Monday, November 24, 2008

Secular Platform for the United States of America

By rooting our laws and government actions in universal, rather than religion-specific, values, we show respect for equal protection before the law for all citizens, including those who dissent from current religious orthodoxy.

  • Federal, state, and local government officials, starting with president, should affirm their oath of office without a bible. The Chief Justice should recite the presidential oath exactly as it appears in the constitution without appending any religious comments.

  • Remove the words “so help me God” from civilian government and military oaths of office and from the Oath of Allegiance for Naturalized Citizens. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service should provide full instructions regarding the right to affirm the oath and deleting the phrase “So help me God“ on the U.S. citizenship application form and during the naturalization ceremony.

  • The White House and Congress should refrain from turning religious holiday celebrations into government sponsored events. For example, during the Winter Holiday the White House can either sponsor a “Winter Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony” or no tree lighting ceremony. The White House Easter Egg Roll can become a holiday egg roll or be ended.

  • Require churches require to file tax returns annually on the same terms as other 501(3) non-profit organizations.

  • A clearer definition of how to measure lobbying activity for compliance with the 501(c)(3) organization lobbying restriction is needed. For example, the existing expenditure test can be combined with a time test for lobbying activity and this single standard applied to all 501(c)(3) organizations.

  • Require religious non-profits to create a separate corporate structure to receive government funding under the Faith Based Initiative. Require accounting systems and firewalls that separate government dollars from funds that support religious activities. Require a clear separation in time and location between government funded-social welfare activities and an organization's religious activities.

  • Remove the words “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance law. Replace the national motto “In God We Trust” with a religiously neutral motto.

  • End government subsidies and grants to membership organizations that restrict membership based on religious creed, including monotheism, such as the Boy Scouts of America. Judicially enforce anti-discrimination laws and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibition against such federal support.

  • The Congressional Chaplaincy is a deviation from “the immunity of religion from civil jurisdiction”, which James Madison called “a favorite principle with me” in an 1822 letter to Edward Livingston, and should be eliminated.

  • Add a comparative religion course that covers polytheistic religions and philosophical naturalism to high school curriculums. Require high schools students to study the United States constitution, including the main text, the bill or rights and the subsequent amendments.

  • The teaching of the “evidence against evolution” is incompetent as there is no scientific evidence that evolution has not occurred. Prevent religiously motivated attempts to teach “scientific creationism,” “intelligent design,” and other non-scientific conjectures as valid scientific theories. These beliefs ignore empirical data and fail to provide testable hypothesis.

  • Require that medical prescriptions be filled without delay. If a pharmacist has a personal objection to filling a legal prescription, the law should require that it be filled immediately by another pharmacist. Refusal to fill legal prescriptions should be valid legal justification for firing pharmacists.

  • Congress does not have the right to tell federal courts they cannot hear cases dealing with the freedoms protected in the Bill of Rights. Court stripping bills such as H.R. 699, the so-called "Pledge Protection Act of 2007," threaten the separation of powers and undermine the function of the federal courts to interpret the law.

  • The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) unfairly privilege certain religious sects over the rest of society and imposes federal authority on purely local issues. At a minimum, modify RFRA and RLUIPA so that if a religious practice is deemed safe and appropriate to qualify as an exemption under a law then that exemption is also made available to all Americans in similar situations.

  • U.S. passports, money, and other documents should not be printed with religious statements or quotes.

  • Choose an Attorney General, Solicitor General and, if necessary, Supreme Court Justices who demonstrate a healthy respect for the Establishment Clause.

  • State should prevent and prosecute child sex abuse without any exemptions or exceptions for religious communities and individuals.

  • Laws that unfairly privilege religious groups in local zoning conflicts should be revoked.

  • Ensure that Employers can legally prohibit religious proselytizing in the workplace, prohibit religious condemnations of co-workers, and prohibit inserting religion into secular workplace practices and activities.

  • Workers and volunteers at federally medical and research facilities should serve all patients. Do not allow refusals to serve patients for reasons of personal “conscience” to become legal justification for discriminating against some patients.

  • The Department of Defense should improve chaplain training to make it clearer that chaplains must respect religious diversity and must not defame soldiers for having opposing beliefs. The DOD should ensure that its EEO offices are prepared to defend atheist soldiers against defamation and discrimination. Implement effective internal controls and corrective actions to ensure that all military institutions provide a climate of religious tolerance for all staff and soldiers, including those who profess minority faiths and beliefs or disbeliefs.

  • Revoke the global gag rule requiring all entities that receive federal funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services in other countries.

  • Give same-gender couples the legal contract rights of marriage.

  • Sexuality education for teenagers should be as comprehensive as necessary to be most effective. Abstinence, contraceptives and barrier methods should all be discussed.

  • The Dickey-Wicker Amendment restricts federally-funded stem cell research. President George W. Bush executive order prevents federal funds from being used for research on stem cell lines that have been obtained from embryos after August 9, 2001. Revoke both restrictions. In their place the laws should require informed consent from the egg and sperm donors, guarantees of no financial or other personal incentive to donate, that any health risks associated with the harvesting of the eggs is minimized, and embryos created for research purposes must not be grown further than necessary for obtaining stem cells.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

HUD permits funding of Boy Scouts

The Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernment Relations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Sheila M. Greenwood, in a recent letter to Representative Barney Frank wrote that no action would be taken at this time to stop a $940,500 HUD grant to the Greater Alaska Council (GAC) of Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for a high-adventure camp near Blair Lake, north of Talkeetna. The federal grant would help pay for design and construction of some initial facilities, including a generator building, warehouse and administrative office. How does HUD justify the grant?

Sheila Greenwood said that the GAC promised that "the facility would be made available to both scouting and other organizations on a first come - first served basis, and with no discriminatory fees imposed on these users of the facility." Those other organizations don't own and operate the facility nor are those other organizations receiving the HUD grant. As Sheila Greenwood acknowledged in her letter, "the organization [BSA] does not accept atheists and agnostics as members or adult leaders." What does the law actually say about this?

24 C.F.R. § 6.4 Discrimination prohibited.Title 24 - Housing and Urban Development Part 6 - Nondiscrimination in programs and activities receiving assistance under title 1 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 Subpart A General Provisions states: "Section 109 requires that no person in the United States shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity funded in whole or in part with Federal financial assistance, on the grounds of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex." How do the provisions of this regulation compare with the facts in this case?

It is the GAC, not the camping facility, that is receiving the HUD funds. The GAC will own and operate this government subsidized camping facility. This appears to be a tangible benefit targeted primarily for the GAC that favors the GAC theist only Scouting program over competing programs. Furthermore, the administrative office building is probably going to be staffed exclusively by the GAC. The other organizations will probably not be permitted to utilize the available federally funded but GAC owned office space on a first come - first served basis.

Apparently, it is the GAC that will determine the rules and procedures for reserving and using its government subsidized camp and that will decide who reserved its government subsidized camp first. The BSA organization, as one of the competing consumers of its government subsidized camping facilities, has a self-interest in the outcome of its own decisions. Because the GAC runs a theist only camping related program this results in a glaring conflict of interest with the anti-discrimination provisions of the federal appropriations regulations. The GAC's ill-defined and self-conflicted first come - first served promise should not be considered sufficient to qualify as compliance with the law.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Congress raises money for theist only organization.

The Equal Protection and/or Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment should prohibit federal funding directed to particular private organization sponsored programs that restrict participation based on religious belief for hiring, volunteer opportunities, and membership. The Bush administration has made a sustained effort to chip away at these nondiscrimination protections with respect to hiring and volunteering for its Faith Based Initiative and, even worse, by permitting the government funds to be intermingled with the sectarian organizations' general purpose funds. Nevertheless, even the Bush administration has respected in word, if not 100% in deeds, the long standing consensus that targeted federally funded programs (as opposed to untargeted funding via vouchers), including the FBI funded programs, cannot refuse to serve a citizen on the basis of that citizen's beliefs concerning religious claims, included beliefs that are in disagreement and dissent from claims made by various competing religions and by various religious believers.

Yet the "Boy Scouts of America Centennial Commemorative Coin Act" (H.R. 5872) was fast-tracked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for a floor vote, and passed by unanimous consent on Saturday, September 27, 2008.
The bill mandates that the U.S. Mint create and sell as many as 350,000 one dollar coins commemorating the Scouts' centennial in the year 2010. A ten dollar surcharge on each coin goes directly to the Boy Scouts of America, who will net as much as $3.5 million in the deal. The Boy Scouts exclude people they categorize as "atheists, agnostics, or avowed homosexuals" from participation in their membership only Scouting programs.

So what gives? Is there a principle in constitutional or federal law that exempts just Boy Scout programs, or just youth organization programs, from the otherwise generally recognized nondiscrimination legal standard for direct federal funding with respect to beliefs regarding religion? Apparently not, since no other program that so discriminates against any other competing belief regarding religion receives such direct federal funding. The legal principles that are claimed by Boy Scouts to justify the government funding are free expession and free exercise. But those are general principles that must exempt all government funding from nondiscrimination constraints or none. Does the Congress not know that Boy Scouts denies membership to atheists? Clearly they are aware of the Boy Scout policy because the Boy Scouts openly states its policy on its legal web site, lawsuits challenging the discrimination have been widely publicized, and many people have written to their Congress people about this dispute.

The only explanation for this disparity is that the target of the discrimination are atheist leaning agnostics and atheists. As far as Congress and the American public are concerned atheists are not citizens who are entitled to the full anti discrimination protections that they recognize as generally applicable to themselves and everyone else. Didn't George Washington once say "And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion"? There is one word that characterizes this, it is bigotry, pure and simple, whether it appears in the context of someone's misuse of an eighteenth century quote from George Washington to justify government supported discrimination against the non-religious or a vote of the Congress or the membership policy of Boy Scouts of America. As always, there is one proper response to bigotry: Fight against against it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Complain to people who participated in people of faith only event

The initial event of the Democratic national convention, held Sunday August 24, was an of people of religious faith, by people of religious faith, and for people of religious faith only event "reaching across partisan and ideological lines in this Convention to address the values that matter to Americans".

The people listed below apparently already participated during this initial convention event so send an email to each of them (if you find the missing email addresses then post a comment here) politely requesting that they not participate again if people without faith are deliberately singled out for exclusion from such "big tent" "unity" events to "address the values that matter to Americans" (scroll down for sample letter):

Archbishop Demetrios need email
Rabbi Steven Foster
Rabbi Steve Gutow need email
Reverend Lucia Guzman
Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding prelate of the Church of God in Christ Inc. and pastor at the West Angeles church
Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America
social activist Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking"
Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali of the Northeast Denver Islamic Center need email
Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Maryland

Sample letter:

Reverend Lucia Guzman:

While outreach to people of all religious faiths is good, the deliberate and explicit failure to acknowledge and recognize to role of people without religious faith at the opening "unity" event of the Democratic convention was unfair and wrong. Since you appear to be listed as a speaker at that "of, for, and by" people of faith only "big tent" event I would like to share with you my disgust with the Democratic party and with everyone who is responsible for denying representation to people without faith and my disappointment that you would agree to speak at such a discriminatory event. My impression is that you have a positive record with regard to sensitivity to issues of prejudice and bigotry. I respectfully request that not participate in the future in such "inclusive" events if people without faith are intentionally singled out for exclusion. Celebrating various religious faiths to the exclusion of alternative\competing beliefs (including rejecting religious faith) is not a proper Democratic party function anymore than celebrating various manifestations of Protestantism over alternative\competing beliefs (including Hinduisms, etc.) would be a proper Democratic party function. Thank you.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Christian cross communicates primarily nonreligious messages?

U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns, in his decision filed July 29, wrote "When the cross is considered in the context of the larger memorial and especially the numerous other secular elements, the primary effect is patriotic and nationalistic, not religious" and "As a result, the specter of government endorsement of religion or favoring a religion is not apparent, let alone obvious and primary." This "smaller" 29-foot crucifixion cross, originally designated the "Mt. Soledad Easter Cross" when it was erected by San Diego county in 1954 (which was at the end of the anti-communist McCarthy era, a time when government establishment of monotheism was promoted), towers 43 foot over the top of Mount Soledad and can be seen for miles around San Diego county. What about the patriotism and nationalistic sentiments of non-Christians? Is judge Burns implying that the Christian crucifixion cross primarily represents "patriotic and nationalistic" sentiment for Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and atheists? If so, then the judge is mistaken. Indeed his implied assertion that the cross is more secular than religious for many Christians is also far-fetched. That is just one of multiple falsehoods implied by his arguments in this decision provided that we respect the simple and foundational concept of equal protection before the law for all citizens, including religious non-Christian, religious Christian, the non-religious, and anti-religion minorities.

Another argument behind the decision is that because crucifixion crosses are so popular in cemeteries and memorials such crosses are now primarily secular cemetery and memorial symbols. The judge expressed this perspective when he said "The court finds the memorial at Mt. Soledad, including its Latin cross, communicates the primarily nonreligious messages of military service, death and sacrifice." This is upside down reasoning. The reason that crucifixion crosses are popular in otherwise secular cemeteries and memorials in the first place is that the Christian religion, whose deity Jesus was crucified on such a cross before being miraculously resurrected, is popular with the citizens of San Diego and the United States. If Wicca or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam were the majority religion in the United States then governments wouldn't be placing 29 foot crucifixion crosses in our government veterans memorials. Furthermore, this crucifixion cross was placed in the Soledad park by San Diego county over three decades before the cross was first declared to be part of a veterans memorial by the county in 1989 (after a lawsuit was filed against the cross). Another skewed argument made by the judge is that because there are no words on the cross monument it doesn't "express acknowledgement of anything". We communicate with symbols, words are themselves represented as symbols, and this crucifixion cross is clearly communicating a message of acknowledgement of Christianity even though it lacks words.

Judge Burns wrote "In fact, in terms of the number of elements the memorial comprises, secular symbols predominate with over 2,000 individual memorial plaques, 23 military bollards, numerous inscribed paving stones, a tall flagpole and large American flag, and a bronze plaque commemorating the dedication of the memorial in 1954. And except for the cross, there are no other religious elements such as altars, statues, religious texts, or a chapel." Turning Establishment Clause (EC) jurisprudence into a count of secular versus religious elements is little more than a method to avoid confronting the problem of the unnecessary government sponsorship of any religious element. Many of the memorial plaques have religious elements also but because those represent the individual choices of the families of the deceased they are not a government non-establishment problem like the single government sponsored cross. Setting a vague ratio threshold for how many discrete times the government must violate the EC relative to how many discrete times it didn't violate the EC in a given setting before the violations are considered to be unconstitutional is an anti-EC standard. For every other clause of the 1st amendment, one violation of that clause by government is unconstitutional regardless of how many times the government didn't violate that same clause in a given setting.

Judge Burns also wrote "The physical setting of the memorial, moreover, neither compels nor encourages religious devotion." A more logical and probably more accurate conclusion regarding "the physical setting" is that the prominent placement of this large cross will encourage expression of religious devotion by Christians while discouraging such expression of religious devotion by non-Christians. Judge Burns wrote "Finally, the location of the memorial makes it an unlikely venue for government indoctrination. Located away from the hub of downtown and the seat of government, Mt. Soledad park is more a destination than a way station." The notion that the EC is violated only if the government overtly engages in direct religious "indoctrination" at the "seat of government" disregards government use of government property to promote or favor religion over non-religion and in this case, Christian religion over non-Christian religion, as also violating the EC. The EC says "government" and "religion", it doesn't say "seat of government" and "indoctrination". The highly visible and prominent location of this large sized monument makes it a valuable government sponsored advertisement for Christianity. That location for any similar sized commercial advertisement monument, including this identical crucifixion cross monument, would probably sell for a hefty price if it was placed on the market.

People who support government establishment of their Christian and monothiestic beliefs like to accuse us defenders of the EC of being "extreme" or even "fanatical" for opposing such biased government sponsored displays of Christian symbols and Christian compatible monotheistic slogans on government properties. So to put this in a broader perspective I will selectively present a few quotes from the other side. Thomas Bock of Colorado, the past national commander of the American Legion, was quoting as saying the victory "is great news not only for veterans but for all freedom loving Americans. It has been a long battle, and may not be completely over, but when good people take on a good cause they will eventually succeed over evil." Al Lennox, commander of the 130,000-member American Legion Department of California, was quoted as vowing to "continue to stand, as long as it takes, with our allies in the Thomas More Law Center, and the Alliance Defense Fund, in the legal fight to protect Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, and all other veterans memorials, from desecration by the abusive legal assaults of the ACLU and others who have no respect for veterans or our American heritage." You will never hear such dogmatic misdescribing of the opposing side as representing "evil" or such incitefull and hateful mischaracterizing of the opposing side as seeking "desecration" of veterans memorials and having "no respect for veterans or our American heritage" from me or from the leaders of the prominent organizations that defend the EC.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is it a blunder to challenge establishment of monotheism?

We cannot know in advance how individual or groups of judges will decide any given dispute over constitutional interpretation anymore than we can know in advance the outcome of a tennis match or baseball game. However, such judicial decisions are unlike sport contests because of the prominent role of politics, precedent, and ethics in law. The ethical consideration can favor an Establishment Clause (EC) lawsuit while the strength of the political opposition and potentially long lasting bad precedent impact considerations can disfavor the same lawsuit. Furthermore, no matter how unfavorable the political risk and bad precedent impact considerations are, once such a lawsuit has been filed the issue of whether or not initiating such a lawsuit would be poor strategy due to unfavorable political risk and bad precedent impact considerations has operationally become moot.

This frames the controversy among civil libertarians over the Pledge of Allegiance "under God" and National Motto "In God We Trust" lawsuits and similar lawsuits challenging establishment of monotheism. Some civil libertarians who agree that technically the Pledge of Allegiance is a violation of the EC are nevertheless unwilling to publicly argue it is a violation on the grounds that the political climate is such that we cannot prevail. The argument against publicly opposing establishment of monotheism asserts that if the conservative leaning Supreme Court were to rule that the Pledge of Allegiance ritual in public schools violates the EC and/or that the Pledge of Allegiance or National Motto laws violates the EC then the Congress and the states would respond by voting on a constitutional amendment to establish monotheism that could pass. So it would be better if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of establishment of monotheism to avoid that political risk. Furthermore, the conservative leaning Supreme Court will probably rule that the Pledge of Allegiance public school ritual and the Pledge of Allegiance and National Motto laws do not violate the EC, thus entrenching establishment of monotheism as a legal precedent. So it would be better to not pursue such lawsuits at all. These arguments can then be generalized to oppose public advocacy for any controversial lawsuit that asserts a constitutional violation because the lawsuit is unpopular even though that lawsuit otherwise has merit.

Yet the fact remains that the Pledge of Allegiance and National Motto lawsuits are proceeding and there will be more decisions. Anyone can file such a lawsuit (although it takes lots of time and effort and is expensive to hire a lawyer), and if Newdow doesn't argue against the Pledge of Allegiance on behalf of his plaintiffs or against the National Motto then there will be other plaintiffs and other lawyers who will pursue such lawsuits, particularly as more states continue the ongoing trend of passing more laws establishing monotheism. Judges, in their written decisions, have asserted that disputed government laws and practices gain constitutional legitimacy simply by virtue of having gone unchallenged for a long time, thus becoming a national "tradition" beyond the reach of constitutional restrictions. So there is a "tradition" entrenchment cost to not challenging establishments of monotheism. Furthermore, the Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit has legal precedent merit, enough merit to have resulted in a favorable ruling by a 3 judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2002. Judge Alfred T. Goodwin accurately reasoned that the Pledge ritual in public schools violated the three most common tests used to analyze EC cases — Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s endorsement test, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s coercion test, and the Supreme Court’s Lemon test from its 1971 decision Lemon v. Kurtzman. Arguing that lawsuits against establishment of monotheism should not be publicly defended because they are too unpopular to succeed is, by itself, a political argument that ignores the favorable legal precedents, the inherent uncertainty of outcome for such lawsuits, and the importance of the laws being rooted in universal ethical principles.

Government actions and laws that conflict with ethical principle, such as government establishments of monotheism, need to be publicly criticized because such public criticism is the right that all citizens in democratic society can exercise to change the prevailing opinion that prompts and protects the disputed government actions and laws conflicting with ethical principle in the first place. Ultimately, the argument that we shouldn't advocate for our civil liberties because we cannot win becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our refusal to publicly advocate against establishment of monotheism entrenches the pro-establishment of monotheism political context that makes it appear to be impossible for establishment of monotheism to be defeated. To break that circle, we have to begin somewhere, and the only place to begin is always here and the only time to begin is always now. There is no easy, straight, guaranteed path to realizing civil rights for unpopular minorities such as atheists and polytheists. Civil rights for minorities have to be argued for, defended, and pursued against prevailing public prejudices relentlessly to eventually prevail.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Custom license plates and legislative voting

Custom license plates are a way for states to raise a little extra revenue. If a group of citizens of sufficient number designs a plate and promised to pay for them then the state will issue the plates. At least some states, such as Florida and Virginia, impose the additional requirement that the custom plates be approved by at least one of the two state legislative bodies. This legislative approval requirement for issuing custom plates is a problem.

Some of the custom plates will advertise or promote a religiously, politically, or maybe commercially partisan message. The moment the legislature puts the question of whether to manufacture a partisan license plate to a vote they have necessarily asserted for themselves the authority to decide which partisan viewpoints have government sponsorship and which do not. The legislature isn't voting to approve or disapprove custom license plates because they intend to always vote for "Praise Satan" license plates. There can be no enforceable limitation on the rationale for elected officials voting against any particular partisan plate and no judicial remedy for outcomes that favor some religious beliefs over others short of eliminating the use of the legislative voting itself as a method for approving religiously partisan plates. The legislative approval process, when applied to custom license plates which have religious messages, therefore intrinsically violates the government obligation to avoid assuming the power to favor majority and disfavor disliked minority religious viewpoints.

The custom license plate laws in states such as Florida and Virginia need to be revised to remove the legislature from the custom license plate approval process. State legislatures need to limit themselves to approving religiously neutral license plates in general. They should also restrict themselves to politically and commercially non-partisan license plates. People can put partisan messages on their vehicles using bumper and side window stickers, license plate frames, and the like. Custom license plates for an additional fee is workable provided that the state department of motor vehicles accepts all license plate designs that are properly requested by the required minimum number of citizens and that meet generally applicable, non-partisan standards for politeness. The Establishment Clause and Equal Protection Clauses of the constitution dictate that citizen designed custom license plates with atheist messages must be issued if similar license plates with theist messages are issued by the state.

Monday, April 28, 2008

MRFF mishandles lawsuit.

Specialist Jeremy Hall is in an unenviable position due to no fault of his own. He has a valid complaint against a superior officer, Major Freddy J. Welborn, for disrupting a meeting of an atheist and freethought group he was trying to start. In a sworn statement Jeremy Hall says that Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them for trying to form the group. Major Welborn says Jeremy Hall's version of events is "a false story", but another soldier who attended the meeting backs Jeremy Hall's version of events. The problem here is that Jeremy Hall's lawyer, Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, by filing a lawsuit against the Army without first attempting to resolve the problem through the Army’s Equal Opportunity Office, did not act in his client's best interest.

It is understandable that Specialist Hall would not want to file a complaint with the Army’s Equal Opportunity Office because of mistrust of his superior officers. Nevertheless, a competent lawyer, who was acting in his client's best interest, would patiently explain to his client that first taking the complaint EEO and giving the accused a fair opportunity to confront the accusation before proceeding with a lawsuit is the proper procedure. The lawyer would explain why not going to the EEO would undermine his standing for asserting a right to a lawsuit and weaken his case as a plaintiff in the event the lawsuit is accepted regardless of the outcome of the EEO process. No soldier is going to find his superior officers more trustworthy after the soldier files a lawsuit without first going through the EEO process. On the contrary, doing that actually provides a reason for the soldier's superior officers to distrust that soldier. Judges, confronted with such a lawsuit, are going to question why they should be deciding a discrimination complaint that was not first brought before the EEO and whether, by skipping that process, the defendant was denied his right to a fair hearing and negotiated resolution before being charged in a lawsuit.

The EEO would probably have upheld Jeremy Hall's right to form the atheist and freethinker group and hold meetings without threats or negative career repurcussions. If problems continued from there, then the plaintiff would have been in a much stronger position to pursue a lawsuit, having first exhausted the EEO process for resolving the problems.

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers referred Jeremy Hall to MRFF. My advice to the MAAF, and to other soldiers, is this: Unless Mikey Weinstein acknowledges that he made a mistake by not insisting that his client go through with the EEO process before proceeding with the lawsuit, don't refer anyone else with a discrimination or EC complaint to MRFF. Tell them to avoid the MRFF and find a good lawyer who is committed to his clients who specializes in EO or EC cases instead.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

HUD initiates review of grant to Great Alaska Council

Robert L. Ashworth, Director, Program Integrity, (Hotline) Division of OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced on March 24 that HUD opened a case to review the "HUD related issues addressed" by me and by others, who also sent complaints based on my public appeal, regarding the grant to the Great Alaska Council of Boy Scouts of America. He promised "We will notify you when the case is closed and provide you with information on how you can obtain the results of the review."

I would think that no grant would be awarded while it is under review by the Inspector General's Office for possible incompatability with HUD regulations. However, no statement was made that the grant would be delayed pending completion of the review.

HUD grant to theist only Boy Scouts violates law

BSA National Council, Litigation, "Duty to God" cases says "Because of Scouting’s methods and beliefs, Scouting does not accept atheists and agnostics as members or adult volunteer leaders." (see Policies ● Youth and Adult Volunteers).

Section 109 of Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (see A-6.4 Discrimination prohibited), as amended prohibits discrimination in Community Development Block Grant Programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. Pertains to all Title I programs, including employment.

Excerpt from Anchorage Daily News article "Boy Scout adventure camp planned north of Talkeetna" (warning: this link may expire) follows:

HELP'S ON WAY: Federal grant could get project started.


Published: March 21st, 2008 02:27 AM
Last Modified: March 21st, 2008 03:15 AM

WASILLA -- An Anchorage-based Boy Scout group is in line to receive a federal grant of nearly $1 million that could kick-start construction of a long planned high-adventure camp near Blair Lake, north of Talkeetna.
The Great Alaska Council, which serves 6,000 Scouts, most in Southcentral Alaska, hasn't yet received the $940,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the group could get the funding as early as next month once the camp environmental assessment is finalized. A copy of that assessment, which concluded the camp would have "no significant impact" on the surrounding wilderness, is currently being circulated for public comment.

Scouts project manager Tom Barnett said this week that the federal grant would help pay for design and construction of some initial facilities, including a generator building, warehouse and administrative office.


Take action: Complain to HUD that this grant appears to violate non-discrimination provisions of Section 109 of Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act for grant recipients because participation in Boy Scouts Scouting programs is restricted to theists (select link for email, phone, and mail contact information).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Imagine No Religion v. Why Do Atheists Hate America?

The Rt. Rev. Council Nedd II, Bishop of the Diocese of the Chesapeak and Northeast of the Episcopal Missionary Church, is the Director of the Alliance for Health Education and Development (AHEAD). AHEAD is sponsoring a "Why Do Atheists Hate America?" Billboard Campaign in response the the Freedom from Religion Foundation's "Imagine No Religion" Billboard Campaign. A Chambersburg, PA newspaper published an editorial critical of the AHEAD billboard Our view: Defensive billboard goes a bit overboard. The Rt. Rev. Council Nedd II's response, Editorial puzzles billboard sponsor, represents an articulate and dense expression of the emotion laden and unreasonable thinking that unfortunately appears to predominate among substantial numbers of people who advocate establishment of monotheism. So lets review his editorial.

Thank you for your editorial, "Our view: Defensive billboard goes a bit overboard" (Public Opinion Online, February 10, 2008). I'm very glad you're letting people in the Chambersburg community know about the two "dueling billboards" and challenging them to consider the signs' meaning.

However, I'm surprised you seem to find the atheists' billboard so harmless, while you seem to take offense at our sign. The atheists' sign says, "Imagine No Religion." Perhaps if our sign had said, "Imagine No Atheists," it would be easier for you to see why I am so troubled by the atheists' message. "

The proper analogy is "Imagine no Atheism". People are not religion or atheism or any particular belief. This failure to distinguish between people and people's beliefs is a recurring theme in Nedd Council's argument. He is incorrectly elevating what is a sincere disagreement between people over conflicting pro-religious and anti-religious beliefs into a personal attack against the people who hold religious beliefs.

"Imagine No Religion," they urge, and you say you find that non-judgmental. Really? To me, the judgment of America's largest atheist group seems obvious: They think America would be a better place if all people of faith would simply disappear. Where should we go? Where do they want to send us? I suppose it would make their crusade to ban religion easier, but I don't plan to go quietly, and neither do the 64,000 supporters of In God We Trust.

People are not religion. Inviting people to consider a future world without religion is not the same as telling people who are currently religious to physically disappear. For example, Dan Barker is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a former minister and evangelist. Ned Council, like Dan Barker, could abandon religion without moving from his current location.

Opposing is not banning. The FFRF is not engaging in a "crusade to ban religion" just like Catholics are not engaging in a crusade to ban Protestantism and Protestants are not engaging in a crusade to ban Catholicism. Expressing opposition to some beliefs is not an attempt to ban anyone from having or expressing those beliefs.

Instead of rushing to condemn people who want to defend freedom of religious expression by calling us "manipulative" and "craven" as your editorial has done, perhaps you should start asking a few questions that go right to the heart of this matter.

Promoting the false assertion that atheists hate America is not a defense of freedom of religious expression but it is manipulative and craven as is much of the content of Nedd Council's editorial.

First, how is "Imagine No Religion" different from "Imagine No Christians" or "Imagine No Jews"? The anti-religious bigotry is more obvious, but otherwise the statements seem interchangeable to me. (Now are you starting to see why we find the atheists' sign so troubling? I'm not sure where they're headed with this line of argument, but I don't like its direction one bit.)

Advocacy against a set of beliefs is not bigotry. People are not anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant bigots by virtue of advocating against Catholic or Protestant beliefs. Ditto for people who are against religion in general.

People eat, dress and have beliefs but people are not food, clothes, or beliefs. Again, a significant difference between Imagine no Religion and Imagine no Christians is that the former focuses on the beliefs some people hold and the later focuses on those people themselves.

Second, "Imagine No Religion" also means "Imagine No Mother Theresa," "Imagine No Martin Luther King, Jr.," and "Imagine No Gandhi." Do you really believe America -- or the world -- would be a better place if the atheists got their wish? Are you starting to get the picture?

Historical people are not retroactively lost to history due to a subsequent loss of their beliefs because historical beliefs are not the same as the historical people who held those beliefs. Famous dead people who referenced or believed in various no longer surviving religions during their lifetimes did not lose their role in, or contribution to, history when their religion disappeared.

Regrettably, religious people are more often defined in the media these days by a caricature that is not very generous, and I assure you it does not apply to In God We Trust.

Criticizing an action taken by a group is not the same as caricaturing that group. The newspaper editorial criticized the contents of the AHEAD's billboard, it did not caricature religious people. The only people who are caricaturing anyone else here are Nedd Council II and his AHEAD organization who are mendaciously caricaturing atheists and the FFRF in their billboard and in this editorial. Nedd Council's complaint about being caricatured is shameless hypocrisy.

We are not even a religious group. There are already plenty of religious groups who want to be involved in politics, and that is not what we are. Instead, we are a political group that is concerned with defending the traditional role of God and religion in American public life, because we believe it makes America a better place -- for believers and non-believers alike. I urge fair-minded people who agree with me to visit our Web site at for more information.

Ned Council II now recognizes and acknowledges a distinction! A political group "defending the traditional role of God and religion in American public life" is different from a "religious advocacy group"! After building an argument on ignoring major distinctions he now insists on highlighting a relatively small distinction. How is that for consistency?

We live in a diverse country, and In God We Trust believes it is wrong to try to imagine an America where the people who disagree with us have all disappeared, or been sent away. History is full of bad examples like that, and they didn't work. Instead, why not try to work out our differences?

Falsely accusing people who advocate against a set of beliefs of seeking to physically remove or deport the people who hold those beliefs is slander. Ned Council II is slandering atheists in his billboard and slandering the FFRF in his editorial.

We don't address racial issues by all pretending to be black. We don't address gender differences by all pretending to be women. So why on earth should we address our Constitution's guarantees of religious freedom by all pretending to be atheists? Now that's going overboard.

Inviting people to consider abandoning religion is not the same as calling for religious people to disingenuously pretend to not be religious. The FFRF has never claimed or implied that "we address our Constitution's guarantees of religious freedom by all pretending to be atheists" and I can say with confidence that they never will make such a claim. This is more mendacious caricaturing of the FFRF and atheists.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Who or What is(are) God(s) is not a legal issue.

The issue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in Newdow v. Rio Linda Unified School District is not whether a particular patriotic ritual is or is not a prayer, the issue is whether that patriotic ritual violates the Establishment Clause because of the 1954 addition of the religious phrase "Under God". Kevin Hasson of the Becket Fund, properly addressing this issue, recently argued before the court that the God in the Pledge of Allegiance is the same God referred to in the Declaration of Independence who is not the deity in the Bible. "It wasn't the Christian God. It wasn't the Jewish God. It was the philosopher's God," Mr. Hasson said. He said the "under God" phrase refers to a creator who early philosophers and scientists like Aristotle concluded "could be known by reason alone." How does Hasson read all of that into just those two words?

The 1954 law itself does not define God. But at least one of the authors and one of the advocates for the law did make it clear that atheists were knowingly and deliberately being disparaged by the law. Congressman Louis Rabaut, the 1953 author of the congressional resolution to amend the Pledge, said "an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms." While President Eisenhower listened from the front pew, the Reverend George Docherty of the New York Presbyterian Church in Washington DC advocated passing the 1954 law. He called atheists "spiritual parasites" that live off of the "accumulated spiritual capital of Judaio (sic)-Christian civilization" and "deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow." Atheists "cannot deny the Christian revelation and logically live by the Christian ethic. And if he denies the Christian ethic, he falls short of the American ideal of life." The 1954 Washington Post treated Docherty's bigoted sermon "like the act of a true hero."

Some of the Founders appeared to endorse the syncretic belief that the same God is worshipped by people from all religions, including American Indian religions, Hinduism, etc. However, it is unlikely that most Americans either then or today, or even most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, let alone most of the Congress people who voted for 1954 law, conceived of God that way. Even if most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and most of the Congress people who passed the 1954 law believed at the time that God is "the creator who could be known by reason alone." as defined by Aristotle how would such a fact validate the constitutionality of the 1954 Pledge law? A religious belief doesn't become non-religious just because some philosophers professed that belief.

Aristotle was wrong, we do not "know the creator" from reason alone. But even if you incorrectly agree with Aristotle, our government has no jurisdiction over which philosopher's metaphysics is right or wrong. Philosophers disagreed about God. Thales (546 B.C.) said that a stone had a soul. Melissus (440 B.C.) said what exists has always existed. Anaxagoras (428 B.C.) said there is no creation and no passing away, just an eternal mixing and reshuffling of elements. Protagoras (440 B.C.) said he doesn't know whether the Gods exist or not. Euclid (440 B.C.) said only the Good exists, its opposite is nonexistence. Atheism is a legitimate belief, as legitimate as any of the competing beliefs, indeed better justified than any of the competing beliefs in my opinion and the opinion of millions of U.S. citizens. Our government is acting outside of its constitutional powers when it passes laws whose primary purpose and effect is to imply that our atheism, or anyone else's polytheism, is less patriotic than monotheism.

These disagreements regarding god(s) are not questions that can be settled by passing laws. These are issues of personal conscience and government's only constitutional role on such issues of personal conscience is to respect our individual freedom of conscience to disagree or agree with Aristotle or any other philosopher, or with any signer of the Declaration of Independence, or with any Congress person regarding who the gods are, who god is, or whether a god exists. It should be obvious that it is well outside the bounds of the Establishment Clause for our government to be defining on behalf of all citizens who God is and is not or what God's attributes are and are not or how God is or is not "known".

Government teaching the words of the Declaration of Independence or any other historical document is not a government endorsement of the religious beliefs contained therein just like government is not endorsing atheism when it teaches science. As long as government teaches history and science according to the expert consensus among historians and scientists based on the evidence then government is being neutral with respect to religion regardless of whether or not the science or the history is itself neutral. The harm to atheists of government endorsement of monotheism, especially in a government led participatory ritual for impressionable young children, is not abated by the Declaration of Independence anymore than a similar historical document that was Christian would abate the harm to non-Christians of government endorsement of explicitly Christian beliefs. Either we oppose government establishments or we don’t. If we oppose government establishment then no historical document that appeals to religious beliefs excuses justifying current and future government establishment of those beliefs.

The text of the official Pledge, codified in federal law, impermissibly takes a position with respect to the purely religious question of the existence and identity of God. A profession that we are a nation "under God" is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation "under Jesus," a nation "under Vishnu," a nation "under Zeus," or a nation "under no god," because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion. "
Judge Alfred Goodwin, Newdow versus United States Congress, No. 00-16423, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT, June 26, 2002.