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December 5, 2019

In Free Inquiry magazine, our boss Robyn Blumner warns of the backward course on church-state separation being plotted by the conservatives on the Supreme Court, focusing on the Bladensburg cross case:

Kavanaugh … offered his own version of either naïveté or disingenuousness by suggesting there are other ways to remove religious monuments beyond asking the federal courts for help. You could get the governor or other state or local government officials to take them down, Kavanaugh helpfully explained. Or the state legislature could enact laws to allow these executive-branch officials to do so, he offered.

Here’s a news flash: There would be no need for the courts to step in to protect church-state separation if politicians were willing to do so.

Yeah, because leaving the protection of religious minorities and atheists to elected officials has worked so well in the past.

Plus, Tom Flynn goes back into “the chasm,” the weird divide between organized secularist/atheist groups and the people for whom we are trying to advocate:

Indeed, it seems those of us who are actively involved carry forward that work on behalf of a truly, deeply silent majority whose members don’t even recognize that the work is going on. … We activists for whom humanism or atheism forms a core of our identities may need to think of those Nones who stand aloof less as a missed recruitment opportunity and more as a brute fact.

In his newsletter, Paul Krugman worries over the Bill Barr anti-secularism diatribe from a few weeks back:

There were several striking things about William Barr’s October speech denouncing “militant secularists” for destroying American society. … It also seemed well over the line in violating the separation between church and state.

What really struck me, however, was that Barr seems to be stuck in a time warp, repeating claims about family values and social order that were standard right-wing fare a generation ago but have since been utterly refuted by experience. …

… here we have the nation’s chief law enforcement officer talking as if none of that had happened, and basically declaring both that faith in God is the answer to our problems and that sinister secularists are our mortal enemies. Then again, why should we be surprised? Facts have a well-known secularist bias.

The Pentagon’s rules say you can’t put the armed services’ emblems on merchandise that proselytizes a religious belief. A company that makes replica dog tags had been doing that since 1998, and with the Army’s permission since 2012. But not anymore, and they’re mad about it. Army Times reports:

Kenny Vaughan, president of Shields of Strength, said he received an email from Army Trademark Licensing Program director Paul Jensen with the subject line “Negative Press.”

“You are not authorized to put biblical verses on your Army products. For example Joshua 1:9. Please remove ALL biblical references from all of your Army products,” Jensen wrote. … [MRFF’s Mickey] Weinstein called the replica dog tags with biblical scripture “Christian proselytizing,” and said he only filed the complaint about Vaughan’s trademark violation after more than 50 active-duty service members brought it to his attention.

Congress overwhelmingly passes the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which, according to RNS, “would require the president to condemn Chinese abuses against Uighurs and call for the closure of the country’s wide network of extrajudicial detention camps in its Muslim-majority Xinjiang region,” as well as call for the president to impose sanctions. China is not pleased.

The Senate confirms another Trump nominee to be a federal judge, Sarah Pitlyk, who has no experience as a judge and declared “not qualified” by the American Bar Association, but who does oppose in vitro fertilization because she thinks it’s the same as abortion and opposes surrogacy because, according to her, it “has grave effects on society, such as diminished respect for motherhood and the unique mother-child bond.” Which she made up.

Recent anti-abortion measures are so bonkers that even established anti-abortion organizations are getting skittish. NYT reports:

The increasingly restrictive legislation “makes us look foolish,” James Bopp, general counsel for the National Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization, said at a recent legislative hearing in Tennessee about a bill that would essentially ban abortion in that state. He said the new tide of legislation — though aimed at forcing a reconsideration of abortion by a remade Supreme Court — is unlikely either to pass legal muster at lower court levels or to be heard in the nation’s highest court.

Mike Pence was just in Michigan where he did pretty much the only thing he does these days, tell religious leaders about how Trump fights for their special privileges.

Pope Francis is ticked off by Christians who believe in people with magic powers, the ability to see into the future, and connections to the spirit world. I mean those other people who say they have magic powers, the ability to see into the future, and connections to the spirit world. The people in his religion’s magic powers, ability to see into the future, and connections to the spirit world are totally legit. Catholic News Service reports:

Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope called out Christians who seek reassurance from practitioners of magic.

“How is it possible, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you go to a sorcerer, a fortuneteller, these types of people?” he asked. “Magic is not Christian! These things that are done to predict the future or predict many things or change situations in life are not Christian. The grace of Christ can bring you everything! Pray and trust in the Lord.”

An atheist group in Canada wanted to be treated as a religion for tax purposes. But of course they’re not a religion, and that’s what the appeals court said. It sounds like these guys weren’t very convincing in their arguments in the first place. CBC reports:

A belief system is one of three elements the courts have found to be “fundamental to religion.”

And so the non-believers argued that they believed in something: mainstream science.

“Mainstream science is neither particularly specific nor precise,” the decision said, noting that the Minister of National Revenue had been unimpressed with what the church described as its “Ten Commandments of Energy.”

Benjamin Radford investigates a social media post purporting to warn about, or make a thinly veiled threat against, what it calls Jerry Epstein’s “friends and enablers.” Except some of them are the folks who were trying to bring him down:

The point isn’t that any of the dozen people depicted suffered any significant harm from Gary’s post. However falsely accusing others on social media of preying on children (or enabling those who do) is not harmless. There are many examples; one of the best known was the man who entered a Washington D.C. area pizza parlor with a fully loaded AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a revolver —and fired it—because he’d heard false rumors that it was a cover for a child sex slavery ring connected to Hillary Clinton.

With over 4000 cases of measles, Samoan officials say those who have not been vaccinated should mark their homes with red flags so vaccination teams can reach them more efficiently. As you can imagine, the anti-vaxxer crowd is going to have a field day with this.

The Massachusetts legislature tried to have a hearing on ending religious exemptions for vaccinations, and it sounds like it was turned into a circus by antivaxxers.

The Post profiles 27-year-old Israeli Ruth Borovski, who, as though coming out of a time machine, has left an ultra-Orthodox community and is now discovering for the first time things like smartphones, Google, animated films, and libraries:

“Every day, I learn something new, every minute even,” she marveled amid the stacks, where knowledge is unfolding for her at a dizzying, sometimes terrifying, pace.

The founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Bobby Henderson, finally changes his website’s domain name to “By the way, the original domain, Venganza, came from what I envisioned our Pirate Ship would be named.” That’s kind of beautiful. But of course, venganza means vengeance, so.

Speaking of domain names, people are being fooled by organizations with dot-org domain names that have nothing dot-org about them. NYT reports:

Noteworthy nonprofits, civic organizations and religious groups have embraced the domain — and so have a host of bad actors. All reaped the benefits of dot-org’s association with credibility. … Dot-org is the favored designation of “astroturf” sites, groups that masquerade as grass roots efforts but are backed by corporate and political interests.

Look out for that shady “center for inquiry dot org” that popped up not too long ago. Wait.

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.