FFRF’s Jayne testifies against anti-trans bills

FFRF Attorney Ryan Jayne speaks to the Wisconsin state Senate on May 26.

FFRF Attorney Ryan Jayne testified May 26 in front of two Wisconsin legislative committees in opposition to Assembly Bill 196 and Senate Bill 323, which would prohibit trans girls from playing in female sports.

Jayne submitted written testimony to Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt and Sen. André Jacque, chairmen of the committees, in advance of the meetings. If passed, the companion bills would force schools to segregate all athletic events based on “sex assigned to an individual at birth by a physician.” Jayne argues that this is the wrong body to address these concerns, with the wrong rule, and for the wrong reasons.

Jayne wrote:

“Let’s be honest about this bill’s motivation. After trying to pass trans bathroom bans around the country, anti-trans legislators have not suddenly discovered a love for women’s sports. It wasn’t about bathrooms then, and it’s not about women’s sports now. Trans athlete bans, in Wisconsin as in so many other states this year, are about demonizing trans kids, sending a clear message that they are outsiders in order to score some cheap political points.”

This bigotry, and nearly all organized opposition to rights for LGBTQ individuals, is rooted in religion’s interpretations of biblical gender stereotypes and immorality, rather than science and humanity. Trans children must not continue to be scapegoats for the tyranny of this religious dogma.

FFRF is always pleased to share its expertise with legislative bodies and represent its membership at important hearings such as these.

FFRF excoriates U.S. bishops for weaponizing communion

Roman Catholic higher-ups in the United States have outrageously announced that they will draft guidance to deny President Biden communion because of his support of abortion rights.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, by 73-23 percent, voted that Biden should be denied the “Eucharist,” known as holy communion. The proposal must still be drafted and then approved by a two-thirds majority vote in November.

Biden recently showed integrity and backbone in omitting the Hyde Amendment, which denies low-income women on Medical Assistance abortion care, from his budget. Now the Catholic hierarchy in the United States is out for blood, or rather the communion wine (same thing?). How ironic, given that Biden makes continual display of his faith, crossing himself at the drop of a hat and even inflicting that debasing dirge, “Amazing Grace,” on the nation as part of his Inaugural.

But this is about politics, not piety. The Catholic upper hierarchy is declaring war, for partisan reasons, against a seated president — and such conduct is anathema.

It’s reassuring that 60 Catholic Democrats in Congress immediately condemned the announcement. The action was also over the objections of the Vatican, making for strange bedfellows.

In fact, while the Catholic Conference can inveigh and rant, only the local bishop in charge can actually deny communion. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of the D.C. Archdiocese, does not support the effort, and the bishop-elect in Biden’s Delaware Diocese has not committed. A slim majority of Catholics are pro-choice (shouldn’t they all be denied communion, too?), and their views are divided by party line, with 55 percent of Catholic Republicans concurring that Biden should be denied communion, and 87 percent of Catholic Democrats opposing such retribution. A 2019 Pew study found, to the credit of American Catholics, that only about a third believe communion bread and wine literally become the blood and body of Jesus during Mass.

Biden communion

FFRF cheers removal of Hyde Amendment

The Freedom From Religion Foundation applauds President Biden for notably excluding the Hyde Amendment from his budget proposal.

The religiously rooted amendment, first introduced in 1976 by the ultra-Catholic Rep. Henry J. Hyde, restricts federal funding for abortion care. This means that low-income women on Medicaid (one in five women in the United States), in the Indian Health Service Plan or Peace Corps are essentially denied abortion care unless their state of residence uses its own funds to pay for such care. Currently, only 16 states provide such coverage. And since the procedure can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000, the Hyde Amendment exacerbates health care and economic inequalities for low-income women.

Biden’s action is historic: The Hyde Amendment has been included in every congressional appropriation act since 1980. Hyde described his religious intent for enacting this amendment: “I believe in a merciful God, I believe in a just God, and I would be terrified at the thought of having to explain at the final judgment why I stood unmoved while Herod’s slaughter of the innocents was being re-enacted here in my own country.”

The amendment’s only exceptions are for instances of rape, incest or life-threatening illness of the pregnant woman — and while such circumstances are unfortunately all too common, individuals in such situations rarely end up with coverage due to red tape, reporting barriers and lack of enforcement. The Hyde Amendment does not even cover an abortion when the patient’s health is at risk and an abortion is medically recommended.

The Religious Right’s attack on abortion has become more amplified than ever. The year 2021 is already setting records for the number of abortion restrictions introduced at the state level. And now the ultraconservative Supreme Court has agreed to hear an abortion case that could dismantle Roe v. Wade and create abortion-care deserts across the country.

That’s why FFRF is celebrating Biden’s decision to uphold his campaign promise and exclude the Hyde Amendment from his budget proposal. Biden is a faithful Catholic as an individual but he importantly recognizes his duty as the top public executive not to use his civil office to inflict his personal dogma on other citizens. In excising the Hyde Amendment from the budget, he further demonstrates a commitment to equal protection under the law for women.

While we celebrate this development, it’s still vital to call your members of Congress to approve this budget proposal with its exclusion of the Hyde Amendment. And while you’re at it, ask them to support the EACH Woman Act, which would prohibit federal and state governments from restricting insurance coverage for abortion in public and private health insurance programs.

There’s a long road ahead even after Biden’s welcome move.

In the News (August 2021)

Prophecy

Trump prophecy still believed by many

“Religious prophecy has been wrong over and over again, but failure does not necessarily have the effect among true believers that you might expect,” write researchers Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Jason M. Adkins.

Many people have prophesied, or believed those who make the claims, that Donald Trump would be president again.

“Thirty-seven percent agreed or strongly agreed that prophecy is real, while fewer — only 19 percent —agreed that God told prophets his plan that Trump would win (the election in 2020). Larger numbers (40 percent) believe in faith-healing powers, while a slim majority of Americans indicate that God is in control over the course of events on Earth.” 

The researchers write that believing prophecy is strongly correlated with a belief that Trump was anointed by God to become president. 

“And once these hopes acquire divine sanction, it becomes harder to accept any other result,” the researchers write. “In fact, those contrarian results then take on a gloss of evil since they run counter to ‘God’s plan.’

“It is also no surprise at all that belief in prophecy is highly correlated with a Christian nationalism scale, nor is it surprising that prophecy believers are more likely to believe that Christians will be persecuted by a Democratic administration.”

Remains of nearly 1,000 kids found at schools

The remains of 751 people, mainly Indigenous children, were discovered at the site of a former school in the Saskatchewan, a Canadian Indigenous group said on June 24, “jolting a nation grappling with generations of widespread and systematic abuse of Indigenous people,” according to The New York Times.

The discovery came just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of another former boarding school in British Columbia.

Both Roman Catholic schools were part of a system that took Indigenous children in the country from their families over a period of about 113 years, sometimes by force, and housed them in boarding schools, where they were prohibited from speaking their languages.

GOP, Dems switch sides on religion vs. science

Researchers have found that, in the 1970s, Republicans were more likely to place their confidence in science than religion, while the opposite was true of Democrats. By 2018, these attitudes had completely reversed. 

A report from Timothy O’Brien, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Shiri Noy, an assistant professor at Denison University, showed how these attitudes have changed over time. 

White evangelicals played an important role in this as they migrated to the Republican Party. 

As science became more politicized, O’Brien and Noy said, it was no longer seen as neutral, but as progressive. Both science and religion were recast as alternative, even opposing, sources of knowledge, values and authority.

Pope Francis issues reform of Vatican penal law

In a reform of the Catholic Church’s penal code, Pope Francis on June 1 issued stronger penalties for crimes including sexual abuse, financial malfeasance and female ordination.

More than 70 percent of the canons on the code of canon law were changed by the reform, with only 17 articles remaining untouched.

If a cleric is found guilty of sexually abusing a minor, canon law will require that he be stripped of his office and, if necessary, defrocked. According to current church legislation, put in place by Pope John Paul II in 1983, bishops were allowed more discretion in applying canon law, resulting in a patchwork accountability system.

The new rule also applies to clerics who share child pornography with minors or vulnerable persons. Laypeople and nuns will also be punishable for committing sexual abuse.

The new laws will go into effect Dec. 8.

Study: Atheists are as happy as believers

Atheists are just as happy as devout religious believers, a new global study has shown. 

It upended the conventional idea that Christians and followers of other faiths are happier and more content with their lives than those without religion.

The findings were based on surveys carried out in 24 countries which asked both about religious belief and levels of satisfaction with life.

The researchers found that either a firm belief in God or strong atheist views are more likely to lead to a satisfied mind than a loose attachment to religious faith.

Academics from the Journal of Happiness Studies at the University of Cologne divided levels of belief and nonbelief into four categories and found that all except “weakly religious” showed similar levels of life satisfaction, and all were higher than the “weakly religious” group.

The researchers said religion and happiness also depend heavily on the country involved. In strictly religious countries, atheists are less satisfied with their lives, but ratings improve in more liberal countries with a high proportion of non-believers. They suggested this could be linked to discrimination against atheists in theocracies or highly religious states.

Pakistani court overturns blasphemy conviction

A Pakistani court on June 3 overturned the death sentence of a Christian couple in a blasphemy case, acquitting them for lack of evidence after they had spent seven years on death row, lawyers said.

A lower court had sentenced Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, to death in 2014 for allegedly sending derogatory remarks about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in a text message to another man, Khalid Maqsood.

The couple’s lawyer told Reuters the Lahore High Court had acquitted the couple in the case in the town of Toba Tek Singh.

Insulting the prophet carries a mandatory death penalty in the predominantly Muslim country. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been criticized by global rights groups.

Study links religiosity, conspiratorial beliefs

The findings of the Baylor Religion Survey indicated that biblical literalists, self-identified “very religious” people and weekly church attenders are significantly more likely to believe that the 2020 election was rigged, that the Covid-19 vaccine is untrustworthy and that top Democrats are involved in sex-trafficking rings.

Additionally, Americans who self-identified as becoming “more religious” over the past 10 years are especially likely to believe these falsehoods, said Paul Froese, director of the Baylor Religion Survey and professor of sociology. 

“This broad religion effect corresponds to a Trump effect, something we began to notice in 2017,”  Froese said. “The intersection of religion and politics makes the discrete religion effect on conspiratorial thinking hard to concisely determine, and we must note that there are lots of different types and expressions of religiosity.”

Gorsuch denies churches’ petition over restrictions

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch on June 1 denied a request from two Colorado churches and their pastors challenging Covid-19-related restrictions that they said treated them less favorably than secular organizations, according to a CNN report.

Gorsuch denied the churches’ petition without referring the matter to the full court, suggesting he didn’t think his colleagues would be interested in the arguments put forward by the houses of worship in the case at hand.

Unlike other disputes that have drawn close divisions at the court, the Colorado churches took aim at a law that was not specific to the coronavirus but included other public health disasters such as wildfires and earthquakes, as well. Conservative groups that had supported other challenges to state Covid restrictions did not weigh in in favor of the churches in the Colorado dispute, suggesting that they, too, thought the request was too broad.

Study: LGBTQ attitudes change during college 

A new survey shows that students at Christian schools — whether Protestant, evangelical or Catholic — entered college with less positive attitudes toward gay, lesbian and bisexual people compared with those at nonreligious schools. But all students increased in their positive attitudes toward this group by the time they graduated.

However, Catholic school students made the least gains, according to the results from the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey. Upon entering college, their attitudes were more positive than evangelical students and showed an initial surge after the first year. Yet, when they left college, they had the least positive scores.

According to the survey creators, these findings suggest that how much appreciation students have for diverse sexual orientations might be related to institutional culture, messaging and attitudes — and not necessarily to students’ personal convictions and beliefs alone.

43% of Millennials don’t care, believe in God 

Millennials in the United States are far less likely to believe in God and the bible’s teachings than older generations, according to a survey.

Arizona Christian University’s American Worldview Inventory survey showed younger adults are less likely to identify with organized religion and instead are embracing other beliefs, such as horoscopes.

While 57 percent of Millennials surveyed consider themselves Christian, 43 percent “don’t know, care or believe that God exists.”

“The Millennial generation in particular, seems committed to living without God, without the bible, and without Christian churches as foundations in either their personal life or within American society,” said George Barna, director of research for ASU’s Cultural Research Center.

Judge rejects college’s request on housing rule

A federal judge on May 19 rejected the College of the Ozarks’ request to sidestep a 2021 directive backed by President Joe Biden that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Judge Roseann Ketchmark issued the ruling, denying a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. She said an effort by the conservative Christian college to stop the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from applying the new directive would not protect the college from any liability related to unfair housing allegations.

In mid-April, the college sued Biden, HUD and related federal officials with support from the Alliance Defending Freedom. The college and ADF argued the directive forced religious schools to violate their views by opening male or female residence halls — including dorm rooms and restrooms — to members of the opposite sex.

Ohio law now allows medical discrimination

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio signed the budget bill on June 30 that allows doctors, hospitals, insurers and other health care professionals and companies to deny services if they have an objection based on “moral, ethical or religious beliefs.”

The measure comes months after Arkansas, South Dakota and Montana enacted similar legislation, indicating a growing trend among Republican-controlled state legislatures. 

The provision was tucked inside a 700-page document of amendments to the state’s two-year budget bill, and remained largely unexamined until DeWine had signed it into law. DeWine had the opportunity to line-item veto the language while signing the rest of the budget into law and refused to do so.

The change will allow any medical professional “the freedom to decline to perform, participate in, or pay for any health care service which violates the practitioner’s, institution’s or payer’s conscience as informed by the moral, ethical or religious beliefs.”

41% of Australians don’t trust religious leaders

The Australia Talks National Survey found that 41 percent of Australians don’t trust religious leaders “at all,” a 6 percent rise since the survey was last conducted in 2019.

Almost half (47 percent) of 18–24 year-olds don’t trust religious leaders “at all.” That’s a jump of 15 percentage points in just two years.

At the last census in 2016, 30 percent of Australians said they had no religion, compared with 19 percent in 2006.

Texas churches to stay open during disasters

Prompted by the pandemic shutdowns, a newly passed law in Texas will keep religious organizations active during disasters.

The law, which took effect June 18, blocks all government bodies at or below the state level from stopping the activities of churches, mosques, temples or any house of faith. Governmental entities may not “prohibit a religious organization from engaging in religious and other related activities or continuing to operate in the discharge of the organization’s foundational faith-based mission and purpose,” the text reads.

The law further specifies that a “declared state of disaster” does not grant governments leeway to limit religious activity. 

Atheists sue over ‘IGWT’ license plates in Miss.

American Atheists, the Mississippi Humanist Association and three nonreligious Mississippi residents filed a federal lawsuit on June 22 against the state over its “In God We Trust” license plate. The complaint accuses the Mississippi Commissioner of Revenue of violating the people’s freedom of speech and religion by forcing them to display this religious message on their personal vehicles.

The Mississippi license plate has included “In God We Trust” since 2019. The lawsuit claims that car owners are forced to promote this religious statement or pay an additional fee for a specialty plate without it.

“Every minute they spend on the streets of Mississippi, atheists are forced to act as a billboard for the state’s religious message,” said Geoffrey T. Blackwell, litigation counsel at American Atheists. 

 Vatican tries to sway Italy over gay rights bill

The Vatican has expressed concerns to the Italian government about a gay rights bill working its way through Parliament, according to a report in The New York Times.

The Vatican says the bill infringes upon guaranteed religious liberties, and “risked exposing core church beliefs, such as limiting the priesthood to men or only recognizing marriage between a man and a woman, to charges of criminal discrimination,” according to the Times.

Church historians said a letter from the Vatican to an Italian ambassador outlining those concerns “amounted to a unique escalation of Vatican attempts to influence the affairs of the Italian state.”

Justice Dept. says it can defend religious exemption

The Justice Department in a court filing June 8 said it can “vigorously” defend a religious exemption from federal civil rights law that allows federally funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students, a move that surprised some LGBTQ advocates who said the wording went further than just an obligation to defend an existing law, according to a report in the Washington Post.

In the filing, the Biden administration said it “shares the same ultimate objective” as the conservative Christian schools named in the case.

At issue in Hunter v. the U.S. Department of Education are 40 LGBTQ students at conservative religious colleges and universities who are suing the government for its role in providing funding to schools with discriminatory policies. The schools say they have a First Amendment right to promote traditional religious beliefs about sexuality and gender.

“The plaintiffs seek safety and justice for themselves and for the countless sexual and gender minority students whose oppression, fueled by government funding, and unrestrained by government intervention, persists with injurious consequences to mind, body and soul,” reads the March suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon. 

Billions in federal money for things such as scholarships and grants flow through the U.S. Department of Education.

Most atheists, agnostics oppose death penalty

A majority of adults in the United States favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. However, views about the death penalty vary by religion — with atheists and agnostics opposing this form of punishment at about the same rate as Americans overall support it.

Roughly two-thirds of atheists (65 percent) and 57 percent of agnostics either “strongly” or “somewhat” oppose the death penalty for people convicted of murder. 

Meanwhile, 60 percent of U.S. adults overall favor the death penalty, including 75 percent of White evangelical Protestants and 73 percent of White non-evangelical Protestants, according to the survey. 

Atheists and agnostics are the only religious groups in this analysis that are more likely to oppose the death penalty than to support it. 

Judge: Christian baker broke discrimination law 

A Denver district court found that the Colorado baker who was the subject of a 2018 Supreme Court case for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding has violated state discrimination laws in another case.

A judge on June 15 found that Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips illegally refused to bake a cake to celebrate a trans woman’s birthday and identity, saying it violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. 

In 2019, he was sued by Autumn Scardina for refusing to bake her a custom birthday cake in 2017 after she said the colors and design of the cake would celebrate her transition from male to female.

Scardina explained on the phone to Phillips the personal meaning of the cake as a transgender woman and she said the tone of the call changed. She was told the bakery “probably could not make that cake because of the message,” according to court documents.

Valerie Tarico: Future of women is more than just breeding

Valerie Tarico
Women at a pregnancy yoga class

By Valerie Tarico

Depopulation doomsaying is trending. You may have noticed some of the headlines and book titles as they’ve cropped up: “With global births expected to decline, experts warn ‘crisis’ looms” — CBS News; “The U.S. fertility rate just hit a historic low. Why some demographers are freaking out.” — The Washington Post; “The US needs more babies, more immigrants, and more integration” — Vox; Empty Planet — The Shock of Global Population Decline — Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson. Though global population will grow for decades and maybe generations to come, a demographic shift is happening. 

In the 20th century, population skyrocketed, but birthrates dropped from an average of over five children per woman in 1900 to just over two by the end of the century. If you think about this in terms of individual empowerment or health, that’s an extraordinary accomplishment: Fewer women dying in childbirth, healthier babies, parents who are more able to form the families of their choosing and then invest deeply in their children, and more women able to pursue other interests and roles. (In a parallel trend, lifespans have doubled, partly due to lower childhood mortality and partly due to better health later on.)

This should be cause for celebration, but that is not how everyone thinks about it. Instead, recent reporting feeds anxieties about scarcity and competition, sometimes making the untrue claim that population growth is needed for economic growth or social security programs. These false claims have grave implications for the rights of women and well-being of children, taking us back toward the roles dictated in the bible.

New times, old roles

Historically and traditionally, women tend to think about reproduction in terms of caretaking, family well-being, healthy children and the trajectory of their own lives. Men — especially men in positions of power — have often thought about reproduction in economic and competitive terms: More children means more workers for the field, more adherents for the church, more serfs or slaves, and more soldiers to help one clan or tribe or kingdom or nation beat others. 

We glimpse this historical view in the Iron Age texts of the bible and Quran, where women and children are economic assets belonging to a patriarch, the head of family. The Ten Commandments forbid a man to covet his neighbor’s house, wife, slaves, livestock or anything that belongs to his neighbor. A girl can be given by her father in marriage; virginity is guarded to ensure progeny of known lineage; a rapist can be forced to buy and keep the damaged goods; and a father can sell his offspring into slavery or even sacrifice his son. In one story, God gives Satan the right to destroy Job’s wealth — including his children — and then later replaces them. 

In recent centuries, societies have gradually evolved toward a different view of women and children, one in which each is fully a person, valued not as a means to an end, but as an individual whose thoughts, feelings, preferences, intentions and life experience matter in their own right. Women and children are seen to merit life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the reasons that men merit the same. 

In his book The Prophet, poet Kahlil Gibran beautifully expressed this view:

Your children are not your children. 

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. 

They come through you but not from you, 

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 

For they have their own thoughts. 

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow. 

This is a radical shift from the culture that gave a man the right to sacrifice his son or daughter (like Abraham and Jeptheh in the bible), but this transition is far from complete. Mixed feelings abound even at the liberal edge of the shift, and old scripts still dominate life in traditional and conservative subcultures. The World Health Organization estimates that each day 39,000 families “give” underage girls in marriage, often as soon as they are capable of pregnancy. Many of these child brides drop out of school, joining 129 million unschooled girls and 12 million teens who give birth annually. Among women, 190 million would like to prevent or delay the next pregnancy, but lack modern means to do so. These girls and women have the highest rates of unsought pregnancy today, and they will stay vulnerable if depopulation narratives begin to drive philanthropic and government priorities. 

Ironically, the second most vulnerable group may be those women in countries with the greatest degree of female education and contraception, the women whose below-replacement birthrates lie at the heart of the angst about declining fertility. These women lead very different lives than their sisters in the Global South, but depopulation alarmism poses the same threat for both groups. Psychologically, it creates a powerful subconscious shift in which the thought of female empowerment elicits anxiety, ambivalence, uncertainty, frustration or overt hostility. 

This emotional shift has the potential to stall progress on female empowerment. Mixed feelings often lead to bureaucratic resistance, sluggish public investment and philanthropic skittishness. That is because when people feel unsure about the fundamental goodness of a course of action, they cease to act. 

The family planning sector already faces obstruction from the ongoing influence of religion in society. Conservative religious leaders laud motherhood as the pinnacle of female virtue. The pope recently called Italy’s shift in family size a cold, dark “demographic winter.” Bureaucrats, aid agencies and charitable foundations often seek noncontroversial strategies, leading them to avoid family planning investments, even when these might be central to attaining their goals — as, for example, in PEPFAR (AIDS relief) or the Green Climate Fund. But until now, education of girls has been seen, at least by those in power, as an unmitigated good. 

What should we do?

In recent decades, advocates have fought to protect women (especially poor brown women) from being pressured not to have babies. Now, humanity may be returning to a phase when many women will face pressure in the opposite direction, as has been the case through much of history. Safeguards against coercion need to be broad enough to protect against both. 

To avert problems, we need to start with the facts. Human population skyrocketed during the 20th century and the curve is bending. Global population will grow for at least another generation, exacerbating climate change and resource depletion and some countries now face new challenges associated with shrinking populations. With women having fewer babies and people living longer, a few countries now have more retirees than kids — Japan and Spain, for examples. Others will soon follow.  

Advocates for women and girls need to take seriously some of the concerns raised by alarmists — for example, questions about geopolitical power dynamics, changing dependency ratios — meaning fewer working age people relative to everyone else — and potential loss of creativity or productivity as populations become older. We need to press relevant experts (e.g., economists, social scientists, policy makers) to engage on these topics, and we need to be prepared with answers when hyperbole and legitimate questions come up. Unless there are credible paths forward, depopulation alarmists will continue to center on their current old “solutions” to new challenges — that women produce more babies or, temporarily, that wealthy countries recruit immigrants from places where women have less means to manage their fertility.

We need to ensure that women who do want more babies are supported in having them. Some portion of declining birthrates is due to factors that discourage women from having babies they might want — financial constraints, lack of child care options, fertility problems, health issues, and in the most extreme, anti-conceptive policies or practices that are coercive. As depopulation alarmists raise these concerns, we must validate and address them. 

We must speak up against the doom and gloom. Depopulation alarmism often extrapolates unlikely trendlines. It relies on economic indicators that ignore individual prosperity. It brushes past dimensions of well-being that don’t have a dollar price tag. It ignores climate change and the well-being of other species. It underestimates technology shifts such as artificial intelligence and robotics that will make legions of low-paid economic foot soldiers obsolete. Lastly, it overlooks the many ways that a smaller, older population might be awesome. If we are well informed, we can round out the conversation.  

The alternative to depopulation alarmism is creative innovation. Old school Malthusians made the mistake of underestimating human ingenuity, specifically our ability to feed people and grow prosperity as world population swelled from under 2 billion at the start of the 20th century to almost 8 billion at the close. Now, reverse Malthusians make the same mistake and derive similarly wrong conclusions. 

If we can reach Mars, we can create a future that merges declining population, broad prosperity and individual reproductive freedom. Rocket science takes will, work, smarts, imagination and teamwork; that’s how we as a species cross uncharted distances. So, let’s get on it. We can’t roll up our sleeves if we’re busy wringing our hands. 

FFRF Member Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas…and Other Imaginings.

Stardust expands its universe

 

Elle and Bailey Harris
Stardust game

By age 12, Bailey Harris was already an author. Along with her father, Doug, they co-wrote My Name is Stardust, which was released in 2017 and had already sold thousands of copies by the time she spoke at FFRF’s 2018 convention in San Francisco. (FFRF awarded Bailey its Beverly and Richard Hermsen Student Activist Award of $5,000.)

Bailey, now 15, has helped create more in the Stardust line, which now includes a new board game called “Go Extinct! Stardust Catches the Carnivores. According to the StardustScience.com website, the game is a “special edition of the award-winning Go Extinct! tabletop card game, incorporating artwork and concepts from the Stardust series of science books for young readers. Players complete sets of animals based on actual genetic clades, working to collect the most sets by inferring the other player’s cards and identifying common ancestors on the evolutionary tree.”

But that’s not all for Bailey. Doug Harris says Bailey is working on the outline for a new book series called Stardust & Friends. They will explore Earth with famous scientists from the past. (In the first book, they will go on an adventure to the Galapagos Islands with Charles Darwin.) 

And Bailey’s sister, Elle, 10, is also involved in what has seemingly become the family business.

Elle the Humanist, which contains a foreword by philosopher and author Daniel Dennett, is an illustrated children’s book that “presents humanist ideas and ethics in a way that’s warm, welcoming and accessible for young readers.” 

You can see all of the Stardust-themed items for sale, including four jigsaw puzzles, at StardustScience.com/collections/all.

It pays to complain: Missouri city council ends invocations

Ethan Gabel

FFRF Member Ethan Gabel researched all of the invocations given at the Kirksville, Mo., City Council meetings since 2005.

His results showed that there have been more than 330 invocations given and almost every single one of them had been a prayer, mostly delivered by Christian clergy members.

So, Gabel emailed the council with his new-found information, hoping to get the council to stop the religiously infused invocations. 

“Regardless of intent, it appears that the Kirksville City Council itself endorses Christianity above all other religions and is actively ignoring the doctrine of church-state separation enshrined in the United States Constitution,” Gabel wrote in his emailed letter. 

Gabel’s letter worked.

As reported by Austin Miller in the Kirksville Daily Express, “The Kirksville City Council is ending the customary invocation that has kicked off its meetings for many years.”

Now, instead of the invocation prior to council meetings, there will be a “reading of the city’s mission and vision statements and then a moment of silence for personal reflection,” according to the Daily Express. 

Several councilmembers agreed with Gabel. 

“[The invocation] is not called a prayer for a reason,” said Councilmember Jessica Parks, as reported in the article. “However, it feels like a prayer and it pretty much has been.”

She added later: “I think it’s a good reminder for us to remember who we represent when we come to our meetings, that we’re not representing ourselves and our own wants and desires. We are representing the citizens.”

Councilmember John Gardner agreed. 

“I’m not sure I’ve ever been anywhere . . . where an invocation really, essentially, wasn’t a prayer,” he said. “That’s what they’ve always been. That’s probably not their definition and certainly not their connotation, so I understand the intent. I just think what we would end up getting is a lot of people doing Christian prayers. That’s a large part of our community . . . but we’re the city government. We’re not a church, we’re not a religious institution, and we represent all people.”

Crankmail (August 2021)

We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of the Crankmail missives sent to FFRF. Printed as received.

Evil: It must be devastating to your “non profit” knowing there are over 550 witnesses confirmed Jesus is alive and well after dying for mine and your sins on the cross. There’s a hot hell waiting for those that use their life to deny his name! “EVERY KNEE WILL BEND & TONGUE WILL CONFESS THAT JESUS IS LORD.” Sorry to break it to you all but In the end God wins. — Bo Dyer 

Fools: If you don’t believe in any G_d, how could you possibly be offended by those that do. If you are smart enough’s to discern there could be no Creator, why could you possibly be offended by those that acknowledge someone you feel doesn’t exist? Why would freedom of thought be ended because of your opinions? Fool! — Rodger Jennings 

You are so fucked: So. You “atheists” really think it’s about religion?? You have no clue what the hell you’re even talking about. Interested in a good debate?? Come see us at Cornerstone Church of Clarion. Maybe we get the Holy Spirit to set you on fire — Jared Evans 

your threat to this country: You may assist me–rather the RESPECTABLE citizens of this country–by leaving it. Atheism is NOT a religion. You do have the right not to believe in God but you do NOT have the right to try to change the foundation of this country. If you don’t like that religion is practiced here then GET THE FUCK OUT. I wish you this–you get a terminal case of the drizzling shits & live forever with it, with only coarse sandpaper with which to wipe your sorry ass. Oh…by the way…did I mention I am an atheist? But I am a DECENT atheist, not a disgusting one like you. — Monica Thacker 

Moral decline: I just want to congratulate FFR and the ACLU (Anti Christian Liberal Union) for being MAJOR contributors to the moral decline in America. Since you two worthless groups have pursued the destruction of organized religion the moral decay of society has grown. — Jack Pengstad

Facts: First of all: Shame on you. I am going to tell you a truth and you better believe it or I WILL bankrupt you. “Separation of Church and State” is NOT in the United States Constitution. That is a FACT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anybody disagree, then you really do not know the truth. Rescind your dispute NOW or I will see you at the Supreme Court, and you will be declared a terrorist organization. I am tired of the lies that the organizations like FFRF promote. The First Amendment states in part “freedom of religion” NOT ‘freedom from religion’. You would not exist if it were not for the founding of our nation and the certain unalienable rights that ONLY our Creator could avow to us. FACT! Please apologize. Thanks! — Vincent DeJung

Are you stupid.: Your group needs to stop demanding people to take down there faith in GOD.Its our right to pray and no place in our Constitution does it say are mean,the government has the right to take it away.If someone gets offended by it then to bad this country needs God.And if they come to this country to live they need to respect our laws and valuse as we do theres. — Theodore SpahnHorrible!: Freedom from religion? What we need is freedom from socialism. Over 100 million victims in the 20th century alone. How do you folk sleep at night? — Jonathan Roester

Prayers: If you do not want people praying at Osceola County School Board meetings then you are what is wrong with this country! — Jackson Bachmann

True Christians: An atheist knows nothing about Christ or Christians. Jesus is not political. He does not favor one party over another. Was Trump a decent president, I think so. Was he God’s gift to us? God let Him win. Was he a Christian, he was a baby, Christian. Is Biden a Christian? I say no. Why, because he is doing what the Bible says is wrong to do. Sitting in a Catholic pew does not make a person a Christian. Pelosi proves that. — Ben Young

James A. Haught: Mainstream silence about freethinkers

James A. Haught

By James A. Haught

The modern freethought movement is gigantic. Numerous skeptic organizations, magazines, websites, books, online blogs, student secular chapters, videos, podcasts and other voices spread the message that supernatural religion is absurd. But America has a strange contradiction: Mainstream magazines, newspapers, television shows, radio programs and other general media rarely allow a direct challenge to supernatural faith.

I think it’s because they’re mostly for-profit commercial businesses dependent on advertising and/or subscribers. They have multitudes of religious customers who would stop paying or listening if insulted, causing severe audience and ad revenue loss. Print media is an especially endangered species these days, barely clinging to life. Hazards must be avoided like the plague.

As a longtime newspaper editor in Appalachia’s Bible Belt, I have known the dilemma firsthand. Years ago, a column syndication agent visited our newsroom. I told him I’d like to write a national atheist column. He choked on his coffee. I knew my proposal was impossible. No newspaper would print such a column. We couldn’t even print it in my own paper. We would lose thousands of subscribers, maybe sink into bankruptcy.

Since for-profit mainstream outlets are forced into silence, our nonprofit freethought movement lives mostly within its own realm, greatly aided by the wide-open internet. We have freedom to speak in our own domain, but aren’t fully welcome outside it.

However, religion is dying in the United States. American churches have lost 20 percent of their members in the past two decades. About one-fourth of adults now say their religion is “none” — and for young adults, it’s one-third. Eventually, I hope, “Nones” will become the largest category.

In other words, we skeptics are winning the cultural struggle. Scientific-minded honesty is prevailing. Maybe this snowballing trend will eventually force mainstream media to open their doors.

As for now, commercial media outlets don’t dare assert that religion is hokum. But our freethought community can. We don’t depend on religious subscribers or advertisers. We can proceed full steam ahead to proclaim rational truths without risking losses. We are free to act — driven by convictions, not by the profit motive — and thus the “free” in freethought has multiple meanings.

A great social transformation is occurring in America. Supernaturalism is withering away. The Secular Age is blossoming. Our freethought movement is delivering the message because for-profit media cannot.

FFRF Member James A. Haught was the longtime editor at the Charleston Gazette and has been the editor emeritus since 2015. This column is adapted from a piece originally published on July 22, 2019, at Daylight Atheism/Patheos.

Anthony B. Pinn: It’s time to acknowledge Blacks as being alive

Anthony B. Pinn
Photo by Shutterstock

This article originally appeared in Free Inquiry in its October/November 2020 issue and is reprinted with permission.

By Anthony B. Pinn

Before leaving theism, I spent a good number of years in the church. I wasn’t simply a member of the gathered “faithful,” whose obligation to Christianity is defined by church attendance and the monetary offering placed in the collection plate. 

No, I was a minister, an office I entered at a fairly young age. Much of my responsibility as a “minister of the Gospel” had to do with helping congregations critique individual as well as collective sin and celebrate what we assumed was the goodness of God. These activities, in sum, involved fighting back spiritual death to safeguard morality and ethics in the world and eternal life after the material trappings of physical existence ended. 

Yet this was only a part of what I did as a minister. I was also responsible for ritualizing physical death — funerals, eulogies and burial committals at the gravesite: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

I left ministry more than two decades ago, but what remains is the challenge of death. Of course, this challenge isn’t a theological dilemma — a matter of souls and immortality against the fragile nature of our mortality. No, those religious circumstances no longer define my take on life and death. But even as a humanist — particularly as a Black humanist — death remains a significant marker, a profound possibility.

Put differently, I left the church and entered a community I believe better values life, one that better understands the need to safeguard the life web of which humans are part. And on some level, I think “disbelief” in general, and humanism in particular, have positioned us to engage collective circumstances with clarity and moral maturity. However, humanism (and I would also include atheism and other forms of disbelief) often falls short when it’s time to center conversation on the ramifications of anti-Black racism on the nature and meaning of a humanist philosophy of life. 

Furthermore, this failure is one reason most of those writing and lecturing on racism are from the community suffering the consequences of racism and White privilege. In a word, too many humanists rely on Black people to educate them on their White privilege and participation in anti-Black racism (to the extent they aren’t, as Ibram Kendi has insightfully outlined, anti-racist in thought and practice). 

While that is a different conversation, one for another time, this brief reference to White privilege does serve to highlight humanism’s general failure to adequately note the unique relationship between anti-Black racism and death in the United States.

Recent events — the murders and memorials — over the past year have reinforced for me this race problem within humanist circles. It’s time for humanists — and add to them the list atheists, freethinkers, skeptics, and so on — to better appreciate the relationship between Blackness and death lamented and protested across the United States (and the world).

Being Black in the United States entails two connections with death. First, regardless of age, one is seen as a danger to society capable of causing death. And, second, one is born into circumstances defined by the constant exposure to the possibility of being killed. And so, the “talk” so many Black parents have with their children speaks awareness of these relationships to death in hopes of avoiding a different talk — their child’s eulogy.

How does one change this situation in light of Professor Sharon Patricia Holland’s haunting words from Raising the Dead? “What,” she writes, “if some subjects never achieve . . . the status of the ‘living’?” Holland frames the question through the lens of Toni Morrison’s brilliant novel Beloved and raises the specter of some existing with the dead, being “at one with the dead.” For Holland, African Americans are perceived as ghosts and aren’t considered alive — not in the way Whites are considered alive.

Recently we’ve come to see proof of this relationship of African Americans to the dead as it has taken images of death for many Whites to see African Americans’ frustrating struggle to gain “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This is what I mean: the normalcy, beauty, and significance of Blacks going about the business of nurturing relationships and growing families are recognized only in their absence. These practices of togetherness that represent a desire to nurture love-based connections generally aren’t named with respect to African Americans, and they aren’t highlighted as defining characteristics of Black communities. Instead, they are lamented as what might have been if society where different, and we are left to collect mutilated corpses on city streets, hanging from trees, riddled with bullets in homes, and lifeless in jail cells. Over the past year, many responded by carving out spaces for mourning.

What does it mean to mourn those never recognized as having been alive?

Pushing against anti-Black brutality, protesters have called for an end to African Americans being killed for being Black. However, to protest death isn’t the same thing as recognizing and safeguarding life. Protests resulting in charges against those filmed killing Blacks, financial resources committed to Black business and interests, as well as removal of statues celebrating discrimination are examples of steps forward. However, these positive developments don’t dig deep enough into the underlying problem.

There are unacknowledged patterns of thought that justify racial violence by questioning the humanity of Blacks — and, by extension, Black life. Not only part of formal schooling, they also are entangled from the beginning in our informal socialization processes. Think about negative images of Blacks in print and on screen; unchallenged comments that render Blacks hypersexual or lazy; and colorblindness that maintains the normalcy and privilege of Whiteness while allowing Whites to feel innocent of racism.

White privilege functions as a code providing the “proper” look of life as White families, Whites in parks, and Whites enjoying restaurants. It is present in the weaponizing of mobile phones by Whites who call the police when pushed to acknowledge Blacks rightfully occupying space. It shapes interactions and perceptions of who poses a threat and who is “law-abiding.” To drive a car while White doesn’t immediately run the risk of death; to walk through one’s neighborhood while White doesn’t generate suspicion and fear that is likely to result in death; and the list goes on. 

White supremacy means Black people in so many ways are defined as not fully alive and always under threat, while White privilege affords Whites rights and resources making it possible for them to flourish. They don’t need to have the “talk” with their children.

It’s time to challenge faulty thinking that safeguards White privilege, that sanctions racial disregard, and that invites Black demise. It’s time to reject the assumption that structural anti-Black racism died with the Emancipation Proclamation and now individual Whites behaving properly is enough to neutralize “the race problem.” This work marks the difference between mourning those who were never acknowledged to be alive and establishing that Black lives matter. Otherwise, because they aren’t White and can’t have White privilege, Black people remain outside the land of the living.

Anthony B. Pinn is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and a professor of religion at Rice University. He is also director of Research for the Institute for Humanist Studies. Pinn is the author of 35 books.