Town official in N.J. quits over ‘Christmas’ tree lighting ceremony


Emphasis Mine

ROSELLE PARK, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey city council’s decision to add the word “Christmas” to the name of its tree-lighting ceremony prompted one council member to step down because it “turned it from a non-religious event to a religious one.”

Charlene Storey announced her decision just minutes after the Roselle Park council approved the change Thursday night, reported. Her resignation takes effect Jan. 7.

Storey, who was raised Catholic but describes herself as a non-believer, said the town’s decision to change the ceremony’s name from “A Tree Lighting” to “A Christmas Tree Lightingfavors one religion and “cuts non-Christians out of the loop.”

Storey said she regretted having to resign but called the issue a matter of principle.

“I cannot in good conscience continue to be part of a council that is exclusionary or to work with a mayor who is such,” Storey said in her resignation letter.

Roselle Park Mayor Carl Hokanson praised Storey for her work on the council. He said everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but also noted that each town can use whatever title it wants to use for the ceremony.

“It’s not a street, it’s not a building, it’s a Christmas tree,” Hokanson said.

(N.B.: Really?)


Republicans vs. the Constitution: Would-be Presidents Endorse Kim Davis’ Brazen Illegality

Source: Salon via AlterNet

Author: Simon Maloy

Emphasis Mine

Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis will appear in federal court today to explain why she believes that God and her personal convictions empower her to break the law and deny gay people their constitutionally protected rights. Ever since this summer’s Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Davis has been refusing to issue marriage licenses – to any couple, gay or straight – citing her religious beliefs. She was ordered by the governor to do her job, but she refused. She was ordered by a federal judge to do her job, but she refused. This week, the Supreme Court rejected her appeal of the federal judge’s decision, which should have been the final word on the matter, but she’s still refusing to the job she was elected by the people of Kentucky to do. And so now she’s being hauled before a judge to determine whether she’s in contempt of court.

There is no debate on that question: Davis is flagrantly in contempt and should be punished for what she’s done. After the Supreme Court rejected her appeal, a gay couple confronted Davis and asked her to explain what authority she had to continue denying them their rights. “God’s authority,” she shot back, which is the absolute wrong answer for a government employee to provide. The Constitution is the governing power in Kim Davis’ office, and she is bound by oath to adhere to the law. She is breaking that oath, defying the Constitution, abusing her authority, and insisting that she suffer no consequences for her behavior.

Davis’ illegal and morally dubious stand against gay marriage does appeal, however, to the slice of the conservative movement that is hell bent on restoring the good old days of godly virtue when you had the state’s blessing to discriminate against gay people. It just so happens that there are a number of Republican presidential candidates who are trying to motivate that highly politically active segment of the population to get behind their campaigns, and that’s led us to a situation in which people running for the nation’s highest elected office are cheering on a rogue government employee’s defiance of the Constitution.

If you were forced to guess which 2016 Republican candidate would line up behind Davis, you would of course choose Mike Huckabee, because Mike Huckabee is a crazy person who says things like “the Supreme Court is not the supreme being, and they cannot overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s god.”

And you would be 100 percent correct. Here’s Huckabee in South Carolina calling Kim Davis a hero for defying the tyrants of the Supreme Court:

“I salute her today, and I stand with her,” Huckabee said, explaining that he called her up to thank her for standing up to “judicial tyranny.” Huckabee added: “I thank God for Kim Davis, and I hope more Americans will stand with her.”

Davis also got an attagirl from her home state senator and increasingly hopeless presidential contender, Rand Paul. Rand wasn’t quite so effusive in his praise of Davis as Huckabee, but he did say: “I think people who do stand up and are making a stand to say that they believe in something is an important part of the American way.” He is correct that American history is full of people who left their mark by controversially standing up for their beliefs in defiance of the law – people like Orval Faubus, and George Wallace. Rand explained that his preferred policy would be to get states out of the marriage business altogether, which would potentially resolve the issue but doesn’t really speak to the immediacy of the problem at hand.

Davis also got a hearty endorsement from Bobby Jindal, who is somehow still running for president despite polling in the mid to low zeroes. “I don’t think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions,” Jindal said in a statement to the Huffington Post.

Not every Republican candidate is behind Davis – Carly Fiorina, for example, has urged Davis to either give up or resign. But the situation could be complicated further depending on how harshly Davis is punished by the courts. It’s possible that Davis could land in jail for contempt, and as ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser notes, as a prisoner she “could inspire others to defy the Constitution if she is perceived as a martyr.” Were that to happen, we could see more would-be Republican presidents championing brazen illegality in the service of anti-gay discrimination.



The Making of an Anti-Theist Mom

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

When my husband sent me the Pew Reportnews that the percent of Americans who call themselves Christian has dropped from 78.4 to 70.6 over the last 7 years, I responded jokingly with six words: You’re welcome. Molly Moon’s after dinner?

Not that I actually claim credit for the decline. As they say, it takes a village. But I have been busting my butt for a decade now—working as hard and smart as I know how—to undermine the corrosive influence of a weaponized Bible on communities and people I love. So I’d like to pretend that the poll results mean I deserve ice cream.

Two scoops. Stumptown coffee and melted chocolate, please.

If the past is any indicator, conservative Christian commentators will go batshit over the Pew numbers, citing them as proof positive that Christianity is under siege, that the hordes of darkness have broken through the gates of Hell.  Only by electing Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal to the White House can True Christians restore America to her [fictional] glory days in which every red blooded American went to church in his or her Sunday best and there was prayer in every school and children behaved because they got hit and the Earth was 6000 years old by fiat.

The predictable frenzy of doomsaying is likely to ignore two rather obvious facts:

  1. Seventy percent is a supermajority.
  2. Conservative Bible-believing Christians (and, to be fair, fundamentalist Muslims) have done far more to bring on that that eight percent decline than outsiders ever could. From a marketing standpoint, a lot of believers are playing for the wrong team. Acting like you have a direct line to God . . . proclaiming that your tribe alone holds the keys to heaven . . . assuming that everybody else lacks a moral core . . . behaving like this beautifully intricate Earth doesn’t matter because God will create a brand new one when this one’s paved over. . . .and then trying to make your religion the law of the land . . . It’s just unappealing.

Satan’s not the problem.

So, if fundamentalists are running their own anti-marketing campaign, why does someone like me spend half of each week in front of a computer writing, unpaid, on topics like twelve really bad religious ideas that have made the world worse or why the Christian heaven would actually be hell or the common root of religious child abuse and the pro-life movement?

Evangelicals of the sort I used to be might say Because of Satan. Obviously. Or they might say that I hate the God that I no longer believe in.

They might, but they would be wrong.

I don’t hate God. You know what I do hate? People acting like douches.

When the Christian Coalition decided in the 1990s to take over America’s political system and impose their moral and spiritual values top down, some outsiders felt offended because, believe it or not, we actually have deeply held values of our own. When Evangelicals realized in the 2000s that they could get taxpayers to subsidize evangelism via public contracts and “faith based initiatives,” things got worse. And then when a whole Pandora’s box of hobby lobbyists discovered that by claiming “religious freedom” they could get excused from rules and responsibilities that otherwise apply to all. . . well here’s where we’re at.

From Incredulity to Activism

Losing my religion didn’t make me an anti-theist.

I left Christianity more than twenty years ago, when I got tired of making excuses for the God I had worshipped since childhood and then realized there was little left of my God but those shabby, worn out excuses. At the time, I was working on a children’s cancer ward. Enough said.

But when I stopped believing, I didn’t go public, let alone go activist; I simply moved on.

Some people’s journey out of their religion leaves them wounded or traumatized, but at the end my own departure was pretty painless. I had a great community of secular friends, and my Evangelical relatives were and are loving to this day, even those who think I’m slated for eternal torture.

I did and still do find spiritual kin among people whose call themselves Christian. I was honored to sit on the board of the Washington Association of Churches as a bridge builder, a non-theist who nonetheless believed in the mission statement they had drawn from the words of the prophet Micah: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Years later, I worked together with a broad coalition to create an “Interspiritual Day” during a week of events called Seeds of Compassion that brought the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu to Seattle for conversations with business leaders, educators, religious leaders and ordinary citizens.

To be clear, I have never, since that time on the cancer ward, ascribed to any sort of supernaturalism, no matter how soft and kind. I have never thought that What- the-Bleep-type mysticism was anything other than woo. But at some point I realized that my own version of secular spirituality wasn’t about beliefs. It was about who and how I served, and there were people who shared that center point across the spectrum of religious belief and disbelief.

After the last vapors of my Evangelical faith evaporated into the cancer ward at Children’s Hospital, religion simply faded from my life. In my naïve narcissism, I assumed that since the Bible God had stopped making sense to me, everyone else was probably drifting in the same direction and I could just get on with the business of working and loving and making sweet babies.

I maintained that assumption until George W. Bush started using Bible belief to justify war. Not OK.

More personally painful was the realization that my otherwise kind, decent Evangelical relatives found G.W.’s willful ignorance of foreign policy a matter of indifference. The fact that his gesture to the Big Man in the Sky before invading Iraq actually satisfied them became a pivotal sore point. If religious belief could make good people like them intellectually sloppy and casually cruel, something needed doing. And I’ve been working ever since at doing it.

Look. Nobody wants to have to take on the Vatican or the Southern Baptist Convention or ISIS in order to have there be a little more kindness in the world and a little less pain. Most outside critics of Christianity fully grasp that their quest is Quixotic. Picture me, a stubby, middle-aged Seattle mom wearing an REI fleece with campfire-burn-holes, pounding small rocks against a walled city that has endured for two thousand years. It’s so inane as to be embarrassing.

I really would rather dig holes in the garden.

But if I care about what I say I care about and love who I say I love; if I truly believe that each of us gets one precious life, and that together we get one precious planet, and that biblical Christianity utterly fails at stewarding either, I feel like I have no choice but to keep pounding.

And so I do.


Do you know anyone who cherishes the Christian tradition and would like to see it reformed and revitalized rather than beaten back? If so, please tell them this: Ideologues who care more about law than love, who get more charged up about injury to biblical authority than injury to a fellow creature, who think that harms done in the name of Christ are somehow lesser evils—believers like this are a far greater threat to Christianity than anti-theist critics ever could be. They also provide the inspiration that keeps folks like me at it:

  • If Conservative American Christians weren’t exporting fundamentalism, I wouldn’t have taken the time to considerHow Iron Age Literacy Spawned Modern Violent Extremism.”
  • If Bible believers didn’t have a “bring it on” attitude toward Armageddon, I wouldn’t have felt a need to enumerate Who, When, Why –10 Times the Bible Says Torture is OK.”
  • If privileged patriarchs weren’t fighting to keep White males at the top of the economic food chain, I wouldn’t have researched “Christianity’s Painfully Mixed Track Record on Slavery” or “15 Bible Texts That Reveal Why ‘God’s Own Party’ is at War with Women.”
  • If self-fearing Puritans weren’t intent on keeping my gay brother from marrying his love, I wouldn’t have written, “Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like if We Actually Followed the Bible.”
  • If freaked-out creationists weren’t trying to discredit the whole scientific enterprise simply to protect the “just so” stories in Genesis, I wouldn’t have had reason to muse about, “When Science Teachers Don’t Believe in Evolution.”

    So What?

    Why should anyone care about my evolution from Christian to critic? Not because it is important but because it is illustrative. The marriage of biblical Christianity with Right wing politics has cost the Church more than a few Seattle moms.

    In October 2014, sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer published an analysis of declining religious affiliation between 1987 and 2012. Their most counterintuitive finding was that political conflict over social issues like non-marital sex and gay marriage caused almost half of the change. Women are hit hardest by conservative policies that block reproductive rights and prioritize the free market over flourishing families, and nonbelief isgrowing faster among women than men. According to a new report by Christian pollster, Barna: “In 1993 only 16 percent of atheists and agnostics were women. By 2013 that figure had nearly tripled to 43 percent.”

    In 2013, Barna asked believers a series of questions about their own attitudes and behavior and then rated whether they were more like Jesus or more like the legalistic, judgmental Pharisees of the New Testament stories. Across the board, Christians looked more like Pharisees than like Jesus. But those with conservative political attitudes were among the least likely to rate high on Christ-like attitudes and behaviors (8 percent).

    In the words of David Kinneman, president of Barna and author of the book, UnChristian, “This study points out a sobering possibility: that the perception so many young people have of Christians contains more than a kernel of truth.” In separate research he found that only 15 percent of young non-Christians thought that the believers they knew were different in a positive way.

    The Price of Political Success

    On one level, the culture wars have been a smashing success for conservative Evangelicals and Bible believers. Republican Presidential contenders are tripping over themselves in their haste to position as devout Christians and defenders of religious freedom. An Indiana woman recently received a twenty-year sentence for self-aborting her secret pregnancy. The Texas Board of Education endorsed Moses as one of America’s founding fathers. Religious organizations have unprecedented rights to government contracts and the use of public facilities for expressly religious purposes. The Supreme Court has given the thumbs up to religious exemptions from laws and duties that otherwise apply to all Americans.

    But one can’t help but wonder if, in the long run, Christians will look back and regret the seduction of political power. Nineteen percent of adults are former Christians, and resources for ex-Christians or believers “in recovery” are mushrooming. And among the youngest adults, thirty-four percent don’t affiliate with any specific church or religion, up from twenty-five percent in 2007.

    As Christianity loses moderate believers, those who remain appear increasingly narrow minded and dogmatic. No less a figure than the Pope has called rigid ideology an “illness” within the Church, one that drives people away:

    “The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: his tenderness, his love, his meekness. . . . Ideology frightens, ideology chases away.”

    Rigid and judgmental ideology chases away young people in particular. But it also turns former Christians like me into writers and speakers who are intent on exposing ugly realities that religious institutions might prefer to downplay. The illness within the Church, as Pope Francis called it, demands that I keep writing and talking because—for the life of me—I can’t figure out how we can move toward a better future, one grounded more deeply in compassion, inclusion and discovery when the world’s supermajority religions are anchored to the Iron Age by rigid book worship, sick with ideology and aspirations of political dominion.

    Can reformers within Christianity reclaim their spiritual tradition from the Pharisees and political operatives and bring it forward? Can they articulate a Christian worldview that puts love over law and is compatible with what we know about ourselves and the world around us? Certainly some are trying. Rob Bell, for example, and Rachel Held Evans. Fred Plumer. Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong. Maybe, possibly, even Pope Francis himself.

    I have no idea if they will succeed. In the meantime, I intend to be here at my desk criticizing fundamentalism, extoling doubt and awaiting my next excuse for Molly Moon’s melted chocolate.


    Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author ofTrusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at





Good News: Christianity Suffers Steep Decline in U.S.


Author: Michael Stone

Emphasis Mine

Good news for rational people: A new study shows Americans are abandoning Christianity in record numbers while the number of Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated continues to surge.

According to a comprehensive new study released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, every demographic group in the U.S. has seen a significant drop in people who call themselves Christians.

The survey of 35,000 American adults shows the Christian percentage of the population dropping sharply. In 2007, the last time Pew conducted a similar survey, 78.4% of American adults called themselves Christian. In 2014, 70.6% of Americans called themselves Christians, reflecting a drop of nearly 8%.

Pew also reports that the religiously unaffiliated, which includes atheists, agnostics, and those who claim “nothing in particular,” now make up 22.8% of the American population, up from 16.1% in 2007, reflecting a growth rate of nearly 7%.

Leading the exodus from Christianity is the millennials. Pew reports more than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007.

Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research and the lead researcher on the new study, said:

We’ve known that the religiously unaffiliated has been growing for decades. But the pace at which they’ve continued to grow is really astounding.

Explaining the sharp decline of Christianity and the surge of those identifying as religiously unaffiliated,  David Silverman, president of American Atheists, said:

It’s because we’re right.

Noting that the stigma of coming out as an atheist is lessening, Silverman continued:

More people know the facts, and more people realize they are not alone. It’s now impossible for an atheist to think he is alone in this world. They are automatically empowered.

Commenting on the new numbers, Ronald A. Lindsay, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, said:

America is transforming before our eyes. We are witnessing a tectonic shift from a nation nearly unified in its religiousness a generation ago, to an America where increasing numbers of Americans are rejecting religious doctrines and are living lives largely free of religious influence.

Lindsay registered one note of disappointment:

In a nation with 23% of the population unaffiliated, with many of these individuals atheists or agnostics, it is striking and regrettable that so few politicians are openly nonreligious. This is a testament to the stigma still attached to atheism. In time, however, that too should change, as Americans become more accepting of their many neighbors, friends, and relatives who are not religious.

Both Silverman and Lindsey speak to the stigma that is still attached to openly identifying as an atheist or agnostic in contemporary American society. But as Bob Dylan reminds us: “The times, they are a-changin.”

Bottom line: the new study from Pew is cause for celebration as Americans become less Christian, and more secular.

– See more at:

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The Invention of a Corporate Christian America



Source: Religion Dispatches

Author: Andrew Aghapour

Emphasis Mine

According to author Kevin Kruse, the idea that America is a “Christian nation” was invented only recently, forged by an alliance between industrialists and conservative clergy who preached the connection between Christianity and capitalism.

In One Nation Under God, the Princeton history professor issues a twofold corrective: first, to the popular notion that the United States has always understood itself as a Christian nation; and second, to the conventional theory that the religious revival of the 1950s was born of anti-communist panic.

Kruse recently spoke with The Cubit, RD’s religion and science portal, about the myth of the “Christian nation,” the marriage of Christianity and capitalism, and the failure that preceded it.  The Cubit reached out to Kruse to discuss the origin, and recent resurgence, of the ideological links between capitalism, Christianity, and American public religion.

Where do you locate the roots of America’s “Christian nation” ideology?

It’s true that many Americans thought of their country as a “nation of Christians” from the start, but that was decidedly different from establishing a formal and official “Christian nation.”

Though the Declaration of Independence refers to rights coming from the Creator, the Constitution only invokes God in its dating “in the year of our Lord.” The other references all keep the state out of religion: no religious tests for office holders, no established national religion, no interference from Congress with individual religious exercise.

More explicitly, the Founders made their feelings clear in the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli—begun by Washington, signed by Adams, passed unanimously by a Senate half-full of signers of the Constitution—that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Over the nineteenth century, especially during the crisis of the Civil War, there were many Americans who insisted we should be (or already were) an officially Christian nation. So the idea of it began then, though the implementation of it wasn’t successful until the 1950s.

During the postwar religious revival, countless slogans and ceremonies that we now take for granted—the National Day of Prayer, the National Prayer Breakfast, the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the formal motto “In God We Trust”—were established in quick order.

Because all this happened in the 1950s, many assumed (at the time and since) that these revolutionary changes in American political culture came about because of the Cold War. But what I discovered in researching and writing this book is that the architects of these changes saw them as a challenge not to the Soviet regime in Moscow, but to the New Deal administration in Washington, DC. In the 1930s and 1940s, they popularized a new language of “freedom under God” (as opposed to what they saw as “slavery under the welfare state”), which finally took hold nationally in the 1950s.

You track the emergence in the 1940s and 1950s of “Christian libertarianism,” a blend of conservative religion, economics, and politics. How did this Christian libertarianism reconceive of the relationship between Christianity and capitalism?  

Capitalism and Christianity had been mixed by Americans before the New Deal, to be sure. (In the 1920s, the ad man Bruce Barton wrote a best-seller called The Man Nobody Knows that repackaged Jesus Christ as the most successful executive of all time.) These previous fusions of faith and free enterprise had always stressed their common social characteristics, but starting in the 1930s Christianity and capitalism were fused in a more political context.

With the New Deal state now looming large over business, the architects of this new Christian libertarianism placed Christianity and capitalism in joint opposition. Both systems reflected a belief in the primacy of the individual: in Christianity, the saintly went to Heaven and the sinners to Hell; in capitalism, the worthy succeeded and the inept went broke. Any system of government that meddled with this divinely inspired order, they argued, was nothing less than “pagan statism.”

Supported with ample funding from leaders of major corporations (Sun Oil, DuPont, GM, Chrysler, etc.) and leading business lobbies (US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, etc.), these Christian libertarian groups popularized this new language of “freedom under God” on a variety of fronts—in magazines, over the radio, in contests where ministers gave sermons on their themes, etc.

Tell me more about this alliance between business leaders and Christian groups. Why did American industrialists need religion on their side?

During the Depression, business leaders were on the defensive. The public blamed them for the Great Crash and the New Deal had constructed a new regulatory state and empowered labor unions, two developments that corporate America readily resented.

Business leaders quickly resolved to win back the public and devoted millions of dollars to a massive campaign of public relations, redirecting traditional business lobbies like the National Association of Manufacturers to the cause and creating brand new ones like the American Liberty League.

But Americans dismissed their naked paeans to capitalism as just business looking out for its own self-interest. (Democratic leader Jim Farley famously joked that they ought to call the American Liberty League “the American Cellophane League” because it was a DuPont product that you could see right through.)

Realizing that the direct approach hadn’t worked, these business leaders decided to outsource the work. In their private correspondence, they noted that polls proved ministers were the most trusted men in America and so they decided to recruit clergymen to make the case for them.

Were you surprised that such a recent form of public religiosity could write itself into the very identity of our nation?

I may be cynical, but I wasn’t surprised that politicians would rush to embrace these changes. As The Christian Century noted when the addition of “under God” to the pledge was proposed, “This is the sort of proposal against which no member of Congress would think of opposing, any more than against a resolution approving of motherhood.”

But I was surprised that the civil liberties organizations that we might today assume would have made some sort of objection really didn’t do much. The ACLU, for instance, was largely focused on the anticommunist movement of McCarthyism and paid little attention to issues of church-state separation. (Indeed, I discovered that the ACLU didn’t even learn about the proposal to change the national motto to “In God We Trust” until after the bill passed the House.)

Is Christian libertarianism still a meaningful force in U.S. politics?

In 2014, the Supreme Court issued its controversial Hobby Lobby decision, ruling that a corporation could be exempt from the contraception mandates of the Affordable Care Act. And more recently, in Indiana, we’ve seen arguments advanced that businesses should be allowed to refuse to provide service to same-sex weddings due to the religious beliefs of the owners.

So we’re currently witnessing a resurgence of that ideology in American law with the idea that corporations not only are capable of having religious beliefs, but that such beliefs make these businesses exempt from the laws of the regulatory state.



Why The Ongoing RFRA Battle Is About Far More Than Wedding Cakes

SOURCE: ReligionDispatches

Author: Sarah Posner

Emphasis Mine

Now that both Indiana and Arkansas have enacted their Religious Freedom Restorations Acts, with each altered in response to an unprecedented and swift-moving opposition, it’s worth taking a look at what the landscape looks like going forward.

First, laws designed to provide a defense to businesses who refuse to serve LGBT couples, or who refuse to cater or photograph same-sex weddings, are not popular. One poll, from the Public Religion Research Institute, found that just 16% of respondents supported such laws. Jeb Bush, who had initially defended Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the RFRA that caused the vociferous backlash (albeit with little apparent understanding of how RFRAs function in the legal system), later said he would have preferred a “consensus-oriented” approach to a law that would not allow discrimination against LGBT people.

The Indiana fix–adding language that the law couldn’t be used to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation–addressed the major issue that had generated the backlash. But its still legal under Indiana law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, even though some municipalities in the state bar it. The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said in a statement, “we still don’t believe these nondiscrimination provisions go far enough.”

But there are legitimate concerns beyond how these new RFRAs could be used to treat LGBT people. As the American Civil Liberties Union has said, while the new provision in the Indiana RFRA is a “major improvement, ” the law as now enacted “still poses a risk that it can be used to deny rights to others, including in education, access to health care, and other aspects of people’s lives.” Although the new law’s religious freedom claims and defenses are no longer available to for-profit entities, they still are available to non-profit entities who can invoke its provisions to raise religious objections to providing service.

While Indiana lawmakers supporting the RFRA were, as documented in this well-reported piece in the Indianapolis Star, motivated to provide legal protections to businesses that refuse to provide services to same-sex couples or for same-sex weddings, other comments by lawmakers show their intent was broader. Republican Rep. Bruce Borders suggested anesthesiologists who oppose abortion should not have to anesthetize women undergoing the procedure. The Indianapolis Star reported that “Borders said he believes the Bible’s command to ‘do all things as unto the Lord’ means religious believers need to be protected not just in church, but in their workplaces as well.” If that workplace is a religious non-profit, like a hospital or university, the new language appears to give those entities the right to assert a religious exemption if they object to the services required for a particular patient or person.

In Arkansas, by contrast, the law was changed to ensure that it could only be invoked in cases in which the government is a party, just as in the federal version.

Proponents of these new RFRAs have continually argued that the federal RFRA, enacted in 1993, had widespread and bipartisan support. They frequently ask why those who supported RFRA’s passage in 1993 now protest the new RFRAs go too far.

The answer lies in how the courts have interpreted the federal RFRA. At the time, it looked like a needed fix to protect individuals who, for example, were barred from receiving employment compensation after being fired for smoking peyote, an essential part of a Native American ritual.  In 20 years, though, it has been expanded, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, to confer rights on closely-held corporations seeking to deny their female employees the benefit of no-cost insurance coverage for birth control.

The debate on these laws is far from over. While the focus over the past week has been on their impact on LGBT people, Supreme Court precedent points to a wider reach. The innovation, if you will, of Hobby Lobby was not just allowing a closely-held corporation to invoke religious freedom rights. It was how the Court assessed, in favor of the corporation, the impact of religious freedom claims on third parties generally.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email



White Christian America in Decline: Why Young People Are Sick of Conservative Religion

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

Emphasis Mine

There’s been a lot of media attention recently to the changing demographics of the United States, where, at current rates, people who identify as “white” are expected to become a minority by the year 2050. But in many ways, the shift in national demographics has been accelerated beyond even that. New data from the American Values Atlas shows that while white people continue to be the majority in all but 4 states in the country, white Christians are the minority in a whopping 19 states. And, nationwide, Americans who identify as Protestant are now in the minority for the first time ever, clocking in at a mere 47 percent of Americans and falling.

The most obvious reason for this change is growing racial diversity. Most Americans still identify as Christian, but “Christian” is a group that is less white and less Protestant than it has been at any time in history. The massive growth in Hispanic Catholics, in particular, has been a major factor in this shift in the ethnic and religious identity of this country. White Catholics used to outnumber Hispanic Catholics 3 to 1 in the 2000s, but now it’s only by a 2 to 1 margin.

But another major reason religious diversity is outpacing the growth of racial/ethnic diversity is largely due to the explosive growth in non-belief among Americans. One in five Americans now identifies as religiously unaffiliated. In 13 states, the “nones” are the largest religious group. Non-religious people now equal Catholics in number, and their proportion is likely to grow dramatically, as young people are by far the most non-religious group in the country. This isn’t some kind of side effect of their youth, either. As Adam Lee has noted, the millennial generation is becoming less religious as they age.

These changes explain the modern political landscape as well as any economic indicator. While not all white Christians are conservative, these changing numbers definitely suggest that conservative Christians are rapidly losing their grip on power. And while some non-white Christians are conservative, their numbers are not making up for what the Christian right is losing. And whether conservative leaders are aware of the exact numbers or not, it’s clear that they sense that change is in the air. Just by speaking to young people, turning on your TV, or reading the Internet, you can sense the way the country is lurching away from conservative Christian values and towards a more liberal, secular outlook. And conservative Christians aren’t taking these changes well at all.

To look at the Christian right now is to see a people who know they are losing power and are desperately trying to reassert dominance before it’s lost altogether. The most obvious example of this is the frenzy of anti-abortion activity in recent years. Anti-choice forces have controlled the Republican Party since the late ’70s, but only in the past few years have they concentrated so singlemindedly on trying to destroy legal abortion in wide swaths of the country. In 2011 alone, states passed nearly three times as many abortion restrictions as they had in any previous year.

None of this is a reaction to any changes in people’s sexual behavior or reproductive choices. It’s not like there was a spike in abortions causing this panic. In fact, the abortion rate has been declining. And despite continuing media panic over adolescent sexuality, the fact is that teenagers are waiting longer to have sex, on average, than in the past. Despite this, not only are you seeing a dramatic increase in attacks on legal abortion, the Christian right has expanded its attacks to contraception access, suggesting that something has worked them into a panic they believe can only be resolved by trying to reassert their religious and sexual values.

That something isn’t changes in sexual behavior, but it’s reasonable to believe it’s because of changes in sexual values. People might not be having more sex, but they are feeling less guilty about the sex they are having. Since Gallup first started polling people in 2001 on moral views, acceptance of consensual sex between adults has skyrocketed. In a decade’s time, acceptance of premarital sex swelled from 53% to 66% of Americans and acceptance of gay Americans grew from a mere 38% to a majority of Americans. Even polyamory has become more acceptable for Americans, rising from being accepted by 5% of Americans to 14%.

The fact that these changes in attitude are rising alongside the growth of irreligiosity is not a coincidence. More perhaps even than the 1960s, Americans are in a period of questioning rigid sexual and religious mores, and concluding, in increasing numbers, that they are not down with guilt-tripping people for victimless behavior and demanding conformity for its own sake. Some of them–now a whopping 22% of Americans!–are leaving religion entirely. Some are continuing in their faith but choosing to interpret their values differently than Christian conservatives would like.

And so we see Christian conservatives cracking down in a desperate bid to regain control. They claim that they’re being oppressed by increasing tolerance for religious diversity. They have latched onto, with some success, the claim that “religious freedom” requires giving Christians the right to oppress others. The Republican Party is in complete thrall to the religious right, to the point where giving the Christian right one go-nowhere symbolic bill instead of another one created a major political crisis.

The irony is that this panic-based overreach is just making the situation worse for the Christian right. One of the biggest reasons the secularization trend has accelerated in recent years is that young people see the victim complex and the sex policing of the Christian right and it’s turning them off. And they’re not just rejecting conservative Christianity but the entire idea of organized religion altogether. In other words, the past few years have created a self-perpetuating cycle: Christian conservatives, in a panic over changing demographics, start cracking down. In reaction, more people give up on religion. That causes the Christian right to panic more and crack down more. In the end, Christian conservatives are going to hasten their own demise by trying to save themselves. Not that any of us should be crying for them.


5 Things the Religious Right Needs to Learn About the 10 Commandments

Source: AlterNet

Author: Robert Boston

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: The first four commandments are contrary to the religious freedom and free expression clauses in the First Amendment.)

Anyone who spends time around members of the Religious Right quickly realizes that they have a serious crush on the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are found in the Old Testament and are closely identified with the history of Judaism. But in recent years, they’ve been adopted by right-wing fundamentalist Christians eager to prove that the United States has religious underpinnings and wasn’t founded to be a secular nation.

This far-right obsession with the Commandments has legal and political ramifications because fundamentalists often try to display the Commandments at seats of government.

Federal courts ruled recently on the legality of Ten Commandments displays on public property in North Dakota and New Mexico—reaching opposite conclusions. And in Alabama, Jackson County Commissioner Tim Guffey wants to display the Ten Commandments at the county courthouse. Guffey told local media that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution “all stemmed from the word of God, from the Ten Commandments.”

Guffey’s argument is a common one: It’s OK to display the Ten Commandments at a courthouse, city hall or the state capitol because U.S. law is based on them. Thus, a government-sponsored Ten Commandments display isn’t really religious. It just makes a statement about the origins of our law.

But there’s one gaping flaw with this argument: American law is not based on the Ten Commandments. Here are five reasons why.

1. The Ten Commandments don’t provide a coherent system of governance. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to base a government solely on the Ten Commandments for the simple reason that they are not a governance document. Nor could the Ten Commandments have influenced the Constitution, the foundation of American law, because the two documents serve very different purposes.

The Ten Commandments make up a moral code designed to punish certain behaviors deemed offensive to the God of the Old Testament. They say nothing about a government or how one is to be structured.

The Constitution, by contrast, is a governance document that spells out, in detail, how a representative democracy is supposed to work. A wholly secular document, the Constitution does not attempt to establish a system of religious laws. On the contrary, its First Amendment guarantees religious freedom for all (Christians and non-Christians) and bars all laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

2. Nothing in the Constitution makes it illegal to break religious laws. The Ten Commandments are very clear on certain religious matters: There is one God. You owe him your allegiance and you’re not to put other gods before him. You are not to take his name in vain or desecrate the Sabbath. Take care to honor your parents.

If the Constitution were based on the Ten Commandments, we would see some reflection of these religious precepts in that document. We don’t. In fact, the Constitution cuts the other way. Its freedom-of-religion provision grants everyone the right to worship, as Thomas Jefferson put it, 20 gods or no god. Nothing in the Constitution accords God or the Sabbath special treatment. In fact, they aren’t even mentioned. Furthermore, Article VI mandates that there be “no religious test” for federal office. That is, people can’t be required to hold certain religious beliefs as a condition of holding public office. Language like this opens the door for everyone to participate fully in political life, no matter what he or she may believe about religion. It’s curious language for a document based on the Ten Commandments.

3. The Religious Right’s main argument is based on a phony quote by James Madison. Virginian James Madison is known as the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison was the primary author of the Constitution and worked tirelessly to see it adopted. A decade later, he helped draft the Bill of Rights.

Madison was an advocate for religious freedom and the total separation of the church from the state. It’s inconceivable that Madison would have advocated for a theocratic society based on the Ten Commandments.

Yet some Religious Right advocates argue that Madison favored this. Furthermore, they claim that he once said, “We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

There are variations of this quote. All are false. Madison never said this. Back in 1993, the curators of the Madison Papers at the University of Virginia were asked if they could verify this quote. They could not.

“We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us,” curators John Stagg and David Mattern wrote. “In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison’s views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private.”

Although this quote was debunked years ago, it still makes the rounds on Religious Right website. As recently as last year, the Family Research Council used it to promote a conference.

4. Historians have listed the real sources that inspired the Constitution.If the Ten Commandments had inspired the founders, we would see evidence of that in the founders’ writings and speeches. It isn’t there.

Furthermore, the sources that did inspire them are no secret. About 10 years ago, church-state separation activists were fighting Roy Moore, Alabama’s infamous “Ten Commandments judge,” over his decision to display the Commandments at a state judicial building in Montgomery. Moore’s legal strategy hinged in  large part on his assertion that the Ten Commandments were the font of all U.S. law.

That tactic imploded when 41 law professors and legal historians filed a brief that left Moore’s claim in tatters. The historians examined the debates and written records of the founding period and uncovered no significant references to the Ten Commandments.

The brief noted that “various documents and texts” figured in the development of American law, among them English common and statutory law, Roman law, the civil law of continental Europe and private international law. They also found numerous references to the writings of William Blackstone, John Locke, Adam Smith and others as well as the Magna Carta, the Federalist Papers and other sources.

Observed the scholars, “While the Ten Commandments have influenced some of our notions of right and wrong, a wide variety of other documents have played a more dominant and central role in the development of American law. No respected scholar of legal or constitutional history would assert that the Ten Commandments have played a dominant or major role, or even a significant role, in the development of American law as a whole. To insist on a closer relationship or to claim the Ten Command­ments has a special place in the development of American law lacks historical support.”

Not surprisingly, Moore lost in court.

5. Many of the precepts found in the Ten Commandments are common-sense rules that have existed for centuries.Some Religious Right leaders fall back on the argument that, while the Constitution may not explicitly recognize the Ten Commandments, American common and statutory law surely does. After all, our laws say it’s wrong to kill, lie and steal – just like the Ten Commandments!

The argument fails a simple historical analysis. Activities like murder, theft and lying are detrimental to all societies. If these actions aren’t punished, they make it nearly impossible for people to live together in peace. Thus, they are always banned. Other ancient lists of laws, such as the Code of Hammurabi (which is older than the Ten Commandments), proscribe these actions as well.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court gives a nod to this fact. In the court’s main chamber, a frieze along the wall depicts historic lawgivers from many different eras. Moses is depicted carrying two tablets, but he’s not alone. Many other lawgivers from the ancient world, including Hammurabi, Solomon, Solon, Confucius and others, are there too.

Veneration of the Ten Commandments as the font of all wisdom and the source of all laws is a modern-day affectation of the Religious Right. It doesn’t go back to the founding period.

So when did it start? The origins may surprise you. If you root around public parks in many American cities, you just might come across a weathered granite monument listing the Ten Commandments. It may be covered with vegetation and forgotten, but there it is. Why is it there? Where did it come from?

There’s a good chance it was donated to the town by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1950s as part of a publicity stunt to promote Cecile B. DeMille’s 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments.”

In the early 1940s, a juvenile court judge in Minnesota named E.J. Ruegemer got it into his head that exposing youngsters to the Ten Commandments would fend off delinquency. Ruegemer was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and lobbied the group to push for posting paper copies of the Ten Commandments in juvenile courts.

A few years later, DeMille learned of the project and adopted it to promote his film – with a twist. He worked with Ruegemer to produce larger monuments made of granite, and the Eagles were soon donating Ten Commandments markers to communities all over America. About 2,000 were placed before the campaign ended. In some cases, stars from the movie dedicated the monuments.

Thus, the attempt to link the Ten Commandments to the U.S. government does have founders. But they aren’t men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Rather, the craze can be traced to more recent times and laid at the feet of Cecile B. DeMille, Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.

Rob Boston is director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. His latest book is “Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do.”


FFRF anti-church electioneering victory is final



The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won a major victory: compelling the Internal Revenue Service to resume doing its job by policing tax-exempt churches that engage in illegal electioneering.


U.S. District Judge Lynn S. Adelman, Milwaukee, this week issued an order approving the joint motion for dismissal between between FFRF and the IRS. FFRF agreed to voluntarily dismiss its closely-watched federal lawsuit against the IRS after being given evidence that the IRS has authorized procedures and “signature authority” to resume initiating church tax investigations and examinations.


FFRF and the IRS filed an agreement on July 17 to dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily, following communications from the IRS that it no longer has a policy of non-enforcement against churches. Adelman’s decision and order agreed that FFRF may voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning FFRF can renew the lawsuit if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction.


This hands a firm defeat to an obscure Milwaukee-area church, Holy Cross Anglican Church, which was intervening in the case with the help of the Becket Fund, insisting it had a “free speech” right to engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit without losing its tax exempt status. The judge explicitly denied the church’s motion to dismiss the case “with prejudice,” meaning FFRF would have been handicapped in refiling the case, should policies change.


“Our victory ensures that churches are not being singled out for preferential treatment as they were — with the IRS turning a blind eye to such events as the annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.


The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group, is behind that campaign to encourage churches to violate the law. ADF has called again on churches and their ministers this year to endorse from the pulpit on Oct. 5, in defiance of IRS provisions that bar any 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity, not just churches, from politicking.


Contrary to the hysterical disinformation machine that is Fox News Network, and the scaremongering claims of religious zealots such as Tony Perkins and ADF, churches are not, as a result of our settlement, being selectively targeted by the IRS for investigations. The opposite was true, as our lawsuit showed. The IRS was selectively not enforcing the law when it came to churches, and now the IRS will go back to enforcing the law even-handedly.”


Added FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “Our legal action has ensured that churches cannot act as unaccountable Political Action Committees using tax-exempt dollars to influence the outcome of elections.”


Currently, the Congressional probe of the IRS has put all investigations on hold, but FFRF could refile the suit if IRS provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.


FFRF, a state/church watchdog and the nation’s largest freethought association, now topping 21,000 members, is also suing the IRS over the housing allowance exclusion uniquely benefiting ministers of the gospel, with oral arguments set for early September before the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Read more about that case here. FFRF also has a case in federal district court challenging the exclusion of churches from the same transparent reporting requirements all other 501(c)(3) groups must follow to retain tax exemption.


View FFRF’s July 31 press update for details and links to all other relevant documents.

 Emphasis Mine


I Worked at Hobby Lobby and Saw the Troubling World of Corporate Christianity

Source: AlterNet

Author: Charity R. Carney

It was the most difficult job I’ve ever had. I’ve been a history professor for years, toiled as a graduate assistant before that, and even did a stint as an IT technician. But the three months I worked at Hobby Lobby stocking googly eyes and framing baseball cards takes the cake. I wanted a break from academia but it ended up not being a break at all. I found myself deconstructing and analyzing all aspects of my job — from the Bible in the break room to the prayers before employee meetings and the strange refusal of the company to use bar codes in its stores. (The rumor amongst employees was that bar codes were the Mark of the Beast, but that rumor remains unsubstantiated.)

Three months was enough to convince me that there is something larger at work and the SCOTUS decision only confirms my belief that corporate Christianity (and Christianity that is corporate) has made it difficult for Americans to discern religion from consumption.

As a scholar of religious history, I observe the way that faith intersects with culture. I study and publish on megachurches and my interpretation of this week’s events is informed not only by my experiences as an employee at Hobby Lobby but also my knowledge of recent religious trends. My biggest question after hearing the decision was not about the particular opinions or practical repercussions (which are significant and have far-reaching and dangerous consequences). Instead, my first thought was: “What is it about our cultural fabric that enables us to attribute religious rights to a corporate entity?” In the United States we have increasingly associated Christianity with capitalism and the consequences affect both corporations and churches. It’s a comfortable relationship and seemingly natural since so much of our history is built on those two forces. But it’s also scary.

Hobby Lobby is a for-profit craft chain, not a church. I’m stating the obvious just in case there was any confusion because — let’s face it — it’s confusing. It’s as confusing as those googly eyes (do you really need three different sizes, Hobby Lobby, really?). Today, we see giant churches that operate like corporations and now corporations have some of the same rights as churches. Many megachurches adopt “seeker-sensitive” approaches to attract members, relying on entertainment and conspicuous consumption to promote their services. After a while, the spiritual and secular lines start to blur and the Christian and corporate blend. Ed Young, Jr.’s Fellowship Church, for instance, started a “90-Day Challenge” for members. The church asks congregants to pledge 10 percent of their income and promises “that if you tithe for 90 days and God doesn’t hold true to his promise of blessings, we will refund 100 percent of your tithe.”

Megachurches advertise on television, billboards, the Internet. They have coffee shops and gift stores. Some feature go-cart tracks, game centers, even oil changes. Many are run by pastors that also serve as CEOs. So when Hobby Lobby seeks similar religious rights as these very corporate churches, we have to reconsider our definition of religious organizations and maybe even say “why not?” We have normalized corporate Christianity to the point that the Supreme Court deems it natural for businesses to hold “sincere” religious beliefs. The religious landscape in the United States, including our familiarity with megachurches and celebrity pastors, certainly contributes to the acceptance of the church/company conundrum.

The “why not” can be answered, however, with the real costs of the decision. Women’s reproductive rights are compromised. The religious freedom of employees for these corporations is compromised. The sanctity of our religious institutions is also compromised. To protect religious pluralism and freedom of the individual we need clear demarcations between what is spiritual and what is economical. Otherwise, we sacrifice the soul of American religion and all that makes it good and why I study it on the altar of industry. I can’t get those three months at Hobby Lobby back (or the praise muzak out of my head) but I can see more clearly the dangers of allowing corporate Christianity to become the norm. Without clear boundaries, we risk distorting the very idea of religious freedom and the rich, diverse religious culture that makes us who we are. And that’s tragic — maybe not as tragic as praise muzak, but tragic nonetheless.

Carney is a historian of religion, gender, and the South.

Emphasis Mine