Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of religion’

Okay, forget everything in my last few posts. Turns out I was completely wrong, and some people are just shits who need a fucking slap.

Fuck. Off. You fucking. Fucks.

Yeah, I don’t care if you are nine. Eat shit.

See, I hope it’s obvious that I’m deliberately overplaying my actual fury, and that the brunt of the joke is meant to be my ridiculous rage, not anyone else’s ridiculous persecution complex. But I’m still not feeling good about this, because it really does piss me off. I haven’t been prompted to anger by anything truly appalling, like those girls who were kidnapped for years, or Sylvia Browne who lied about it, or the global arms trade, or Syria, or any of that. I’m just impotently frothing about other people pitifully whining. I’m pathetic. Please still pay attention to me.

Okay, reeling it in. It does take a certain level of dickitude to get especially angry at kids acting entitled and overly aggrieved at a world that’s so unfairly picking on them. I’m sure they’re not that much worse than I was, when I was that young and definitely had my bratty moments.

Although, they are quite a lot worse than I ever was. Definitely a lot worse.

JT Eberhard has explained just what’s wrong with this inanity, and managed to keep his “good person” hat on much more firmly than I did, without throwing it to the ground and jumping up and down on it while imagining it was some smugly privileged moaning wanker’s head. A quick sample:

“Why can’t I pray in school?”

You can. Test it. The next test you have, bow your head and say a prayer before the test (don’t do it during the time when everybody is supposed to be quiet, because that’s when all noise is prohibited, not just prayer). I guess you’ve won and don’t need to go on with the rest of the documentary. Congratulations! I know exactly how a victory like that can feel. This very morning I fought for my right to eat corn flakes for breakfast. The government trembled before my determination and relented.

It definitely wasn’t because I already had the right for which I was fighting.

“Why do I have to tolerate people cursing my god, but I’m not allowed to talk about god and my faith?”

You are allowed to talk about god and your faith. Go ahead and test it.

“In public school people are rude and disrespectful toward Christians.”

Really? What people? Perhaps you could email Jessica Ahlquist for sympathy. She got death threats from her classmates for asking her school to obey the law (a judge ruled that her school was, in fact, breaking the law). She was so bullied (by Christians) she had to have a police escort at her school. What slings and arrows must Christians endure?

And on, and on, making the same boring but apparently tiresomely necessary point over and over, because the dictatorial majority are utterly determined to insist that they’re the ones being bullied and oppressed by us for demanding our own fucking space.

I’m regressing here. I’d hoped I was getting better than this. I’m just being as honest as I can about my deep, instinctive feelings for this kind of bullshit. But even that’s a rationalisation for just blathering it out into a post that only covers the superficially obvious, rather than doing the difficult thing that I’ve been espousing, and finding a way to come at this which people on the other stupid fucking side might be able to engage with.

Instead of just being angry and attributing my emotions entirely to negative attributes in the outside world.

I’m not thrilled about any of this.

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Brain Gym is some pretty kooky nonsense, and kids should be allowed to call out the bullshit their schools are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on. Some of them are pretty good at it.

– I haven’t written a whole lot about the “genderless child” story, but I’m not crazy about the idea. It seems oddly oppressive in its own way somehow. Societal gender expectations do deserve to be addressed, but this might not best be done by ignoring them and expecting everyone else to do likewise.

– An atheist in Louisiana has responded to the inclusion of an official prayer in his graduation ceremony by sending threats of violence and death to those in support of it. Nope, wait, sorry, I got that backward. He pointed out, correctly, that government-sponsored prayer in state schools is against the law, and he was the one who got harassed and threatened by fellow students and teachers, and kicked out of his home by his parents. The Friendly Atheist has an interview with him, as well as news on how fantastically generous that blog’s readers have been in supporting a scholarship fund for him.

– Despite certain tabloids’ obsessions, the list of things worse for the economy than benefit fraud continues to grow.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s ongoing legal battle, which challenges the US government’s recognition of an official “National Day Of Prayer”, has had a positive ruling overturned and the case thrown out by a Court of Appeals.

They still have recourse, and are already moving on with plans to have the case reheard. The law they’re challenging has been in place since 1952, and designates the first Thursday in May as a time for Americans “to turn to God in prayer and meditation”.

You might remember that the US also has this thing called the Constitution, and that one of the first things they decided to add to it when they realised it wasn’t quite finished was the idea that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”.

So you can see why this law which respects an establishment of religion might rub a few people up the wrong way.

The technicality on which the challenge has been thrown out this time is that the Foundation apparently lack “standing”. This means that it’s not their place to challenge the law, because they’re not personally being harmed by it or directly losing out in any way.

You can see why there ought to be some limitations along these lines on what lawsuits you can bring. Otherwise, you can imagine all sorts of frivolous and time-wasting cases being brought to court, by people who really have no stake in what they’re complaining about except their own personal indignation. But should the FFRF really stay out of this because it doesn’t affect them negatively in any way, as the court effectively ruled?

Daylight Atheism said it best:

In this case, the Seventh Circuit found that the FFRF had suffered no injury from the National Day of Prayer. Apparently, this is true even if public money is used to sponsor and organize the day’s events, even if participation is restricted to certain religious sects that work hand-in-glove with elected officials, even if NDP events specifically endorse one version of religious scripture over others, even if said events include official statements questioning the patriotism, morality or citizenship of those who refuse to participate. Never mind all that – when the President tells you to pray, you can say no, and that’s all it takes for your civil rights not to be violated!

According the Foundation’s report, Judge Barbara Crabb, who’d initially ruled in favour of their challenge last year, pointed out that enacting a National Day of Prayer, sponsored by public money and using elected representatives’ time and authority to instruct people to get praying, is “no more within the purview of government” than it would be if they passed a law and instituted another National Day which encouraged everyone to “fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic”.

And you can just imagine how badly, if they did that, the Christian right would lose their shit.

There’s no un-tortured legal reasoning I can see behind this decision. The decision-makers are just doing what they want, because they’re Christians, and they pray, and they think praying and being a Christian is all just fine, and anyone who doesn’t want to join in isn’t really suffering and should just buck up already. You don’t have to pray if you don’t want to. And if you’ve got some other gods of your own, you can do your chin-wagging with them instead. Everyone’s happy, right?

Well, clearly not. This law seems to be straight-forwardly unconstitutional and unconscionable. Government’s place in matters of people’s religion should be to stay the hell out of it.

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So the big news story of the past week was that some guy owns some books and that’s it.

I just spared you several million words and many hundred hours of pointless news coverage. He’s not burning them. Nothing is happening.

There are four distinct fails worth reporting on here, I think, from different people letting the side down in different ways. In increasing order of egregiousness:

4. Me

My productivity has sucked lately, which is why this post is arriving several days beyond its moment of relevance. I was ill for a while, then I was travelling across Kent to see the Scott Pilgrim movie and my friend Sara, both of which were fantastic. But I’m getting back on the wagon now.

3. Pastor Terry Jones

The guy pretty much sounds like a dick.

He made a massive deal out of his intent to burn some books, as a protest against the “Ground Zero” “Mosque” (which is evidently neither), then called it off, as may have been the intent all along. Having got all the press attention conceivable, there’s really no need to actually go through with it now.

But it was an obnoxious form of protest in the first place. And it’s worth my explaining why, as someone who has defended – and indeed taken part in – a deliberately provocative protest against extremist Islam before.

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day was a response to the threats, violence, arson, and murders committed by religious extremists in response to some cartoons being published in a newspaper that precisely zero people were forced at gunpoint to read. It was a way of telling the dangerous lunatics that they do not get to make the rules for the rest of us, and we will not accept their barbaric attempts to enforce a blind adherence to their theocratic dogma on the rest of us.

Most of the people who took part in it accompanied it with an explanation of their intentions, and were careful to contextualise any offence given. The protest was a legitimate one, against unacceptable acts committed in the name of religion, and I think it made its point well.

Pastor Terry Jones is not protesting against anything worth making a fuss over – the “Ground Zero” “Mosque” is in no way an oppressive or extremist action, and infringes not even slightly on anyone else’s rights. He has no sensible reason to be upset, and so his protest seems unmeasured and ill-conceived.

Moreover, the way he’s going about it is distinctly hostile. The Muhammad drawings were, for the most part, unobtrusive and friendly. There were a lot of smiling stick figures, comical cartoons, sketches that were parodic without descending into tawdry piss-taking. Even the less respectful ones were just images which can easily be looked away from.

Burning a book, on the other hand, is an inherently violent and destructive act. Not a criminal one, by any means, but far from conciliatory. As Rebecca Watson pointed out on the SGU podcast this week, book-burning is aggressively symbolic of silencing others, and suppressing free speech, even while not being an explicit act of censorship in itself. It represents the destruction of ideas by force, regardless of their merit, which is entirely anathema to rationality or humanism.

I was never among those standing by Pastor Jones on this, or planning to acquire a copy of the Koran just to take a match to it. I did not endorse his protest, and I don’t think I want to associate with those who did.

2. The media

One lone idiot decides he wants to make a spectacle of himself, by means of an unoriginal idea which the Westboro Baptist Church have been keen to point out they were doing years ago. And the media fall over themselves to help him do just that.

Although they’re deplorable on many other matters, the HuffPo pretty much have this one right. It’s been a media circus of the most infuriating kind – the kind where I’ve been compelled to put on the clown make-up and join in, lamenting at great length that people are still talking about this non-issue at any length at all.

It’s just some guy who doesn’t like the Park51 centre – and there’s no short supply of those – and his congregation of fewer than 50 people, making their tedious point known to anyone who’ll listen. Nobody should know anything about these people. It doesn’t merit anything like the attention it’s received. But the circus has already come to town.

A special mention in this category goes to the politicians who have assisted in drawing attention to this nonsense and making it a story of even greater media interest by publicly condemning it. Obama’s come out against it, and Pastor Jones apparently received a phone call about it from Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary.

It’s depressing that someone with a job title that makes him sound like he really ought to be a very busy man is personally bothering with stuff like this. This one guy is a very small part of the problem here. Much bigger is the artificial furore that’s been constructed around him, and which he’s no doubt been delighted by.

That’s still not the biggest part, though.

1. The religious extremists

Let’s not forget why someone destroying their own property in a way that harms no-one is even a problem in the first place.

What Pastor Jones is doing (or not doing, it now seems) is offensive. I’m not saying that as a condemnation – that’s me downplaying it. All it is is offensive. The worst it does is offend some people. Its not their books being taken from them and destroyed. The ideas in their heads remain intact. Those who take offense are diminished or physically wounded in no way whatsoever by someone else’s decision to mutilate their own copy of these printed pages. It neither picks their pocket nor breaks their leg.

But the response has been predictable. It’s as clear as ever that large numbers of Muslims want to force us to abide by their rules, and will feel righteous in their use of violence against us if our expression of our rights ever goes outside their own concept of the sacred.

So there’s eleven injured here, one shot dead there, and probably more victims scattered around the globe.

The reason for this is a little bit because of one lone idiot stating his intention to burn some books. It’s partly because of the media almost universally deciding that this should be a matter of worldwide interest and immense gravity.

But it’s mostly because some people think they have a god-given right and duty to react with violence when their sensibilities are offended.

Those dangerous maniacs are the prime failures here.

Another special mention, though, goes to those commentators who have been asserting the need for tolerance and a more sensitive approach, but who act as if Pastor Jones is the one most in need of this lecture, and effectively become apologists for religious brutality. At a mosque in London recently, a Muslim spokesman said:

A number of churches have condemned this act. There is nothing wrong with intellectual or theological debate, but this should be conducted within the bounds of decency and tolerance. Instead, what we are seeing is hatred being spread.

He was talking about the proposed book-burning. Not the rampaging mob charging down the streets to attack a Nato base, because of something going on thousands of miles away which they heard about on the news and which does not concern them in any material way.

Others have been calling for the book-burning, if it’s attempted, to be “prevented”. The US government have been urged to “take steps” to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The idea of holding free expression as a valued principle doesn’t seem to occur to them. But the lectures about tolerance continue.

There are also those who, while not personally offended, still consider Pastor Jones’s stated intentions “irresponsible”, because of the inevitable incitement of the Muslim communities who will take offense. That was the point of Robert Gates’s phone call, after all – it was feared that there could be violent repercussions.

And, well, clearly they’re not wrong about that. But there’s a problem with simply saying that people shouldn’t exercise their rights, because of how someone else can be trusted to react. Specifically, it fails to suitably condemn and place the responsibility for violent acts on the people actually doing the violence.

The logic is identical to that employed by those devout Muslims, and others, who refuse to allow women to be seen in public without being covered head to toe in thick fabric, because the mere sight of a wantonly flaunted ankle may incite men to acts of violent, lustful passion. If the sight of women being allowed some basic autonomy will do that to men, then it’s the men who need to get a fucking grip.

I don’t buy that someone else’s evil, unhinged, unjustifiable arrogance and fury is enough reason to warrant limitations being placed on my rights.

Well, there’s the chart run-down. I hope some of your own favourites made it onto the list. Next week: the top eight things I hate about Buddhists. Those bald wankers have had it easy for too long.

There’s more on this from PZ, Index On Censorship, and PZ again.

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Well, this is just tragic.

So the “Ground Zero” “Mosque” is being loudly opposed by many, who are against the idea of allowing Muslims to build a place of worship sort of near to where some extremists did something terrible nine years ago.

But a lot of the time, their arguments are focused on the sensitivity of the centre, rather than the legality of it. They think that it lacks compassion or respect to establish this building, with its basketball court, swimming pool, theatre, and other such un-American abominations, a mere five-minute walk a couple of streets away from the “hallowed ground” where the World Trade Centre once stood. The fact that this private organisation might not be legally permitted to build on this privately owned ground hasn’t seemed to be a big part of the dialogue.

The protestors don’t want it to happen, certainly, but this always seemed to be more on the grounds of personal offense than any real legal objection.

Clearly much of the offense is itself misguided, too. There’s a lot of divisive rhetoric that seems to assume that “we” were attacked by terrorists, and now “they” want to build some kind of terror-shrine on the site of “their” victory. Fox News are doing a fine job of making the scary Muslim bigwig with the suspicious foreign-sounding name who’s behind the community centre (and who also owns a large chunk of Fox News) sound scary.

But critics have tended to try to steer the discussion away from being a legal argument. Perhaps this is just because they know they have absolutely nowhere to stand in a legal argument, and so trying to brush aside people’s rights by constantly parroting that it’s “not a matter of religious freedom” is the best they can do.

Except it turns out that maybe I’m giving people too much credit. I’d assumed they were mostly just stupid enough to think that their personal indignation means a damn when it comes to other people’s freedom to exercise their own business. But apparently a lot of them are a whole different breed of idiot.

Just barely half of people recently polled believed that there is a constitutional right to build a religious building on privately owned property. Almost half either were convinced that no such right exists, or were not sure.

And although there is a notable split along party lines, that’s not especially comforting either. One in four Democrats also gave this question a firm “No”.

I’d really like to see the answers to some follow-up questions here. Do this quarter of Democrats – and more than half of Republicans – think that a Christian church would also be illegal in this location? Or do they think that the First Amendment contains a special provision to account for when people would be upset? Maybe they’ve read a little-known footnote added by Thomas Jefferson at the last minute, reading “unless they look foreign and weird”?

The most elaborate argument any of them have against this centre – the most profound and compelling reason they can find for restricting other people’s rights – is essentially a tutting noise.

I sometimes wonder why it always seems to be the lunatic right who are incapable of distinguishing their own personal preferences from everybody else’s rights, and why they’re the ones who assume that anyone else is ever obliged to give a fuck about where their moral outrage is pointed this time. Apparently this is my answer. There’s no hope on the left, either.


No, you know what, fuck that. I’m not ending this on a sigh, and just exasperatedly concluding that the world is doomed. There are still large swathes of people out there – millions of them, perhaps even a majority – who are capable of looking beyond the still raw wound of this colossal violation, and not letting it taint their perception of the entire world from then on. A lot of people can still maintain the presence of mind to distinguish the hateful from the innocent, even in the wake of national and personal bereavement. There are many people responding to the Islamic community in America with compassion, and establishing relationships even with those religious people who share a faith with the terrorist monsters behind this atrocity.

Also, here’s one Republican who supports the liberal, decent position on religious rights: Ted Olson, Solicitor General under President Dubya, whose wife was on a plane and killed on 9/11.

That’ll have to suffice as a unicorn chaser for now. I’m having a lazy evening at home, and sometimes at work I have to actually, like, work, so I’m a bit pushed for time.

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