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Laurel County School Board Gets Giddy for Gideons

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 08/18/2010

Good news for all 5th-graders contemplating suicide in Laurel County, Kentucky.

That’s right, boys and girls. The Laurel County School Board has decided to allow Gideons International to set up tables in public schools and distribute copies of the New Testament  to any students who want them.  Not the whole bible, mind you, but just the Jesus-y parts.

However, don’t worry, Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and all of you other cultists. Even you goddamned, confrontational, constantly rude heathens don’t need to get your dander up. The Crucifocracy will not be establishing religion; they will not foist their beliefs on children. As the Gideons’ lawyer, Terry Beckner, pointed out about the bibles: “These are not forced on anyone.”  So your kids are free to say “no,” even in the face of official encouragement and peer pressure. Most youngsters are resistant to those kinds of things anyway, aren’t they? I’ve never heard of any 10- and 11-year-olds who succumbed to the wishes of their principals and the urgings of their friends. Have you?

One school board member wondered why all grades weren’t going to be in on the divine bonanza.  Beckner explained: “We always have done 5th-graders.” (I assume he was quoting from a Roman Catholic priestly document.)

The school board’s attorney, Larry Bryson, said that there was another good reason to limit the freebies to 5th-graders: “That is the age of accountability.”

Really, that should have been obvious, right? Fifth-graders are famous for their accountability. That’s why so many of our elected officials strive to limit themselves to a 4th-grade mentality, so they don’t have to be accountable. Duh!

If you wish, you can read the full story, but I’d urge you not to do so right after you’ve eaten.

By the way, I do have a suggestion to the ACLU and all of those other misguided folks like me who believe in the Constitution: We should apply to the Laurel County School Board to pass out copies of David Adams Leeming’s The World of Myth, , which compares stories from many global mythologies (including the bible) in a number of categories. The excerpts are no more difficult for accountable kids to read than the Jacobean English of the gospels; in fact, the stories in Leeming’s anthology are much easier to understand.

And, obviously, we wouldn’t force any child to take that book. It’s not our fault if they tease one another for stubbornly refusing. Nor should we be blamed if they beat each other up for not believing in the universal Earth goddess. But I do think it’s fair for us to withhold lollipops and approval from any student who doesn’t accept our kind offer. After all, they can’t be accountable if they don’t have manners.

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Posted in First Amendment, Freedom from Faith | 19 Comments »

National Day of Theocracy: A Poll

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/05/2010

The Constitution is not subject to polls. In fact, the Bill of Rights was written specifically to ensure that certain liberties of American citizens could not be voted away by our ignorant majority.

So it’s beneath contempt for a newspaper to run an opinion poll asking the idiot public whether or not such-and-such a governmental act is in accordance with the Constitution. The views of readers, whether they’re biased or not, don’t matter. Certain fundamental rights are inviolable in this country, no matter how Fox-ergized the masses become.

Nonetheless, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, my one-time employer, has chosen to solicit a legal opinion from the brilliant NASCAR fans, bikers, and spring-breakers that make up its readership. Query: Do you think the National Day of Prayer is unconstititonal?

That question has already been asked and answered in one Federal court. On April 15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, writing for the Western District of Wisconsin, said yes, it IS unconstitutional. In her opinion (excerpts of which you can read in this news release), she enjoined the president from enforcing a law that called for all Americans to fall down on their knees before the power of the theocrats. However, she did add that the injunction wouldn’t go into effect until the appeals process runs its course — which means, ultimately, until a decision is rendered by the Supreme Papal Authorities. (Reminder: Two-thirds of the Justices are Roman Catholic, and every single one of the so-called “conservatives” on the bench is a member of that group.)

So, breathing a pious sigh of relief for yet another opportunity to pander to the religious zealots who seek to control the government, our nation’s Constitutional Scholar-in-Chief, Barack “Drill, Jesus, Drill” Obama, proceeded to issue a presidential proclamation that flies in the face of Judge Crabb’s well-reasoned Opinion and Order.

Since we can predict with some degree of certainty that at least five Supreme Court Justices will answer “no” to the question, there’s little practical point in your casting your own vote. Still, you might just be pissed off enough to take part in the poll. I was. If you are, too, and you’d like to just say YES, here’s your opportunity. (When the page loads, give it a second to take you by the e-hand and lead you directly to the choices offered.)

Be sure to watch for next week’s moronic poll: Should freedom of speech be unconstitutional during stock car races?

Posted in First Amendment, Freedom from Faith | 18 Comments »

Sometimes “Rational” Isn’t

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 03/17/2010

Can a person be too rational?

In just about every election since 1976, I’ve advocated not voting for any candidate who trots out “God” in his or her campaign literature. Since that year, church and state have become less and less separated in this country. Politicians routinely appeal to religious so-called “leaders” (ha!) not only in matters directly affecting the practice of their particular superstitions, but on many issues that have absolutely nothing to do with religion per se. Elected officials routinely attend “prayer breakfasts,” and frequently mouth “God bless America” as a kind of mantra. We have school systems all over the nation rewriting, or threatening to rewrite, American history to emphasize an imaginary Christian basis for the United States Government, and pushing for public-school bible-study under the deceitful guise of “literature and history.” Religious institutions and their highest level employees enjoy tax exemptions that are not available to others. Worst of all, the full-range of constitutionally guaranteed rights of women, of homosexuals, and of all non-Christian citizens have been slowly but all-too-surely eroded in the last thirty some-odd years by a bible-thumping populace and our god-fearing courts.

So in 2008, I blogged frequently throughout the course of the primaries and the election, urging atheists to refuse to vote for  any candidate who commingled religion and his or her campaign.  That meant not voting for anyone who attended a “Compassion Forum,” or who advertised as a “committed Christian,” or who made obeisances to charlatan mega-preachers like Rick Warren. I said that each of us should withhold our precious votes from those who, clearly, did not fully respect the separation of church and state.

A number of friends took me to task. Some of them insisted that stray, seemingly random, non-votes would be meaningless. We’d need an organized movement if our non-votes were going to have any effect.

Fine. We’ve now pissed away two years since then, and that organized movement has yet to materialize. It’s time to get it going. It’s time for all of us atheists, freethinkers, skeptics, doubters, even “liberal to moderate” theists — everyone in fact, who feels that he or she has any stake in preserving the separation of church and state — to do something practical. It’s time to organize, and empower ourselves. We shouldn’t necessarily look for only those candidates who reflect our own metaphysical philosophies; the pickin’s would be slim. Instead, we just have to refuse to support anyone, that’s anyone, who doesn’t recognize always that there must be a total distinction between religion and government.

So now for the oh-so-rational objections:

(1) Most reasonable people are not one-issue voters. We should select from among the viable candidates and pick the least of evils.
Answer: Separation of church and state is not just one issue; it spills over into every issue. Religion has created a voice for itself in dozens of areas of government: military activity, foreign policy, the economy, the environment, education, and civil liberties. Any elected official who thinks that his or her god is “on our side,” or is “punishing us” for fictional transgressions, is endangering America. I don’t want leaders whose decisions are dictated by imaginary characters, do you? If that makes us “one-issue” voters, so be it.

(2) If we vote against the lesser of two evils just because he or she indulges religionists, then we’ll wind up with the greater of two evils.
Answer: That’s probably true in the short-run. We may have to lose an election, even a few of them, until the political sharks can smell our votes in the water. But anyone who has a concept of recent history knows how quickly the Christian right was able to solidify as a national voting bloc. In the 60s, it was a collection of laughable hicks. In the 70s, it was a frequent target of satire. But by the 80s, it had become a notable force in determining who would be elected.  And its power persists. Only yesterday, in 2008, we had presidential candidates of the right, left, and center who didn’t dare not to pander to those folks on the fringes.

Yet, according to some polls quoted with glee throughout the Atheosphere, about 15% of the population does not believe in, or doubts the existence of, the traditional Yahwistic god. Let’s call that an overestimate by more than half; we’ll say conservatively that only 7% of Americans question religious “truisms.” But then let’s add in all those theists, the Barry Lynn types, who object to having “faith” injected into the national political dialogue. Again, we’ll be ultra-conservative: does 5% of the population sound grossly overinflated for the Madisonian theists among us? If we organized, we’d now have a faction of the electorate that numbered 12%. That’s enough to swing any election.

(3)We’re not organized yet; we’re not ready yet; we need to think about this more prudently.
Answer: Q.E.D. Yep, a person can be too rational. When thought is used as an excuse to avoid doing, it’s time to re-think the inflated glories of thinking. Descartes was happy sitting in his small cell, contemplating his navel, and celebrating his own intellectual existence. We don’t live in a world where that kind of philosophical masturbation is possible any more. As religious zealots throughout the globe have shown time and time again, they desire the annihilation of not only our principles, but of us, too. Soon, the theocrats may be banging on the cell door, eager to drag us to the burning pyre in the town square. It’s time to rise up and say: “I act, therefore I am.”

Consider this post the opening salvo in an Internet organization effort. Now go write your own version. Spread the idea around. Send links to major organizations that should be taking this kind of position themselves. Let’s begin acting.

Posted in First Amendment, Freedom from Faith, Playing Politics | 12 Comments »

“Unborn” Again

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 03/11/2010

Every now and then I go on a rant about our failure to challenge specific language used by politicans.

What got me started today was this story in our local rag.

It seems that two Jesublicans in the Kentucky House of Representatives have stalled a number of bills by attempting to attach completely unrelated anti-abortion amendments to them. The halted pieces of legislation, which are supported by most Kentuckians and their elected representatives, deal with issues like, among others, disclosing information on child fatalities, lowering case loads and improving security for state social workers, regulating physicians’ assistants, and collecting data to review alternative education programs for “at-risk” students. Even the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky opposes adding anti-abortion obstructions to those worthy bills.

Why are those bills stalled? The oh-so-craven Democrats, fearing a prolonged fight on the anti-abortion amendments, have chosen to return the bills to committee. That’s the governmental equivalent of hiding your dirty laundry in the back of the closet. I could — but I won’t (at least not here) — go off on a tangent about how useless Democrats are when allegedly fighting for the people. One rant at a time is enough.

By cleverly handicapping the passage of needed laws, the two men — David Floyd and Tim Moore — are holding up the legislature because of their own religiously driven agenda. On David Floyd’s Web site, he promises always to “Defend the rights of the unborn.” Similarly, Moore said that in his proposed amendments, he’s trying to “protect the rights of the unborn.”

No matter how sneakily anti-abortionists couch their terms, they’re always talking, ultimately, about human souls. That’s what “the unborn” means: live souls that have yet to emerge into the world from the insides of their mothers. If you dismiss the specifically religious concept of “souls” — as the First Amendment says the government must — then the term “unborn” is meaningless. You might just as well apply it to children that will first see the light of day 100 years from now, or to wild animals, or to rocks, for that matter. An egg is not a chicken. Any creature or thing that hasn’t been born is, obviously, “unborn.” Such an organism is not a person, or a pig, or a dinosaur, or even a dung beetle, until it’s been born (or hatched). Before that, it’s merely a potentiality. No matter how loony your interpretation of the Constitution is, you can’t find in it any guarantees about the rights of non- persons, mere potentialities. So, really, all anti-abortion laws are unconstitutional, because anyone who even speaks about “the rights of the unborn” is clearly seeking to establish one religious viewpoint over others.

One of the things that got me angriest about the story was a response by Terry Brooks, the Executive Director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. Brooks said, “I find it sadly ironic that the same voices that want to protect unborn children are willing to put children at risk after they are born.”

That riposte is cute, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It’s time for all of us who are not anti-abortion to stop allowing words like “unborn” to go unchallenged. Opponents of people like Floyd and Moore must not accept their linguistic sleigh-of-hand. We must make them define their terms clearly. When we call them to task, especially if they’re the smug Christian bullies I suspect they are, they probably won’t be able to avoid demonstrating the blatantly religious underpinnings of their ideas, as expressed in the very words and phrases they use. Their unconstitutional notions are nestled comfortably into their language choices.

Let’s not just nod dumbly when the religious zealots sneak terminological razzle-dazzle into our public debates.

Posted in First Amendment, Freedom from Faith, Language & Meaning | 38 Comments »

Snyder v. Phelps (and You and Me)

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 03/09/2010

If you don’t want to see the First Amendment debased little by little until it grows meaningless, you have to be willing to fight vociferously for the rights of citizens to say and print things that you find hateful.

So yesterday, when the Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments in Snyder v. Phelps, I decided that it was time to write about the case. If I had a larger forum, I’d broadcast my opinion to the world, but, as it is, I can only post it here on my blog. Imagine me shouting, however.

Fred Phelps is the “pastor” of the Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group by any definition. Most of Phelps’s flock are his family members, which might explain why they travel with him from their base in Topeka all over the country to help spread the Bad News. Westboro’s particular way of doing that is to picket funerals of American soldiers. The signs carried by the church members advertise Christ’s love through slogans like: God is Your Enemy, Thank God for Dead Soldiers, and God Hates Fags. Phelps’s message is that his god aids in the killing of our fighting forces because America is too tolerant of its sinful homosexuals.

A few years ago, Albert Snyder, father of a dead Marine whose funeral had been picketed by the Westboros, filed a lawsuit against Phelps and his church. At the time of the funeral, Snyder wasn’t even aware of the “rally” going on nearby; he learned of it later, by watching TV news reports. Thereafter, he found the church’s Web site and began to read the awful things that Phelps had written. He was sickened, he said, and decided to sue.

Among other things, Snyder claimed that his privacy had been invaded. But much of his case focused on the mental and emotional harm that had been done him by Phelps’s speaking and writing, and how his hurt feelings resulted in physical symptoms. The plaintiff won his case, and a Baltimore jury awarded him nearly eleven million dollars, the far greater portion of which was for “punitive” damages. The jury was eager to punish Phelps for expressing his odious views.

The case worked its way through the legal system. One appellate court cut the damages in half, but that still was going to cost the Phelpsians five-and-a-half million bucks for exercising their First Amendment right to speak. The Westboro Church would face financial ruin.

A few wrong-headed atheists were thrilled that an ultra-right-wing religious propagandist might soon be poor enough to have to convert his soapbox into an article of clothing. Others were horrified by the free-speech ramifications. (If you’re interested in hearing a group of atheists —including me in my ex-persona — give fuller details of the case and discuss their views, listen to this podcast.)

The award stood until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed the verdict.

Of course, Snyder’s lawyers appealed that decision to the Supremes, the only judges with jurisdiction to overturn the Fourth Circuit. What’s chilling is that at least four justices — the number required to “grant a writ of certiorari,” or, in plain language, agree to hear the case — have decided that a frivolous lawsuit, brought in flagrant disregard for the principle of Free Speech, is worthy of being argued in the nation’s highest court.

I’m guessing that the case will get tons of coverage in the media, since it has the elements of a great story: our country’s knee-jerk adoration of all things military, most citizens’ unquestioning belief in Christianity (even the brand in which the main mission is to spread hatred), and America’s homophobia.

I’m further guessing, but I hope I’m wrong, that the principle of Free Speech, the only actual question on which this case ought to be based, will get lost in most of the intentionally ignorant, sensationalistic, reporting.

It’s important that all bloggers, not just those of us in the Atheosphere, keep that principle in mind. If Phelps loses, so will we all.

Posted in First Amendment | 27 Comments »

You Call It an Angel, but It Looks Like a Chip to Me

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/18/2010

Nine days ago, I wrote about an education bill proposed by three Kentucky theocrats who think that a Biblical Literacy elective should be offered in Kentucky’s schools.

Today, that bill came up for a vote by the Senate Diseducation Committee, and was approved unanimously.

One of the twelve committee members voted “amen,” before adding a quick “yea.” Another complimented the bill’s sponsors, telling them that they must have been inspired when “an angel was sent down to your shoulders.” Still another senator cheered that “preaching” might help public schools.

Senator Julian Carroll, one of the three god-pushers who cobbled the bill from what must have been the true cross, noticed that his colleagues were going too far over the top even for him. Calmly, he pointed out that the bill would not stand up to constitutional challenges unless it makes clear that the bible would be taught as a “historical document” and not as a “faith-based document.” But then, swept up in the revival-meeting fervor, he complained that current problems in the public schools —like shootings — occur because the bible has been taken out of the classroom, and “nothing” put back in.

Here’s what else Carroll said. “When we took the Bible out of the school, we also unfortunately took out that portion of the Bible which relates to life skills and value systems. Our students these days do not have the full opportunity, in my judgment, to be taught those life skills that keep them out of our penitentiaries and make them a productive citizen.”

Tim Shaughnessy, a savvy senator from Louisville, grew nervous because of the repeated hosannas. He warned that it might be difficult for the bill to be perceived as anything other than an attempt to ram religion down the throats of all Kentucky students; “we couldn’t even get it out of committee without the preaching.” Shaughnessy then pointed out that the bible contains some life skills — becoming “ruthless warriors” and having “multiple wives,” for instance — that might not yield such terrific lessons for our young people. Still, he voted to approve.

Now that the bill has made it out of committee, I assume it will soon go to the full Kentucky Synod for a vote. No elected official would confirm or deny the rumor that if the bill passes, some real literature and history books will be burned at the capitol building to release a cloud of white smoke.

[If you care to read further, you can find different versions of the full story here and here.]

Posted in First Amendment, Freedom from Faith, New to Kentucky | 11 Comments »

Biblical Literacy: “I Thought I Would Go With That”

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/09/2010

Yet again, somewhere in the United States, a band of ignorant theocrats are trying to pull a fast one on slow children. This time, they’re in — where else? — Kentucky.

I didn’t even have to open my daily rag today to find the following headline, because it was on the goddamned front page, above the fold:
Bill would let schools teach Bible literacy
.

The three Democrats who are proposing this momentous educational reform do, of course, go through the motions to appease the few Kentuckians who have actually read the First Amendment. The sponsors claim that their class would

teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.

Contemporary? Usually, these kinds of god-pushers make a vague, passing reference to the totality of Western Civilization, and how it’s impossible to understand history and literature without having some familiarity with the bible. That argument probably holds some water, because our culture is swimming in Christian references.

But here in Kentucky, even that lie isn’t necessary. When asked about — as the Lexington Herald-Leader so tendenciously put it — potential “criticism from those who would favor the teaching of other religious texts, such as the Quran,” the bill’s primary sponsor, state senator David Boswell, said:

Since the Bible has played such a big role in our literature, I thought I would go with that.

His response makes it sound as if Boswell, with the innocent aim of expanding our students’ vistas, sat down and made a fair-minded list of literary pros and cons, with columns headed “the Bible,” “the Quran,” and maybe even “the Vedas,” and “The Mahayana Canon.” Eventually, to his complete surprise, he exclaimed, “Well, would you look at this? Christianity wins!” But, of course, that’s wholly shit.

So is it even remotely possible to have a religion-neutral class on bible literacy? O me of little faith; I doubt it. Not here in Kentucky, anyway, where the bible-thumping is loud enough to drown out all other thought.

But at a bare minimum, public schools should be forced to adhere to the following rules for such courses:

  • God must always be referred to as “the god character in this section.”
  • No events in the bible may be taught as fact or truth.
  • A teacher of the course must not, either explicitly or implicitly, endorse the content of any biblical passage.
  • Morally abhorrent sections of the bible must be liberally included in the course.
  • For every passage of the bible covered, the teacher must relate it to either an important historical event or literary work to which the verses act as a reference.
  • The teacher must point out parallels to biblical stories in other works of mythological literature, as well as in folklore and fairy tales.
  • The teacher must refer to the “unknown author” (small “a”) of each book or passage studied, and analyze the writing critically in the same way that other texts would be treated.
  • For all quotes, incidents, and story fragments discussed or assigned, the teacher must use a textbook or other reference work, not his or her own personal copy of the bible. The volume used must not have been issued by a publisher specializing in religious materials nor by the theological arm of an allegedly religion-neutral publisher.
  • For comparative literary purposes, the teacher must point out obvious discrepancies between biblical accounts (i.e., the two conflicting versions of the creation of humans, the differing lists of Jesus’s genealogy).
  • No teacher of the course may wear any religious item of clothing or jewelry, or emblazon any public or personal object (including his or her car) with a phrase in praise of any deity.
  • No teacher of the course may attend any outside religious services at which a student in the class might make an appearance.
  • No teacher of the course may refer to his or her own religious beliefs, either directly or indirectly. Nor may the teacher allow classroom discussion in which students talk about their own religious beliefs.

While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to address the age-old mantra that the bible should be taught as great literature. Yes, there are some beautiful passages and interesting turns of phrase in various books, and any cultured person should recognize them. But students should be reminded repeatedly that the bible is a centuries-spanning anthology of books, each of which has been translated, perhaps inaccurately or misleadingly, from ancient languages.

And a lot of the bible is just inartistic crap. Could anyone read the dry-as-the-desert rulebooks Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and not be bored out of his or her mind? The first book of Chronicles is loaded with yawn-inducing lists. Dull minor prophets like Obadiah and Haggai? Who would even look at them today if they were collected in any other volume? The Gospel of Mark is mediocre writing at best. And some of those epistles, like Titus and Philemon, are on a par with junk-mail solicitations.

I’d normally be the last person to criticize school systems for trying to teach ineducable louts about important cultural achievements. I recognize that the bible is certainly one of those. Clearly, though, it’s by no means the only one. Nor is it the most important, unless you already come to the table with a predigested notion that every word was inspired by you-know-who. Lots of the bible is tiresome and/or repugnant — badly written, morally reprehensible, logically muddled, unhistorical hogwash. If our goal is to civilize our kids, we need to expose them to Greek philosophers, Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s symphonies, Rembrandt’s paintings, and the actual texts of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. They may be shocked to learn that the latter contains a little something forbidding the government from establishing religion.

If the bill-sponsoring god-pushers from Kentucky were completely honest — which they’re not — they’d also be making a fuss that public school students are taught next to nothing about Greek/Roman mythology, world drama, classical music, fine art, and the history of science. Shouldn’t those subjects be mandated in the public schools as well?

So why are they worried specifically about biblical literacy? Anyone who spends even a small amount of time reading the drivel in newspapers and magazines, in best-selling novels and current biographies, and — yeah — on most blogs, anyone who cares at all about the written word, knows that many Americans are inept at communicating or understanding ideas in any form longer than a twit’s tweet. What we really need to teach students in this country is just plain old unadorned literacy.

Posted in Books & Bookshops, First Amendment, Freedom from Faith | 12 Comments »

In Gobbledygook We Trust

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/02/2010

So I opened my local rag this morning, and found a short paragraph on this minor story: “In God We Trust plate advances.” It turns out that the license slogan was approved in the Kentucky House of Representatives by a vote of 93-1. (The lone dissenter was a brave Louisville Democrat named Mary Lou Marzian.)

Obviously, if the license were produced on the recommendation of legislators, acting in their legislative capacity, it would violate both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 5 of the Kentucky Constitution. And I’m told by some new atheist friends that this is not the House’s first attempt to advocate moving violations of the Establishment Clause.

However, in this post I’m not going to discuss the legal issues. I’ll leave that conversation to folks who have been formally educated in the subtleties and nuances of Constitutional Law. (I’m referring, of course, to TV pundits.)

Instead, because I’m new here and haven’t yet fathomed the Kentucky mentality, I’m going to pose a few simple questions to those who support the official enshrinement of the above-mentioned motto. I’d appreciate some answers, since I find it hard to understand exactly what the license plate is intended to mean.

1. If you actually do trust in a god, why do you need to emblazon that fact on your license plate? I trust my wife, but I don’t feel compelled to cart that message all over town. Does your god require you to make public affirmations of your trust in him/her/it? Shouldn’t your license say:
In God We Trust (Did You Read That, Lord?)

And then how does your god decide whether your trust is sincere or just something you tow around as a way to amass eternal brownie points? Shouldn’t your license say:
We Swear to God in God We Trust
Or perhaps:
In God We Trust (The People in this Vehicle Really Mean It!)

2. Is there a difference between trusting “in” your god and just plain trusting your god. If not, why don’t you suggest the more straightforward:
We Trust God
If there is a difference, how about:
In God We Trust, although we Don’t Necessarily Actually Trust Him/Her/It

3. If someone were to add a picture of, say, Thor or Bacchus, would that be OK? If so, the plate ought to make that clear:
In All Gods We Trust
On the other hand, if there is some specific god or gods you folks have in mind, the license should broadcast:
In Our Own Specific God (or Gods) We Trust

4. What, exactly, do you mean by “trust.” Do you mean that you’ll never have any accidents, or flat tires, or dings because your god is going to prevent them from happening? If so, shouldn’t you just come out and say it:
In God We Trust to Keep This Automobile Out of Accidents, and Supported by Good Tires, and Free of Dings
Or does your “trust” mean something else? For example, might the license read:
In God We Trust to Make Sure Our Kids Aren’t Grotesquely Ugly
Or how about:
In God We Trust to Cure Grandma’s Hemorrhoids

5. Who is this “we” that’s doing the trusting? Surely it’s not every single person in Kentucky. So can I opt out? Can I insist that the words on the license plate reflect my position:
In God We – Except Larry Wallberg – Trust
If the “we” is not all the people of Kentucky, why wouldn’t you change the words to state the truth:
In God We (Who Trust in God) Trust

Thanks (in advance) for your responses.

Posted in Driving in Lexington, First Amendment, Freedom from Faith, New to Kentucky | 18 Comments »

“No Law” Means No Law

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 01/22/2010

I’m a free-speech purist. I agree with Justice Hugo Black, who, commenting on the First Amendment, said: “No law” means no law.

It sometimes happens that insisting on free speech is inconvenient for some citizens, perhaps even the majority of citizens. But the right of free speech, and its sibling right of a free press, are the most important rights we as Americans have.

I’ve read a number of impassioned responses to yesterday’s Supreme Court opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. One of them came from one of my best friends, whose email decrying the opinion stated that she was “so disgusted.” Another response appeared as a post by a blogger friend of mine, whose intelligence I respect.

After writing an email to the former and commenting on the essay of the latter, I thought my rant mechanism would be satisfied. But it’s not. So I’m going to lift some of my own words to state my position clearly here, in case anyone else asks.

I agree with the critics of the decision that in its immediate aftermath, big corporations will feel further empowered to interfere with politics – at least in a non-clandestine way.  (Note: they never stopped trying to influence elections in a covert manner.)

I disagree strongly, however, that the decision was a bad one. The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press …” It doesn’t state that it specifically relates to a person’s freedom; it’s a blanket ban on the U.S. Congress censoring or restricting any kind of speech.

Some victims of censorship – be they individuals, organizations, or corporations – may well be beneath contempt, or even dangerous. The public dialogue may well benefit from keeping those disruptive forces safely squelched. American democracy, as it’s constituted today, may well fare better when messages are controlled.

However, we free-speech purists must be vigilant. Any nickering away at the principle of an open dialogue, no matter how small, endangers every American. If Congress can get away with banishing one group from the forum of public opinion, who’s to say that everyone else’s freedom is guaranteed?

Civil libertarians on both the left and the right understand this, and so filed briefs for the appellant in this case. Along with all the usual “bad guys,” supporters of Citizens United included the ACLU, the California First Amendment Coalition, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Center for Competitive Politics.

We can’t know the motivations of the Supreme Court Justices. They might have wanted to favor big businesses over “everyday Americans” — whoever those mythical creatures may be. They might be the right-wing extremists that they’re often painted as being; I can point to a number of decisions that seem to reinforce that stereotype, and that trouble me in their politico-legal machinations.

But the Court’s decision yesterday was dead-on correct. “No law” means no law.

Posted in First Amendment, Random Rants | 13 Comments »

No Bushes Were Burned in the Making of This Post

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 01/14/2010

Today, the Lexington Herald-Leader ran a story about a federal appeals court decision allowing Grayson County to re-post the Ten Commandments in its courthouse.

According to the LHL online edition, as of the time I began to write this post, seven comments about the decision have been published on the Web site, although only six are viewable. Of those six, the boos run five to one against the yays.

Here’s the sole response, complete and unedited, of the one who applauds the decision:

GOOD If the ACLU is for it- I usually oppose their position.

My  comment bemoaning the decision is the longest (you could have guessed that, right?), although it still falls within the e-rag’s character-count strictures.

There are a number of different versions of the Ten Commandments. The Old Testament prints two different lists, one in Exodus (20:3-27), one in Deuteronomy (5:6-21). Modern religions have conflicting versions, based on their own interpretations and translations. Jews, Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and various Protestant sects do not agree on the specific wording.

Worse, the first two (or three, depending on your own particular version) “commandments” have to do with worshipping the Judeo-Christian deity, as opposed to other deities or no deities. So it’s clearly a sectarian propaganda piece, with little, if any, historical or educational value.

The Ten Commandments has no place in a courthouse, at least in America. In countries controlled by religious fanatics like the Taliban, a comparable document would, of course, be displayed proudly.

It’s always important, I think, to reinforce the idea that theocratic bullies are essentially the same the world over, regardless of their specific beliefs. When they get god-crazed enough, they kill people in the name of heavenly justice. That’s what happened with Scott Roeder, who gunned down Dr. George Tiller in cold blood. It’s what happened with the Grand Inquisitors and the Fort Hood shooter and the Salem Witch Hunters. It’s what happened with the 9/11 bombers and with the Hebrews who massacred the Midianites. It even happened, as Pat Robertson claims,  to the Big Bully himself, who allegedly killed perhaps 50,000 Haitians because of their “pact with the devil.”

The Ten Commandments is the religious equivalent of a gateway drug.

Posted in First Amendment, Freedom from Faith, Useless Lists | 17 Comments »