicans who aren’t core members of the Religious Right would repeatedly rise up and work to oust fellow partisans based around such academic topics. But I recall in 1999 when Kansas was dominated by Religious Right school board members who were attempting to push Creationism there were loud complaints from businesses. When engineering firms were trying to recruit talent apparently one issue which came up from prospective employees was school quality, in particular the science curriculum. This is a classic case where business and social conservatism will always be at cross-purposes periodically. Resolution can only come if the Religious Right manages to capture the cultural commanding heights and make their beliefs normative, at which point they would be good for business. I am skeptical that this will happen.

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