Church and State: April 2004 Archives

April 24, 2004

Clue needed

United States: Texas state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn is peeved. The Ethical Society of Austin, a humanistic religious organization whose goal is to search for the good in human life, has won the latest court case in its battle to be recognised as a religious organisation, and so be exempt from property and sales taxes. The Texas Supreme Court declined to hear Strayhorn's appeal, and she is unhappy:

But Strayhorn said granting the group religious status will prompt any wannabe cult who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween to apply.

She neglected to explain how this is different from a cult dressing up in fancy frocks and waving smoking handbags around. The US Constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, and separation of church and state, which means a state cannot give privileges to one religious group, and not another.

The case reaffirms that religious protection in the United States extends not just to large, well-recognized religions but to people of all faith, said Pete Kennedy, who represented the Ethical Society for the American Civil Liberties Union.

And unlike certain 'Christians', the Ethical Society really is acting on a point of principle, pays the tax it owes and stands to gain little from winning exemption. Austin group wins round against Strayhorn - Houston Chronicle, 23rd April 2004.

Pope Peeved With Kerry

United States: John Kerry has decided to make a stand with the majority on women's rights rather than the moronic loud-mouth minority and it seems to have caught the boys in the frocks a bit off-side.

Democratic candidate John Kerry said Friday a woman's right to abortion is a major part of his campaign for president, ignoring a prominent Vatican official's call for denying Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.
I believe that in the year 2004 we deserve a president who understands that a stronger America is where women's rights are just that, rights, not political weapons to be used by politicians of this nation, Kerry said during a rally he had scheduled with women's rights groups.

April 23, 2004

Cult Central Campus

United States: The Independent have run an interesting article on cult central, otherwise known as Patrick Henry College. There are some serious brain donors loose on the campus.

On a tour of the campus, we bumped into a bright young man called Jordan Estrada, from Pennsylvania. Estrada, 18, carried a book entitled Systematic Theology. He had played the part of Creon in Sophocles' Greek tragedy Antigone when it was performed recently by the drama team. He said he was interested in science fiction and wanted to be a writer.
Why had he wanted to study at Patrick Henry? A lot of what they teach in public schools is not based in reality. I am a believer in creation, he says. Did that belief lead to a conflict with his pursuit of science? None whatsoever. I have discussed this and spoken to many scientists and I found that there is no contradiction.

April 15, 2004

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Zanzibar: The Muslim loons in charge of the East African tourist trap have outlawed homosexuality in an attempt to preserve its culture. Which is a little odd, given that Zanzibar's only cultural export worth mentioning was an openly bisexual, Zoroastrian rock star.

Zanzibar outlaws homosexual actsBBC News, 14th April 2004.

April 13, 2004

Atheist Punished For Stance on Separation of Church and State

United States: A high school student, in a broadcasting TV assignment sent through the school, said the pledge of allegiance. Being an atheist, he left out our two most favourite words... and was severely punished.

A Spanaway Lake High School senior has been banned from TV production assignments for the rest of the year because he altered the Pledge of Allegiance during a student-produced broadcast.
The student, Kenny Hess, removed the words under God from the pledge, which is shown with an American flag background on classroom TV throughout the school. Hess also declined to recite the phrase and, instead read, one nation ... indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
School officials said they've punished Hess for misusing school equipment to deliver a personal message.
He made a poor choice, said Mark Wenzel, Bethel School District spokesman.

April 8, 2004

Brainwashing From the Comfort Of Your Own Home

United States: What do the loony fundie creationists do with their sprogs when their attempt to pervert the educational system fail? They homeschool their offspring to carefully mould them into bigoted wankers, just like Mummy and Daddy.

Homeschooling gives parents the opportunity to transmit values and political beliefs to their children to a degree that public schools generally cannot. Class schedules for homeschoolers are also more flexible, allowing time for students and parents to volunteer for political and social causes.
Until recently, most homeschool families' biggest lobbying efforts were expended on preserving their right to homeschool.
But as the movement has matured, one group has branched out into a more overtly political mission: urging evangelical Christian homeschoolers to volunteer for conservative causes and serve in political campaigns.

April 7, 2004

Fundies annoy Christians, too

Sometimes it's easy to forget that religion doesn't turn everyone into a barking mad, hate-filled loon. There is a type of Christian, inspired by the reported words and actions of Christ, with a completely different attitude to others. And they think fundies have missed the point completely, as Jeffrey Ritchie explains:

The Gospel according to St. Luke depicts Christ being crucified along with two other criminals - both of whom it would appear were justly convicted and sentenced for their crime. When one of the criminals asks Jesus to remember me when you come into your kingdom, Christ does something that must appear perplexing and downright unchristian to the right wing. Christ tells the criminal that today you will be with me in paradise.
Say what? Shouldn't Christ have first asked what the criminal's views were on abortion? Shouldn't he have checked to make sure the criminal wasn't gay? Shouldn't Christ have at least - I mean at very least - made sure that the criminal was a Republican?

An Easter Sermon - Democratic Underground, 7th April 2004.

April 6, 2004

Nothing but raspberry leaf tea for you, dear.

United States: A new federal law, allegedly designed to protect pregnant women from violence, is likely to increase the rate of abortion. Why? Because if a women lets her pregnancy continue, she's likely to face criminal charges if anything goes wrong. Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, looked at the effects of similar laws enacted in individual states:

In 1997, South Carolina used this law against a pregnant woman, Cornelia Whitner, who was charged with failing to provide proper medical care for her unborn child. Whitner had given birth to a healthy baby who tested positive for an illegal drug. Based on extrapolation of the state feticide law, Ms. Whitner was convicted of criminal child abuse. At sentencing Ms. Whitner begged for drug treatment. The judge responded, I think I'll just let her go to jail....
In America, we do not punish people for being sick. And courts generally do not permit the arrest of someone merely because they suffer the disease of alcoholism or other drug dependency. Nevertheless, relying on the argument that the fetus is an independent victim, hundreds of women nationwide have been arrested for continuing their pregnancies to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem that for anyone else would be treated as a health problem. Underlying these arrests is the belief that being addicted to drugs or having another health problem during pregnancy is no different from a man shooting his pregnant girlfriend in the head.

The South Carolina law has been used to punish women who had the temerity to suffer a stillbirth, even where there was no evidence that anything they did contributed to it. And prosecutors warn that they will file charges in such cases, even if pregnant women have been using perfectly legal substances. And though most anti-abortion fanatics have claimed its nothing to do with them, others have been more truthful.

Yes, some of UVVA's sponsors have admitted that it is about abortion, but its most immediate and devastating threat is to women who have no intention of terminating their pregnancies and for many of whom abortion is abhorrent. Far from safeguarding pregnant women or children, the UVVA creates the legal foundation for policing pregnancy and punishing women who carry their pregnancies to term.

The solution for the pregnant woman who wants to avoid the risk of prosecution? Terminate the pregnancy at the first possible oppportunity. - Policing Pregnancy, 2nd April 2004 (via The Sideshow).

April 5, 2004

Be evangelised at, or fail your course

Eire: University College Dublin is investigating students' complaints that they would fail their exams if they did not attend an event held by Catholic extremist group Opus Dei.

Mr Paul Dillon, president of UCD Students' Union, said yesterday his office had received a number of complaints from students at the college's School of Diagnostic Imaging about pressure to attend an Opus Dei event.
This took place last January in Dublin and was called The Richness of the Human Person, according to Mr Dillon.
As far as we're concerned, attendance at the meeting was compulsory, he said. The lecturer noted the names of all those who didn't attend the meeting last January . . . students felt intimidated into going.

A University representative said that the allegations were being taken very seriously as the University is strictly non-denominational. The lecturer concerned has voluntarily stopped teaching while the complaints are investgated. UCD launches inquiry into Opus Dei claims by students - Irish Times, 3rd April 2004 (via Crazysoph).

School indoctrination special

Religion in the school systems, both in the UK and elsewhere, seems to be in the news right now. Firstly, Jon of Maine sends a pointer to a Boston Globe article:

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine - A seventh-grade history teacher has been placed on administrative leave, less than four months after he filed a lawsuit alleging the school district violated his First Amendment right to free speech by requiring him to adhere to a European history curriculum that emphasizes only the evolution of Christian civilization.
Citing confidentiality policies, administrators in the school district said they could not discuss the reasons Gary Cole was placed on the paid leave last month. Cole, 60, of Washburn, declined to discuss the lawsuit or the administrative leave, referring questions to his lawyer, A.J. Greif of Bangor. Greif said that if one sues a school district and suddenly finds a more hostile working environment, I think a causal link between the two can be easily inferred.

Presumably the curriculum ignores minor aspects of European history like the Holocaust, and certain events which would explain why Muslim Iraqis object to being policed by Spanish forces. On Friday, the National Secular Society Newsline published a letter from Tom Paine about his daughter, and the policy of her allegedly non-denominational school of having evangelical Christian missionaries take assembly. When challenged, they said the law obliged them to do it.

When we brought the matter up at the Governors meeting we were simply told that it was the law. We looked this up on the internet and found out that since 1944 all school children, with the right of withdrawal, have to attend a daily act of broadly Christian worship (now hidden in The Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998). This feels like a colonial law that now reduces Britain to be its own colony and allows schools to be targeted by evangelical parents / parent governors who select head-teachers who, in our case, allow in missionaries. We sought the advice of a top human rights lawyer who told us that public authorities, and this means schools, have a positive obligation to uphold the Article 9 human rights of all its staff and pupils (the Human Rights Act 1998). As nobody had been told that Christian evangelists were coming into the school; we continually pushed the school to meet its Article 9 obligation and inform the whole school that these assemblies were taking place, so that other parents could protect their children's rights. We were fobbed off with excuses such as, The school governors are going to review the assembly provision soon. This took 18 months to happen. We also complained to Charles Clarke, our MP, our Education Authority and its SACRE (this, if nothing else, embarrasses the school).

The school then broke the law when they failed to respect the parents' request that their daughter not be exposed to the assemblies. A meeting with the governors and a snotty letter later...

Within a week of that unpleasant meeting, our response to it, and another letter from one other parent we were told that the school would no longer be visited by Christian evangelists. This has been an empty victory because we never got an explanation as to why the school thought it was OK for our daughter to sit alone in her class room during the year that she had to endure brain surgery (twice) and radiotherapy for a brain tumour, even though withdrawal was her (happy) choice.

Then yesterday's Observer reported on a legal victory secured by an atheist father:

A former Lancashire policeman has won several hundred pounds' compensation from his local council after being forced for several years to pay for buses to take his atheist daughter to a non-religious school.
The decision by Lancashire County Council is likely to have profound national implications. Children whose parents want them to attend a religious school receive subsidies to pay for their school transport pass. But families who don't want their children educated in a religious school have to pay for their own buses to take them to secular state schools.
But now a council has conceded that non-believers are entitled to the same rights as religious families, in a decision that could have national repercussions.

Teacher who sued is placed on leave - Boston Globe, 1st April 2004; Letters to Newsline - NSS Newsline, 2nd April 2004; Secular college victory for atheist schoolgirl - The Observer, 4th April 2004.

Church Grip Slips in Chile

Chile: No doubt fearing the control of the church slipping from his grasp, the top man in a funny hat and frock in Chile has condemned the government for original thought over their plans to introduce divorce laws.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Chile has criticised government plans to introduce the nation's first divorce laws.
The Roman Catholic archbishop Francisco Errazuriz said divorce would threaten the family and undermine the sanctity of marriage.
Chile is one of the only two democratic countries in the world, along with Malta, that does not allow divorce.
The archbishop's annual speech at a religious service to mark the country's Independence Day reaffirmed the Church's moral position on marriage.

Church slams Chile divorce plans - BBC, 19th September 2003 via Meta-Roj Blog. Chile Congress backs divorce law - BBC, 11th March 2004.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries in the Church and State category from April 2004.

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