In response to a slew of Christian Nationalist bills making their way through the legislature, the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers have put up three digital billboards around Des Moines hoping to draw attention to the problem:
IAF officers Cory Gillespie, Jason Benell and Robert Cook explain in the Des Moines Register why they’re worried about this attempt by the government to shove religion in citizens’ faces:
… Judging from their actions so far this session, what they want is to push their Christian beliefs into Iowa laws, at everyone else’s expense, demolishing the wall of separation between church and state.
These conservative legislators talk a good game about how persecuted they are, but the bills they continue to file have more to do with preserving religious — specifically Christian — privilege than protecting their rights. They argue that their religious freedom entitles them to special benefits, tax-funded support, and exemptions from civil rights laws.
They call out three bills in particular, though they are by no means the only ones. House File 170 would allow Christian business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Senate File 159 would send taxpayer dollars to private Christian schools at the expense of public secular ones. House File 272 would eliminate gender identity as a protected class under the state’s civil rights laws.
Given the one-party control of the legislature, there’s a good chance these bills will become law.
This is what Christians in the legislature are doing with their power: They’re using it to hurt and oppress other people in the name of their God. This is what conservative Christians always do when they have power. You can’t expect them to be decent human beings when they constantly show the world they’re incapable of it.
Meanwhile, the atheists aren’t trying to hurt Christians at all; they just want the government to provide a fair, protected playing field for everyone. The atheists are the heroes of this story. But in a state like Iowa, you can fully expect there to be backlash for stating the obvious.
In British Columbia, biology professor and science communicator Dr. Carin Bondar is running for Chilliwack School Board trustee on a platform that emphasizes inclusivity, respect for diversity, and — naturally — scientific literacy. She’s an accomplished professional who’s written multiple popular science books, hosted television and web series, and founded a charity to help support women working in STEM fields. She has experience working with students and herself has four children in Chilliwack schools.
But she’s a lady who talks about sex, and that’s made her a target for the conservative men who are currently steering the board… and the conversation.
Conservative groups have made much of the fact that Bondar’s field of specialization, by her own proud admission, is animal sexuality. Her Facebook page calls her “the world’s foremost expert on animal sex” and her web series Wild Sex — aimed at an adult audience interested in learning more about science — has been known to feature salty language, slinky dresses, giant dildos, and references to Fifty Shades of Grey.
It also features serious scientific information presented in a fun, often humorous format using everyday language for the lay viewer, but none of that is apparent in the video compilation her detractors are circulating on Vimeo, bearing the sneering title “Carin Bondar for Trustee Highlight Reel.” (The video has since been removed from the site.)
In case that didn’t make it apparent that the conservative contingent aims to discredit Bondar by sexualizing her, they made their objections even clearer earlier this week, posting a roadside billboard to publicly smear Bondar.
The billboard depicted a still image of Bondar lying on her back, dressed in a white tank top and matching underpants. Superimposed text asks the viewer: “Carin Bondar: Is this your child’s idea of a school trustee?”
The image comes from a video she made in early 2014 — seven years ago — entitled “Organisms Do Evolve,” a parody of Miley Cyrus‘ hit song “Wrecking Ball.” Bondar replicates some of Miley’s original imagery with tongue firmly in cheek: reading On the Origin of Species atop a pile of bricks, sensually licking a microscope, and showing off a hand-drawn Darwin fish tattoo.
It’s certainly not beyond the social conservatives to attribute malice and menace to anybody who so much as admits knowing what sex is, but given the composition of the current Board of Trustees, one can’t help but wonder if maybe the science is the problem.
Just over two years ago, the city of Chilliwack elected Creationist Darrell Furgason to the Chilliwack School Board in spite of his record as a Young Earth Creationist whose Worldview Studies Center teaches anti-evolution apologetics and calls it “critical thinking.”
Then there’s Barry Neufeld, a veteran of the Chilliwack School Board, who’s been extremely public in his opposition to the LGBTQ-inclusive SOGI 123 curriculum. He’s disregarded widespread calls for his resignation, even after provincial Education Minister Rob Fleming took him to task for speaking at an anti-LGBTQ rally.
Fergason and Neufeld don’t appear to bear any responsibility for the billboard itself. But they undeniably own a role in the tone of discourse that makes smearing a woman’s sexuality an acceptable tactic. They’ve whipped up a frenzy in an extremely sex-negative portion of the population that takes everything Bondar stands for beyond the realm of polite discussion, characterizing it as a danger to children.
The end result is this: a smear campaign predicated on the idea that a woman can be credible or sexual — never both — and on the idea that moral rectitude somehow rests on pretending that sex doesn’t exist.
But the culprit’s exact identity remains a mystery. Text on the billboard attributed it to a group calling itself “Coalition of Concerned SD33 Parents”… but there’s no officially registered group with that name, and they did not post any of the legally required identifying information, like who paid for the ad and which campaign — if any — endorsed it. Nobody asked the landowners’ permission before erecting the billboard, and no witnesses have come forward.
Elections BC is looking for leads; this is a serious violation of electoral bylaws. If a culprit is identified, they could face a $2,000 fine or possible jail time.
Bondar isn’t the only one who’s been targeted for special vitriol during the campaign period. Fellow candidate Adam Suleman says his signs have been vandalized, with racist social media messages leading him to conclude that “this is what happens when a brown man decides to run in a Chilliwack School Board by-election.”
Only in the hideous backwards world of the Religious Right could a school-board by-election create this much hideous drama and vitriol.
In conversation with reporters from NEWS 1130, Bondar says she expected better of the adults responsible for Chilliwack’s educational policy:
How is this setting an example for our students if we’re acting this way? It’s just not good enough. I also wonder what kind of message this might send to other women thinking of entering public office. It’s not what one would expect in an electoral campaign where we are making it about the issues and about the kids.
Unless, of course, your primary concern about the kids is that they remain obedient to your church’s interpretation of an ancient religious text.
A Minnesota town has voted to allow a white supremacist church to set up shop in an abandoned Lutheran church. They did it in secret, voting 3-1 in favor of it with the cameras on the video call turned off, and claimed they had no real choice in the matter. (Stephanie Hoff was the lone dissenter. It’s not clear which member of the council abstained from the vote.)
To make sense of this, you need to understand the “Asatru Folk Assembly,” a group that makes clear it’s an “ancestral religion” that honors the “spirit of our gods.”
But on their website, that seemingly innocuous statement takes a dark turn very quickly:
If the Ethnic European Folk cease to exist Asatru would likewise no longer exist. Let us be clear: by Ethnic European Folk we mean white people… Asatru is not just what we believe, it is what we are. Therefore, the survival and welfare of the Ethnic European Folk as a cultural and biological group is a religious imperative for the AFA.
It’s a religion of white supremacy.
Under their “Statement of Ethics,” there’s also this declaration:
Healthy families are the cornerstone of folk society and its strength and prosperity is derived from them. We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships. We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own. We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group operates by saying they’re just trying to preserve their heritage… and they need to defend the purity of their children.
Present-day Folkish adherents also couch their bigotry in baseless claims of bloodlines grounding the superiority of one’s white identity. At the cross-section of hypermasculinity and ethnocentricity, this movement seeks to defend against the unfounded threats of the extermination of white people and their children.
Back in October, we learned that the church wanted to open a “Midwest regional center” in the tiny city of Murdock, Minnesota. Doing so, many residents argued, would make their community the “hate capital of Minnesota.”
The church’s lawyer, Allen Turnage, said the claims against them were “lies”… but didn’t elaborate. He said they’re not a “hate group” because they don’t hate anybody… which is the same line conservative Christians use before supporting legislation opposing civil rights.
A church that bans non-whites from joining it, in the name of heritage and purity, is a hate group, just as white evangelicals who want to tear apart the legal marriages of gay couples because they “love families” are haters, just as conservative Catholics who would rather see pregnant women give birth to their rapists’ babies than allow the women to have access to birth control or abortion services are haters.
There was also a question about whether this was really a legal issue. This wasn’t even about religious liberty. The land the church purchased was meant to be residential. If they wanted to use it to build a church rather than a home, they needed permission from local officials. Voting against it wasn’t necessarily blocking a religious group from practicing their faith.
But last night, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the city council approved the group’s permit anyway, in part because the city’s own lawyer said they there would be legal challenges for rejecting the request.
“We as leaders of the city of Murdock want people to know that we condemn racism in all forms,” Mayor Craig Kavanagh said before the council voted in favor of an organization that religious scholars have identified as a white supremacist group.
“There are certain constitutional protections that apply to religions,” [city attorney Don] Wilcox said. “I haven’t seen any evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption that they are a religion, whether you agree with it or not.
“There’s not a compelling interest in keeping that building from being used for meetings,” he added. “Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean they can’t do it.”
Just to be clear: The vote doesn’t mean the city council agrees with the church’s views; they just felt they had no choice here. Their lawyer even said as much. (Which is to say: Don’t send nasty emails to these council members.)
For now, residents opposing the group say they’ll watch the church closely to see if there are any violations of the permit; that would give them a tangible legal reason to shut the place down.
Until then, though, Murdock will unfortunately be known as the city where hate has a home — despite the best intentions of many who live there.
(Screenshot via Fox 9. Thanks to Scott for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)
On Monday, the Trump administration finalized a sweeping new regulation that allows federal contractors to discriminate against racial and religious minorities, women, and especially LGBTQ people in the name of protecting “religious liberty.” It effectively abolishes critical workplace protections for these contractors that have been in place for decades, reframing religious freedom as a near-limitless license to discriminate. Monday’s move will force the Biden administration to waste countless hours and resources reversing this radical rewrite of federal law.
The rules restricting discrimination by federal contractors springs from Executive Order 11246, which President Lyndon Johnson signed in 1965. Johnson’s order barred discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. Presidents later added sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity to the list of protected traits. Today, there are about 4 million employees of federal contractors who benefit from these protections. The Department of Labor enforces presidential prohibitions against discrimination in these workplaces.
But the current Labor Secretary, Eugene Scalia, is no fan of these rules—or, it seems, of any workplace protections. Scalia, son of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, previously worked as a corporate attorney who specialized in crushing employees’ rights. He has spent his tenure at the Labor Department dismantling federal regulations that safeguard workers’ rights, health, and safety. Scalia’s deregulatory agenda has been especially catastrophic during the pandemic; under his guidance, the agency refused to protect workers from COVID-19, permitting fatal outbreaks through its own shocking negligence.
In the long run, Scalia may be best remembered for abandoning his duty to shield vulnerable employees from infection and death—the many people who died of COVID-19 after he declined to enforce basic workplace safety rules in the midst of a pandemic are gone forever. Scalia’s new discrimination rule, by contrast, will have a short shelf life: There is no doubt that the Biden administration will repeal it, though the process may take months, even years. It is worth assessing Scalia’s rule, both because it will likely take effect for now and because it reflects a disturbing vision of “religious freedom” that is ascendant in the federal judiciary.
The DOL’s new regulation has three major components, none of which is grounded in the law. First, it broadens the definition of a “religious” contractor to encompass for-profit corporations, expanding the number of employers with a right to discriminate. Second, it allows these contractors to discriminate on the basis of an employer’s subject interpretation of “religious tenets.” Third, the rule makes it much more difficult for the Department of Labor to prove that a contractor discriminated unlawfully. Taken together, Scalia’s alterations would essentially eliminate executive protections for millions of employees in the U.S.
Scalia framed his rule as a mere “interpretation” of current law, seizing upon a previous exemption added by President George W. Bush. The past modification allowed a subset of religious contractors to favor employees of a “particular religion.” Bush’s exemption was designed to let faith groups hire co-religionists; for instance, it would let a Jewish charity hire a Jewish director, even though turning away non-Jewish applicants would otherwise constitute illegal discrimination. The courts have interpreted this provision to cover non-profit organizations and institutions with a dedicated religious mission.
Under Scalia’s rule, this narrow exemption will become a black hole that sucks up all claims of discrimination. It manufactures a new test by plucking language out of different statutes and court decisions to encompass pretty much any contractor seeking to escape a lawsuit. This test merely asks if a contractor views and conveys itself as religious, with heavy deference for an employer’s own sense of its “religious purpose.” It covers for-profit corporations so long as they swear they are motivated by religion. Scalia has given these companies free rein to discriminate on the basis of religion.
The rule also expands the scope of permissible religious discrimination. Bush’s exemption merely covered an employer’s preference for employees of a particular religion. A Baptist college, for example, could hire Baptist professors. Scalia’s rule alters the definition of “religion” to include “acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employer.” So, a Baptist college could not just favor Baptist employees, but demand that its employees adhere to its interpretation of specific Baptist teachings. If an employee practiced her faith differently from her boss, she could be fired. This exemption includes not just religious exercise but every facet of life: An employee who takes birth control, gets a divorce, or obtains an abortion could be fired for violating her boss’s religious “tenets.” A gay employee could be fired for marrying his partner. A transgender employee could be fired for transitioning. Any personal decision that contradicts “religious tenets as understood by the employer” would serve as grounds for termination.
Scalia cements this rule by jacking up the Labor Department’s burden of proof when charging a contractor with discrimination. Previously, the agency used a “motivating factor” standard: An employee could prove illegal discrimination by demonstrating that a protected trait was one factor in their firing. Scalia’s new rule requires a “but-for” standard, which means an employee cannot prevail unless they prove that a protected trait was the factor in their firing. This revision carves out a massive loophole: A contractor could fire a white employee for marrying a Black person, then argue the termination was rooted in a “religious tenet” against interracial marriage. Racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ animus—it can all be legalized under the guise of religious freedom. So long as a contractor’s discrimination is rooted in some religious principle, it won’t violate this perverse regulation.
This rule does not overturn the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which prohibited LGBTQ workplace discrimination under a different law—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But Jennifer C. Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, pointed out that Title VII only covers employers with 15 or more employees. Many small employers that are not covered by the law still comply with executive non-discrimination rules to procure or maintain federal contracts. Pizer also told me that executive orders Scalia undid had given companies “a powerful disincentive to discriminate” if they hoped to receive government contracts. “It is a free choice whether to pursue a federal contract or grant,” she said, and some companies will agree not to discriminate in order to remain eligible.
This is a guest post by Rick Snedeker. He writes at the Godzooks blog.
Which should be granted primacy in America’s secular republic: freedom of religion or from religion?
It’s a daunting question that recently has even bedeviled U.S. Supreme Court justices, the crux of a compelling article by Ron Brownstein in The Atlantic last week, titled “The Supreme Court Is Colliding With a Less-Religious America.” The subhead projects how this “collision” might play out: The justices will intensify their push for “religious liberty.”
While most conservative analysts have cheered the Court’s moves in this area, centrist and liberal critics see the ingredients for a political explosion as the Court backs religious-liberty exemptions to laws on employee rights, health care, education, and equal treatment for the LGBTQ community.
“What we are seeing today is this effort to turn religious freedom into religious privilege,” Rachel Laser, the president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told [Brownstein in an interview for the piece]. Religious institutions and individuals are being given “the right to wield religious freedom as a sword to harm others, and frankly to dial back social progress in light of our changing demographics and progress toward greater equality.”
Brownstein contends that the Court’s decision last week rejecting New York’s COVID restrictions that apply to religious gatherings, using an apples to oranges comparison, is a harbinger of what may likely “become one of the coming decade’s defining collisions between law and demography.”
The demographic shifts to which he alludes include deeply sagging religious interest among young people and expanding secularization overall, plus steady decline in the past few decades of the aggregate number of white Christians in the populace, as well as Christians in general.
That contrast increases the likelihood of a GOP-appointed Court majority sympathetic to the most conservative religious denominations colliding with the priorities of a society growing both more secular and more religiously diverse, especially among younger generations.
In all these ways, “religious liberty” seems certain to become an even more crucial battlefield as the political cold war grinds on between a Republican coalition that mostly reflects what America has been and a Democratic coalition centered on what it is becoming.
The recent decisions by the Court’s conservative Christian super-majority, favoring religious freedom over civil rights, including cases absolving religious Americans from respecting the dignity of LGBTQ citizens, bodes poorly for future rulings, Brownstein warns:
In oral arguments on a case heard early last month, the Court’s conservative majority signaled that it is highly likely to rule that the city of Philadelphia cannot deny contracts to a Catholic social-service agency that refuses to certify same-sex or unmarried couples as prospective foster parents.
Citing George Washington University Law School professor Ira Lapu, Brownstein said that in Lapu’s 35 years teaching law he recalls having “never seen such a spurt of religious-liberty cases in such a short time, especially where over and over again there is a victory for religious-liberty claims.”
Browstein contends that the pace of such cases has proportionately increased as demographic shifts have made white Christians a minority segment of the population and “created the most pluralistic religious landscape in American history.”
This shift has been almost palpable. White Americans have hugely dominated the U.S. population for most of the nation’s history — enjoying a two-thirds majority as late as the 1990s — but by the second decade of the new millennium that traditionally predominant demographic group dropped to minority status for the first time, Brownstein explains, citing the National Opinion Research Center’s annual General Social Survey.
The Pew Research Center data on U.S. religiosity released in early 2020 ranked white Christians at slightly more than 40 percent of Americans, non-white Christians at 25 percent, and non-Christian theistic believers, 10 percent. Religiously unaffiliated citizens, including atheists and agnostics, now comprise 25 percent of the populace, which has surged upward from 17 percent barely 10 years ago.
One upshot of these social transformations is that white Christians — particularly Republican adherents — have coalesced behind a shared ethos of victimhood, where 62 percent of them claim they face widespread discrimination in these changing times, even more than African-Americans historically have and do still, Browstein writes, citing the latest PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute] American Values Survey. He quotes PRRI founder and CEO Robert P. Jones:
“I do think the sense that something is sunsetting, something is ending … has set off the kind of feeling of vulnerability, feeling of persecution, feeling of grief, all these things. Trump didn’t create them, but he has stoked those worries and concerns.”
Brownstein characterizes some Supreme Court justices as expressing a kind of snarky grievance regarding laws that appear to lean secular. Ultra-conservative Justice Samuel Alito insisted in a recent public speech that, “Religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, also a staunch conservative, was more expansive in his disgust:
“At least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians,” Gorsuch wrote. “The only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as ‘essential’ as what happens in secular spaces.”
But, of course, shopping briefly in a mostly uncrowded environment is far safer than packing shoulder-to-jowel into a megachurch, masked or unmasked.
Nonetheless, the jury, so to speak, is still out on whether the Court will end up favoring “what American has been” to “what it is becoming.” On prioritizing freedom of or freedom from religion.
It appears American Christianity and other theistic religions, as they have been for a long while now in western Europe, are trending in the direction of the flightless and now extinct dodo bird.
But it may take some time.
The Daily Mail reports:
On Sunday a group of about 50 protesters gathered outside the Echo Park home of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer to denounce the county’s latest coronavirus restrictions, and neighbors came out to defy them.
At the demonstration a woman named Gina Michelle Bisignano, who was wearing a Trump-supporting sweater, got into a verbal dispute with one anti-protester and dropped offensive homophobic slurs.
“You’re a faggot. You’re disgusting. You’re a new world order Satanist. And you guys are all for it. You’re a faggot. What are you a guy or a girl? And I’m gonna tell you something else. You’re a Nazi and you’re brainwashed by MK Ultra. You’re such a liberal piece of shit. I bet you had an abortion this morning.”