Sunday, December 31, 2006

Meet the Press excludes atheist viewpoints

Susan Jacoby laments that "both atheism and secularism are still largely excluded from public dialogue about the proper role of religion in American politics." She points out that NBC's Tim Russert Meet the Press appears to have a "No Atheists (Still) Need Apply" policy when selecting people to discuss issues concerning the relationship between religion and politics. Such marginalization of atheists is a common and subtle form of . We need more atheist voices in the United States to break out of this marginalization.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

BSA's legal campaign for government discrimination

The legal team repeatedly makes the argument that government refusal to subsidize their organization is discrimination against the BSA's constitutionally protected first amendment free expression right. Citing other organizations that receive government subsidies, BSA complains that BSA is being unfairly singled out. Are BSA's arguments correct? No, their arguments are nonsensical.

It is true that BSA is being penalized for restricting its membership to theists. It is also true that many thousands of non-profit organizations are similarly penalized by being disqualified from receiving government subsidies because they are also partisan organizations. By definition, membership organizations that restrict membership to those who profess certain beliefs, such as BSA, are partisan organizations. The membership organizations cited by BSA that qualify to receive government subsidies do not restrict membership based on creed. So BSA's argument that they are being singled out for discriminatory treatment is false. It is actually just the opposite, the ongoing government subsidies to BSA are discriminating against the thousands of other organizations that are disqualified from receiving such government benefits because of the partisanship of their programs.

Free expression is compromised when government subsidizes only one side of a multi-sided set of competing creeds. Accordingly, the only practical way for government to avoid discriminating against some partisan viewpoints is to refuse to subsidize all partisan non-profit organizations. Subsidizing theist only Boy Scouts unfairly favors pro-theist and anti-atheist expression over pro-atheist and anti-theist expression. If BSA were really concerned about the constitutionally protected right of free expression, as they claim, then they would be advocating government subsidies for pro-atheist and anti-theist viewpoints to match the government subsidies that BSA receives. Of course, BSA is not seeking equal government subsidies for each of the viewpoints that are in opposition to BSA's. Thus, BSA's argument that government is infringing free expression rights by refusing to provide BSA with subsidies is self-serving and bogus.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Needed: NGO to decorate Christmas trees

Some United States Christians consider government Christmas trees to be entitlements while government Holiday trees are characterized as a "war against Christmas". This hysterically mischaractized "war against Christmas" is nothing more than proper compliance with the principle of government religious neutrality. There is a simple remedy that could eliminate this yearly Christmas season conflict between the opponents and defenders of non-establishment. A non-profit Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) could take over the task of displaying public Christmas trees from town governments across the United States.

This NGO would locate or erect appropriate evergreen trees on private land that it would arrange to have decorated each year. Because the trees would be on private land, and because there would be no government involvement, the trees could be decorated with religious objects and be identified as Christmas trees. Furthermore, the same NGO could also setup Christmas Nativity creches\mangers or any religiously themed Christmas decoration preferred by the local residents. One such tree and\or creche in Washington DC could serve as a national Christmas tree and\or national Christmas Nativity creche and similar trees and\or creches in the state capitals could function as the state Christmas tree and\or creche.

If Christians who complain about a "war on Christmas" are sincere, if they are not using government Holiday trees as a convenient ploy to try to undermine non-establishment, then they would donate money to establish such a NGO instead of propagating the cheap government Holiday trees are a "war on Christmas" nonsense.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Should public school students be allowed to read the bible?

That was the question for a poll by the popular Washington DC area "nonstop news" radio station, WTOP, during morning rush hour one day earlier this month. The radio station broadcast callers giving their opinion that students should or should not be permitted to read their own bible during their lunch hour. The Rutherford Institute had filed a lawsuit against a Prince George County (Maryland) public school because some unidentified school official allegedly threatened a 7th grade middle school student with undefined "severe disciplinary action" if she didn't stop reading her bible during her lunch break (see Rutherford Institute's 9/29/2006 press release ). Which just goes to illustrate that WTOP lacks common sense with regard to claims that Christians are victims of anti-Christian bias.

Of course students have the right to read a bible during their lunch hour! Even the Rutherford Institute concedes that the public school district acknowledges that students have this right. The published administrative procedure of the Prince George’s County Public Schools provides that “students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable, non-disruptive activities.” So what is the point of WTOP's rush hour poll? I won't speculate on their motive, but the effect of this would be to convince people that there is a live legal controversy regarding whether or not personal bible reading in public schools can be forbidden.

It should be obvious that the right to bible reading in public schools is secure in the United States and under no threat. Not even us activist atheists dispute that students have a right to read their bibles in public schools. France may ban students from overt displays of religious sectarianism in public schools in the name of their perverse brand of "secularism", but we are not France and never will be. Nevertheless, no one should be surprised if, every now and then, there is an ignorant public school official somewhere who takes the religious right's paranoid mis-descriptions of U.S. secularism seriously and, accordingly, insists that secularism requires no bible reading in public schools. Maybe that happened here, maybe it did not (the failure to identify a school official justifies skepticism), we don't know. But that doesn't translate into a controversy over whether or not such bible reading can be forbidden.

This is not the first time I have noticed a religiously social conservative bias at WTOP. When WTOP covered two side by side rallies in front of the Supreme Court during Newdow's Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit, one by atheists and the other by religionists backing Judge Moore (the Chief Justice of Alabama who sneaked a multi-ton ten commandment display into the court building's rotunda), it kept repeating the "news" all day that atheists were harassing the religionists. I attended that rally, and for the entire time I was there, which amounted to about four hours from shortly after the rally started until the rallies broke up, there was no such harassment of the religionists. There was one incident where a speaker for the religionists raised the volume on their speaker system very high for the entire time American Atheists President Ellen Johnson was at the atheists' podium, making it impossible to hear her. The only other target of boorish behavior I witnessed was me. I repeatedly got bumped by a group of 3-4 gals who kept walking the boundary between the two rallies. More importantly, WTOP has demonstrated that it cannot be relied on to report the concerns of atheists accurately and objectively.