Rising atheism in America puts ‘religious right on the defensive’

From The Guardian:

“About 400 people are preparing to gather for a conference in Hartford, Connecticut, to promote the end of religion in the US and their vision of a secular future for the country.

Those travelling to the meeting will pass two huge roadside billboards displaying quotes from two of the country’s most famous non-believers: Katharine Hepburn and Mark Twain. “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” reads the one featuring Twain. “I’m an atheist and that’s it,” says the one quoting Hepburn.

At the meeting, members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) will hear speakers celebrate successes they have had in removing religion from US public life and see awards being presented to noted secularist activists.

The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. “It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.

The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.

Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major “religious” demographic in the country.

Professor Barry Kosmin of Trinity College, who conducts the national Religious Identification Survey, believes up to a quarter of young people in the US now have no specific faith, and scoffs at the idea, prevalent in so much US media and culture, that the country is highly religious or becoming more so. “The trending in American history is towards secularisation,” Kosmin said.

He cites the example of the changing face of Sunday in the country. It was not too long ago when many sporting events were banned on Sundays and most shops were closed too. Now the opposite is largely true.

As in Britain, Sunday in the US has become a normal shopping day for many, or a day to watch big football or baseball games. “The great secular holiday in America is Super Bowl Sunday. Even in the deep south, the biggest mega-church changes its schedule to suit the Super Bowl,” Kosmin said.

He also pointed to social trends – greater divorce rates, gay marriage and much higher percentages of people having children out of wedlock – as other signs that the religious grip on society has loosened.

There are other indications, too. For a long time studies have shown that about 40% of US adults attend a church service weekly. However, other studies that actually counted those at church – rather than just asking people if they went – have shown the true number to be about half to two-thirds of that figure.

More Americans are now choosing to get married or be buried without any form of religious ceremony. At universities, departments devoted to the study of secularism are starting to appear. Books by atheist authors are bestsellers. National groups, such as the Secular Coalition of America (SCA), have opened branches across the country.

Herb Silverman, president of the Washington-based SCA, lives in Charleston, South Carolina. His local secularist group was founded in 1994 with 10 people, but now has 150 members. “I’ve been living here in the buckle of the Bible belt since 1976 and things are getting a lot better,” Silverman said.

Yet there is little doubt that religious groups still wield enormous influence in US politics and public life, especially through the rightwing of the Republican party. Groups such as Focus on the Family are well-funded and skilful lobbyists.

Kosmin said the attention paid by politicians and the media to religious groups was not necessarily a sign of strength. “When religion was doing well, it did not need to go into politics. Secularity of our population and culture is obviously growing and so religion is on the defensive,” he said.

However, it is still a brave US politician who openly declares a lack of faith. So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.

“Privately, we know that there are 27 other members of Congress that have no belief in God. But we don’t ‘out’ people,” said Silverman.

Others think that one day it will become politically mainstream to confess to a lack of faith as US political life lags behind the society that it represents. “Politicians have not yet caught up with the changing demographics of our society,” said Gaylor.”

Emphasis Mine


Fairness in advertising

CBS is scheduled to run to run a pro fundamentalist Christian, anti-abortion advertisement this Sunday during a professional football game broadcast,  The issue here is not that CBS is running this ad, but they have refused for years to run issue-oriented ads.  See: http://www.bustersports.com/blog/buster-blog/2010/01/18/tim-tebows-focus-for-the-family-super-bowl-commercial/

We might hope that this ad fails as did Tebow’s feeble football efforts in last weeks Senior Bowl.   It has also been observed that since abortions were not legal in the Philippines at that time, the premise of the ad may be a lie:

” In 2004, PETA wanted to run a commercial during the Super Bowl that would have urged people not to buy furs. MoveOn.org wanted to run a Super Bowl commercial pointing out that Bush had increased the deficit. And the United Church of Christ wanted to air an ad showing a bouncer refusing to let a gay couple enter a Church. The tagline was, “Jesus Didn’t Turn People away. Neither do we.” The Super Bowl rejected those ads because, they said, they will not run commercials that “touch on and/or take a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance.”

This year, a gay dating site wanted to run an ad during the Super Bowl. It was rejected. And then the far-right group Focus On The Family told the Super Bowl they’d like to run a 30-second anti-abortion ad featuring University of Florida’s star quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother. Oh, sure, said the Super Bowl, as long as you pay the $3 million price tag. To which many progressives in the U.S. are replying, “WTF?”

The ad proposes to tell the story of Tebow’s mom who, in 1987, was pregnant with Tim while she worked as a missionary in the Philippines. She contracted amoebic dysentery and, according to her, doctors told her she should have an abortion. Instead, she went ahead with her pregnancy and gave birth to the future Heisman Trophy winner who is now so grateful to Jesus, he wears Bible verses on his face during football games. He apparently also believes his mom’s experience gives him the right to tell women what they should do with their bodies — their wombs, to be precise.

Now, questions have arisen questioning whether Tebow and Mom’s story is even true. As was pointed out by numerous lawyers during the past couple of weeks, the Tebows’ Tale of Tim’s Miracle Birth leaves out an important detail that makes the story doubtful. You see, abortion has been illegal under any circumstances in the Philippines since the 1930s. Doctors who perform abortions there face six years in prison, and their patients are looking at two to six years. It’s therefore highly doubtful that a doctor would have suggested an abortion to begin with, and even if one had, who’s to know whether Mrs. Tebow took the jail sentence into consideration when making her, ahem, choice.

Needless to say, the Tebows’ ad has angered lots of people, especially women’s rights groups. The Washington Post ran an op-ed opposing the ad, and Dave Zirin, who writes for Sports Illustrated about sports and politics, said of the Super Bowl’s decision, “The hypocrisy boggles the mind.”

see:http://blogs.creativeloafing.com/theclog/2010/02/03/tebows-super-bowl-ad-story-pretty-unlikely/  (John Grooms)

From The Center for Inquiry:

CBS has decided to run an anti-choice ad from Focus on the Family during the Super Bowl. This ad, which features college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, will use Tebow’s personal story to advocate an anti-choice stance. The Center for Inquiry supports Freedom of Speech. At the same time, however, CFI also unwaveringly supports a woman’s right to choose. We are also deeply troubled by an apparent ideological bias in CBS’s choice of which commercials to air during the Super Bowl. Therefore, we cannot simply let an ad that advances an overtly Christian religious position at the expense of women’s rights air to over a hundred million people without a response.

We full-heartedly back Focus on the Family’s freedom to advocate the views expressed in its ad and CBS’s right air it. We must point out, however, that CBS has recently rejected advocacy ads from organizations such as PETA, MoveOn.org, and the United Church of Christ because they were deemed “too political.” We do not understand how the Focus on the Family ad avoids this label. The ad is at least as divisive and politically charged as the ads that CBS has refused to air in the past. The content of this ad asserts that Christian religious beliefs should overrule the Constitutional rights and reproductive freedom of half the American population.

Because CBS has shown an ideological bias in rejecting progressive advocacy advertisements, we must oppose CBS’s arbitrary decision to air Focus on the Family?s commercial. We have written a letter to CBS’s executives and advertisement directors asking them not to air this ad on the grounds discussed above. The text of that letter is as follows:

“Dear CBS Executive,

The Center for Inquiry wishes to convey to you our concern over CBS’s decision to air an anti-choice advertisement sponsored by Focus on the Family during Super Bowl XLIV. The Center for Inquiry is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering a secular society based on the principles of science, reason, and humanist values. While we fully support and defend CBS’s free speech right to air any ad it chooses to, we must oppose the decision to air the Focus on the Family ad on the grounds that CBS has refused to air ads by other organizations–including PETA, MoveOn.org, and the United Church of Christ–that were deemed “too political.” CBS has shown a troubling ideological bias by choosing to air a divisive political ad by Focus on the Family while also refusing to air ads by other organizations, many of which are politically progressive.

The Focus on the Family ad is at least as divisive and politically charged as ads that CBS has refused to air in the past. The content of this ad endangers women’s health and subjugates their rights under Roe v. Wade by asserting that Christian religious beliefs should overrule the freedoms and well-being concerns of half the American population. While we recognize that the decision to have an abortion is never an easy one, the Center for Inquiry holds as its position that the decision of whether or not to have an abortion should be made between a woman, her family, and her doctor. This position is shared by approximately 70% of the American population, the Supreme Court, and the one-in-five American women who will need an abortion at some point in their life.

The Super Bowl is an entertainment event that brings people together regardless of background, faith, ideology or political affiliation. In the past, CBS has shown great discretion in rejecting overtly political or controversial ads for airing during nationally televised events. It has prohibited advocacy from such groups as PETA, MoveOn.org, The United Church of Christ, and other groups that carry an implicit endorsement for one side in a public debate. Additionally, NBC made the decision last year to not air anti-choice messages during the Super Bowl on the grounds that they were overtly political. By offering one of the most prestigious advertising spots to Focus on the Family this year, CBS is breaking with a longstanding tradition of keeping politics and religion out of national sporting events.

We sincerely hope that you will reconsider your decision to air this divisive, misleading, and overtly political and religious ad during Super Bowl XLIV.

Thank you for your consideration.”

Given the importance of this issue, we ask that you take the time to write your own letter as well, if you choose to. Feel free to use any language from our letter in yours. Listed below are the names and public email addresses of CBS’s Sports Communication Directors.

Leslie Anne Wade, Sr. VP Sports Communication: lwade@cbs.com
Jerry Caraccioli, Communications Director, CBS Sports: gwcaraccioli@cbs.com
Robin Brendle, Communications Director, CBS Sports: rlbrendle@CBS.com
Jennifer Sabatelle, Communications Director, CBS Sports: jsabatelle@CBS.com

Thank you for your continued support.


Ronald A. Lindsay
President and CEO

Toni Van Pelt

Vice President and Director of Public Policy

(Emphasis mine)