Category Archives: church/state separation

A Little Reciprocity for Once Might Be Nice

Pacifists pay taxes that fund wars they don’t support.

Lower middle class people pay taxes that offset the costs of tax cuts for people who make more in a week what the LMC people make in a year.

Atheists pay taxes that help subsidize religious entities’ tax-exempt status.

In the meantime, funding for all levels of public education is gutted to help balance state budgets, and teachers are scapegoated as being somehow “rich,” all while corporations find ways to pay as little in taxes as possible.

One tiny little concession to help women get access to birth control (thereby keeping the abortion rate from being as high as it could be) and the beneficiaries of the above get bent all out of shape.

You’d think they want pregnancy to be unwanted and dangerous.



You choose from what you’ve got

There’s been a political kerfuffle about the photograph of Michele Bachmann on the cover of Newsweek. Perhaps you’ve heard. There have been complaints of sexism because the photograph seems unflattering. It’s the eyes. And the hed on the cover: “Queen of Rage.”

The Daily beast has a collection of the photographs from the article. I don’t think they were all used (I could be wrong about that), but they show she has a habit of holding her eyelids a little too high. Many of the images look candid and not posed. If the cover is from a candid shot, it may have been the only cover-worthy image of her from those photographs.

The posed photographs do not look much better. In fact, some of them, while possibly more flattering, are more frightening. The photograph with her hands pressed together like she’s about to pray tells me she isn’t interested in representing me or other atheists/unbelievers, even though that is part of the description of the job she supposedly wants. I get that her faith is important to her; my right to my beliefs is important to me. I respect her right to her beliefs, but I doubt that she would return the favor. To me, that’s more frightening than any silly photograph.

I wish I could attribute the photo selection to sexism. I sometimes enjoy arguing about sexism. I just don’t think it applies in this case, at least not to Newsweek. I have seen some sexist comments about Bachmann in internet comments (no, I’m not going to link to them), but those people would have made sexist comments about her regardless of how the photograph looked. And given how she looks in the other photographs, I have to conclude that that’s just how she looks. Newsweek can’t be sexist for showing her the way she looks.

I also don’t buy the argument (if one can call it that) that the same kind of photograph would not have been used if it were a man. I seem to recall some magazine photos of George W. Bush that looked like they played up the blankness in his eyes. I also remember quite a lot of fun was had at the expense of Michael Dukakis, Howard Dean and John Kerry when they ran for President, so it isn’t even all partisan.

After re-reading the text accompanying the photographs, one question I have about this piece is, why the hell aren’t Lutherans pissed off about her? Read the text accompanying photo 4 (the prayer shot):

Raised a Lutheran, Bachmann says she converted to a “living faith” at the age of 16 after attending a prayer meeting with a friend. “All I can say is that, you know, the Holy Spirit knocked on my heart’s door,” Bachmann recalls. “I literally got on my knees with some of my friends and then confessed my sins… I gave my heart to Jesus Christ.”

Is she implying there that Lutheranism is not a “living faith”? If it isn’t, what the hell is it? Is she implying that any faith other than hers is not a “living faith”? What’s the difference between a “living faith” and whatever she thinks her lost Lutheranism is?

My First Amendment Threat Alarms go off when I see or read anything about Michele Bachmann, and that has absolutely fuck-all to do with her eyes.


Tags: , , ,

Oh, UK, You Make Me Sad

The ironically named Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK has decided that some humans are more human than other humans. GLBT folk can consider themselves less human than the more-human humans.

There is the case of Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar who refused to perform civil partnerships and so was disciplined. And that of Gary McFarlane, the Christian relationship counsellor who was sacked for refusing to counsel gay couples. The EHRC has decided to back these people in the name of “reasonable” compromise.

But what these cases illustrate is that in certain areas compromise is not possible because the rights of different minorities are mutually exclusive. When one group refuses to fulfil its job description because it disapproves of another group, there is no middle ground, no give and take. Those responsible for judging the behaviour have to back one or the other. This is the roulette of human rights. You can’t put your chips on the black and the red.

I have to question the wisdom of seeking sex therapy from someone who has issues with other people’s sex lives, but that’s beside the point. The government (any government, not just the US or the UK) should not endorse discrimination without good reason, and “my two thousand year old Holy Book tells me to hate gays” is not good reason.

But the EHRC has decided that the rights of gays and lesbians can be suspended if they conflict with the “strongly held” beliefs of people providing services, even if those services are being provided on behalf of the government. Indeed, EHRC Chair Trevor Phillips misstated his Commission’s purpose:

“Our business is defending the believer,” the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) chair Trevor Phillips said last month. “The law we’re here to implement recognises that a religious or belief identity is, for the majority of people in Britain, an essential element of being a fulfilled human being and plays an important part in our society.”

While the EHRC has “clarified” its position, asserting that it would not “condone or permit the refusal of public services to lesbian or gay people,” it has also stood by its decision to cater to religious people’s bigotry. This decision has far-reaching implications that range from the ridiculous to the dangerous.

The EHRC’s new policy may seem like simple anti-gay bigotry, but I suspect the Christians behind it have more ambitious aims. It would not surprise me in the least if the precedent set by the EHRC in these cases were to lead to the “right” of the religious in the UK to deny birth control, abortion, and other family planning services, as has been done in the US, with only lip service paid to the rights of those requiring the services.


Tags: , , ,

A Wall of Perfect Separation

I was raised as a Lutheran, and it’s quite possible that if my parents hadn’t sent me to an Episcopalian school, I might have remained Lutheran the remainder of my days. But when I was twelve, the local schools went through some kind of upheaval (details of which are still cloudy to me), and so, religious school it was.

It seemed innocuous enough. Some of the elements of Episcopalian services (daily, with communion on Wednesdays) were outside my experience (Sundays only), while others were more familiar. There were many things about the school that I didn’t like, especially the nun who taught science like it was an art class*. I didn’t complain. My father was very ill with the cancer that would soon kill him, and my problems seemed very small in comparison.

Spring arrived, and at a certain point, all the girls in my grade were gathered together and given a checklist** for confession. At no point were we told that we did not have to participate, and my experience at the school so far had led me to believe that if I didn’t do as they said, they’d give me a “mark,” which was sort of a point against students for bad behavior (five marks led to suspension, and I think two suspensions led to expulsion). So, despite the fact that I was Lutheran, I went to confession. I was put in a situation in which I felt compelled to violate one of the practices of my religion (confess directly to God/deity/FSM/what-have-you) in order to avoid bad behavior marks for not engaging in a practice (confession to a priest) that was not part of my religion.

Again, I didn’t think my problems were worthy of complaint. These were people of God. Surely they meant no harm. Surely they were good people. Surely they had my best interests at heart.

The next year, a Jewish girl started at this same Episcopalian school. She didn’t go to confession. So I didn’t go to confession. I was given a mark against my behavior, but they said it was for something else. But these were people of God. Surely they don’t lie.

They can’t claim ignorance. They taught (probably still do) a class on the history of religion, which is a bit deceptive, as it focused mostly on the many varieties of Christianity and the Judaic traditions that informed Christianity. I don’t recall anything on Islam or any of the Eastern religions. At any rate, the Protestant Reformation was covered, the fact that Lutherans don’t confess to their religious leaders was covered, and Martin Luther and his 95 Theses were covered. And they knew I was Lutheran.

It’s a terrible thing to compel a child violate their religious beliefs/practices. They don’t always understand exactly what’s wrong, especially if their parents teach them, as they themselves have been taught, that people of God are always good and trustworthy. (I guess I’m dating myself a bit here; the controversy surrounding pedophile priests in the Catholic church had not yet made headlines. Even if it had, my parents probably would have been relieved that the school was Episcopalian and not Catholic.)

So, on this 3rd day of July, 2011, I would like to thank that school for unwittingly teaching me the importance of the separation of church and state. While it was a private school, they ensured that I learned the principle of not forcing or compelling children to violate their religious beliefs. They ensured that I learned how important it is that society adhere to secular principles so that everyone’s rights and beliefs are protected, that my rights end where others’ begin and vice versa. They ensured that I learned that failure to mention God is not the same thing as denying God’s existence.

My experiences at that school did not make me an atheist, but they did make my atheism a possibility, even if I didn’t know it at the time. They made it possible for me to recognize my doubts for what they were, even though it took a long time to stop fearing the doubts. They eventually made it possible for me to think critically about what my religious leaders were telling me*** and that I could change my mind about my beliefs. They should be proud of these lessons because they are good and valuable, but if they knew they had set me on the path toward unbelief, they’d stupidly hang their heads in shame.


*Seriously. We used a one of those science coloring books. I had never seen one before, so I read the page titled “How to Use This Book.” I read the lesson, and colored the associated page as the book instructs, so as to demonstrate an understanding of the concepts in the lesson. Sr.ML gave me a C on the basis of my artwork. The next lesson, I didn’t read the lesson at all, and colored a pretty picture. She gave me an A. She’s now running the school.

**Among the possible sins we twelve-year-old girls could confess to were things like murder, adultery, theft, lying, and cheating at games. Being a novice at confession, the only thing I could think to confess to was cheating at games, and that only because I cheated at Solitaire. That’s right: I confessed to cheating at Solitaire. One of my classmates grabbed my checklist out of my hand and started reading it aloud. No one wanted to play games with me after that. Oh, well. It’s their loss. I could have taught them all kinds of ways to fix cards that had been laid down in the wrong order.

***God loves you; Christians are always good people, and if they’re not then they’re not good Christians; and you’ll always find comfort in the Bible. Apparently, they hadn’t read the whole thing either, or they expected me not to notice all the misogyny, which would be kind of like not noticing that you’ve been punched in the face and had your nose broken.


Tags: , , , ,