The Gainesville Humanist Observer
An Online News Magazine
2012 No. 1
In This Issue:
In the News
A Closer Look
Upcoming Local Events
For Past Articles
In The News
Dateline January 16, 2012
University of Florida graduate student Matt Mingus gave a somewhat chilling lesson in American history when he spoke at the January 11 meeting of the Gainesville Humanist Society. The fight for religion-free schools is not a relatively new phenomenon, but was raging even in the mid-19th Century.
Matt pointed out that after the Civil War, more and more immigrants streamed into our country and became good loyal citizens. Because they brought a diversity of religious beliefs, school systems could no longer accommodate the dominant Christian protestant religion in the school curriculum and activities. Fundamentalist sects reacted strongly. When the Cincinnati public schools decided in 1869 to ban Bibles, prayer and hymns from its schools, fundamentalists took their case all the way to the state supreme court. There the school board’s lawyer, JB Stallo, argued that government could only support religion by guarding the "freedom" of its development, and that anything more would be "tyranny and oppression." Stallo argued that the US "at least ought to be, not a Christian, but a free people." The school district won the case and the secularization of schools continued, ensuring that science and history be taught by empirical methods and objective facts, and not through the distorted and limiting view of religious dogma.
As today’s fundamentalists wage their battle to "take back" the schools, proponents of secular education continue to face the challenge of fending off new and well-financed attacks. "The price of freedom," Matt reminded to audience, "is eternal vigilance."
Matt’s presentation, aptly called "Not a Christian, but a Free People," grew out of his essay, "Rejecting ‘His Story.’" The essay won second place in a national contest sponsored by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. In the essay, Matt discusses the current efforts of the religious right to rewrite history in order to make the US a "Christian nation."
Matt is currently working on his PhD in European History, and teaches undergrads at UF.
Dateline November 20, 2011
In a project that is just a few months old, members of the Humanist Society of Gainesville stepped up to the moral imperatives of humanism by donating food to a local program for hungry school children.
At their November meeting members brought four grocery bags of food items to donate to the Food4Kids backpack program in Gainesville. The program was started in March of 2010 by Jennifer Moore, a parent at Terwilliger Elementary in Gainesville. It has since grown to include ten local schools — not all of them elementary schools.
For more information on the program and what items are best to contribute, see the Food4Kids website at http://www.food4kidsbackpackprogram.com/Home_Page.php
Dateline November 20, 2011
Holy Saint Pedophilias! Guess who’s worried about religious liberty! The American bishops of the Roman Catholic Church! Yes, THAT church. The church that took the liberty to hide child-abusing priests from the reach of the law. The church that turned a blind eye toward the religious liberty of millions of Jews who were brutally exterminated during the Holocaust. The church that robbed, tortured, and burned to death millions of men, women and children for centuries because they were not Catholic, or not Catholic enough. (For a gruesome one-hour introduction to the Catholic idea of religious liberty, see http://www.truthbeknown.com/victims.htm)
"Religious liberty is under attack in the United States," declared Bishop William Lori at a recent conference of bishops, who have decided to make "religious liberty" one of their top priorities.
In fact, "religious liberty" or "freedom of religion" is the current favorite strategy of conservative Christians, both Catholic and protestant. By playing the religious freedom card, the Christian right intends to trump rules that require them to follow the same regulations as other businesses or organizations that contract with the government to provide social services. They also use the religious freedom card to trump the rights of women and gays, and to get government funding for religious schools.
In Florida, this ploy has played out in the so-called Religious Freedom Amendment scheduled to go on the ballot next November. Crafters of the Amendment say the original law prohibiting direct or indirect government aid to religions was an "attempt to stifle and disrupt the constitutional rights and development of the emerging Catholic minority." In reality, the Religious Freedom Amendment would open the door to unlimited and unrestricted state funding for Catholic and other religious schools and enterprises.
In his testimony before a US House Judiciary subcommittee on "The State of Religious Liberty in the United States," Bishop Lori complained that Catholic Charities "has been driven out of the adoption and foster care business" in Illinois because they refuse to work with gay or lesbians couples in child adoptions. He complained about requirements to provide the full range of reproductive services, i.e. birth control information, in government-financed church-run health services. He also said that by calling the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) an act of bigotry, the US Justice Department was "sticking the label of bigot" onto the church.
In early November Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan met with President Obama for the second time this year. The topic was religious liberty in America. The president has not yet to fulfilled his promise to ban religion-based job discrimination in publicly funded "faith-based" social services.
Religious liberty for the Catholic Bishops is not the kind of religious liberty intended by the First Amendment. For them it means the freedom to hold their religion above the law, and to rake in government funds to indoctrinate children in their schools, deny services such as birth control and abortion to women, and block the civil rights of the kind of people they used to burn at the stake.
Dateline November 20, 2011
The American classic, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" begins when Huck fakes his own death to escape the life-threatening abuse of his neglectful and worthless father, "Pap" Finn. A judge has just denied kind-hearted attempts to take Huck away from his often-absent father. "Courts mustn’t interfere and separate families," said the Judge. Pap would be proud today as conservative lawmakers, including those in the Florida legislature, place the rights of parents above the rights of children to be safe from abuse and neglect.
Studies have shown that almost 87.5 % of child abuse and neglect is perpetrated at home by natural, adoptive, or foster parents. By law, citizens who suspect abuse must report it to police. Today that legal as well as moral responsibility is under threat by a proposed amendment to the US Constitution called "The Parental Rights Amendment." The Florida House of Representatives has officially supported this amendment through Florida House Memorial 557, entered into the Congressional Record of the 112th US Congress on July 26, 2011.
This amendment would effectively preempt laws designed to protect children from abusive parents. It would codify the parents’ right to direct the upbringing, education, religion and other areas of a child’s life without government interference. Opponents say it would enable abuse and potentially fatal neglect based on political or religious grounds. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said such an amendment would have a "chilling effect" upon those who work with children. By "interfering"– or reporting– suspected abuse, doctors, educators, law enforcement personnel, and others could face costly lawsuits for usurping "parents’ rights."
Florida’s House Memorial is not home grown, but rather a product handed down to conservative Florida legislators by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive national organization that creates model laws to promote the interests of its funders. Those funders include large corporations and wealthy conservative Christians like the Koch Brothers and the Coors family. For more information on ALEC see http://www.thenation.com/article/161978/alec-exposed
The Family Research Council is another stakeholder. Passage of the Parental Rights Amendment is to the financial benefit of James Dobson, the founder of the Family Research Council. He has made millions of dollars from his book, "Dare to Discipline," which teaches parents to administer corporal punishment even to very young toddlers. Another book by Christian minister Michael Pearl, "Train Up a Child," advocates "switching" babies as young as seven months with a willow branch or 12-inch ruler as a punishment for showing anger. Pearl’s disciplinary guidelines have been linked to the deaths of several children.
Section 3 of the Parental Rights Amendment is especially important to individuals like Dobson. It would forbid the US from signing on to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that sets international standards for government obligations to children ranging from protection from abuse and exploitation to a child’s right to free expression. US acceptance of the treaty would put a damper on his disciplinary philosophy and kill the sales of his books. Presently the US and Somalia are the only UN members who have not signed on.
Some opponents of the Amendment say it is "unserious" and a wedge issue meant to rally the conservative base by raising the specter of a government takeover of parental rights. The likes of Pap Finn wouldn’t want the "govment" to be "a-standing ready to take a man’s son away from him."
Dateline October 7, 2011
In what is billed as the largest secular event in the history of the world, major US secular organizations have joined together to sponsor a one day rally on Saturday, March 24 on the Washington, DC, Mall. The president and vice president of the Humanist Society of Gainesville as well as other members plan to be there.
Drawing on the lessons learned by the LGTB community, the secular community plans to show the world, "We’re huge, we’re everywhere, and we’re growing." Indeed, non-believers are coming out of the closet, encouraged by statistics showing that as much as 10 per cent of the population actually admits to being unbelievers, and a total 20 per cent do not affiliate with any religion.
In addition to encouraging more non-believers to assert their (un)beliefs, the rally organizers want to use the event to dispel myths and stereotypes about secularists. "There is no one ‘True Atheist,’ no matter what your pastor or parent may tell you, says the event website."We will have non-theists from all political persuasions, ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds. We will show that there are atheists in every American demographic."
The organizers also want "to show the country that atheists can run for office and adequately represent theists, just as theists in office can represent atheists proudly and openly. We deserve a seat at the table just like theists, and we hope this rally can put our values in the radar of American voters, who may one day elect an atheist to public office."
Ronald A. Lindsay of the Center for Inquiry, the publishers of Free Inquiry magazine, says, "Some people are bigots and will remain bigots no matter what. But one reason many Americans harbor prejudice toward atheists is that they know about them only through what they have heard from their minister or priest, some right-wing politician, or perhaps some fatuous media personality such as Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly. Fortunately, many nonreligious are no longer willing to "pass." Finding their voice, they are letting others know that they don’t believe in a god — and that they are leading happy, fulfilling lives. But more of us need to shake off our complacency and come out."
Among the groups sponsoring the event are our parent organization, the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Freethought Society, Military Atheists and Freeethinkers, Secular Coalition of America, Coalition for Reason, the Richard Dawkins Foundation.
Headlining the speaker list is Richard Dawkins, the author of ground breaking books that challenge religion’s claims to legitimacy. PZ Myers, Hemant Mehta, Greta Christina are among a long list of distinguished leaders.
Organizers stress that the rally is not intended to bash religion or the "faith community," but to assert the dignity and humanity of non-believers.
Rally organizers want this to be a fun event as well. Jamie Kilstein, stand-up comedian and co-host of Citizen Radio, will add to the entertainment. The band Bad Religion will give a one hour performance at the end of the rally. To sample their song "American Jesus" go to http://www.skepticmoney.com/reason-rally-march-24-2012-washington-dc-now-with-the-band-bad-religion/
A Closer Look
Program Supports Lots of Dogma and Little Quality
In a nation where voters have consistently and overwhelmingly voted against tax payer funding of religious and private schools, the Florida state government has been diverting hundreds of millions of dollars to do just that, in spite of a state constitution that specifically forbids such action. The photo shows a rally of religious leaders and their flocks marching in Tallahassee to pressure lawmakers to further expand state funding of scholarships to their schools.
How could this happen? In what one researcher called a "backdoor scam," the legislature simply created a program that "redirects" corporate taxes into non-profit organizations that distribute the money to scholarships for private schools, 78% of which are classified as religious. Thus the tax revenue never lands in public coffers in the first place. The Florida government has broken the spirit of the law by circumventing it.
In Alachua County, of the 21 private schools that receive scholarship ("FTC") funds, 17 are religious. That includes one Krishna school, two Catholic schools, and the rest Baptist, Church of God, Seventh Day Adventist, and so-called non-denominational or "Christian" church schools like the Pentacostal church school, Christian Life Academy. The amount of scholarship money going to the 21 schools is about $1,160,977. Marion county private or church schools got over $1,000,000 more than that. These number pale in comparison to Dade County, where 107 religious schools are among 246 private schools that have gotten about $33,000,000 in state funding, and Duval, where 102 private schools, 79 of them religious, have raked in $12,000,000 in scholarship money.
The state program was originally called the Florida Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program, but in recent years the legislature left off the word "Corporate." Corporations who "donate" to it are rewarded with a 100% tax credit for the amount they gave. That means if a corporation gives $1,000,000 to the scholarship, it doesn’t have to pay $1,000,000 in income taxes to the state. It can donate up to 75% of its tax liability. Walgreen Drugs has given $28,000,000 so far. Although a corporation can keep its donations secret, many publicize their donations, garnering good press for supposedly helping poor children get a good education. Since the organization that technically receives the donation is a non-profit, a federal income tax charitable donation tax deduction is possible. Although the Florida state website doesn’t advertise this fact, a similar state program in Georgia openly promises potential corporate donors a federal charitable contribution letter.
In spite of having to cut its share of funding for public schools in recent years, the state has steadily increased its funding of private school education. In the 2010-11 school year, $129,474,868 was donated to scholarships to send poor children to private schools. The cap on funding for the current 2011-12 school year is $175,000,000 and is slated to go up every year. According to the Website of the non-profit that doles out the money, Step up for Children, 83% of scholarship students attend religious schools. Catholic schools comprise the largest segment of these schools. Many others are fundamentalist church schools.
How do our lawmakers and policymakers justify this funding of church schools? They say poor children need to have a "choice." House Speaker Mike Haridopolis explained to an audience at the Bob Graham Center that poor children need a chance to escape failing public schools. The facts don’t support his contention. Only 7% of students come from schools rated by the state as D or F schools. Forty per cent come from A schools and 53% come from B or C schools.
There is also no evidence to support the contention that students learn more in these schools. In the ten years of the program, the private school students "barely kept up" with their public school counterparts in all but one year, and the small difference then was not statistically significant.
In fact there is little evidence the students will get a better or equivalent education at these schools. The state does not require the same high standards that public schools must meet. The teachers do not have to be certified, and the school curriculum does not have to meet any standards such as those required for school accreditation. The students themselves are not held up to the same standards as public school students. In fact, if a student can’t pass the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Tests, he or she can avoid the ordeal by attending a private or religious school, on the tax payers’ dime.
Since religious schools are founded to perpetuate the religion, dogma and indoctrination play a significant part of their programs. In fact, several local school websites quote the bible verse from Proverbs that says, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." At Gainesville’s Catholic high school, St. Francis, students are required to take four full years of Catholic theology. Local fundamentalist schools teach a Bible based curriculum using special religious text books that replace science with bible stories, and that rewrite American history to support the religion’s dogma. One civics text states, "God’s original purpose for government was to punish the evil and reward the good." The same text describes the ideal form of government. "All governments are ordained by God, but none compare to government by God, theocracy." They call their approach a "biblical world view."
The term "choice" is also a questionable descriptor since options are limited for poor students. For one thing, the private schools do the choosing, not the students. In addition, most non-sectarian quality schools and many high quality religious schools like St Francis would still be too expensive for students qualifying for the scholarship without additional help. Affordable schools that charge the same tuition as the scholarship are often small fundamentalist schools that increase the tuition for non-members of the church, forcing the family to either join or come up with more money.
Lawmakers and the program administrators claim the program saves money, but only by a crude computation: the state spends over $6,000 per year per child for public schools, but only about $4,000 for private school scholarships. Therefore savings. For the state maybe, but not local jurisdictions. Loss of those students means loss of both state and federal funds to local districts. These funds are dependent upon the number of students enrolled. Furthermore, the expenses of the school for facilities and programs don’t go down as a result of the loss of students. Large counties such as Duval (Jacksonville) suffer the most. Duval lost $20,000,000 in additional funding as a result of the almost 3,000 students lost to the scholarship program.
If the Florida Tuition Scholarship program hurts public schools, indirectly funds religions and can’t even guarantee a better "choice" for poor students, why do our senators and representative to Tallahassee cynically support it? Answer: They get votes and other support from well-organized churches. Their corporate partners get good press from the enterprise, and the churches get, well, your tax money, like it or not.
For further details, try these websites:
http://www.folioweekly.com/documents/folio0901main_000.pdf "Back Door Scam"
By Susan Bergert
Dave Niose, president of the Washington-based American Humanist Association, has brought an interesting insight into Humanism that we all can draw upon in our attempts to explain our life stance to others. We quote here part of his blog of February 26, 2011.
"The post-theological individual is not deprived of the positive benefits that were derived from theology. From a naturalistic, post-theological standpoint, there is lots of room for awe, wonder, and profound thinking. As Carl Sagan said, each of us is stardust, so humans can be seen as a way that the universe observes itself. Little wonder that most humanists see Sagan as having more profundity and veracity than any biblical prophet.
"And from this naturalistic, humanistic standpoint, there is plenty of room for a life of purpose and doing good. In fact, since this one life is our only certainty, the need to live in such a way is more compelling, certainly a better motivator than fear of eternal punishment from an angry mythological God.
"With the need for theological explanations of the natural world eliminated, many good, ethical people simply see theology itself as unnecessary. Defenders of theology will play the morality card, suggesting that without supernatural beliefs we will become immoral. But alas, observations of the natural world have demonstrated that the inclination to live by rules and standards is common in social animals, including humans. Our capacity for morality is innate. Of course, our capacity for immoral behavior is well documented as well (even in the most religious of societies), so it’s important that we create a social structure that encourages ethical behavior and the positive aspects of humanity.
"Because religious institutions are so ingrained in our culture, they of course still offer social benefits to many. A church, mosque, or synagogue can be a place for community and charity, a place for ceremonies like weddings and funerals. To many, religious institutions offer tradition, cultural continuity, and perhaps a place to find peace of mind through ritual, meditation, and contemplation.
"But more than ever, many now achieve these ends without institutions or beliefs grounded in supernatural theology, by instead utilizing humanist organizations, secular institutions, or other means to fill such needs. These people find peace, mindfulness, goodwill, community, ethics, perspective, and culture without the assistance of theology or religious institutions. These people are post-theological, and many of them are humanists."
For the complete article see http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201102/being-post-theological
Monthly General Meetings
February 22, 2012
Millhopper Library 6:30 to 8:15 PM
Program in celebration of Darwin’s birthday
Other Local Activities
Monday February 13, 2012
Dinner and a Movie 6:30 PM
Movie: Inherit the Wind
Civic Media Center
433 S Main Street, Gainesville
Bring a pot luck dish and a $3 to $5 donation and settle in to watch the drama of a major landmark in the evolution/creationism controversy
Open to the public so bring a friend.
Moving Secularism Forward
The annual joint conference of the Council for Secular Humanism and Center for Inquiry
March 1-4, 2012
This major conference will be held here because Florida is a major "battleground" for church-state separation. The conference will provide sessions on the infamous Florida "Religious Freedom Amendment" ballot item, including what we can do to stop this effort to use tax money to fund religious schools.
The Reason Rally
March 24, 2012
The National Mall
This free all-day event is sponsored by many of the country’s largest and most influential secular organizations and will be the largest secular event in world history. There will be music, comedy, speakers, and more. The intent is to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling negative stereotypes. Billed to be a "fun event." Major guest speaker: Richard Dawkins. Hotels offering good deals. Delta Air Lines giving discounts. See our story in the news section.
The Gainesville Humanist Observer is promulgated by The Humanist Society of Gainesville