This should be black and white, not grey: Your religion does not exempt you from the laws of the land

When did Freedom of Religion morph into thinking that religion concerns trump the laws of the land and society in which you live?

I live in the Midwest, of which there are numerous enclaves of Amish. In Southeast Minnesota, one such enclave in Fillmore County has decided that basic laws governing sanitation and the disposal of so-called gray water sewage don’t apply to them because God told them it doesn’t.

According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, the Swartzentruber Amish community in Fillmore County has been in an almost constant legal battle with county officials and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency over gray water treatment systems in their homes. Unlike raw sewage, gray water is the water used for cooking, bathing, laundry and other tasks that don’t involve the toilet.

According to county ordinances, large Amish homes are required to have a sewage system to treat raw sewage and gray water. The Post-Bulletin article also states the county has bent over backward, giving Amish families extra time to adopt the rules, and providing extra exemptions regular residents don’t get.

But that isn’t good enough for the Swartzentruber, who according to Amish America.com is a very conservative sect of the Amish community that eschews some of the most basic technology and thumbs their noses at laws such as the requirement to post triangle warning signs on their buggies. According to the website, the Harmony Amish community was founded by immigrants leaving Wayne County, Ohio, in 1974 and is home to more than 1,000 Amish.

Instead, they argue that their religion requires them to use their traditional methods of discharging dirty water, including a “straight-pipe” system that discharges gray water directly into the ground. They argue they do this to honor their parents traditions and cite Romans 12: 2 which states, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Following the law and using modern technology is against their religion, so they have refused to upgrade their homes, which can have as many as 10 or more people living under one roof. There are also environmental concerns about the runoff from these homes in the 1,000-person community running into streams, lakes and rivers.

Using your religion to stick it to the man has become more popular as the federal government and several states, mostly southern, have passed so-called Religious Freedom Restoration laws. Some of the uses of the law are more innocuous, such as the ruling that Native American drug counselors could not be fired for ingesting peyote as part of their religion, but there have been very serious applications such as court rulings that exempt Catholic Church organizations from employer mandates that require birth control coverage be offered to their employees (regardless of the employees own personal religious beliefs) and the more famous Hobby Lobby decision of the Supreme Court.

The Post-Bulletin had a good takedown of the argument the Amish men have used in court (Amish women summoned to court have refused to show, also according to their religion). Tradition and religion are not compelling arguments, the editorial said, and also cited some Bible verses of its own, including Matthew 20:21 “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

But setting the Bible aside, we’d say the Fillmore County officials have been more than patient with the Amish community in this matter. For more than a decade, the county has nudged, pleaded and cajoled families to comply, and while some have complied, those who have refused have not been evicted.

Now I don’t think the bible should be used as an authority in any legal sense for any reason. These people chose to live in America, in Fillmore County and should have to respect the laws or vote them out. Allowing these exemptions allow parents to abuse their kids by refusing medical care, prohibiting the use of vaccinations, and in this case threatening the health of the Amish community and their neighbors, which the Post-Bulletin also eloquently states:

Speaking of lines, if you know Fillmore County, you know Amish farms aren’t limited to one large, well-bordered area. They’re scattered across the landscape, intermingled with properties occupied by non-Amish families — families who have the right to clean well water and, if they’re lucky enough to have a stream, to have it free of untreated household wastewater.

Ultimately, the right to practice one’s religion is not limitless; it generally ends at the point where those beliefs come into conflict with another’s rights and/or the health and well-being of a community. The state has ruled that minimal standards of wastewater treatment are necessary to protect water quality across the state, and they apply to everyone.

America was founded as a secular nation and should be kept so. When your religion contradicts the laws of society, the laws of society should win. We don’t condone corporal punishment on religious grounds, we wouldn’t allow someone to stone a disobedient child or a prostitute, so why do we let these other things slide?

 

 

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Ray Comfort exploits mental illness and suicide to minister on the streets

Ray Comfort is back with another cringe-worthy YouTube video that attempts to use human suffering and tragedy to preach his version of the Gospel.

His video, “Exit: The Appeal of Suicide” seems to indicate that suicide in on the rise because we are a godless society and involves several scenes where Ray Comfort preaches to people who have openly admitted to him that they are battling suicide and depression.

Instead of making sure they get the professional help they need, this multi-million dollar televangelist and street preacher decides it is more important to witness to these people and then make sure to use their stories for his own personal gain.

But what do you expect from The Banana Man, who steadfastly remains ignorant of logic, reasoning, medical science and anything else that doesn’t come from a book written by Bronze and Iron Age societies or from his wishy-washy form of charismatic street preaching which is chock-full of feel-good platitudes and non sequiturs and very little profound advice.

Comfort begins this “free, full-length movie” by finding people suffering from depression and mental health issues to prey upon. The third person he interviews apparently hates her family “for every bringing her into the world.”

Comfort tries to pass this off as a typical example of the mental health crisis in our secular society, but I figure this person is either stringing him along or has some deep psychological issues. If it was the latter, this person definitely needs professional medical help much more than she needed to be preached to for ten or fifteen minutes then dumped at the wayside after Comfort got his fifteen-second video clip.

Later was a whopper about someone who suffered from depression after she was gang-raped at her church. I know these kinds of traumatic experiences exist, but how many people did he have to walk up to on the street in order to get the perfect variety of shock value to blast viewers with?

 

Exit Robin Williams
Even Robin Williams’ memory isn’t safe if Ray Comfort thinks it will get him a buck.

This is followed up with several YouTube clips and interviews about celebrities who suffered from depression and mental health issues. Robin Williams makes the cut, as well as other famous musicians and actors such as Prince. He then focuses on the issue of suicide on college campuses, which has seen an uptick of stress, anxiety and mental illness in recent years.

 

This then morphs into a vague insinuation that it’s our secular lifestyle that is leading to this mental anguish. He plays more YouTube clips of actors talking about their atheism and intense fear of death, about how there isn’t an afterlife so life itself is meaningless and the fear of death becomes crippling.

Unspoken is the assumption that these atheists and nonbelievers are rebelling against god and heaven and that is the reason we are seeing more mental illness and suicides. And he throws in some shade against mental health professionals and psychiatry by saying depression was recently reclassified as a mental illness (apparently the 1970s is recent) and that anti-depressants are controversial (only to Scientologists and other fundamental faiths).

Not mentioned in this video is the increased stressors in our modern-day life. We’re living longer but also working longer and sleeping less than we used. We sit at desks for long hours staring at screens and technology, while a boon, has also isolated many of us and turned our natural community structures and supports upside down.

While a staunch atheist and person who thinks organized religion has done a lot of harm, the anthropologist in me realizes that we probably need alternatives. Churches did bring people together once a week as a community. And fables about a heavenly afterlife probably have had a profound uplifting effect on people’s psyches. Even if it is a lie, it probably helped us cope with the fact that we die. Archaeological excavations show some of the first things to develop with society alongside cave paintings were burial rituals.

Even if it is a lie, it probably helped us cope with the fact that we die. Archaeological excavations show some of the first things to develop with society alongside cave paintings were burial rituals. It doesn’t mean we need to believe the lie, but we should probably come up with a better and more holistic way of coping with this natural fear of death.

Instead, Ray plays his word games with college-age kids into “converting” to Christianity. He confuses them with some mumbo jumbo, speaking fast and reciting his shtick about lusting after women (like a lot of fundamental Christians, he is obsessed with sex) and accepting Jesus into your heart. If you have ever seen a street con man or illusionist, fire off a rapid series of questions to confuse his audience, you know what a Ray Comfort conversion is like.

 

Exit the Appeal of Suicide II
Ray scraped YouTube for a number of suicide videos, just to throw in some shock and awe right before asking audiences to repent and seek Jesus.

The worst part of the movie was when Comfort shows clips of attempted and completed suicides. He apparently skulked through the darker side of YouTube to glorify those who committed suicide and shock people, like the purveyor of religious fluff and snuff that he is.

 

I have thought about suicide before, fantasized about it. I’ve felt hopeless and overwhelmed with life and I suffer from anxiety and depression. But death scares me even more. I love stories and experiences; if I die, then I don’t get to read one more book, watch one more movie, play one more video game or go on one more date with my partner.

This movie is offensive. But even worse than that, it isn’t helpful; not one bit. If Comfort had any faith, he’d be begging the god he says he believes in for forgiveness. He spent 40 minutes exploiting suicide to preach, confuse, obfuscate and ignore a serious problem gripping our society. But he doesn’t care, as his only goal is to “save” people. Their earthly lives have no value to fundamentalists like him (even though he has a multi-million-dollar Malibu beach home he jet sets to when he isn’t street preaching).

If you or someone you know are showing the warning signs of depression or suicide, seek professional help such as a local healthcare provider, licensed counselor, or even a trusted pastor (but make sure they help treat the symptoms and don’t just preach to you).

Talk these people. Asking about whether they are suicidal does not make them more likely to do it, contrary to the urban myth. Intervention does help.

These warning signs include:

  • Threatening to or talking about wanting to die.
  • Increased apathy, hopelessness.
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits.
  • Acquiring a gun or stockpiling pills.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Putting personal affairs in order.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and activities usually enjoyed

You can also find more resources at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273-8255. Depression can be treated and people can live happy lives. Mental illness shouldn’t be a stigma anymore and deserves to be tackled head-on in a rational, reasonable and scientific way.

Why you shouldn’t have invocations at public meetings

Most people know that a lot of public meetings begin with the pledge of allegiance. But there are also an awful lot of government meetings that begin with a pastor blessing the whole shebang.

Most people probably hear about this topic at the federal level when NPR or other major media outlets talk about Democrats bringing in a non-Christian official to offer an invocation at Congress, or when the Republicans are in power, how all the invocations seem to be presented by mostly Evangelical ministers. But a lot of local government bodies hold these invocations, and even though recent Supreme Court bodies haven’t ruled against them, they clearly show a separation of church and state problem.

Take this recent invocation at the La Crosse City Council. It was presented by a Christian Pastor, of which the clear majority of the invocations at council meetings are. And while the prayer was a positive message, it violated what the core of city government should be: our elected representatives making good decisions, not the God we pray to making the good decisions for them.

Lord God of Heaven, we call upon your holy name over this convocation tonight. Lord, I thank you for every person that is here. Every council member, for the mayor himself, for all those assistants and attendants and for their families that have let them come. Offer them as a part to solving issues and concerns for La Crosse.

We give you praise for each one that is here. I thank you that you are the divine God of wisdom. And I ask for your wisdom to descend upon each person here tonight that is about to make decisions that will change lives of people in La Crosse.

I thank you for your divine wisdom flowing down upon each one. I thank you also, Lord that there will be a spirit of cooperation and getting along tonight. That when questions come up that have two sides, Lord I thank you that you will help them to decide which side it best, what part will be best and how to make a decision that will be best for all participants, all the residents of this city.

I thank you that when a decision is made, people will get in line and will cooperate with that. I thank you for that spirit of unity here tonight. I thank you for a spirit of creativity that people on this council can be creative to find the best answer, that nothing hidden will not be revealed, that they will see all aspects of every issue and though the question might not be hard, I pray that there will be an easy answer that can be found tonight.

I give you praise for guiding and directing and that your wisdom might help us on each one that makes decisions tonight. I give you praise in the name of Jesus, our savior, Amen.

~Rev. Kevin Knack Living Word Christian Church

The core message of this prayer is thus: The city council can’t function without god. And for the city council to do its job well, that again requires god. If it takes god to make this apparently clockwork universe in the pastor’s mind go round, then why do we even need government and democracy in the first place? Why can’t we just pray to god that people miraculously figure things out one on one?

According to this invocation, there is no separation of church and state. The city council can only be wise if god shares his wisdom with them. They can only cooperate if god gives them “the spirit of cooperation.” They can’t even figure out what is best without god’s help.

This invocation isn’t neutral. It ends with a shout-out to Jesus, who the pastor says is everyone’s savior, regardless of whether there were any Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or atheists in the crowd. The Supreme Court has ruled that local government bodies can hold invocations, as long as it is private citizens giving them and the consideration for who gives one is viewpoint neutral, which isn’t always followed by elected officials, and is still a cop out and violates the spirit of religious freedom.

The city also puts a disclaimer out there, claiming “Any invocation that may be offered at the Council meeting shall be the voluntary offering of a private citizen, to and for the benefit of the Council. The views or beliefs expressed by the invocation speaker have not been previously reviewed or approved by the Council, and the Council will not endorse the religious beliefs or views of this or any other speaker.”

But this isn’t any different than a private citizen giving a prayer at the beginning of the school day at a public school. That isn’t constitutional, even if the considerations are viewpoint neutral. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.

And being viewpoint neutral doesn’t mean a thing if a community is de facto one religion. The agenda’s for the La Crosse City Council, list only Christian churches giving invocations at this year’s meetings. Christ Episcopal Church, Bethany Church, the La Crosse Police Department chaplain, Calvary Apostolic Church, Neighborhood City Church and Living Word Christian Church all got to provide a christian message at what should have been a secular government meeting. No Buddhist, Baha’i or Muslim pastors gave an invocation, even though there are nearly 500 adherents in La Crosse County, according to the Association of Religion Data Archive, and more than 47,000 people who claim no religious affiliation or are atheist, the largest denomination in the county.

It was preaching, plain and simple. It was exclusive, plain and simple. Even if other faiths or denominations could give an invocation, even an atheist one, city councils shouldn’t be doing this in the first place. They are here to serve the residents, not invoke magical blessings.

Biblical Marriage — Sarah and Abraham

A lot of Christians and a few atheists have mentioned 1 Peter 3:15, either as the reason they are always ready to defend their faith, or sometimes a big reason why they left it. I decided to check out the verse, which is a command to be always ready to say why you believe, but first I saw this whopper:

Wives and Husbands

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

This is one of those places in the bible where we get all this nonsense of women having to submit and obey their husbands, telling women how to dress or not dress in this case, as well as the statement that men need to honor women as the “weaker” vessel. But then I saw the statement about Sarah and Abraham, which reminded me of Seth Andrews recent Sunday School lesson on Abram and Sarai (their tribal name back before God decided to covenant with Abraham).

And no offense, but the story of Sarah and Abraham is full of messed up tales and is basically a lesson on what isn’t a healthy marriage. It’s got, Abram renting out his wife, cheating on his wife with her servant or slave, and of course, the story of Isaac, where Sarah was nowhere to be seen as Abraham carted him off to slaughter (obeying means what she thought didn’t matter, apparently).

Let’s start with Sarai and Abram during a trip to Egypt:

Abram and Sarai in Egypt

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

Here is the gist for those who don’t want to read the whole thing: Since the Bible considered women as property, Abram was afraid the Egyptians who could kill him in order to take his smoking hot wife from him. To beat this, he asked Sarah to pretend to be his sister, since bros get props for being the gatekeeper to giving out their hos. But Pharoah really wanted to bang Sarai, so Abram let the king take his wife into his house and sleep with her. In return, Abram got lots of bling for giving his “sister” away to the Pharoah, until the family realized that Sarai had some STDs and they all started getting sores on their sensitive bits.

Biblical marriage at its best. But this isn’t the only time Abram’s household decided to be polygamous. When his wife couldn’t give him kids, Abram decided he’d just spread his seed around with his wife enabling the deed:

Sarai and Hagar

16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children[a] by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.[b] And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!”But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.

For those wishing to follow 1 Peter 3:6, remember this: If you can’t pop out a kid, it’s your duty to set your husband up with a chick, such as the nanny, to be his extra wife with which to have some kids with. And if you get jealous afterward, you can totally beat and be a bitch to the woman, since she’s only your property. Also, remember that this child, Ishmael, is considered to be a prophet and ancestor of Muhammad in Islam, which means God’s plans really don’t work out very well.

Eventually, Abraham and Sarai got new names, not because they were likely wanted by the Egyptian authorities or were likely the couple at the family reunion you hope don’t stay too long and don’t start drinking, but because God figured Abraham’s lineage was the chosen one, so he gave them new names. And they did finally have a son, Isaac, who God decided he wanted barbecued:

The Sacrifice of Isaac

22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy[a] will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

Where was Sarah in all this? Was she submitting to her husband and obeying? Did Abraham even tell her he was going to go and slice up their son, then light him on fire because god loves the smell of burning human flesh and crisping human fat?

Remember, this isn’t the only time God wanted this kind of sacrifice. Exodus also commands the faithful to provide their first-borns on the altar for his pleasure. Biblical definitions of marriage and family, indeed.

Crazy Arguments Against Evolution — Alien evolution edition 

The other day I had a phone conversation with someone about my atheism. But instead of attacking my thoughts on whether there is a god or not, this person attacked my so-called “belief” in evolution, as if it were a faith like any other.

Now, the truth of evolution is separate from the truth of whether god exists and which one it is. Atheism is a statement about religion, evolution is a scientific theory of the diversity of life on earth and species change over time.

But to this person, being an atheist meant I “believed” in evolution, even though he had several problems with the theory.

Humans are special and need a designer

His biggest argument was that there wasn’t enough time. Humans were too majestic and too complex to have evolved over several billions of years from the first primordial life on earth. Instead, he argued, some kind of intelligent designer must have come along to separate us from the apes, kittens and all those lower forms of life. His intelligent designer was aliens who he said changed chimpanzees into humans, but I’m not going to go into that.

But where to begin in all of this incorrect information, arrogant assumptions and other errors?

The origins of humanity

First things first. We did not evolve from chimpanzees. A chimpanzee did not pick up a banana one day and decide to be a human and start hunting and gathering, making clothes and building a civilization.

Apes, including chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and humans share a common ancestor. Our lineage branched off millions of years ago from the lineages that would evolve into chimpanzees and other apes. Our ancestors were no chimpanzees, they were other hominids such as Australopithecus, which evolved into homo habilis, then homo erectus, and about a quarter of a million years ago humans finally diverged.

While all these hominid species were apes (just like we are apes), note that none of them were chimpanzees. If you want to see a crazy sci-fi movie where chimps learn to talk and become human-like, go watch War for the Planet of the Apes. Which is total fiction, just like the idea that a chimp picked up a banana one day had a brain fart and became a human.

Humanity isn’t special

The Australopithecus genus first evolved over 4 million years ago. According to the California Academy of Sciences, fossil records show that these human ancestors were using tools as far back as 3.4 million years ago.

Humans aren’t the only species that use tools or modify their environment. Beavers make dams not only as homes but to modify the streams and rivers control their environment. Birds not only make nests, they will germinate seeds in order to more easily digest them, similar to how dogs will bury bones and meat to ferment it and make it more digestible.

Nor are we the only intelligent species. Obviously, other apes such as bonobos and chimpanzees have complex social structures, have advanced child- rearing skills, use tools, etc. But dolphins are also incredibly intelligent and social creatures.

Raccoons share our dexterity, with deft hands that allow them to get into trash cans and manipulate their environment. But dolphins and raccoons lack the complementary traits for their skills. Dolphins may have an ape-or-even human-like intelligence, but since they have flippers, they will never be able to do anything with it. Raccoons have the ability to manually impact their environment, but they lack the intelligence to do more than basic problem-solving.

Luckily for humanity, we had the happy accident of having both. We had huge brains that allowed us to think, and to communicate. And we had the tools, such as opposable thumbs to leave a mark on our environment such as building structures and eventually leave a written record.

But other ape species don’t build skyscrapers. We’re the only species to have gone to the moon. We’re too special to have evolved this intelligence on our own so quickly.

Well, let’s take a step back. Our ancestors were using tools 3.4 million years ago. 3.1 million years later, humans had evolved and we hadn’t really progressed passed that.

It took more than 240,000 years for humans to start domesticating animals. A few thousand more for people to figure out they could collect seeds and plant them to make farms. It would take another 4,500 years before people figured out how to write things down, and that’s where things really exploded, as knowledge could now be passed on much more reliably.

After 4,000 years of thinking and writing things down such as philosophies, laws, literature, Rome emerged, the height of civilization in Western Europe at the time. The next big invention was the printing press, which didn’t emerge in Europe until 1440. Steam power came along in the 1800s, with computers showing up in the 1940s.

But for more than 95 percent of human history, we weren’t much more talented than our chimpanzee and gorilla cousins (who can be taught language such as sign language and can paint and draw like our cave ancestors did). When you put all of this into perspective, how unique and special are we really?

Jesus died to get you out of detention

We all know that Jesus was born, died and was risen to forgive our sins. But did you know he died to get you out of detention too?

I didn’t learn about that fact until I ran across the blog post of a Minnesota teacher who spoke about how God called him to minister to the children at his school. He’s been called to share God’s message and bring youth into the fold, apparently by bribing them with alternatives to regular school discipline.

According to his blog post, “God Opens a Door,” Lewiston-Altura High School teacher Brian Menk felt called to do more God and Jesus. When he was introduced to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a youth ministry organization that sneaks religion into schools through student athletes and their coaches, he had come up with a great way to work for God and get recognition from his peers:

Now, here was one of those situations that was undoubtedly provided by God, and truth-be-told, my first feelings were not how I would like them to be. I started to have thoughts of how good this would look for my own reputation in my school and community. To put is another way, my first thoughts were very selfish.

Well after convincing himself he wasn’t doing this for selfish reasons or pride, the teacher decided that he was going to pursue an FCA chapter at his school for the right reasons: pushing back against that pesky First Amendment in the public school where he worked.

After wrestling with my conscience and realizing that this was an opportunity to bring glory to God and bring Jesus into the lives of kids, I decided to move forward with it.

According to his blog post, Menk, his wife, another teacher and nearly a dozen students at the school trained for several months before hosting their first Bible studies on Friday mornings before school in Menk’s classroom. They also held these “huddles” in the gym as part of bigger kick-off events and volunteered in the community, all the while taking pride in thumbing their nose at the Separation of Church and State:

The point is, our students were giving, serving, praying, loving, challenging, and growing……all while giving glory to God. Keep in mind, this was all happening in a public school.

None of this is new to anyone who has encountered an FCA group, which has chapters at high schools all over the country including the Midwest. But what is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes?

According to their website, the FCA was officially founded in 1954 when the organization’s bylaws were approved and it received recognition from the state of Oklahoma. The vision of Don McClanen, an Oklahoma basketball coach, his idea was to have professional athletes “professing their Christian faith in order to change the youth culture in America.” Today, the organization focuses more on student-athletes and coaches professing their faith to their classmates and students and boasts more than 12,000 huddles, or chapters, in more than 45 countries.

The FCA boasts 27 high school huddles in Northwest Wisconsin and 18 high schools in Southeast Minnesota. The Wisconsin FCA has hosted an annual coaches breakfast at the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s clinic and both states promote coaches’ retreats and the FCA Coaches Academy. This program is based on the “biblical truths” behind the organization’s 3Dimensional Coaching program which is designed to promote a faith-based coaching method and even has a secular version the organization uses to softball the concepts to non-fundamentalist coaches.

A 3Dimensional Coach realizes the power of the coaching platform to inspire, motivate, and produce positive change in his or her sphere of influence. He/she is acutely mindful of the moral, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of his/her athletes. The FCA Coaches Academy is a three course training curriculum designed to help coaches become transformational in the lives of their players by learning to coach in all three dimensions from a faith-based perspective.

In the 2001 decision of Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the United States Supreme Court ruled that faith-based organizations can meet and proselytize in schools as long as it is the students who are leading the activities. Reading much of the content on any FCA website shows that these clubs are at best walking the razor’s edge and worst blatantly violating it, especially in the work to get coaches to preach more to their athletes. And then there are Menk’s actions in getting people to participate in the Lewiston-Altura FCA huddle.

Bragging in his blog post, Menk highlighted two of the ways he ignored the separation of church and state. He recounted the story of a seventh-grade female student he found serving her morning detention in the school office. Menk doesn’t mention why she was serving detention, but apparently he, with the support of school staff, decided the standard disciplinary rules need not apply if said student attended his club for Christ instead.

Most adults tell children that Jesus died for their sins in order to scare them into believing in their imaginary buddy in the sky, his angry, jealous daddy and the nebulous Holy Ghost that likes to enter people and impregnate virgin teens in the Middle East. I have to admit this is probably a better way to indoctrinate kids to your club: come learn about Jesus and we’ll get you out of detention, kid.

The second incident he bragged about involved another seventh-grade student, this time a male. Menk discovered the student full of tears and fearful of being at school after just two weeks of class. No specifics are given, but it is obvious to me that this kid is either being bullied, suffering from social anxiety, or some other combination of factors that are seriously impacting his ability to be happy, healthy and to learn.

Instead of working to resolve these issues by combating the bullying or getting the student counseling or other support he needs, Menk and the school secretary figure they have a better solution: Jesus. Instead of actually working to address the student’s issues, they used it as just another recruiting opportunity to get another warrior for Christ. Somedays I feel telemarketers and used car salesmen have nothing on those who are spreading the “good word.”

Now, these are only the two incidents that have been admitted publicly. Who know what other stories or recruiting tactics Menk, school staff and others have used to connive and convince people to attend their club. But when I came across this blog post making the rounds on Facebook, I knew I had to take action as I knew this teacher was violating the law and bragging about it in the hopes of inspiring others.

When someone breaks into your home, you call the cops to investigate. When someone breaks a civil law, you call a lawyer or non-profit. In this case, I called the Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation and let them know about the incidents.

It took them no time to see what I had already seen, that Menk was far from a neutral participant in the club and that his actions and others were violating federal laws such as the Equal Access Act. In fact, according to the organization’s lawyers, Menk violated the law simply by forming and recruiting the club instead of letting the students form it themselves naturally.

No kid should feel pressured to join a club in exchange for a chance to get out of some other school activity, even if it is detention. No kid should feel pressured to join the club in order to try and fit in at school and should have teachers and school staff who work to address their issues instead of trying to recruit them to their religion.

Luckily, the school realized it had messed up in giving Menk carte blanche to run his Jesus club. They didn’t pull Menk from being a part of the FCA, but they did admit the school policies on religion need to be enforced to make it less likely he and other staff members could use their authority to preach to students.

I’m not too convinced the district learned a lasting lesson, however. Along with contacting the district’s attorney, the Lewiston-Altura Superintendent Jeff Apse apparently thought it appropriate to reach out to the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an extremist organization and a “legal advocacy and training group that specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” This hate group also apparently represents the interests of the FCA and other religious groups fighting against religious freedom.

While the school did not ultimately use the ADF’s services, I find it appalling a public institution would consider that approach and the letter the district sent to parents, staff and students seems more upset that it got caught, trying to mollify the religious zealots upset a secular organization called them out, and promising to make sure the FCA was touched as little as possible by the changes put in place to follow the law.

But like I am sure a lot of the FCA coaches tell their kids, a win is a win, and it shows people in the secular community the importance of speaking up. You can challenge illegal behavior when you see it and there are organizations like FFRF or Secular Coalition for America that will help you fight for your rights and freedoms. So keep fighting, free thinkers!

Pray away the cancer!

It’s the one thing you never want to see on your social media feed — a post letting friends and family know that a young child was battling cancer.

The poor little girl, bald from the chemotherapy treatments used to attack the offending biological cells making her sick, couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. But she was still smiling, even in the videos where she was playing with toys in yet another doctor’s waiting room as the worried parents waited for the results of some new test, blood draw or scan.

And then I saw the cover picture for the girl’s Facebook Page. It is the first image you see before being hit up for money to help the family cover all those medical expenses, travel expenses, missed days of work and sleepless nights worrying about how to keep all the plates of doctor’s appointments, meals, everything spinning.

“Dear God, may every cancer cell be wiped out your by Your powerful hands. Amen!”

And that’s when you realize that burning sensation is because your face has met your palm near the speed of sound and you sigh about how families like this can put so much effort into fighting the battle and then congratulate some invisible friend for supposedly doing all the heavy lifting.

I’m going to riff a lot on the thoughts of atheist activist Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist with this post. You can check out one of his many takes on the subject of cancer, faith and religious attitudes towards science, health and the world here: youtube.com/watch?v=Qht73MF6C84 and here: youtube.com/watch?v=vM5n8jESUEk&t=115s.

I-Swear-If-Anyone-Says-Thank-God-After-This-Im-Putting-The-Tumor-Back-In

According to the American Cancer Society, evidence of this terrible disease has been found far back into the history of our species, with ancient human skeletons pock-marked with the tell-tale signs of having battled cancer. The Greek physician Hippocrates, from whom we get that famous oath, is believed to have coined the word to describe the cancerous tumors he found in his fellow citizens.

Since I am pretty sure the Greeks were praying to the gods back then, followed by the Christians and the Muslims and the other faiths that have followed, one has to wonder how much longer people have to keep screaming at the top of their lungs before God gets off his fat butt and finally starts wiping out those cancer cells?

Or is it the other way around? After the tens of thousands of dollars of radiation, chemotherapy and proton treatments; after the drugs and supplements to help heal the body and keep it going; the dozens if not hundreds of human specialists and experts on your cancer team; not to mention the thousands of people going back to Hippocrates who have studied and struggled and reached for the stars to find new medicines, new treatments, and new ways to better understand this horrifying disease, do these people really think God deserves the credit? Then why not pray for him to take care of your hospital bill too instead of hitting people up on CaringBridge?

I spoke with a cancer survivor who lost her hand to a nasty case of sarcoma. She originally didn’t want anything to do with the healthcare field because of that experience and others in the hospital. But the knowledge, expertise and caring nature of the nurse practitioners she had by her side through all the struggles inspired her to go into that field.

She donates her time a camp for children battling cancer where they can hang out, eat junk and play outside; you know, be kids for a change. People like here will wipe out all of the cancer cells, not God.

The life expectancy in the United States is a tad under 80 years. That is nearly double the 45-year life expectancy an American citizen had around the turn of the 20th century. According to a data map by FiveThirtyEight, the death rates for cancer have gone from 240 deaths per 100,000 people in 1980 to 192 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014.

That data also shows the death rates from cancer are much higher in the evangelical parts of the southern United States, those places where you would expect more people to be praying to God to eradicate all of the cancer cells. Then again, the Methodists have the only true avenue to God, unless of course, you are a Baptist, and all those competing prayers must be canceling each other out.

 

Cancer Rates
According to this map by FiveThirtyEight, all those prayers don’t seem to be doing squat to stop cancer in the Bible Belt.

 

Part of that is due to the millions and billions of dollars that have been raised and funneled into cancer research, coming up with breakthroughs over the past seven decades.

But according to data from nonprofit Giving USA, the majority of charitable dollars went to religion (32%), education (15%), human services (12%), grantmaking foundations (11%), and health (8%) in 2015, the most recent year data was available. Of the top five categories of giving, four times as much money went to the prayer factory (which we know doesn’t work) than went to the cure factory (which we know does).

If you want to help change that statistic, here are three great organizations to donate to: The American Cancer Society Donation Page, The American Breast Cancer Foundation Donation Page, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Donation Page.

This appeal to a miraculous God who cures cancer doesn’t just insult the doctors and nurses who stood by your family day in and day out. What about the family, friends and entire communities that help out? The good Christian makes sure to thank God and Jesus for the moral support he provided, but then forget the friends who helped cook, clean, bought drinks and offered shoulders to cry on during the bad days, celebrated on the good days, and organized fundraisers to help provide the tens of thousands of dollars the family needed to cover medical, travel and other costs associated with this struggle.

“I thank my God every day. Even though these are challenging times, I know my God would never give me more on my plate than I could handle.”

“Oh, Betty, I don’t want another seven-layer lasagna, it gives me gas. But it’d be great if you could look after the kids while my husband and I are at the hospital.”

And this is why Atheists face-palm.