Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Boy Scouts can deny/revoke membership at will

Since the Supreme Court declared that The Boy Scout of America organization is a strictly private organization it follows that BSA can deny or revoke any membership application at any time with no explanation. They can do this for no reason at all, or for any reason at all. This is the way it should be with strictly private organizations. BSA wanted this designation, they fought for it, they got it.

Rob Boston thinks that the law is murky as to whether or not government institutions can own and operate membership based units of such strictly private institutions. Unlike him I am not a lawyer. So I guess I look at this from a simple perspective. My simple perspective is that I do not see government institutions owning and operating church membership groups or any other such strictly private membership group. My simple perspective is that government institutions are prohibited from owning and operating such strictly private membership groups precisely because governments cannot prohibit strictly private organizations from discriminating.

Start with a clear civil rights violation, add sophistry, and the result is murky. BSA is very clear and direct about their membership policy. No atheists, no atheist leaning agnostics. Silly me, I believe there are no gods (on a weight of the overall available evidence basis) and I never consented to surrender any of my civil rights.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Dan Fincke on objectivity of morality

Advocates of religion often argue that religion is necessary to provide an objective grounding for morality. The obvious problem with this argument is that only something non-fictional can provide objective grounding for something else. Therefore religion fails to provide objective grounding for anything because religion is fiction. In other words, the horse pulls the cart, the cart does not pull the horse. So even if religion would provide an objective basis for morality if religion were true, the religion horse is fiction so it is incapable of pulling any cart of objectivity. People can pretend that religion is true and from there they can pretend that morality has objective grounding in their religion, but pretending objectivity is self-contradictory, it is disengenuity.

Having dismissed religion, the question of objectivity remains.  Contrary to what some advocates of religion claim, objectivity is clearly not dependent on religion.  We are objectively better off seeking the assistance of medical doctors who are trained and licensed according to the principle of following the empirical evidence than we are going to religious faith healers with magic potions and dances and traditional rituals.  What about morality?  Is there an objective basis for morality?

Some atheists, such as Jerry Coyne, assert there is no objective morality.  Other atheists, such as Dan Fincke (and Sam Harris), argue that morality is empirically rooted in human flourishing and therefore, in the main, objective. I have read both sides of this argument and there is a winner: Dan Fincke is correct.  Take a look at Dan Fincke disputing Jerry Coyne on his blog Empowerment Ethics: “Can There Be Objective Morality When So Many People Disagree About Morality?” Human flourishing would arguably be enhanced if everyone who has more than the bare minimum that they need gave away everything non-essential that they owned to those who otherwise lack what they need to survive. Jerry Coyne has a fair point that almost no one does that or advocates that everyone do that.  But this lack of perfection in practice, as with the lack of perfect and complete empirical knowledge or the lack of universal agreement, does not defeat the successful argument that there is an objective basis for evaluating morality.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Americans United not acknowledging the evidence

About one month after I wrote to Americans United for Seperation of Church and State regarding the apparent sponsorship by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources of a Scouting program unit, I received a reply from a staff attorney. It began with a thank you followed by an apology for the delay. The AU staff attorney then wrote: ".... Despite the use of the word "sponsor" on the Venturing Crew's website, I can find no evidence that there is any formal sponsorship relationship between the two organizations. Instead, it appears that the Venturing Crew participates in certain volunteering initiatives offered by DNR. It is not unconstitutional for a religious organization to volunteer time and effort with a government agency. If there is evidence that DNR provides funding to the Venturing Crew, please send it to me and I will review it. Otherwise, this does not look like a violation." 

This reaction to my complaint from AU contrasts sharply with the FFRF reaction. FFRF reacted by writing a letter to the DNR requesting "any department records related to sponsorship of Venturing Crew 202." FFRF did not assume that there is no formal sponsorship absent proof one way or the other. Why is AU making the assumption there is no formal relationship given that the evidence suggests that there is such a formal relationship? The Crew 202 web site says that they have been sponsored by the DNR since 2000, when the unit first started, and the advisor of the unit has a DNR email address. And why is AU emphasizing funding? Even if the DNR gave no money to the unit, they are still operating a unit of a membership youth group that excludes atheists which by itself is illegal, as the FFRF staff attorney stated in his correspondence with me.

After calling more than a dozen times and getting an answering machine, I spoke to the registrar of the Baltimore Area Council of BSA.  She confirmed that the chartered organization (a.k.a. the sponsoring organization) of Crew 202 is the DNR and the advisor with the DNR email address is also the Chartered Organization Representative.  However, she refused to give me a copy of the charter agreement.  So I separately wrote to the AU and FFRF staff attorneys to alert them of this additional evidence.  I immediately received a response from the FFRF.  From AU I have so far received no response.

Although disappointed so far with AU, I cannot say I am surprised.  AU and the ACLU are very good organizations whose membership probably consists largely of liberal theists.  Many liberal theists have a strong commitment to civic equality and non-establishment of religion that becomes weak, or antagonistic, when it comes to atheists.  A country where more than 4/5 of the population are religious believers is a very different country when many such believers are liberal from a country where few such believers are liberal.  Liberal religious believers may object to my characterization of religion as inherently having a conservative orientation, but the fact is that the holy texts of the Abrahamic religions are often (very) conservative. And taking those ancient texts seriously in the 21st century is also conservative.  So let's celebrate the liberal religious believers, with their creative hermeneutics, for their central role in making our country as tolerant and free as it is.

Yet these same liberal theists are also hypocrites when it comes to atheists.  As with the ACLU, I will continue to wait for the AU to show me that I am wrong about liberal theists being civil rights hypocrites.  I want to be wrong. I want the AU and the ACLU to tell the world that they favor civic equality for atheists and non-establishment of theism.  They both have this opportunity here and if they take it then I will be happy to let you know on this blog.