Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christian Flags for the Courtroom

So I return from my vacation to see that something strange is happening in Alcorn County. I know, I shouldn't be surprised to see church/state entanglements but I thought I'd have at least a little reprieve between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. Wow, I was wrong.

According to the Daily Corinthian, the Woodmen of the World Lodge 64 is donating new flags to the Alcorn County Courthouse. This organization provides a lot of flags to various businesses and non-profits so that within itself is not much of a surprise. The problem comes with the kind of flag being donated:

A group of local leaders including Police Chief David Lancaster, Justice Court Judge Steve Little and Sheriff Charles Rinehart accepted a state, national and Christian flag from Corinth's Woodmen of the World Lodge 64. The flags will be on display in the Alcorn Justice Center's Courtroom. (emphasis mine)

What? These officials accepted a Christian flag and plan to display it in the county courtroom? Say it ain't so! In what universe does anyone think that it's ok to have a religious flag on display in an American courtroom? What kind of message is this sending?

Well, the message I get is that Christian values will be upheld in that court and, therefore, Christians can expect special consideration. That's unconstitutional. The Christian flag has no place in that courtroom.

So first, we need to verify that the Christian flag is indeed being stationed in the courtroom as the article says. Unfortunately, I couldn't link to the article so I'm having to read it straight out of the Dec. 27 paper for you. Also, unfortunately, I'm not a resident of Alcorn County so I lack the ability or standing to take any action.

But some of you do and if this issue is important enough to you, I hope you'll consider checking it out. If you can verify that the Christian flag is indeed in that courtroom, you can make a phone call or write a letter. You can contact the Freedom from Religion Foundation and have them send a letter.

Why should you care? Why should we waste our time on these little things? Because they aren't trivial. They send a clear message of preference for Christianity. The longer these things go unchallenged, the more the people (and the courts) can fall back on the argument from tradition.

It's great to support state and national efforts to keep church and state separate. But sometimes the most important work we can do is to keep things straight at home. The more these small communities have to deal with this stuff and learn, the less of this crap will filter to the upper levels.

It's really important that we address this wherever we find it. Who from among us will make a stand?

*Edit to add photos from the actual newspaper since I couldn't find a link to it online:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, etc.

DFFT is taking a much needed break from blogging and podcasting. We will be active on facebook and plan to have a video or two out but we have celebrations to attend and what not.

Don't worry! We will be back, probably with a year wrap-up episode. So stay tuned and have a great time the next couple of weeks!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Skepticism and the Criminal "Justice" System

Despite the cries of doom all around us by apocalyptic believers and the perennially depressed who do nothing but piss and moan over how much worse the world is now than it was in the 50s, violent crime rates are actually on the decline in the United States. So when there is a homicide in our sleepy little Mississippi towns, we tend to take notice.

New Albany has been reeling from the shooting death of Amanda Price for about a week now. It seemed a senseless, rather random crime. For the first few days, law enforcement had no clue who had done it or why. Things didn't look very good for those who wanted to bring the killer(s) to justice.

But now there are some new developments in the case. Like everyone else in the general public, I'm not privy to the details. I don't know who is in custody and I don't know what evidence has been recovered to link the suspects to the shooting. What I do know is that the lack of public knowledge has not prevented people from making gross assumptions and becoming lax in their habits. Take for example these three statements from the neighborhood:

"Well, I'm so relieved they finally caught the killer because it was tragic right around the holidays. It's a blessing they got them," New Albany resident William Frazier said.

"Whoever did that should not have done it and I'm glad everybody can start opening up their doors and coming out," New Albany resident Melissa Judon said.

"I didn't know the Price family. It's justice and I feel like it's a really good thing," New Albany resident Courtney Browning said.

First, we haven't seen any charges filed, must less had a trial and convicted the suspect. We cannot know at this point that the killer was caught. Nothing in any of this story can reasonably be construed as any sort of "blessing."

Second, why would you start "opening up" your doors? No charges, no trial, no conviction. You can't just assume the guys in custody are guilty and start leaving your door open as if such a thing could never happen again. If the people in custody are actually innocent, then the killer is still out there.

Third, there's been no justice yet. There's a process and that process is just beginning, not ending. Until we know more, it is not reasonable to presume that we can just sound the all clear and move on.

"They're relieved of course that they have the person of interest in jail and because it kind of gives them peace of mind that they're not coming back," New Albany Mayor Tim Kent said.

I'm sure it does give them peace of mind but it's a false peace of mind at this point. Fortunately, the mayor seems to realize this:

"They're going to make sure they have every t crossed and every i dotted, but I feel good about the evidence that they do have," Mayor Kent added.

I certainly hope so because, at this point, only two things matter to me: 1) everyone who is charged gets a fair trial, and 2) the guilty person is the one convicted.
Americans need to stop blindly accepting police authority and understand that the criminal "justice" system (which I actually now simply call the "legal system" since I see little justice in it) is set up to put away more people for less reason. Private contractors make billions on running prisons. Prosecutors went elections and get promotions based on their conviction rates - not on how well they actually do their job. And law enforcement can score more arrests faster on simple drug possession charges than on actual violent crime cases. There's a great of motivation to rig the system so we must be extra skeptical.

But even if the system were pure, isn't skepticism what it is founded on? What happened to the whole idea of "innocent until proven guilty?" Why do we automatically assume that the guy they picked up and threw in jail is the one who did the killing? Maybe they're right and maybe they aren't. But until there is a trial, we really can't know.

I can understand people's need for an explanation and their desire to feel safe again. However, until the process has fully run its course, we have no way of knowing if the police have the right guys. As with so many other things in our ordinary lives, it really pays to stay skeptical.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rallying the Rational

I had dinner with three of the most important people in my life the other day and we had an interesting discussion about the fate of the world, our role in the culture, and other such trivialities. We were a strange mix: two men and two women; two Christians and two atheists; two parents and two who would never get to be parents. Nathan and I are, of course, the two atheists who won't get to see our son grow up. My sister and her husband are the two Christians who have a bright and beautiful son. In this odd mix of persons and personalities, the most fascinating and sometimes disturbing conversations arise.

My sister and I share a great deal of the same idealism and enthusiasm. We genuinely want to leave the world a better place than we found it. We want to do all we can to help educate people and promote science-based medicine. Where we part company is in our abilities. She is a vivacious, on-top-of-the-world professional who can get things done. I am a reclusive, sometimes misanthropic, person who has to ride the tides of rage of get anything done.

Nathan, of course, shares our idealism and enthusiasm but he is far more circumspect than I. Where I would barrel in with guns blazing, he would knock politely and ask to chat over a cup of coffee. He is the more social, more tolerant, antidote to my rock-hard skepticism. 

And then there is my brother-in-law. He is much more of a realist and a pragmatist than any of us although I do share a high degree of that realism too (it's one of the reasons why I have a hard time putting my idealism into action).  He has a keen ability to read people and assess situations quickly. He is not the kind of person to be underestimated and will probably outlive us all.

So as we are all talking about life in Northeast Mississippi and what we could do to improve it, I kept hearing my own thoughts coming out of everyone else's mouths. 

"I think we need more education."
"How can we get this information out there?"
"Would parents bring their kids to an afternoon class?"
"Would kids look it up on the internet?"

And then the realism: "The information's already out there. Nobody cares enough to look at it and do anything."

How can I argue with that truth? It's been my firm belief for quite a while now that there is really no excuse for remaining ignorant on any subject any more. You might not fully understand it and you might not get it all right but you can look up any subject on the internet and get informed. There is simply no excuse for ignorance. In my days and the days of my forebears, we only had books and the occasional TV program for information. The nearest bookstore was an hour away and we had little money to spend on useless information. If I didn't learn something in school, I had to save up and hope I could order a book on the subject from somewhere.  It's not like that now. Now there is no reason to be totally blind.

So that being said, I can't disagree with the realistic assessment that lack of information isn't always the issue. Sometimes the truth is that people just don't care enough about themselves or society to do any better.

"How do you change a culture?" I asked. We all looked at each other kind of blankly. 

Realism replied again, "You don't."

We're all going to hell in a handbasket, you see. Time flows on regardless of the machinations of individual humans. It ebbs and it flows, sure, but not because of anything that any one of us does. No one person can change the world.

Or can she? I look in my sister's eyes and I believe she could help a person change. I look at Nathan and I believe he can help a person change. But one can only help...not force. A person must want to change and that is where my brother-in-law's staunch realism must be acknowledged. We can lead the credulous to knowledge but we can't make them think.

I internalized all this dialog and I've been musing on it a few days now. Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my time writing or creating anything. I feel like all my battles are useless. I feel like there is no hope for the world so I might as well just enjoy the time I have left and leave everyone else to rot. 

Then I realize that people have always kind of felt this way. Every generation has thought that the world couldn't get much worse, that the kids were out of control, that there was no hope for the future. When I think of the generations that survived WWI and WWII, I'm ashamed that I look at our problems and think them so grand. We do have some serious problems but, good grief, look at what those poor people faced!

And then I remember that people have changed the world. It wasn't always quick and it has never been painless. Change almost always comes with a price-tag of blood but there have always been courageous ones who have paid it for us. So I stay mindful that things will never change if we lose our vision and stop working to make things better.  It takes everyone pushing together against the status quo to make any kind of difference.

I don't know what the future holds for us rational folks. I'd like to believe that radical religion is losing its hold on America and the screams we hear are death rattles. I'd like to think that we are moving toward a more tolerant era so that we can work together on some of these issues that plague us. But I also realize that established power structures can be very difficult to topple and that we have some serious trust issues eating us from within.

Do we have the courage and the strength to stay in the fight? Should we even bother? It's hard for me to say but my feeling is that I must stick with it. I think I would rather die knowing that I tried to do good and failed rather than die knowing I didn't bother to try. But I also know that I need to keep these voices close to me and listen well to what they say. It is vital that I remain rooted in skepticism but I think it does me no harm to keep my face toward the sun.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Growing Intolerance Toward Intolerance

I have long known Zip Ribar as a letter-writer guaranteed to make my eyes roll up in the back of my head with disbelief. His latest letter to the Sun Herald entitled "A growing intolerance toward Christians"  does not disappoint. I wish to address some of his claims and then one of the comments left on the site.

So many terms don’t mean what they say. “Social Justice” now refers to the redistribution of wealth and power to those who didn’t earn it. “Affirmative action” requires preferential treatment based on race. “Liberty” means the license to do my own thing regardless of the people around me.

Words actually mean whatever the majority decides they mean. That's how language evolves over time.  You can make up your own special meanings but that doesn't mean that anyone else will accept your definition, much less use it. 

So when you decry the current usage of "social justice," I think you need to know that most people who advocate for social justice do not mean robbing the rich and giving to the poor. They mean putting policies in place to prevent corruption and giving everyone real equal opportunity to achieve rather than just the illusion of it. They are not advocating for equal outcomes, just equal opportunity. The difference between those concepts is crucial.

"Affirmative action" does indeed mean giving some preferential treatment based on race. If we as Americans lived up to our ideals, such programs would be unnecessary. The only reason we need Affirmative Action programs is because many Americans still discriminate based on race, gender, ethnicity, and other factors. You can say that's untrue but both the facts and experience prove you wrong. I have worked in quite a few places that did not want to hire a black candidate or a woman who might be pregnant. Perhaps when Americans start obeying the law, we can get rid of programs like this.

And as for liberty, it does mean that I can do my own thing. What it does not mean is that I can do anything with callous disregard for anyone else. I can't drink and drive regardless of what you think. I can't run my car into your living room just for fun. But I can do what I want with other consenting adults in the privacy of my own home and whatever you might think about that isn't really worth a damn.

However, in American, the characteristic intolerance nowadays is not by religious people, but against them, especially where they are in the majority.

That's a big charge. Mind backing it up with some examples or evidence?

Public prayers are being banned from public schools.

Yeah, how dare we hold you to our social contract (the Constitution) which guarantees that the government will stay neutral on the subject of religion. How intolerant of us to ask that the government not tell us how and when to pray. Tell me, has anyone stopped children from praying in schools? I think not!

Creches and crosses are being banned from public sites.

How dare we hold you to our social contract (the Constitution) by demanding that the government either stay neutral or give us all equal time. That's the law. If the government lets you put up your nativity, then we all get to put something up. And if we can't put up our signs and stuff on government property, then you have to take yours down. We're not banning religion - we're demanding the government play fair. What do you have against fairness?

The legal sanctification of infanticide, homosexuality and hedonism proceeds unhindered by Christian scruples.

First, please show me where infanticide has been legalized in the U.S. Oh right, you can't. Next, explain to me how homosexuality has been "legally sanctified" when most states still do not allow same-sex marriage. Again, you can't. As for hedonism, what else is it but the liberty to pursue happiness? Do you hate the Declaration of Independence too now?

The same Sun Herald also reported that the “Department of Justice probes discrimination claims” against the city of Lomita, Calif., for not permitting a local Islamic Center to expand in a crowded part of town. Liberty of Muslims means they have an absolute right to ignore that will of the majority.

News flash for you, Zip. Religious rights aren't up for a majority vote. If this city denied Muslims a permit because it didn't like Islam, then it is breaking the law - just like if they denied Christians a permit because they didn't like Christianity. The First Amendment trumps your petty majority vote. This is not a pure democracy - it is a republic. Learn the difference.

Some may think of this as politically correct. Others, like myself, however, may regard it as a form of federal discrimination against Christians.

You're welcome to think that but your position is wrong and stupid. It's wrong because the federal government is moving toward a more neutral stance which is both ethically and legally sound. It's stupid because Christianity is still by far the largest religious group in the country and, if they really cared about any of this, they could outshine and outspend any other group. But these people aren't really interested in doing the work of Christ - they are interested in sitting back and making the government do it for them. It's lazy religion at its worst.


And now I wish to take on one of the comments by bederest:

This country was founded on the principal that the 'majority rules.'

Not when it comes to Constitutional Rights. Don't go there.

In my 64-years, I have never seen (in your false words) Christianity "forced" down anybody's thoat.

Then you haven't been looking very closely. That's part of your Christian privilege that you need to get over. Every time I see In God We Trust on my money, or hear "one nation under God," or see a Christian cross on government property standing alone, I'm forced to pay for and participate in your religion.

To the contrary, we all have seen the Muslim faith being shoved down our school children's throats, in the name of "Multural Culturalism." No protests form the nihilistic liberals there, though !

No, I've not seen this. I've seen people being encouraged to live together peacefully and respect each other's rights. I have not seen any of us forced to learn Islamic law, recite the Quran, or dress like a Muslim. 

I attended a football game at Milner stadium a few years ago. My neighbor, a Muslim (born in the USA) sitting next to me, refused to stand up for the prayer. I'm OK with that, but when he refused to stand up for the National Anthem, I gave him my opinion of his nhilistic attitude toward the country that feeds him. He refuses to speak to me to this day. Fine with me. I know he hates it when I fly the American flag on the appropriate holiday.

One of the most meaningful patriotic moments in my life was during an event where everyone stood up while the national anthem was played. They took off hats and put their hands over their hearts. I just sat there as I have done since I was in my early twenties when I decided that freedom had nothing to do with going along with the crowd. As I sat contemplating my forefathers who had fought on this land and in foreign countries, I became aware of eyes on me. I realized I was the only one sitting and it had not gone unnoticed. I closed my eyes (probably looked like I was praying) and sank deeper into my meditation. I considered that the freedom that flag and song represented was the freedom to sit quietly and thank my forefathers without having someone take me to jail. That was the freedom so many bled and died for. By the time the song was over, I was in tears - tears filled with gratitude and joy. Everyone else sang a song and had their moment of blind patriotism. I had a moment of sincere reverence for this country's values and the sacrifices many have made to preserve them.

My point is: you don't know shit about what someone is thinking or what they believe just because they didn't stand for the anthem. And if you scorn them for dissent or for exercising their right to sit, then you don't get the point of freedom at all.

The majority of American' s are Christian -- they should prevail, because they are THE MAJORITY! Once again, that's why we hold elections. The MAJORITY wins! Liberals usually find a way to cheat on that though, (dead voters and unregisterd winos) so in the same ilk, they demonize Christianity -- through false information, such as your lying attempt here !

You did go there again. Let me try to spell this out so you can get it. Constitutional rights are not subject to majority whim. You can't just vote out my religious freedom with a 51% majority. If you love this country, then you ought to learn how it works! There is a process for amending the Constitution that requires a hell of a lot more than 51% so if you want to take away my religious freedom, you're going to have to work harder.

Also, there have been several investigations over the past few years into voter fraud and it's quite well known among thinking people now that this whole thing is a myth. For all the mud you're slinging out here, none of it sticks.

This is nothing more than liberal - invented, and directed political correctness. I want my country back!

As someone who grew up in the '50s, the rest of you young liberals have no idea how much damage you've done to the nation, culture and spirit that we once had -- because you just don't have enough knowledge of history or life experience.

You can't have your country back because those days are gone. Things don't stay the same no matter how fondly we may remember the "good ole days." Those who cannot or will not change will ultimately fall.

I get that you don't really understand the world you're living in and I do have some sympathy for you. Things have changed very fast and life looks very different through the eyes of a child than it does through the eyes of an adult. But I fear this sort of attitude is indicative of a desire to keep that precious 50s childhood experience at all costs. It's a delusion fostered and maintained by those who don't want to grow up.

I fear life doesn't give us that option. It moves along as it will.

I must say that if anyone doesn't have any knowledge of history or life experience, it's these two men. They don't know how anything works or why it should work that way. All they see is their Christian privilege eroding and they are crying out like kids having their sweets taken away. 

I'm growing intolerant of all this intolerance. Why can't we just all play fair and get along?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Answering the Critics: Anti-Atheism & the Solstice Sign

More than likely you'll hear some things in here that will require some clarification on my part. I have plans to address some of it at a later time but if something strikes a chord or just hits you the wrong way, let us know below in the comments. Hopefully, I'll be able to hammer my thoughts out in a way that will make more sense now than it did at 5 am. I'm thinking in particular of my comment about not caring what people believe. My actual view is more complicated so you can wait for a future post or just ask me here. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cling to the Constitution Because We Fought to Have It

Another letter to the editor entitled, "Cling to prayer because we fought to save it."
Another rage.
Another petulant but, hopefully, poignant response.

The Supreme Court, Congress and federal judges are oppressing one religion, Christianity.

Sir, please exit the mothership and return to Earth. Can you please give me one, just ONE, example where a court, a police officer, or a politician has prevented you from going to church or praying privately? Can you show me just one time in the past century when American Christians (except for Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses - who you probably don't consider "real Christians") have been rounded up by their government and imprisoned for their beliefs?

Of course you can't because you're dead wrong.

Christians do not force others to be a Christian, neither do they kill one who decides to leave their ranks, as many religions do.

Sir, have you not heard of ecclesiastical imprisonment and the Inquisitions? Do you not know that the Catholic Church has spent most of existence torturing pagans, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Protestant Christians until they converted, died, or agreed to stop observing their religious rites? Do you not know that Protestants and Catholics have been killing each other for ages in Europe? Do you not know that the Puritans ruthlessly persecuted the Quakers?

It may be that Christians are not supposed to coerce or kill non-Christians but the sad fact is that they have done so for many centuries and some still do.

Other religions can express their religion anywhere in the U.S., but Christians are deprived of free speech.

Sir, again, can you please show me one instance where a Christian was deprived of free speech and another religion was not. Please give me evidence of any single case where Christianity was mistreated in America. You can't because the persecution you describe simply does not exist.

My school teachers taught me about the Founding Fathers of this great nation. These were brave, God-fearing men.

Some of them were but not in the way you think. Do you know that George Washington was an Anglican and usually left before communion without participating? Do you know that Dr. Ben Franklin was born to Puritan parents but became a deist and then later blended his deist and Christian beliefs together, rejecting many of the Bible's claims including Jesus's divinity? Do you not know that Thomas Jefferson was an Episcopalian but his beliefs were far more deistic? Do you know that he accepted the morality of Jesus but not the divine attributions? Do you know that Jefferson made his own Bible by cutting out all the parts he thought were ridiculously untrue or harmful? Do you know that he couldn't stand priests and advocated for a full separation of church and state? Do you know that John Adams and his son John Q. Adams were both Unitarians and did not accept the divinity of Jesus? 

By today's mainstream Christian standards, that means that Franklin, Jefferson, and the Adamses are all in hell.

My teachers taught me about Christianity. The main reason people came to America was religious freedom.

If that's the case, your teachers taught you wrong. Just one more reason why public school teachers should NOT teach religion. There were some people who came to America for religious freedom but most people who came here did so for another reason: wealth. People fled debts and poverty in Europe by coming over here and claiming land. Some groups (like the Puritans) came over here to set up their own little theocracies so they could be free to persecute anyone they didn't like. Greed was the biggest motivator for coming to the New World - not religion.

For my country's freedom, I served almost three years in the U.S. Navy, about half of that in the Pacific on the USS Manila Bay. Then it took another three years to get my health back enough so I could hold a public job. That all was minor compared to what thousands of others serving our country have gone through.

And this is where it gets difficult for me. It would be incorrect for me to say that I'm not grateful for the sacrifices of those who did serve to protect our values and way of life. So many of my family made those sacrifices for the freedom I have that I cannot be ungrateful. But I must be honest here: if you went to war and fought so that you could set up a Christian theocracy here and take away my right to dissent, then I cannot be grateful for that. And while you have not said that you wish to take away my religious freedom, I have to wonder what your intent is when you repeat lies designed to make people like me look like persecutors of the faith.

When the tornado destroyed Smithville, almost everyone heard talking was saying, "I was praying to God and He saved my life."

Again, this is difficult because I had friends in Smithville but I must be honest. Nobody survived because of prayer. If you believe that your god saved those people then you must believe that those who died either did not pray or their prayers were not heard, or they just didn't deserve mercy. Do you have the balls to say that about those people?

A few months later we were ordered not to pray at ballgames. So we tucked our tail between our legs and lay down.

No, the government-operated school was ordered not to pray. It's that "freedom" thing you fought for - the First Amendment. Read it and please get a clue what you were fighting for. And I seriously doubt there was any tail-tucking going on. I expect you were all madder than ole wet hens and probably screamed the Lord's Prayer as loudly as you could. After all, Jesus didn't mean any of that stuff he said in Matthew 6 about not praying in public like a bunch of hypocrites, right?

We are in the process of building our churches back in Smithville. Are we building them back so we can hide in them or are we building them back so we can worship God in them and prepare ourselves so we can carry His message outside the building?

That's very much your business, sir, but I've got to tell you: if you don't offer us a message any better than the lies you've repeated here, we aren't going to listen to you.

The commentary in the Daily Journal on Nov. 13 was sad. Since a prayer by a person that was not an elegant speaker embarrassed Sonny Scott, he should not write about prayer, because he doesn't even know what prayer is about.

No, what's really sad and pathetic, what's really downright embarrassing here, is that you just said that Sonny Scott doesn't know what prayer is about when the very model for prayer he quoted is JESUS CHRIST.  My stars, man, do you not even know which god you, as a Christian, are supposed to pay attention to? Or do you think that maybe Jesus just didn't know what he was talking about when he gave out those instructions? Maybe Jesus was wrong about praying privately to the Father. Maybe he should have been holding up some gaudy sign and screaming like a banshee at the local arena during the gladiator games.

I don't know what you went to war and fought for but I hope you'll review our history and our law and understand that the thing that binds us Americans together is supposed to be freedom. And I've got to tell you, sir, I can't find any sign in your letter that you understand freedom or support it. I hope you'll take the time reflect on this; otherwise, everything you went through was in vain.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Patience Is Wearing Thin

They say opinions are like assholes - everybody has one. Nowhere has that been more obvious to me than with today's letter to the editor from Christie Miller of Tupelo. Since she's seen fit to bare hers to the world, I'd like to present her with mine. Perhaps some would see this as a bit of petulance on my part but I think a large reason why we've gotten into the mess we're in is because we've decided it is impolite to ridicule stupidity. I disagree with that and, as my patience wears ever thinner with these "forced birth" people, I intend to indulge in as much pointed ridicule as I can.

God frowns upon Mississippians, as they voted NO on Amendment 26 that stated life begins at the moment of conception.

How the hell do you know that? Can you see Yahweh's face because even Moses wasn't given that privilege (Exodus 33:20). Or did Yahweh come down and tell you he was pissed? Can you please explain how you know anything about how Yahweh feels at a particular time and who the hell gave you the right to speak for said deity? (Perhaps there is some truth in I Timothy 5:13-14 which advises that it's best to keep women pregnant and busy; otherwise, they run around talking too much and poking their noses in people's business as we see here.)

How could this state, known as the Bible Belt of the South, have been so blinded and misinformed? Many myths and out right lies were circulated by the pro-choice advocates, but one cannot place all blame on these.

The reason so many are blind and misinformed is because they look to the Bible and their preachers as the ultimate source of truth and those are not valid places to look for scientific truth. As long as we've used holy books to determine scientific truth, we've thought that the earth was a flat disc, that a wife's fidelity could be determined by water, that bats were birds, insects have four legs, and that breeds are determined by whatever kind of plants they happen to look at while they mate. When we put aside these silly tales and take up actual scientific inquiry, we learn the causes for disease and how to cure (or better yet prevent) many of them. We learn how the world works and we use these discoveries to improve our lives. We didn't get good vaccines, surgical procedures, or plans for space shuttles from the Bible - we got them from science. So when you are going to the Bible as your source of authority for biology and American law, you've already double-failed.

The Bible, God's Holy Word, utterly dispels all that Planned Parenthood and the pro-choice groups would have one believe. Even nature itself provides common sense in defense of pro-life. It is each individual's responsibility to seek out and separate the truths from the untruths.

Are you still talking about the Bible? What is it going to take for you to extract your head from your rear and learn that ancient holy books are not scientifically accurate? What if we make a rule that those who do not value science no longer get to benefit from it? How about we take away your car, your computer, your cell phone, your easily-accessible food and clean water, your medications, and all the shit that makes your life worthwhile. Why don't we just take all that away from you and you can fall back on your Bible and take its advice instead. I can't wait to see you pack up your gear and trek to the Mississippi River, take a dip in it, and hope that your cancer is somehow cured.

As for what nature says, don't get me started. Some animals eat their young. Some primates kill the children of rival females. Nature is not always the best place to go for our morals as I suspect you well know. After all, we know that many animals are homosexual but you don't go saying that it's ok for humans to be gay because of that, right? 

Ignorance is indeed the enemy, and public perception seems to be guided by those with the least amount of knowledge at the present time.

You're totally right. Our public perception is largely guided by people like you who don't know jack about anything but are happy to spread that ignorance around in large doses. If you had any knowledge on the subject, you'd be making rational arguments from biology and law but you don't have any. All you have is your interpretation of an old book and your concept of a god (who apparently always agrees with you). 

Albert Einstein said, "Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it."

I agree with this too for the most part. And since the government isn't demanding that you abort or use contraceptives, feel free not to do so. As for the rest of us, leave us the hell alone. Our consciences are every bit as important as yours.

Amendment 26 is not a socialistic governmental issue, but instead a life or death morality issue. Having said that, the current socialist White House Administration is very pleased with the citizens of Mississippi: God is not.

And with that last sentence, you just proved that you have no knowledge or insight on anything much that's going on politically. Apparently, all you can give us is whatever drops off the lips of the most ignorant and insane among us. At this point, no reasonable person should take you seriously since you think a center-right administration is somehow "socialist."

"Thus saith the Lord," Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." Jeremiah 17:5.

Honestly, I don't care about the words of a deity who doesn't understand the world he supposedly made or how anything in it works. His curses don't scare me in the least. But if we want to play the battle of out-of-context verses, I'll offer up this one to you, Ms. Miller:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. - I Timothy 2:11-12.

That means you need to hush and quit lecturing men about how they should have voted. You are sinning - a disgrace to your husband and to your god.

Mississippians neglected a perfect God-given right and opportunity to lead this nation in the right direction, and instead chose to wander, just as the Children of Israel in the wilderness for forty years. It has been thirty-eight years since Roe vs. Wade, with forty years fast approaching. With the number forty meaning probation, Mississippians as well as this nation as a whole, should awaken to the truth.

No, Mississippians rejected the temptation to take your particular religious view and make it law. I know this may come as a shock to you but not every Christian interprets the Bible the same way you do and not everyone in Mississippi is a Christian. You have NO right to make your religion my law. You have NO right to determine my medical treatment for me. And you have absolutely NO right to demand that I have kids just because you think they are precious gifts from your god. What makes you think you have the authority to demand this of us?

Oh, I know. Because of your god. Because, sadly, you are playing god. 

Truly, God is long-suffering, but His patience will not last forever.

Truly, I'm not very long-suffering any more. I'm done with patience because people like you interpret silence as consent. I do not consent to your theocratic, pseudoscientific bullshit. I will not allow you to force your religious beliefs on me. And I will not sit idly by and let you lie and threaten Mississippians in the newspaper like a spoiled child because you didn't get your way. I seriously suggest that you go to your room for a time out and read the Bill of Rights. Read the history of America. Read and understand that you have a right to your religion but you've got no authority to make the rest of us believe it or practice it. You aren't a god. You're just a selfish kid who's mad because you didn't get your way and now your screaming, "My daddy's going to get you all!" Guess what? We don't care. We're not interested. Some of us don't see your god as a malevolent tyrant and some of us don't believe in him at all. So quit wasting our time with the foot-stamping. Grow up a little and realize that you don't own the playpen and you're stuck in it with those of us who aren't going to roll over or bow down every time you throw a fit. No, every time you come at us with this kind of nonsense, we are going to point and laugh and call you out for what you are. 

And for those who are extremely pissed off now that I've hit a nerve or two, there's a place for comments just below. Use it. Speak your mind. There's plenty more where this came from.

Friday, November 25, 2011

New Charts Reveal Personhood USA Doesn't Know Facts

If there's one thing I hate, it's a liar. The people involved with Personhood USA seem to be very angry with liars also. The trouble is: I say they are lying and they say Planned Parenthood is lying. In 5 minutes that I will never get back, I read Keith Ashley's little article entitled "New Poll Reveals Real Reason Behind Mississippi Personhood Loss." It came with a neat little pie chart and a whole bucketload of claims. 

The entire paper can easily be summed up as follows:

Planned Parenthood took our tax dollars and funneled it into Mississippi from out of state to lie about us and make everyone think we wanted to get rid of in vitro fertilization and birth control. They spent over a million dollars to make us look bad. How could we compete with that? 


For those of us who choose to live in reality on planet Earth, let's take a look at their whinging and complaining and see if we can find some facts.

1. Everyone should have known that IVF, birth control, and women's healthcare was safe because the Mississippi Center for Public Policy said so.

FACT: That's a huge argument from authority. The Mississippi Center for Public Policy is not an unbiased organization. They promote "strong traditional families" which we know is code for right-wing religious beliefs. To expect that one analysis from a biased source should have settled the debate is ludicrous.

2. Planned Parenthood sent over a million dollars to Mississippi to fight prop 26.

FACT: The truth is not nearly as simple as Personhood USA makes it out to be. As I demonstrated in our video "Following the Money," Planned Parenthood wasn't the only out-of-state contributor and wasn't even the biggest out-of-state contributor at the time. After analyzing the October 2011 financial reports, I discovered that 16% of all donations to Mississippians for Healthy Families were "in kind" donations. Again, that means they were NOT cash donations - they were materials, supplies, time, etc. If we're going to pretend that campaign money is dirty, then we must exclude all "in kind" donations.

If we leave in the "in kind" donations, Planned Parenthood did send 82% of the donations, the SEIU sent 3%, the FPA sent 1%, and the ACLU sent 2%. The remaining 12% was divided between private donations (5%) and non-itemized entries (7%). 

But, as I said, it's not really right to leave these "in kind" donations in the equation as if it's cash; after all, Personhood USA claims that Planned Parenthood sent in over a million dollars to fight 26. When we run the numbers again based solely on cash donations, we find this:

Planned Parenthood - $904,750.00 (82%)
Private Donations - $67,250.00 (6%)
SEIU - $40,000.00 (4%)
Non-itemized contributions - $89,260.97 (8%)

So when Ashley writes, "As of October 31, with well over a week to go before the election, they reported a hefty $1,030,000 poured into Mississippi from out of state Planned Parenthood affiliates alone." he is not actually making a factual statement.

Now I'd be remiss if I didn't apply the same vigorous scrutiny to the Yes on 26 campaign finance report. If you'll recall from the video I mentioned above, Yes on 26 did what I thought was a sloppy job of writing up their reports. I couldn't get their numbers to add up right and, unfortunately, I still can't. But I'm close enough from using their line-by-line numbers to give you what I believe to be a very fair and very close estimate. May I remind you at this time that NO donations were labeled "in kind" by Yes on 26. Everything they took in was cold, hard cash.

Personhood USA (Colorado) - $824,175.42 (78.4%)
AFA - $136,485.95 (13.0%)
Private Donations - $73,744.50 (7.0%)
Non-itemized contributions - $15,892.00 (1.5%)
MS Pro-life groups - $1,600.00 (0.2%)

When you take an honest look at the money, Personhood USA has no reason to whine. They came very close to singlehandedly putting more out-of-state money in the game than all the Planned Parenthood resources combined. And just as an aside, when Personhood USA talks about all the doctors, lawyers, and important people who backed them, it is worth remembering that many doctors, lawyers, accountants, retired military, and many others donated to fight 26. Their contributions should never be forgotten.

3. The money Planned Parenthood put into the Mississippians for Healthy Families campaign was income from our tax dollars. 

FACT: Federal tax dollars are required by law to be used for family planning services (not including abortions). There are strict rules governing the use of federal funds and PP has been investigated and found compliant numerous times. Personhood USA would be better served making sure that the churches they use to peddle their politics don't end up losing their tax exempt status because they can't follow the rules.

4. Planned Parenthood deceived Mississippi voters by making them believe Haley Barbour voted no.

FACT: Mississippians for Healthy Families did run an ad that used a media clip in which Barbour expressed his (well-founded) misgivings about 26. They had every right to use it but they did stop when he asked them to. There was no intent to deceive here - they simply repeated the clip and he did the talking word-for-word.

5.  Planned Parenthood deceived Mississippi voters by making them believe IVF, birth control, and women's healthcare was at risk.

FACT: Those things were at risk and if you still don't believe that, then you either haven't read Personhood USA's (and the other groups') literature or else you are incapable of simple logic. Time after time we exposed these groups saying in black and white that they wanted to get rid of IUDs, the Pill, and frozen embryos. A couple of times we even found where their literature stated that the mother's life wasn't as important as the fertilized egg's rights which would imply that treatment for an ectopic pregnancy might be delayed or refused. Every time they were presented with their own words, they stuck their fingers in their ears, shouted LA LA LA, and tried to redo their web pages. If anyone did any deceiving, it was on Personhood's side of the fence, not ours.

6. Useful information can be gleaned from the pie chart based on the exit polls located at the bottom of the article.

FACT: We can't really make any definitive statements other than the fact that whoever made the pie chart knew how to make a pie chart. We are not told how this exit poll was conducted. We are told that 10,000 people were polled on a question that almost 800,000 people voted on. The sample size of 1.25% isn't anything to write home about, especially considering that we don't know how these people were selected. Was it random? Were only registered Republicans (or Democrats) called? Did they self-select? It's important to know these things if we don't want our results to be tainted with bias.

Also, we don't know how many answers the respondent was able to choose. If the person could only give one answer, then Personhood USA needs to explain how 8% of 10,000 = 28. But if respondents were allowed several answers or were forced to list their answers in a particular order, then it will be difficult to draw any solid conclusions from the poll. For this reason, I am very skeptical of their claims that only 8% were pro-choice and only 8% were worried about no rape/incest exceptions. We just don't know enough about how the polling was done to feel as confident about the results as Ashley does.

So what have we learned from this whole fiasco? Well, this is what I've learned:

1. Personhood proponents believe math means whatever they want it to mean. I've never seen such sloppiness on reports and figures and that's particularly disturbing when the treasurer is getting paid $6k/month to fill out those simple reports. 

2. Personhood proponents believe science means whatever they want it to mean. They generally seem to distrust science when it comes to origins of life, age of the earth, evolution of the species, and such. But they fully embrace its language when they need to use it to push something and they don't let little things like facts or evidence get in the way of a good story.

3. Personhood proponents believe the law means whatever they want it to mean. They play fast and loose with legal language just as well as they do math and science terms. It's almost as if they are playing Twister with words. They seem to think that if they just throw enough big words out, the stupid sheep will come gobble them up.

4. Personhood proponents believe that the ends justify the means. If one must lie, slander, and demonize others to get one's way, oh well. They should remember that childhood saying: when you point your finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at you.

Personhood is not finished, not by a long shot. Although the concept is rooted in hard-core creationist minds, it is not intelligently designed by any means. It, like every other messy organism struggling to survive, is evolving as we speak. It is adapting to hostile environments and is learning new ways to propagate itself. If we want to see this thing go extinct, we must continue the exhausting work of rooting out the lies and severing the heart of the beast. I know we are all really tired of this. I know our friends and families probably don't want to hear about it any more. But we are no less in danger from Personhood now than we were a month ago. We must renew ourselves, reequip ourselves, and get moving. We must reach across state lines and help our neighbors as they so kindly helped us. Remember: anything you can do is helpful. It's not just about money (though that's always nice). Sometimes, making a picture, writing a blog, talking to someone, or volunteering some time is all you need to make a difference.  Get your gear on, team! The DFFT patrol is ready for action!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Brief History of the AFA

The American Family Association is one of the most influential "family" organizations in the United States. In November 2010, the association was labeled as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I intend to document the history of the AFA here including its activities and prove that they have long deserved the titles of "hate group" and "anti-freedom."

The organization actually began in 1977 as the National Federation for Decency and was started by United Methodist minister Donald Wildmon (b. 18 Jan 1938, in Dumas, MS). Wildmon graduated from Millsaps College in 1960, served in the Army from 1961-1963, then got his Master of Divinity (MDiv) in 1965 from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. In 1977, he moved* to Tupelo to found the National Federation for Decency as a way to fight against pornography and violence, particularly on television. The organization's mission was to foster "the biblical ethic of decency in American Society with the primary emphasis on television." They started with only 1400 members and protested any show, network, or sponsor that supported what they determined to be violent or immoral. The NDF's first boycott was in 1978 when they targeted Sears for sponsoring three shows that they disapproved of: All in the Family, Charlie's Angels, and Three's Company. Although I couldn't find concrete evidence of what displeased Wildmon so much, I believe it had a lot to do with seeing strong, sexy women, women cohabiting with a man, and Carroll O'Connor's use of the word "god dammit."

In 1980, Wildmon joined forces with Jerry Falwell to create the Coalition for Better Television (CBTV). This group monitored television content and analyzed it to record the number of infractions - much in the way some who are virulently anti-pornography watch loads of it so they can tell us how awful it is. Although the group claimed membership in the millions, it fell apart only 2 years later when Wildmon and Falwell split, but not before they had bullied Proctor & Gamble into pulling advertising on about 50 TV shows.

From there, Wildmon founded Christian Leaders for Responsible Television (CLEAR-TV) and branched out from just TV into movies and magazines. He organized protests against any company that created or sold adult content while continuing to push for television programming to be censored according to his standards. No one was safe from the threat of boycott: not bookstores, not convenience stores, not even hotel chains. He successfully targeted Pepsico, Mazda, and Burger King among many others.

In 1987 he renamed his organization the American Family Association. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seems to have its fingers in every pot imaginable. This empire boasts 180 radio stations,  a popular monthly publication (AFA Journal), a news division (, and a legal arm (Center for Law & Policy) that was shut down in 2007. The organization runs on a $14 million dollar yearly budget. There are approximately 3.4 million subscribers to their "Action Alerts" in which they instruct followers to protest or boycott anything that the organization deems offensive or unAmerican. If only 1% of those subscribers act on any given instruction, then they still have a powerful voice.

The AFA will boycott over anything that gets under their skin but they have a few targets close to their heart: the inappropriately named "War on Christmas," pro-choice activities, anything sexual, and LGBT issues. Their protest/boycott efforts include but are not limited to:

7-Eleven - selling adult magazines
Abercrombie & Fitch - using "pornography" in their catalog
American Airlines
American Girl - supporting the charity Girls, Inc.
Blockbuster Video - renting adult films
Burger King - advertising on shows considered "anti-family"
Calvin Klein
Campbell Soup - advertising in an LGBT magazine
Carl's Jr.
Domino's Pizza - supporting Saturday Night Live
Ford Motor Co. - advertising in gay magazines; promoting homosexuality
GAP Stores - not using the word "Christmas"
General Mills - supporting Saturday Night Live
Hallmark - selling same-sex wedding cards
Home Depot - promoting homosexuality
Kmart - selling "adult" CDs
Mary Kay
Mazda - supporting Saturday Night Live
McDonald's - having a director on the board of the NGLCC
Movie Gallery - renting adult films
Nike - promoting same-sex marriage
Old Navy
PepsiCo - supporting sacrilegious advertising (Madonna)
Proctor & Gamble - advertising on shows considered "anti-family"
Ralston Purina - supporting Saturday Night Live
S.C. Johnson & Son
Target - not using the word "Christmas"
Waldenbooks -  selling adult magazines
Walt Disney - offering benefits to same-sex employees

Although there have been some cases of the boycotts being at least partially successful, in recent years they seem to become less and less effective. The organization takes credit for a lot of store closings and other decisions that cannot be directly linked to their boycott efforts, a failure to understand that correlation doesn't equal causation if ever there was one. The AFA is also known to make grandiose claims about their success that don't always pan out to be true.

The AFA has been working diligently to erase the separation between church and state, particularly by trying to convince Christians that they are now a persecuted minority being oppressed by the federal government. He sees the solution to all our social ills as reinstating school prayer, electing only "godly" politicians who parrot his views, ending abortion and sex education, and cleaning up all forms of communication so they conform to his standards. 

No one is safe from the AFA's demonization. In the 1980s, Wildmon mentioned on a few occasions that he thought Hollywood was run by a Jewish cabal that sought to put programming on the air that would promote anti-Christian values and undermine the Christian culture. In 2005 he threatened the Anti-Defamation League with a loss of support for Israel by AFA members if its president Abraham Foxman didn't stop criticizing the religious right. 

November 2006, the AFA had a fit when Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected, was sworn in on a Quran. Since that time, the AFA, chiefly through their tool Bryan Fischer, have done everything they can to convince Americans that all Muslims are evil and out to destroy America. Fischer has even gone so far to say that Muslim Americans should not have the same rights to free speech, assembly, and religious expression as Christians do. This is just the tip of the iceberg of Bryan Fischer's (and the AFA by proxy's) hate.

As far as money goes, the AFA has plenty of it and they don't mind using it to promote their absolute hatred of freedom. They spent $500,000 to pass Prop 8 in California against marriage equality. They spent $140,000 in Iowa to defeat some judges they didn't like. They spent at least $125,000 in Mississippi to promote the Personhood Amendment/Yeson26 campaign. And they also funneled money to Texas for Rick Perry's ridiculous prayer rally.

Although Donald Wildmon has stepped down from the leadership of the AFA, his son Tim runs it now as president. Nevertheless, Bryan Fischer appears to be the most public face and certainly the loudest voice of the AFA. It's a well-documented fact that the organization has suffered from and still suffers from a strict, authoritarian management style (probably driven by ego mania on the part of its leaders) and that working there is not very "comfortable." Employees have been criticized, chastised, and censored with no regards to their feelings or situations. They are generally not allowed to question organization leadership and they are expected to play fast and loose with the facts in order to further vilify AFA's opponents. The organization is believed to have at least loose ties to some racist organizations such as the American Renaissance magazine and FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform). But regardless of which group the AFA is targeting for their bile, you can always be sure that their barbs will be wrapped in the American flag and delivered in the name of God and the family. 

So, to wrap up, the AFA has been in existence under one name or another for about 35 years. It's primary goals are to censor American thought, speech, and media and to control American government through the merge of (their particular) church and state. If you boil all this down, you get one overarching theme: these people hate freedom and they don't want you to have any AT ALL.

As I have said before, the AFA has been working to undermine our freedom and spread their hatred almost as long as I've been alive. There is no way I could possibly list everything they have done here but I've given you a good start. I will write more in the coming weeks to try to zero in on what they've done and what they are doing. If you are interested, please be sure to check out our weekly podcast which will always contain an AFA Watch segment.

If you'd like to strike back at the AFA, please visit the blog every day for our Carrotmob list on the right section of the screen. These are stores that the AFA is boycotting. We don't ask you to necessarily shop at these stores (though that would be nice if you wish to) but we hope you'll find a way to contact them and let them know that the AFA's stranglehold on this country is about to end. It's time for Mississippi to "take out the trash" so I hope you'll help us however you can and stay tuned!

*Although the referenced article says that Wildmon moved to Tupelo in 1977, sources below say that he was already in town. I have reason to believe this is true.