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July 2, 2020

Tithe, Or Else

Don’t forget: Today at 3pm ET, CFI’s Nick Little will take part in an online conversation with other freethought leaders about the horrendous Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Point your browser right here.

David L. Franklin at Slate writes how the Espinoza decision reveals how the Roberts Court likes to have it both ways on issues of state coercion:

The inescapable conclusion is that what matters most to the court on questions of conscience and coercion is whose ox is being gored—it is happy to allow states to coerce nonreligious taxpayers to support religious schools but won’t let them exact fees from workers who oppose a union’s political posture.

At the Washington Post, education professor Adam Laats says that the Espinoza decision didn’t repair some anti-Catholic aberration in American law:

These debates [about Blaine amendments] produced a messy history, but Americans tended to agree on one thing: They never liked using tax money to pay for schools that taught controversial religious doctrines. …

… In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that no “‘historic and substantial’ tradition supports Montana’s decision to disqualify religious schools from government aid.” But in reality, to the contrary, the longest tradition in American public education has been precisely this: a stern unwillingness to spend taxpayer money to teach any religious idea not considered to be nearly universally held.

CFI organized a meeting (virtual, of course), along with other freethought organizations, with officials from the White House Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, trying to get them to see the light on taxpayer funding of religious organizations. I know, I know, but if we don’t try we don’t get anywhere ever:

The new regulation, proposed by the Department of Education, would allow “faith-based organizations” to accept federal grant funding for public service projects while forcing nonbelievers to participate in religious services or turning away nonbelievers who seek the public services they are providing.

Here’s a kind of religiously-based discrimination you don’t see every day—well, I should say, don’t see every day in the United States, because I bet you do see it every day in India. The Print reports:

The US state of California filed a lawsuit against network gear maker Cisco Systems Inc Tuesday, accusing the company of “discrimination, harassment, and retaliation” against an Indian-American employee and allowing him to be harassed by two managers on the basis of his caste. … Though US employment law does not specifically bar caste-based discrimination, the state, in its suit, asserts that “the Hindu faith’s lingering caste system is based on protected classes such as religion”. The lawsuit has therefore been filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin”.

Dancing at the Masquerade

We’re still breaking records here in the ol’ U-S-of-A, with more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, a day after Dr. Fauci warned Congress we’re on track for 100,000 cases per day. The FDA says any COVID-19 vaccine would need to be effective in at least 50 percent of people in order to be approved.

At FiveThirtyEight, Maggie Koerth explains how messaging around mask wearing has changed, not because of new information, but because of the need to interpret and execute on existing data to address the needs of the moment:

Cloth and DIY face masks sit at the intersection where scientific data, public perceptions, and political opinions crash headlong into each other. Making smart decisions isn’t just about having data — it’s also about how we interpret the data we have. Safety moves along a spectrum with different relative levels of risk. Behavioral norms also matter, regardless of how much evidence backs them up. In the midst of a pandemic, masks are a reminder that science is seldom as simple, or as certain, as we want it to be — and that reasonable public health recommendations are sometimes based on more than just data.

Remember yesterday when I told you about Republican strategist Alex Castellanos complaining about face masks as “secular religious symbols” for worshiping “Gods of Data,” and then I came up with “crucifacts” and I’m still not sorry about it? Anyhoo, Martin Longman at Washington Monthly considers Castellanos’s example in the context of the broader political landscape:

We now see a huge partisan chasm between people who do and don’t have a college education. There are good reasons while ordinary folks should be unsatisfied with the performance of our elites, but the fact that they’re educated isn’t one of them. If nothing else, the COVID-19 outbreak has been a useful experiment in what happens when you follow scientific advice and what happens if you don’t. At this point, Castellanos and Trump are Dead Enders, the last of a breed that doesn’t realize that current events have already rendered a verdict—and that verdict is “guilty.”

Castellanos may be more dead-endier than he realizes, as now major figures in the Republican Party are now firmly on the mask bandwagon. (Maskwagon? Maybe not.) The Post reports:

The last Republican vice president, Richard B. Cheney, and his Wyoming congresswoman daughter, Liz, say wearing masks is manly.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says there should be no stigma associated with covering one’s face as public health experts advise, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says doing so is essential to fully reopening the economy. …

… But with coronavirus cases soaring across the nation — and most precipitously across Florida, Texas and other parts of so-called Trump country — many prominent Republicans are now echoing the pleas of infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci and other health experts that people wear masks to slow the spread of the virus and help the economy reopen safely.

The recent shift on the political right has left Trump isolated, with the president and his White House staff openly resisting the calls for mask-wearing.

The Times also picks up on the change:

Vice President Mike Pence has abruptly begun regularly wearing and recommending a mask. Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, facing an uncontrolled outbreak of the coronavirus in his state, made a plea this week: “Arm yourself with a mask.”

And then lo and behold, what do we have here:

When asked whether he would wear a mask, Trump told Fox Business in a White House interview, “Oh, I would. I have. I mean people have seen me wearing one. If I’m in a group of people where we’re not 10 feet away — but usually I’m not in that position and everyone’s tested.” … “Actually, I had a mask on. I sort of liked the way I looked. It was OK. It was a dark, black mask and I thought … if people feel good about it they should do it.”

The American Philosophical Society, formed before we even had a republic 277 years ago, shares our concerns about the lack of critical thinking and evidence-based policy, so they are urging Congress to take affirmative steps to bring those things to the forefront of American education. We like that idea very much, so we decided to share their message:

The effort to curb the spread of this disease has confronted Americans with drastic, life-altering changes in individual and collective behavior. While based on the best available medical and scientific expertise, these changes have been difficult for many to understand and accept, leaving the nation vulnerable to misleading and erroneous information. Rather than the deliberative, logical and analytical thinking that the country urgently needs, we find a disturbing skepticism toward evidence-based policy-making; a reluctance to accept and apply scientific knowledge; and a lack of familiarity with the relevant lessons of history, including long-past and more recent pandemics.

At Skeptical Inquirer, Rob Palmer interviews Nathan Lents, author of Human Errors: What Our Quirks Tell Us about Our Past, and it has direct relevance to our current moment:

… in the closing chapter on the future of humanity, I discuss the many ways through which we could bring about an apocalyptic scenario and reverse the past six centuries of our scientific, technological, and humanitarian progress. An infectious pandemic is right at the top of the list … An apocalyptic pandemic would begin with a period of intense death and suffering but would be followed by a more gradual economic collapse, poverty and famine, widespread strife and desperation, the dismantling of political systems, and the complete deterioration of social order.


Light and Pain

Ryan Burge looks at what gaps there are between a given religious group’s acceptance of same-sex marriage and its acceptance of homosexuality in general:

Nearly two-thirds of evangelicals fall into the box that is opposed to gay marriage as well as same-sex relations. On the opposite side, seven in ten nones support gay marriage and same-sex relations. But, for the other groups there’s not such a clear cut story. … A good portion of the American ethos is to support individual freedoms and a sizable portion of religious Americans have reached the point of siding with the Supreme Court that the right is acceptable despite their personal misgivings.

I’m going to need some time to digest this National Review piece by Cameron Hilditch on how Russia’s overt melding of church and state is akin to China’s millenia-long view of itself as a supranational entity, making them not nation-states, but “civilization-states.” Bit of a worldview-doozy:

The role of the government in a civilization-state is therefore different from its role in a nation-state. In the former, the purpose of government is to maintain the unity of the civilization across time and space and prevent its dilution, rather than secure the individual rights of its citizens. This purpose is informed and undergirded by the people’s sense of intimacy with their own history and traditions and by the emotional power of an identity shared across millennia. The general acquiescence of the Han Chinese and the Russian peoples to their illiberal regimes makes sense when these countries are assessed according to the principles of a civilization-state.

Nothing is more important to the coherence of identity in a civilization-state than religion. It is invariably the oldest thread in the tapestry, and virtually the only factor other than geography that links the earliest identified members of the polity with those of the present day.

We’ve got a couple more wins for nonreligious political candidates: atheist Judy Amabile is the Democratic nominee for a seat in Colorado’s State House, and Humanist Jillian Freeland is the party’s nominee for the state’s 5th Congressional District.

And once again, on the other side of the veil of existence between reality and the Dark Dimension, Philip Bump at the Post points out that almost 600,000 votes have gone to QAnon-associated political candidates this year:

In total, candidates who’ve shown support for QAnon have received more than 580,000 votes, as of this writing, including more than 425,000 votes that have gone to Republicans who were more actively engaged in the Q movement than simply using a Q hashtag on a tweet. This isn’t a sign that those voters were all demonstrating support for Q. It is a sign, though, that Q was not seen disqualifying for Republican primary voters. …

… The sudden emergence of a possible Q caucus, if you will, itself mirrors Trump’s ascent. QAnon and the president took similar paths to political power.

Not that I’m going anywhere, and not that I’d want to go to Florida anyway, but if I did, I would steer clear of Clay County, where Sheriff Darryl Daniels says he will deputize people with guns to deal with god-free protesters:

God is raising up men and women just like the folks you see standing behind me who will have strong backbones and will stand in the gap between lawlessness and the good citizenry that we’re sworn to protect and serve. … And if we can’t handle you, you know what I’ll do? I’ll exercise the power and authority as the sheriff, and I’ll make special deputies of every lawful gun owner in this county, and I’ll deputize them for this one purpose: to stand in the gap between lawlessness and civility.

The FTC has settled a false advertising lawsuit against the marketers of something called the Willow Curve, a $700 device that is supposed to ease your pain by zapping you with low-level lights. I already have a $700 device that does that, it’s called an iPhone. The pain never, ever goes away.


We’re keeping track of COVID-19 pseudoscience, snake oil, fake cures, and more at CFI’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Separate fact from fiction and inoculate yourself from misinformation at

Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.