Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Morality Pills

Peter Singer and Agata Sagan, from the New York Times, with my commentary:

Are We Ready for a ‘Morality Pill’?

Last October, in Foshan, China, a 2-year-old girl was run over by a van. The driver did not stop. Over the next seven minutes, more than a dozen people walked or bicycled past the injured child. A second truck ran over her. Eventually, a woman pulled her to the side, and her mother arrived. The child died in a hospital. The entire scene was captured on video and caused an uproar when it was shown by a television station and posted online. A similar event occurred in London in 2004, as have others, far from the lens of a video camera.
There was widespread soul-searching in China about that incident.
Yet people can, and often do, behave in very different ways.
A news search for the words “hero saves” will routinely turn up stories of bystanders braving oncoming trains, swift currents and raging fires to save strangers from harm. Acts of extreme kindness, responsibility and compassion are, like their opposites, nearly universal.
Why are some people prepared to risk their lives to help a stranger when others won’t even stop to dial an emergency number?
Scientists have been exploring questions like this for decades.
Scientists are very late to the conversation. Philosophers and theologians and playwrights and poets and people in every imaginable walk of life have been exploring that question for millennia.

Scientists just began to wonder about it a few decades ago.
In the 1960s and early ’70s, famous experiments by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo suggested that most of us would, under specific circumstances, voluntarily do great harm to innocent people.
Military commanders have known that since pre-history. Control of armies among civilian populations and vanquished enemies has always been a difficult problem. Atrocities, rape, and pillage are often the fruits of hard-fought victories, even among otherwise well-disciplined soldiers.

The same situational depravity has been noted during plagues and famines since antiquity.

Milgram showed us nothing new about human nature, but he reminded us of what we, in our modern conceit, had forgotten.

Singer needs to read more widely.
During the same period, John Darley and C. Daniel Batson showed that even some seminary students on their way to give a lecture about the parable of the Good Samaritan would, if told that they were running late, walk past a stranger lying moaning beside the path. More recent research has told us a lot about what happens in the brain when people make moral decisions.
"What happens in the brain" when people make moral decisions? Interesting, but not the crux of the matter. 'What happens in the soul' seems to me a more important question.
But are we getting any closer to understanding what drives our moral behavior?
Closer to understanding morality with science? I doubt it.
Here’s what much of the discussion of all these experiments missed: Some people did the right thing.
Most people who knew about the experiments didn't "miss it". The fact that some people acted morally, and some did not, was the published conclusion of the studies. That fact has been widely discussed.

Singer seems to have missed it.
A recent experiment (about which we have some ethical reservations) at the University of Chicago seems to shed new light on why.
Singer mentions no ethical reservations about the human subjects in Milgram's experiments, who were probably emotionally devastated knowing afterward that they cooperated with torture. Would you want to live with the knowledge that you were someone who has been cited for decades as a classic example of human depravity?

Singer's concern is, however, for the rats.
Researchers there took two rats who shared a cage and trapped one of them in a tube that could be opened only from the outside. The free rat usually tried to open the door, eventually succeeding. Even when the free rats could eat up all of a quantity of chocolate before freeing the trapped rat, they mostly preferred to free their cage-mate. The experimenters interpret their findings as demonstrating empathy in rats. But if that is the case, they have also demonstrated that individual rats vary, for only 23 of 30 rats freed their trapped companions.
I'm not acquainted with the details of the study. It would seem to me that there could be all sorts of reasons for one rat opening the cage of another (a desire for warmth or sex, an instinct to form a colony, etc), and "moral" considerations are only applicable to a few of them.

For an act to be moral, it must be, in classical terms, an act of the intellect. It must involve abstracting the universal aspects of a sense-datum-- it must involve some kind of abstract thinking. "It is sad to be stuck behind a door" (an act of the intellect) is a different mental act than the perception of a door (a sense-datum) and wanting to open the door (an act of the appetite-- which is the animal analogue of the human will).

The notion that an animal's mental act of sensation and appetite sheds light on the human mental act of the intellect and the will is dubious. Singer makes no mention of this limitation, and shows no awareness of it.
The causes of the difference in their behavior must lie in the rats themselves.
Of course. Where else would it lie?
It seems plausible that humans, like rats, are spread along a continuum of readiness to help others.
Some people are by nature helpful to others. Others not. This is news to Singer.
There has been considerable research on abnormal people, like psychopaths, but we need to know more about relatively stable differences (perhaps rooted in our genes) in the great majority of people as well.
Has Singer ever heard of psychology, sociology, theology, ethics, literature, and history? Much of human inquiry since the dawn of civilization has concerned itself with understanding the spectrum of normal human behavior.
Undoubtedly, situational factors can make a huge difference, and perhaps moral beliefs do as well, but if humans are just different in their predispositions to act morally, we also need to know more about these differences.
It's been studied since the dawn of man.
Only then will we gain a proper understanding of our moral behavior, including why it varies so much from person to person and whether there is anything we can do about it.
There is much to learn, but probably not from rats.

If continuing brain research does in fact show biochemical differences between the brains of those who help others and the brains of those who do not, could this lead to a “morality pill” — a drug that makes us more likely to help? Given the many other studies linking biochemical conditions to mood and behavior, and the proliferation of drugs to modify them that have followed, the idea is not far-fetched.
All sorts of things we ingest and perceive influence our mood and likely influence our moral acts. I'm certainly more disposed to courtesy when I'm well fed, haven't had too much coffee, haven't read Pharyngula recently, etc.
If so, would people choose to take it?
It seems immoral not to take the pill. If it were immoral not to take it, then the moral decision to take the morality pill could be influenced by a proto-morality pill. If the decision to take the proto-morality pill were a moral decision, then then the moral decision to take the proto-morality pill could be influenced by a proto-proto-morality pill. If... you see where this is going.

At some point you still have to make the moral decision, cold turkey, unless they put the pill in your drinking water.

But if they put the pill in your drinking water, then the decision to put the pill in your drinking water would be influenced by a pill...

It's morality pills, all the way down.
Could criminals be given the option, as an alternative to prison, of a drug-releasing implant that would make them less likely to harm others?
That's already done with chemical castration for sex offenders.
Might governments begin screening people to discover those most likely to commit crimes? Those who are at much greater risk of committing a crime might be offered the morality pill; if they refused, they might be required to wear a tracking device that would show where they had been at any given time, so that they would know that if they did commit a crime, they would be detected.
See where materialism leads us? If we accept the inference that we're evolved rats, we implicitly ask to be treated like rats.
Fifty years ago, Anthony Burgess wrote “A Clockwork Orange,” a futuristic novel about a vicious gang leader who undergoes a procedure that makes him incapable of violence.
Quadriplegia can do that, as can amputation of hands and feet. Capital punishment tends to reduce recidivism as well.

The effectiveness of such measures is not debatable. The morality of such measures is of course debatable. But before we decide on the morality, we all have to take our morality pill. Not to do so would be immoral, which would mean that we should take our proto-morality pill first...
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 movie version sparked a discussion in which many argued that we could never be justified in depriving someone of his free will, no matter how gruesome the violence that would thereby be prevented. No doubt any proposal to develop a morality pill would encounter the same objection.
The morality of morality pills would be influenced by ingestion of morality pills...
But if our brain’s chemistry does affect our moral behavior, the question of whether that balance is set in a natural way or by medical intervention will make no difference in how freely we act.
Is Singer seriously asserting that whether an act is influenced by our nature, or is influenced by a pill we are forced to take, has no impact on the free nature of the act that results? Acts born of nature and acts born of slavery are equally free? Diligently harvesting cotton on your own farm and diligently harvesting cotton on your slave-master's plantation are equally free acts?

If Singer made this assertion without understanding it, he'd be a fool. But Singer is no fool. He understands. What we see in such sophistry is an effort to degrade man to the ethical status of a rat in a cage. Pure evil.

You've been introduced to Peter Singer.
If there are already biochemical differences between us that can be used to predict how ethically we will act, then either such differences are compatible with free will, or they are evidence that at least as far as some of our ethical actions are concerned, none of us have ever had free will anyway.
Of course we have free will. The assertion that "we don't have free will" has no truth value if it is not made with some degree of freedom. The mere assertion of a proposition presupposes free will. Chemical processes alone can't be true or false, and thus can't be propositions.
In any case, whether or not we have free will, we may soon face new choices about the ways in which we are willing to influence behavior for the better.
The ethics does get sticky, but primarily because we accept implicitly Singer's odious materialistic view of man.

Human beings are composites of matter, soul, and spirit and are created by God in His image. We have free will, because He has free will.

Our free will is tainted by our propensity to sin and by our nature as composite creatures. We are not meat and we are not rats, but we are influenced by chemistry, because we are in one aspect material. Yet we are more than matter. We are soul and spirit as well. We can choose.

Moral culpability for our choices is complex question. We are influenced by material and immaterial things, and the influence can be very strong. Our acts are the outcome of a material and spiritual tug-of-war that each of knows intimately. To what extent are we morally culpable for a particular act? We can speculate, but we are not our own judges. Our moral culpability is finally a judgement that will be made by Another. He understands us, in part because He created us and He is one of us and He knows what we face. 

In the final analysis, mere chemical analysis of human neurotransmitters has little more to teach us about human moral decisions than chemical analysis of the ink on a page of a Shakespearian play has to teach us about Hamlet. We are not meat. We are not rats. We are embodied spiritual creatures.

Science predicated on the fallacy that we are rats and meat is pseudoscience, no less. The 21st century has its own phrenology, more technological but no less foolish than the phrenology of the 19th century. 

But that is not to say that there are no morality pills. One pill in particular has proven quite effective, when taken regularly. It is venerable, and has shaped civilizations. It has powers that transcend morality. Powers that seem miraculous. For millions of people it has transformed whiskey into furniture, and opiates into children's clothing, and promiscuity into fidelity. It's very expensive, but it's free for you. It was paid for already. 

And you don't need a prescription, just a desire. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Lawyer (n): one skilled in circumventing the law". -- Ambrose Bierce

Anonymous, who claims to be an attorney who practices Constitutional law (and I believe him), defends the judge's ruling on the Rhode Island prayer mural case:

... the case law, which is an interpretation of the Constitution... holds that endorsement of religion is a violation of the Constitution.
No it doesn't.

The test applied from case law is the Lemon Test, from Lemon v. Kurtzman. The relevant part of the Lemon test is the second prong, which reads:

2) The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
The test of a government action is "the primary effect of advancing" religion, not endorsing it. An endorsement that does not advance religion is not, according to the Lemon Test, unconstitutional. Even if a government does advance religion, it is only unconstitutional if it's primary effect is the advancement of religion.

So by the second prong of the Lemon Test the prayer mural would only be unconstitutional if it advanced religion as its primary effect. Obviously, the mural does not in any meaningful sense advance religion (it does not compel or advertise religious observance or assent), and religion is its secondary effect anyway. Only six of its eighty words say anything about religion. The other seventy-six words encourage students to be good citizens. It is primarily an exhortation to good citizenship. 

By the plain language of the Lemon Test, the prayer mural is constitutional.

On the other hand, Judge Lagueux's opinion can also be analyzed using the Lemon Test. Judge Laugueux 's opinion meets three criteria:

1) It is a government action (a federal court ruling).
2) It inhibits religion (it explicitly censors a prayer mural because it contains religious language).
3) The inhibition of religion is the primary effect of the ruling. It's the whole point of the ruling. 

Thus, by the Lemon Test, Judge Laugueux's ruling is unconstitutional.

Justice Scalia has noted that for the Lemon Test to be applied at all it must be applied inconsistently and incoherently. He cites the example of the application of the Lemon Test to the First Amendment:

The Free Exercise clause singles out religion for place of privilege in our First Amendment rights, prior to the right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.

By doing so, the Free Exercise clause explicitly advances religion. So the Lemon Test's criterion for the compliance of a government act with the First Amendment is violated by... the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Justice Scalia points out that by the Lemon Test, the First Amendment violates the First Amendment.

Constitutional lawyer Anonymous:
And since the incorporation doctrine holds that the rights enumerated in the Constitution apply not just to the states, but to their instrumentalities, like a school, the actions of the school to endorse a religion are prohibited.

The Establishment clause cannot, by logic, be subject to incorporation by the Fourteenth Amendment.

From Nebraska Law Professor Robert Duncan:
Justice Thomas [has] observed that the best scholarship on the original  understanding of the Establishment Clause supports the conclusion that it is “best understood as a federalism provision—[which] protects state establishments from federal interference..."
Thus, incorporation of the Establishment Clause against the states is incoherent, because it “prohibit[s] precisely what the Establishment Clause was intended to protect—state establishments of religion.” In other words, incorporation of the Establishment Clause has perverted the purpose of the Clause, because as Justice Stewart once said: “a constitutional provision . . . designed to leave the States free to go their own way . . . [has] become a restriction upon their autonomy.”

The purpose of the Establishment clause was to preclude incorporation of federal religious constraints-- such as would eminate from an established national church-- on the states. Therefore, the Establishment clause is not subject to incorporation by the Fourteenth Amendment, because its overt purpose is to prohibit incorporation.

Lawyers like Anonymous who hawk state censorship of religious expression aren't invoking genuine legal scholarship. They are merely applying their skills, as Ambrose Bierce quipped, to the circumvention of the law. They misrepresent the law to make a cudgel to extinguish civic religious expression. Sophistry, not scholarship, is their method.

We ordinary citizens-- We the People-- and honest legal scholars and jurists who respect the Constitution, need to call these dissembling bigots out. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chesterton: the paradox of Islam

From The Catholic Thing:

The paradox of Islam 
By G.K. Chesterton 
There is in Islam a paradox which is perhaps a permanent menace. The great creed born in the desert creates a kind of ecstasy out of the very emptiness of its own land, and even, one may say, out of the emptiness of its own theology. It affirms, with no little sublimity, something that is not merely the singleness but rather the solitude of God. There is the same extreme simplification in the solitary figure of the Prophet; and yet this isolation perpetually reacts into its own opposite. A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again.

A fascinating observation. Islam lacks sacraments. Yet the violence that is so much a part of Islam-- embedded in its theology and its reality-- is a kind of sacrament, a physical manifestation of Allah's will on earth.

In Catholicism, Christ's sacrifice of Himself is repeated at each Eucharist. In my view, Islam's egregious violence in the name of jihad is a satanic bastardization of the Lord's sacrifice. In both, innocents suffer. But the Lord's suffering in the Christian sacrament is redemptive, an act of ultimate self-sacrifice, an act of love. The suffering of innocents butchered by Islamic terrorists is an act of power, an act of the sacrifice of innocent others, an act of hate.

There is a difference between Christianity and Islam. A difference as wide as love and hate. Christ's sacrifice is God's renunciation of all manner of violence, a renunciation of all jihad.

Rene Girard explained it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"I'm not a good singer, but I just like it"

This is a video of 21 year old Choi Sungbong in his first performance on Korea's Got Talent. He was abandoned in an orphanage at the age of three, and escaped because of abuse at the age of five and lived by himself on the street selling gum and newspapers for ten years. He was helped to get an education by a woman who ran a food cart who saw him living on the street. As he got older, he worked as a day laborer to support himself and to pay for a modicum of musical training. His story seems genuine.

His fortunes have changed at bit. He's a remarkably humble young man. When he was asked by a judge on the show if he was a good singer, he replied "I'm not a good singer, but I just like it". I'm fascinated by the response of the people in the Korean audience and of the judges. A warm and tearful response, with a beautiful sense of dignity and respect.

Listen to him sing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Is the First Amendment unconstitutional?

In the wonderland of what passes for First Amendment jurisprudence, oddities abound. The second "prong" of the Lemon test-- a fabricated test of unconstitutional religion-entanglement with no basis whatsoever in the Constitution and not much more basis in logic-- condemns as unconstitutional any government entanglement that advances religion as its primary effect:

2) The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who sours on the Lemon Test, notes wryly:

...What a strange notion, that a Constitution which itself gives “religion in general” preferential treatment (I refer to the Free Exercise Clause) forbids endorsement of religion in general...
That was not the view of those who adopted our Constitution, who believed that the public virtues inculcated by religion are a public good. It suffices to point out that during the summer of 1789, when it was in the process of drafting the First Amendment, Congress enacted the famous Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1789, Article III of which provides, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
Unsurprisingly, then, indifference to “religion in general” is not what our cases, both old and recent, demand.
The mind reels. The template by which the First Amendment is enforced by the courts-- the Lemon Test's requirement that a government action not have the primary effect of advancing religion-- implicitly rules unconstitutional the First Amendment, which is a government action whose Free Exercise clause has the primary effect of advancing religion.

If the First Amendment prohibits government advancement of religion, then the First Amendment prohibits itself, in which case it doesn't prohibit advancement of religion, in which case it doesn't prohibit itself, in which case it does, in which case... .

The reality is that down inside our juricidal rabbit hole the First Amendment means anything secularists want it to mean, as long as censors can silence what they don't like, logic being no obstacle.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A schoolgirl as a human shield...

Atheists employ a panopoly of strategies to suppress dissent-- gulags and firing squads where they actually run things, and professional destruction, fake invocations of "consensus", insistence that critics 'just follow instructions', and lawsuits to shut people up when they lack the levers of absolute power.

 In the Cranston High School lawsuit, atheists use a schoolgirl as a human shield.

To wit, from commentor 23cal:

You mock Mr. Eberhard for realizing that the situation has nuances.
I didn't mean to mock him. I meant to say that he is a totalitarian thug.
As he noted "The students sued, the school won." He said, "When I was told about the possibility of students all wearing these shirts on the same day I initially said there was nothing wrong with it......I still don’t care if the students wear the shirts individually, but I’ve changed my mind about how the administration should react to a mass event like that. They should stop it."
Totalitarian thug.
In spite of his initial "free speech" reaction, Mr. Eberhard apparently realized there is both a legal and a safety factor involved.....as the court decision pointed out.
Why put free speech in scare quotes?

Atheists' initial reaction to free speech is to endorse it generally.

Atheists' final reaction to free speech is to deny it specifically. "We believe in free speech, but..."

Regulating speech is indispensable to atheists' agenda. Musn't have too much dissent. Everywhere that atheism has ascended to state power, freedom of speech is the first right under the atheist boot. The prayer mural case and the emerging move to censor the students' t-shirts is a microcosm of a century of atheist politics.

"Free speech", except...
He obviously isn't as cavalier about the safety of kids as yourself.
I wouldn't use a teen-aged girl as blow-back-bait in a lawsuit.
Of course, for you, displaying some atheist hate and harassment is leagues more important than a little student safety, especially if the student whose safety is in question doesn't subscribe to your preferred religion.
Atheist concern for Jessica's safety begins oddly after the court ruling.

The godless were delighted to use the little tool to litigate the hell out of the citizens of Cranston, cynically shoving the 16 year old into the midst of a highly charged federal lawsuit, luring the teen with flattery and fame and press conferences and awards and a scholarship fund.

When the innocent citizens on the receiving end of the lawsuit got pissed, atheists howled "student safety!". Can't you see she's an innocent child? How dare you question our motives and tactics? Don't you dare say anything that will upset her. Are you threatening her? Brutes!

In one appeal case, the decision included, “the district judge will be required to strike a careful balance between the limited constitutional right of a high-school student to campaign inside the school..... and the school’s interest in maintaining an atmosphere in which students are not distracted from their studies by wrenching debates over issues of personal identity.”
The only person distracted by the prayer was Jessica. So perhaps she can find it within herself to ignore the t-shirts, unable as she was to ignore the mural.

The Constitutional rights of the students and citizens in Cranston apparently depend on just what Jessica is capable of ignoring. Such a responsibility for her to bear...
"...the courts are struggling to define just where the expression of hostile views becomes harassment. And so far, even when they have allowed ... speech, the courts have shown some sympathy to the needs of.... students to be protected against harassment."
"Free speech", except... . Now you're beginning to see why atheists use the scare quotes. Free speech is ok, unless atheists start to feel harassed.
In your "burn them at the stake" attitude, there is no recognition of "the needs of atheist students to be protected against harassment." As a matter of fact, you clearly do not want them protected at all.
Protected from prayers on t-shirts?
Your uncaring and short-sighted statement, "When I was a kid, bullying meant that someone beat you up" illustrates this very well.
I never grasped the "prayer" kind of bullying. And I was an atheist when I was a kid. I thought prayers were boring, but I never got chased home from school by one.
Under your definition, stealing your lunch money through intimidation or being pushed around in a circle of kids isn't bullying, because you weren't actually beaten up. The concept is absurd.
Stealing and pushing are theft and assault. Both are crimes.

Is wearing a prayer on a t-shirt a crime?
The courts have used whether "wearing the shirts would cause “substantial disruption” in ruling about mass wearing of T-shirts.
Jessica again gets to decide on the rights of others. If she is 'substantially disrupted' by the sight of t-shirt prayers, the feds move in. If she manages the stress with equanimity, students get to keep their First Amendment rights. Let's hope she's in a good mood.
You are welcome to your opinion on this, but you refuse to recognize that others, such as Mr. Eberhard, are also welcome to their opinion.
I welcome Mr. Eberhard's opinion, unless he writes it on a mural or on a t-shirt, or makes me feel bad, in which case I'll sue.
To label his position of "for safety, for legal precedent, against disruption" as being against free speech, is a gross misrepresentation, especially when he says in the quote of his that you provided that he considered both and felt one outweighed the other.
"Free speech", except...
I happen to agree that it is acceptable for the students to wear T-shirts bearing the prayer en masse;
That's big of you. We Christians will consult you again next time we want to speak.
however, I also recognize the POTENTIAL for disruption and harassment to which you turn a blind eye.
"Free speech", except.. except... except...
When you consider the existing bullying, harassment, ostracism, threats of assault, rape, and death from a number of these very same students who no doubt will be in the vanguard of those wearing these T-shirts, anyone but a fool can see the very real POTENTIAL for disruption, harassment, and violence.
Bullying and threats of assault, rape and death are crimes, proscribed in statutory law.

Jessica dragged a prayer into court, so the punctilious little gumshoe will certainly bring her putative assailants and rapists and murderers to justice. Please let me know when she files charges with the police and starts formal legal proceedings.

In the unlikely event that the teen prayer prosecutor shows less interest in prosecuting threats to her person and life than she did to prosecuting prayer, it might lead a cynic to wonder if the "bullying and threats of assault, rape..." is a rhetorical ploy, not a credible allegation that would withstand legal scrutiny. 'How dare you Christians assert your First Amendment rights! Just look at what those monsters are doing to Jessica!' 'At long last have you Christians no sense of decency!'
Although I agree it is acceptable to have a mass wearing of the shirts, it is incumbent upon the administration to closely monitor the situation and to send home students if safety and disruption become issues.
The school could install video camera surveillance for prayer crimes.
I do not agree with Mr. Eberhard's revised opinion, but am fair enough to see it has an important and valid base.
Quite base. Hiding behind a teenaged girl in order to secure a legal imprimatur on your anti-Christian bigotry is about as base as it gets.
Too bad your ravening lust to go after atheists blinds you to the danger to an innocent 16 year old girl.
 "Lust" isn't the world I'd use for going after atheists. It's a grim job really.
Your callous disregard for the safety of kids in order to push your preferred ideology puts you in a poor light, Sir.

I've never used a kid as a human shield. I don't hide behind schoolgirls. Throwing this kid into a concocted public maelstrom in order to secure a judicial imprimatur on anti-Christian hate is a tactic ladled from the moral cesspool that is atheism.

What kind of people hate and censor their friends and neighbors, and send out kids to take the flack?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First they came for my prayer mural. Then they came for my T-shirt...

JT Eberhard at freethought blogs exalted at the censorship of the Cranston High School prayer mural. But silencing prayers on school auditorium walls isn't enough, it seems. Now he wants to silence prayers on your back.

Eberhard wants to censor your T-shirt, actually, if you're a kid in Cranston High.

Eberhard, with my commentary:
Tshirts And Mass Bullying
January 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm JT Eberhard

Someone has made tshirts bearing the Cranston prayer and is selling them to raise money to preserve the banner. To the creator’s credit, he has said…
The effort and responsibility of the page is to raise funds through donations to pay for the preservation of the “Prayer Banner.” All monies raised will be spent for this purpose only. They will not be spent on legal fees, or expenses, related to the pending lawsuit and/or appeal if the School Committee takes this route.
Ok fine. I have no problem with that. Preserve the prayer. Hang it in your house, wear it as a bathrobe, I could honestly give less than a shit so long as it’s not being hung in a government building. Of course, there’s no disdain for the bullies or threats, but at least they’re not actively trying to subvert the Constitution.
According to Eberhard, people who challenge censorship in court are "actively trying to subvert the Constitution".
There is a fun poll on the facebook page he created though. They want people’s opinions. I read that and I think to myself, “I know some people!”
When Eberhard sees a poll he doesn't like, he wants to rig the poll. When Eberhard sees a prayer he doesn't like, he wants a judge to censor it.

Respect for the opinions of others isn't a priority for atheists, in case you hadn't noticed.
Anyway, here’s why I mention it.
[From a news article] Ahlquist said she was aware of rumors circulating that some students were planning to wear T-shirts emblazoned with the school prayer designed by a school alumnus. Others, she said, have threatened to harass or beat her up when she returns.
I have no problem with students wearing those shirts.
Whew!... . Eberhard sees no reason to call the police, yet...
It’s their right, they are not agents of the government.
Eberhard has no problem using agents of the government (i.e. federal judges, federal marshals) to enforce censorship. As long as they don't wear T-shirts he doesn't agree with...
I just hope they don’t think for a second it’s going to make their school breaking the law ok or that it will result in a holiday TV special ending where a judge says, “Damn, look at all those shirts…you know, the Constitution is just a piece of paper anyway…”
"Go ahead and wear those Xtian tees, you imbecilic devotees of that slave religion. Resistance is futile..."
However, the issue comes if they all elect to wear them on the same day.
Oh. Freedom of speech is one thing. Conspiracy to speak freely is another matter...
Last year at a Northern California high school, a large group of the students banded together and decided to wear shirts with American flags as a dig on the Hispanic students/immigrants. The administration sent all participating students home. The students sued, the school won. The school won for a very simple reason: that kind of thing constitutes bullying, and schools should oppose bullying.
When I was a kid, bullying meant that someone beat you up. I didn't realize that people who wore Tshirts I didn't like were bullying me.
When I was told about the possibility of students all wearing these shirts on the same day I initially said there was nothing wrong with it.
Then JT remembered: 'Wait, I'm an atheist. How can I possibly defend free speech...'
After all, nobody wants to stop anybody from praying...
Ooohhh nooo. Who would ever accuse atheists who demand court orders to stop people from praying of wanting to... stop people from praying?
(we may criticize them for holding foolish beliefs)
Foolish belief: "I believe in the First Amendment ."
or from expressing themselves individually –
That's right. The Constitution only applies to individuals, not to "We the People".

we care about the government endorsing religion, which is illegal...

... unlike government mandating civic atheism, which is legal.

I still don’t care if the students wear the shirts individually, but I’ve changed my mind about how the administration should react to a mass event like that. They should stop it.
The new motto for Cranston West High School is "We're not Allowed to do Anything that Might Offend Atheists".

This travesty hardly needs comment. Nothing in the First Amendment really matters to atheists-- not the actual meaning of the Establishment Clause, not the rights guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause, not Freedom of Speech, not even the Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble and to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances.

Not even the right to wear a T-shirt with a prayer on it.

Atheists' First Amendment:

"We take offense, you obey."

 Atheists aren't even trying not to look like totalitarians anymore. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ed Brayton: "...first class jerk Michael Egnor... [the] dolt... impose[s] his religion on others..."

Ed Brayton has his panties in a bunch about my defense of religious freedom.

Ed, with my replies:

Egnor Loves Palumbo
January 18, 2012 at 11:59 am Ed Brayton
Leave it to ID advocate and first class jerk Michael Egnor to...
"First class jerk" is not easy to get. I started in "Coach Jerk", but I've accumulated enough blogger miles to be upgraded to First Class.
... actually support Rep. Peter Palumbo for calling Jessica Ahlquist an “evil little thing.”
An atheist Mini-Me.
JT has the details. Egnor, who is as clueless about constitutional law as he is about biology,
Yea. I've got this singular delusion that the First Amendment is the charter of our freedom, and that freedom includes freedom of civic expression. I still can't find the Censorship Clause that atheists keep invoking.
actually thinks it is our side that is trying to deny religious freedom:
The prayer mural has been ripped down by federal court order, with federal marshals posed to shred it if the defendants-- now convicted in court-- hesitate to obey the court order.

Ed finds it odd that I would interpret that as a denial of freedom.
[Egnor: "]I strongly support your statement, and I share your dismay at the unconstitutional denial of the right to free exercise of religion inherent in the judge’s decision.["]
No, you dolt. This has nothing to do with free exercise of religion.
Censorship has nothing to do with freedom? Say again, Ed?
Having the right to exercise your religion does not include the right to have the government endorse and display your religious beliefs.
Endorsement and display of religious beliefs on public property by government agents occur everywhere and always. The Constitution prohibits an established national church. It protects endorsement and display, which is not establishment; the Constitution guarantees Free Exercise of religion and makes no distinction whatsoever between private and civic free exercise. It places no constraints whatsoever on what government agents may say. It restricts legislation they may pass ("Congress shall make no law..." not "Congressmen shall make no endorsement and display...".

The First Amendment restricts the use of government force in religion. It does not restrict expression, civic or private. In fact, it protects expression, explicitly, for all citizens. A prayer mural on a wall in a school is expression, not force. A judge ordering the mural removed is force, not expression. The First Amendment protects the former, and prohibits the latter.

At the time of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, there were countless civic displays and endorsements of religion, and countless displays and endorsements remain today. They all were and are Constitutional, and in fact are protected by the Constitution. Presidents invoke God in speeches, crosses and Stars of David grace graves in Arlington, national monuments are slathered with references to God (have you ever stood in the Lincoln Memorial and read the stuff on the walls, Ed?)

Excerpt from Lincoln's Second Inaugural, Lincoln Memorial

Wanna rip this down too, Ed? It's a display of religion a whole lot more egregious than the Cranston High prayer mural. You'll need a sandblaster, or some black paint or a chisel, and you'll need to get past the National Park Service police. Tell 'em you're an atheist and it's demanded by the Constitution, Ed. See how far you get.

Well, maybe you can make the Cranston High School kids wear blindfolds when they visit the Lincoln Memorial on their Senior Class Trip?

How about this unconstitutional establishment of religion:

Declaration of Independence

Is display of this old document in Cranston High School unconstitutional, Ed?  Do the kids have to scratch out the "... all men are Created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...".

Does that illegal "Creator" talk make you feel 'excluded and ostracized', Ed?

How about this old document, Ed? The one that contains the phrase "wall of separation between church and state"... oh... wait.... it doesn't say anything about separation. Not a word.

Bill of Rights

Actually, Ed, what it does say is that free exercise of religion has a protected place in our nation's law. It gives place of primacy to protection of religion, even before freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.

Of course Ed, that violates the Lemon Test (second prong), which requires that

2) The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion...
The First Amendment explicitly has the primary effect of advancing religion, by guaranteeing free exercise of religion.

In your batshit world, Ed, the First Amendment is unconstitutional.

... And I guarantee you that Egnor himself would suddenly discover that I am right the moment someone tried to put up a mural of a Muslim prayer in a public school. 
You're the censor, Ed. Not me. I'd be fine with a Muslim prayer, or a Jewish prayer, or a Buddhist prayer, or a secular humanist pra... whatever. Free expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. I love the First Amendment, and I hate censorship. I want kids to see a variety of viewpoints, different beliefs and lack of beliefs. I want them to know what Muslims believe, and what Jews believe, and what atheists believe, and what Christians believe. I want religious beliefs of a variety of faiths displayed and discussed in school, and everywhere. I have nothing to fear from the expression of beliefs with which I disagree.

I have never sued anyone for expressing beliefs, neither in a civic forum nor in a private forum. I find the idea of calling the police when you see a belief expressed that you don't agree with to be abhorrent.

I repeat: You're the censor, Ed. Not me. Don't dare compare me to you.

Suddenly all that flowery talk of the free exercise of religion would go flying out the window and he would be ranting about the evils of this religious establishment.

Our respective positions on freedom of expression are publicly expressed and crystal clear. You're the censor, Ed. Not me.

Because “freedom of religion” for him really only means the authority to impose his religion on others.
The Cranston High School prayer mural didn't "impose" any religion on anyone. Note the irony: atheists call the police and get a judge to silence others who disagree, and then accuse the people they've silenced by force with "imposing" their beliefs. It's like a rapist accusing his victim of sexual assault.

There's a deeper contradiction, here, worth some discussion.

Why is Ed so... so... angry? He won, after all. Why would censors be angry with a victory for censorship? The prayer mural was chucked into the judicial fire. The judge ruled that the First Amendment demands censorship. A real victory for atheists.

So why is Ed-- along with other godless gendarmes-- spitting pea soup?

Atheists fear that their book-burnings are pyrrhic victories. They don't just want enforcement of civic atheism. They need us to like it, to comply. Not to ask questions. They need us not to look at the plain text of the Constitution, and not to point out what it actually says. State atheism brooks no questions, and certainly brooks no defiance. Their job is to tell us what our Constitution says. Our job is to comply.

Atheists understand the danger that their censorship poses to their larger agenda. A tiny faction risks a lot by telling the majority that their rights-- rights plainly enumerated in our nations founding document-- aren't really rights at all. Transparent lies are dangerous, to the liars, and are potentially lethal to the atheist agenda.

Atheists need to hide behind sophistry, behind euphemisms ("separation of church and state...") that are nowhere in the Constitution, even hide behind schoolgirls, because plain talk about what the Constitution says and what our rights actually are is catastrophic to their agenda. Honest discussion of our First Amendment rights is the last thing atheists want us talking about.

Censorship is risky business, and atheists understand the risk. The American public has largely taken this assault on their freedom with equanimity. But we need to stand up and defy the censors-- we need to tell the truth. It won't be an easy fight-- the censors are ruthless-- but we the people are soverign in this nation, and we need to take it back.

Without God we have no rights, because without God there is no such thing as rights. There is merely applied secular power. So we need to demand our First Amendment rights, particularly the right to acknowledge in our civic life that God is the source of our rights , because respect for the right of free expression-- civic and private-- is the basis for our nation, and the Christian understanding of man is the rational basis for that respect, and God is the only Source of our rights. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Finally! Atheists Make Schools Obey Constitution during Washington D.C. Class Trips.

Rhode Island Public High School Students arrive on National Mall in Washington.

(Dissociated Press) Atheist organizations are hailing their success in forcing public schools to protect students from violations of the Constitution during class trips to our nation's capitol.

Richard Stifle, president of The Freedom from Religion and Anything Atheists Don't Like Foundation, announced that his organization and a coalition of atheist public-interest lawyers have reached a pre-trial settlement with the nation's 98,817 public schools to avert a multi-trillion dollar lawsuit over the exposure of students to illegal violations of the First Amendment during school trips to Washington, D.C.

Beginning January 1, 2012, students visiting the National Mall and other historic locations in Washington D.C. will be required by federal court order to wear blindfolds.

However, Stifle cautioned against calling the mandatory eyeware "blindfolds".

"Oh, we... don't call the mandatory opaque student optical apparel "blindfolds". We atheists call them "First Amendment Spectacles"-- they help kids see the atheist version of their First Amendment rights and help to protect kids from violations of their right to separation of church and state."

Why are schoolkids required by the Constitution to wear blindfolds in our nation's capital, this reporter asked?

"The National Mall is a crime scene", Stifle said. "Everywhere there are references to God and Christianity on government buildings. The National Mall is one big prayer mural. We have a Constitutional responsibility to protect students."

Stifle noted that many major government buildings in the heart of the capital are slathered with God-talk, which is obviously a violation of the First Amendment, which explicitly demands separation of church and state and prohibits all civic reference to God everywhere forever.

"We protect our kids from seeing even a whiff of religious speech in school, but who protects them when they're on class trips?" Stifle implored. "The danger to students is real. Some may feel ostracized and excluded if they realize that our nation's most important institutions and monuments are covered with illegal references to God. "

"Child safety doesn't end when kids leave school property."Stifle warned. "Prayer predators are everywhere, waiting to violate your child's right to Constitutional separation of church and state".

Stifle provided The Dissociated Press with several crime scene photos:

Display of Ten Commandments on frieze of Supreme Court, which has outlawed display of Ten Commandments on the friezes of court buildings. 

Display of Ten Commandments on door of Supreme Court chamber, where the Supreme Court has outlawed display of Ten Commandments on doors of court chambers. 

Display of Ten Commandments over Supreme Court benches, where Supreme Court Justices sit and outlaw display of  Ten Commandments over court benches. 

Display of Ten Commandments on floor of entrance to National Archives, which contains the Constitution that outlaws display of Ten Commandments on floors of entrances to government archives. 

Lincoln Memorial: Outrageous display of a violation of separation of church and state by our 16th President, with actual Bible quotations!

Thousands of violations of separation of church and state at Arlington National Cemetery!

Notorious violations of separation of church and state at National Archives: "All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..."

Jefferson Memorial: Violation of wall of separation between church and state in quote from Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom written by author of term "wall of separation between church and state". 

"We need to protect our children from seeing violations of the Constitutional separation of church and state", noted Stifle, solemnly, "even when they're not actually on school property.'  "We are teaching children how to spot violation of separation of church and state crimes that put their freedom in danger on all government property. We are putting lessons in schools to educate students".

Here's one lesson that warns of the dangers:

Attention Kids!
Danger to your freedom!
Anodyne fifty-year old prayer mural

And here's another lesson that shows how to spot friendly adults who don't put your freedom in danger:

Attention Kids!
No danger to your freedom!
Judge ordering people to shut up.

Stifle beamed: "We've even started a public education campaign for school kids to help them appreciate the atheist interpretation of the First Amendment. We are putting up posters in all public schools around the country, in place of where the illegal prayers used to be."

"We call it the 'Freedom is Blind' Campaign."

"Freedom is Blind"
The Constitution protects you from seeing things atheists don't like!

"Finally", Stifle intoned, smiling, "we're going to teach kids what separation of church and state really means."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thomas Merton on St. John of the Cross

Fr. Thomas Merton, O.S.C.O.

Two of my favorite contemplatives. Merton is a must-read for Christians (and anyone interested in mysticism and prayer)-- his Seven Storey Mountain is a classic and one of the best stories of coming to Christ.

St. John of the Cross is of course one of the most influential mystics. His Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul are essential works for Christian mysticism.

Merton comments on the dark night of the soul, encountered on the journey to God:

This total self-denial, which St. John of the Cross pursues into the inmost depths of the human spirit, reduces our interior landscape to a wasteland without special features of any kind whatever. We do not even have the consolation of beholding a personal disaster. A cataclysm of the spirit, if terrible, is also interesting. But the soul of the contemplative is happy to be reduced to a state of complete loneliness and dereliction in which the most significant renouncement is that of self-complacency. Many men are attracted to a solitude in which they believe they will have the leisure and the opportunity to contemplate themselves. Not so St. John of the Cross:

(St. John) These times of aridity cause the soul to journey in all purity in the love of God, since it is no longer influenced in its actions by the pleasure and sweetness of the actions themselves, . . . but only by a desire to please God. It becomes neither presumptuous nor self-satisfied, as perchance it was wont to become in the time of its prosperity, but fearful and timid with regard to itself, find ing in itself no satisfaction whatsoever; and herein consists that holy fear which preserves and increases the virtues. . . . Save for the pleasure indeed which at certain times God infuses into it, it is a wonder if it find pleasure and consolation of sense, through its own diligence, in any spiritual exercise or action. . . . There grows within souls that experience this arid night (of the senses) care for God and yearnings to serve him, for in proportion as the breasts of sensuality, wherewith it sustained and nourished the desires that it pursued, are drying up, there remains nothing in that aridity and detachment save the yearning to serve God, which is a thing very pleasing to God. (The Dark Night of the Soul, i, 13. Peers, op. cit., vol. I, p. 393.)

The joy of this emptiness, this weird neutrality of spirit which leaves the soul detached from the things of the earth and not yet in possession of those of heaven, suddenly blossoms out into a pure paradise of liberty, of which the saint sings in his Spiritual Canticle: it is a solitude full of wild birds and strange trees, rocks, rivers, and desert islands, lions, and leaping does. These creatures are images of the joys of the spirit, aspects of interior solitude, fires that flash in the abyss of the pure heart whose loneliness becomes alive with the deep lightnings of God.

I have not travelled far enough in my prayer life to encounter such beauty. I had a discussion with one of our parish priests a while back about such mystical experience. He is a gentle and preternaturally happy man, always full of joy-- I suspected that he was a man of deep Christian mysticism-- and I asked him about mystical experiences.

He commented, as if he knew intimately, that even a momentary direct experience of God-- the quest of all mystics-- transforms you forever. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A guy joins a strict monastery...

From Catholic jokes:

A guy joins a strict monastery. During the three-year novitiate, they are permitted to say only two words a year. At the end of the first year he meets with the novice master and says, “Food bad.” At the end of the second year, he meets with the novice master and says, “Bed hard.” At the end of the third year, he meets with the novice master and says, “I quit.” The novice master says… “I’m not surprised. You’ve been complaining since you got here!”

Friday, January 20, 2012

"... marks you as an idiot. A hayseed even"

Commentor anonymous, on my bucolic insistence that the text of the Constitution has meaning:

Explain what the Establishment clause means using only the "actual text of the U.S. Constitution". Insisting on strict textual interpretation of the Constitution marks you as an idiot. A hayseed even.
I did grow up in a rural area, where "hayseed" was not necessarily derogatory. We countryfolk believe that words have meanings, and that the meanings matter in the way in which words are understood.

"Establishment of religion" means a government church-- a formally recognized and legislated national religion-- such as the Church of England or the Lutheran Church in Sweden or Islam in Saudi Arabia.

"Establishment" doesn' t mean religious speech by someone employed by the government. Presidents don't Establish a national religion when they mention God in speeches. Congress doesn't Establish a national religion when they put those speeches on national monuments. Groundskeepers don't Establish a national religion when they put crosses and Stars of David on graves at Arlington National Cemetary. Teachers don't Establish a national religion when they put up a prayer mural in an auditorium wall.

So text of the Constitution matters, and not just to us countryfolk. But anonymous is partially right-- the text certainly has to be interpreted in context.

Anonymous won't, however, like the context. The context of our manifestly Christian nation is that our civic contract derives from Christian ideas-- "Created equal... endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights..."--  all that stuff. Our Rights make no sense if they have no Source.

Here's a nice comment on anonymous' context argument, by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who hails from the more rural parts of Washington D.C.:

In holding that the Establishment Clause prohibits invocations and benedictions at public-school graduation ceremonies, the Court—with nary a mention that it is doing so—lays waste a tradition that is as old as public-school graduation ceremonies themselves, and that is a component of an even more longstanding American tradition of nonsectarian prayer to God at public celebrations generally. As its instrument of destruction, the bulldozer of its social engineering, the Court invents a boundless, and boundlessly manipulable, test of psychological coercion, which promises to do for the Establishment Clause what the Durham rule did for the insanity defense. See Durham v. United States, 94 U.S.App.D.C. 228, 214 F.2d 862 (1954). Today’s opinion shows more forcefully than volumes of argumentation why our Nation’s protection, that fortress which is our Constitution, cannot possibly rest upon the changeable philosophical predilections of the Justices of this Court, but must have deep foundations in the historic practices of our people. (Robert E. LEE, Individually and as Principal of Nathan Bishop Middle School, et al., Petitioners, 1992)
Justice Scalia understands that the word Establishment has a meaning, and that it must be understood in the deep historical principles of our people, not on the "philosophical predilections" of Christianity's pharisaical despisers.

Unfortunately for atheists like anonymous, Americans are largely hayseeds. We regularfolk think God gave us our Rights, and our Constitution must be interpreted in light of that.

That's how it works, in these here parts.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fr. Miguel Pro and the century of Christian martyrs

The Twentieth Century is the century of Christian martyrs. Upwards of 30 million Christians have been murdered for their faith in the past century, most at the hands of atheists of one brand or another. Above is a photograph of Blessed Father Miguel Pro, a Jesuit priest in Mexico who was murdered by firing squad by the Mexican government on November 23, 1927. Fr. Pro was murdered for defying the virtual ban on Catholic worship in Mexico under the atheist-socialist government of Plutarco Elias Calles, an anti-Catholic bigot who rigorously enforced the provisions of the 1917 Mexican constitution to essentially outlaw Catholic worship. Fr. Pro was falsely accused of complicity in an assassination attempt on a former Mexican president, and he was shot without trial. The government circulated photographs of the execution in the hope of scaring other priests and faithful as well as Cristero rebels who were trying to defend religious freedom in Mexico. The photos had the opposite effect, enraging the populace and highlighting the atrocities by the atheists who had seized power. As Fr. Pro was shot, he extended his arms as if he were on a cross, and shouted "Vivo Christo Rey"!

To get a sense of the fervor of the atheists in Mexico for the annihilation of Catholicism and the imposition of a strict atheist civic life, an anecdote about Garrido Canabal, Mexican minister of agriculture at the time and former Governor of Tabasco who was particularly fervent about the eradication of Christianity in Mexico, is revealing: Canabal, an atheist intent on leaving no doubt as to where his sympathies lay, named his three sons Lenin, Lucifer, and Satan.

It's worth keeping in mind that the atheist program to eradicate Christianity from American public life has antecedents. "Separation of church and state" and its variants has been a rallying cry from anti-Christian and anti-Catholic bigots from Jacobians in 1792 to Bolsheviks in 1917 to the Mexican National Revolutionary Party in 1927 to the Ku Klux Klan in 1933 to the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2011. Some atheists use state violence, some use terror, some use legal blackmail and coercion. The aim is the same. The tactics are situational.

We in America are merely in a small skirmish in a much larger and bloodier onslaught against Christian faith. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My challenge to JT Eberhard on the Rhode Island prayer case

JT Eberhard of the Atheist Secular Student Alliance has a meandering philippic defending the Rhode Island federal judge's censorship of a school prayer mural encouraging students to be better citizens.

I ask Eberhard these questions:

In what way was Jessica Ahlquist harmed by the prayer mural? 

Is feeling "excluded and ostracized" by a prayer on a wall the reaction of a reasonable person? During the 50 years the mural was on the wall, how many other people reported experiencing the same harm? 

In what way is Ms. Ahlquist now benefitted by removing the prayer? 

Would it be of benefit to Ms. Ahlquist to learn to tolerate displays of the beliefs of others? 

Do atheists have a Constitutional right not to see religious expression with which they disagree?

If atheists don't have that right, what standing did Ahlquist have to bring the suit?

What part of the First Amendment did the prayer mural violate? Be specific.

Is the prayer mural a "law" made by Congress ("Congress shall make no law...")?  

Is the place of privilege given to free exercise of religion in the First Amendment-- which is a government document-- a violation of the Establishment clause, which according to Judge Lageuex prohibits advancement of religion by government?

Is the prayer mural an Establishment of religion, which means an official instutional federal church, like the Church of England? 

Is reading the prayer, giving assent to the prayer, or believing the prayer mandatory for students? Could a student ignore the prayer mural?

Where in the text does the Constitution forbid the display of a religious statement that citizens are free to ignore?

Can the mere display of a prayer, without compulsion of any sort, constitute an Establishment of religion-- an institutional federal church?

Many prayers and religious statements are displayed on National Monuments (Lincoln Memorial, Supreme Court, Jefferson Memorial, etc). Do these artifacts Establish a federal church? Are they unconstitutional?

If the prayer mural is an establishment of religion, which religion is it? Anglican? Baptist? Unitarian? Please be specific about the denomination. 

Is display of the Declaration of Independence-- which is more explicitly religious than the prayer mural-- unconstitutional?

Does the president of the United States violate the Constitution when he says "God Bless America"?

Are crosses and Stars of David on the graves of soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery unconstitutional? Should the courts order that they be removed? If not, why are thousands of crosses in a federal cemetery Constitutional, but a single prayer in a local school unconstitutional? Why the double standard?

Are military chaplains unconstitutional? Should soldiers be denied government-sponsored chaplains, Bibles, and religious artifacts during war? If a mere prayer mural is unconstitutional in a school, why aren't government-sponsored religious services for American soldiers in combat unconstitutional? 

Should the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, be used to censor religious speech?

Is mandatory civic atheism-- the court-ordered erasure of religious expression from civic life-- effectively an Establishment of atheism? If not, what would constitute an Establishment of atheism? Give examples. Be specific, please. 

Can there be an atheist Establishment of religion, in which civic atheism is enforced by law? What article and section of the Constitution cedes to the judiciary the authority to mandate civic atheism?

When government-sponsored artists or museums display work that is insulting to Christianity (e.g. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ or Chris Ofili's dung-covered vulva-festooned Virgin Mary), does that violate the First Amendment's prohibition on government entanglement with religion?

According to the second "prong" of the Lemon test, government may not act in a way that primarily advances or inhibits religion. Can you name one lawsuit filed by an atheist or an atheist organization that objects to government support of speech or artifacts that insult-- i.e. that inhibit-- Christianity? 

If government support of speech or artifacts insulting to Christianity isn't unconstitutional, why is government support of speech or artifacts that approve of Christianity unconstitutional?

Can you refer me to one blog post that you've written in which you object to government support of speech or art that depicts Christianity in a derogatory fashion? Why the double standard?

I'm curious whether Eberhard's support for censorship of the prayer mural is a consequence of his personal anti-Christian bigotry, or whether his endorsement is based on careful reasoning and an impartial respect for the Constitution.

His answers should be interesting, if he answers.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thomas Woods on how the Catholic Church built Western civilization: part 2

Historian Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, has a great essay on the central role the Catholic church played in building Western civilization. This is a continuation my post from last week on Wood's essay.

The early church also institutionalized the care of widows, orphans, the sick and the poor in ways unseen in classical Greece or Rome. Even her harshest critics, from the fourth-century emperor Julian the Apostate all the way to Martin Luther and Voltaire, conceded the church's enormous contributions to the relief of human misery.

The spirit of Catholic charity — that we help those in need not out of any expectation of reciprocity, but as a pure gift, and that we even help those who might not like us — finds no analogue in classical Greece and Rome, but it is this idea of charity that we continue to embrace today.

The university was an utterly new phenomenon in European history. Nothing like it had existed in ancient Greece or Rome. The institution that we recognize today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations and degrees, as well as the familiar distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, come to us directly from the medieval world.

By the time of the Reformation, no secular government had chartered more universities than the church. Edward Grant, who has written on medieval science for Cambridge University Press, points out that intellectual life was robust and debate was vigorous at these universities — the very opposite of the popular presumption.

It is no surprise that the church should have done so much to foster and protect the nascent university system, since the church, according to historian Lowrie Daly, "was the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge."

Until the mid-20th century, the history of economic thought started, more or less, with the 18th century and Adam Smith. But beginning with Joseph Schumpeter, the great economist and historian of his field, scholars have begun to point instead to the 16th-century Catholic theologians at Spain's University of Salamanca as the originators of modern economics.

And the list goes on.

I can already hear the complaint: What about these awful things the church did that I heard about in school? For one thing, isn't it a little odd that we never heard any of the material I've presented here in school? Doesn't that seem a trifle unfair?

But although an episode like the medieval Inquisition has been dramatically scaled back in scope and cruelty by recent scholarship — the University of California at Berkeley, not exactly a bastion of traditional Catholicism, published a book substantially revising popular view — it is not my subject here. My aim is to point out, as I do in my book "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization," how indebted we are, without realizing it, to an institution popular culture teaches us to despise.

The Church, beginning with the Roman world devastated by the barbarian invasions and the fall of the great Empire, rebuilt the West, drawing on the best of Greek and Roman philosophy and law and culture, and uniting it to a spiritual revolution unprecedented in man's history. The Church melded Athens and Rome with Jerusalem. The result of the Christian revolution was the Western cannon of law, magnificent art and music and architecture, philosophical advances building on and exceeding even that of the classical pagan masters, a system of care for the poor and sick that heralded modern hospitals and social service programs, and a breath-taking explosion of scientific knowledge.

As Woods points out, it is a lie to assert that the Church was the enemy of learning and culture and science. The Church was the source of the astonishing achievements of the West.

Western civilization was, and is, Christian civilization. Those who would destroy Christianity-- and there are innumerable cultured and uncultured despisers-- would destroy the West as well.

What shall replace it?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Please stand up for Rep. Peter G. Palumbo

Rhode Island State Rep. Peter G. Palumbo has a great take on the outrageous judicial censorship of the prayer mural in Cranston High School West in Rhode Island. Listen to the whole podcast. He's right on target.

He describes the outrage of the citizens of Rhode Island about this unconstitutional decision. Americans are getting fed up with anti-Christian bigotry.

Atheist thugs of course are targeting Rep. Palumbo for his willingness to speak out and defend our Constitutional rights.

Please email and/or phone Rep. Palumbo's office, express your support for him and for his cause, and ask him to fight on against atheist bigots.

We need to take back our rights.



In Rhode Island, anti-Christian kristallnacht continues

Mandatory Civic Atheism took another step forward last week.

Rhode Island U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled in favor of plaintiff Jessica Ahlquist in her demand that a 50 year-old prayer asking students to be good neighbors and citizens be removed from the auditorium wall in her high school. Lagueux' ruling is here. Read it, if you have the stomach for it.

The ruling is as clear an example of anti-Christian bigotry guised in legal sophistry as you could ask for. The absurdities are obvious. Lagueux claims that Ahlquist suffered tangible harm from the presence of the prayer-- an anodyne prayer with minimal reference to "Our Heavenly Father" that exhorts students to good civic behavior-- something for which Ms. Ahlquist certainly needs a bit of after-class help. If Ms. Ahlquist actually suffered emotional harm from the mere sight of a banal prayer mural, she needs psychiatric, not legal, help.

Lagueux bases much of his decision on the Lemon Test. The Lemon Test is a controversial doctrine fabricated in a Supreme Court ruling several decades ago. It has no basis in the text of the Constitution. The "test" has three prongs:

The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

The prayer mural is not an act of legislation, and it has a clear secular purpose (encouraging good citizenship) with a minor religious component. The only religious reference is that it is phrased as a prayer- "Our Heavenly Father... Amen". The salient content is entirely secular-- "to be kind and honest to our classmates and teachers... to bring credit to Cranston High School West."

The mural is much less religious than, say, Lincoln's Second Inaugural or Washington's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation or Bill Clinton's Second Inaugural Address, among countless other public prayers by government officials.

The mural obviously does not have the primary effect of advancing religion. Its self-evident purpose is exhortation to good citizenship, merely phrased in the form of a prayer.

Ironically, Ahlquist's and Lagueux' censorship does have an obvious primary purpose to inhibit the public expression of religion. Ahlquist is a Christianity-hating atheist, and the judge's ruling itself-- a government action that inhibits religion in civic life-- violates the Lemon Test.

And it is obvious that the ruling excessively entangles government-- the federal courts-- with religion, by micromanaging a high school's wall murals based on the anti-religious bigotry of a single student.

Our government and civic life is saturated with references to God (in presidential speeches, on national monuments, in our founding documents) that would consign such expression to the fire if federal censors judges had the balls to censor them with the same frenzy they censor the (in reality) Constitutionally protected expression of ordinary Americans.

Rhode Island's show trial is another example, as if you needed another example, of the incessant war that atheist thugs and judges with brown shirts under black robes are waging against Christian faith and its Constitutionally protected public expression. The only government-sponsored Christian artifacts the judiciary routinely protects are crucifixes soaked in urine and paintings of the Blessed Virgin smeared in feces and adorned with close-ups of female genitalia cut from pornographic magazines.

Now consider Lagueux' critique of the school prayer mural:
... it is still maintained and located in a place of honor to the right of the stage... the School Committee endorsed the position of those who believe that it is acceptable to use Christian prayer to instill values in public schoolchildren...In between, the Prayer espouses values of honesty, kindness, friendship and sportsmanship. While these goals are commendable, the reliance on God’s intervention as the way to achieve those goals is not consistent with a secular purpose.

It was the fact that the prayer was honored and commendable that Judge Lagueux used to ground his order to remove it. The crux of Lagueux' decision against the mural is not that it was a government-sponsored Christian artifact that was displayed publicly. No court has ever ruled that a government-sponsored Christian artifact smeared in urine or feces and adorned with pornographic images is an unconstitutional entanglement of government with religion. You'll notice that courts never demand removal of government-supported artifacts that insult Christianity.

The objection to the prayer mural-- made explicit by Lagueux in his opinion-- is that it was a Christian artifact that was displayed respectfully.