Woman sentenced to death by stoning

An Iranian woman, after already being lashed 99 times for adultery, has now been sentenced to be stoned to death. It’s hard to believe such barbaric punishment can occur in the 21st century, but Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, who is a 42-year-old mother, has exhausted all her legal options and could be put to death any day for her alleged crime.

According to CNN

Ashtiani, 42, will be buried up to her chest, according to an Amnesty International report citing the Iranian penal code. The stones that will be hurled at her will be large enough to cause pain but not so large as to kill her immediately.

People continued to be cruelly tortured and killed like this because of religious dogma. Some Muslim apologists claim that since stoning for adultery isn’t in the Koran, that it’s not an Islamic but rather a cultural practice. While it’s true that the Koran doesn’t condone stoning for adultery, it is condoned in hadith writings which are meant to interpret and give guidance to Muslims about the Koran. While interpretation and application of hadiths can vary (notably between sunnis and shiites), the fact remains that this practice stems from Islamic tradition.

Even worse are the facts that

• there is no conclusive proof that the woman actually committed the crime she has been sentenced to death for.
• she has already been punished for her alleged crime (99 lashes), and

According to the Guardian:

Sakineh already endured a sentence of 99 lashes, but her case was re-opened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of “judge’s knowledge” – a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

Amnesty International has a campaign trying to get Iran to abolish stoning, but there appears to be little chance it will work in time to save Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani or at least 10 other people who as of 2010 are awaiting stoning.

Debating whether or not there is a god may be an interesting intellectual enterprise, but in the meantime the horrible crimes committed in the name of supernatural beings goes on. Governments, no matter whether they claim to be Islamic, Christian, or secular, should not be punishing people based on religion.

Photo source: Amnesty International

The Onion admits Christian bias

Here is the cover of the most recent print edition of The Onion. I scanned and uploaded it since it doesn’t appear to be in the online version. I think it pretty much sums up the situation for all major media outlets in the US (but ironically enough, not The Onion itself since they often publish irreligious stories).

UPDATE: I figured it said Merry Christmas, but it looks like I was wrong. According to a discussion on Reddit, the Arabic text here means “Happy Eid”, but there’s a mistake in the Arabic apparently, either intentionally or not. Thanks to Jason Mosler for submitting the post to Reddit.

Oregon may soon allow teachers to wear headscarves, crosses in class

Teacher with headscarfPhoto source : The Oregonian

Since 1923, it has been illegal in Oregon for teachers to wear religious clothing in the classroom. This ban may be eliminated in February, paving the way for teachers to show their religious affiliation to their students, according to a recent article in The Oregonian (via The Focus).

As with the issue of burqas in France (or even burqini swimsuits in England), this is a tricky one. Currently, teachers in Oregon are not allowed to wear anything identifiably religious, such as “turbans, yarmulkes, crosses and headscarves” according to the Oregonian. Dave Hunt, speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, says the law dates back to anti-immigrant hatred against Catholics. The legislature is expected to vote on removing this ban, after a similar law for allowing religious symbols at private-sector jobs was recently passed in the state.

Currently, the law is applied unevenly, according to Hunt.

“Teachers in some school districts are allowed to wear yarmulkes or crosses, while in other areas, they are forbidden. He has found no examples of a public school teacher being permitted to wear a Sikh turban or a Muslim headscarf”

But is lifting the ban the right solution? I don’t think that teachers should try to proselytize among their students, that much is clear. But a ban on overt religious symbols would tend to disfavor people of certain religions over others.

Most Christian teachers, for example, could simply not wear their cross, or wear it under their shirts out of sight. A Muslim woman who believes she must cover her head, however, can be precluded from teaching at all unless she gives up her headscarf, which many believe are a required part of their religion.

At the same time, I think required headscarves are sexist and should not be endorsed by the government. If a kid sees their teacher wearing a headscarf, that makes it seem like it’s okay to do. I don’t think children should be taught that women should be subjugated to men. Plus, you can bet that once the ban is lifted, there will be teachers who will wear crosses as well, promoting their religion to students as well, as well as teachers wearing clothes or accessories from other religious traditions. So it’s a sticky situation: possible exclusion of Muslims or others if the ban is in place, possible endorsement of religion(s) if the ban is lifted.

It will be interesting to see what will happen in this case. The issue of the burqa, to my knowledge, has not flamed up here in the US anywhere near like it has in many European countries. Hopefully this situation will not be the start of a slippery slope towards more Muslim American women demeaning themselves for their religion, with the government’s blessing. Young, impressionable eyes will be watching.

Selective ban of certain religions, atheism, LGBT from Indianapolis schools’ Internet

Indiana_In_God_We_TrustIndiana Licence Plate — Source wikipedia

Indianapolis public schools, in a clear breach of church-state separation, are banning students from viewing the websites of only certain religions, as well as atheist and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) sites.

According to a Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) press release, Indianapolis public schools are illegally discriminating against certain religious views, banning students from seeing sites containing what they term as “mysticism“, which apparently includes atheism. Here are some key quotes from a pdf copy provided by FFRF of the offending (and offensive) guidelines. “Blocked” categories include:

“Sites that promote and provide information on religions such as Wicca, Witchcraft or Satanism.  Occult Practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or other forms of mysticism, […] the use of spells, incantations, curses, and magic powers. This category includes sites which discuss or deal with paranormal or unexplained events.”

Notably absent is reference to Abrahamic religions (Judeo-Christian, Muslim), of course. Not content with just banning information on non-mainstream religious views, Indianapolis public schools have also deemed LGBT sites as off-limits as well.

The people setting up these guidelines don’t realize just how ironic they are, however. The policy also details what types of sites are to be blocked, and their site arguably fails their own test. Under Violence/Hate/Racism (p. 3 of the pdf provided by FFRF), it says that included in sites that should be blocked are

“sites that advocate, depict hostility or aggression toward, or denigrate an individual or group on the basis of race, religion, gender, nationality, ethnic origin, or other involuntary characteristics.”

Wouldn’t a site advocating (and implementing) the banning only resources related to certain religions be “hostility or aggression” or “denigrating” towards those religions?!? Never fear, though. Perhaps they realized this contradiction, since the section on exceptions to the blocked sites includes ones “that are sponsored by schools, educational facilities”. So they are allowed to denigrate other religious viewpoints through their policy as much as they want.

The ban of LGBT sites also says that sites can’t “cater to one’s one’s sexual orientation or gender identity including, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender sites“. Since it’s not limited to those for, it would logicially including heterosexuality as well. Any sites promoting heterosexual marriage would have to be banned according to the word here. So this document would end up banning a whole lot more than they bargained for.

In fact, I just realized that the site actually does address the Abrahamic religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, and Islam. Looking again at the requirements for sites that are blocked, it says:

“This category includes sites which discuss or deal with paranormal or unexplained events.”

Wouldn’t Moses’ parting of the Red Sea in the Torah be considered an “unexplain event”? Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible? God turning the skin of Native Americans dark in the Book of Mormon? An angel appearing to Muhammad in the Koran? These all sound pretty unexplained to me. Maybe they have unwittingly banned students from viewing any religious content.

In spite of these possible loopholes and logical extensions of their hate-filled bans, I am still against the closing of students’ minds on religion, atheism, and sexual orientation and identity. Schools should not promote a religion or sexual orientation, but they also shouldn’t single out sites as worthy of being banned just because they mention viewpoints or orientations that aren’t in the mainstream.

Lady wearing Burqa bikini kicked out of pool

Une femme habillée en "burqini".
Source: Agence France Presse / ANOEK DE GROOT

An update on the Burqa controversy brewing in France.

American Freethought reports that a woman was thrown out of a swimming pool in France because of the swimsuit she was wearing. She was wearing a full-bodied "burqini", which is swimwear meant to comply with Islam’s rules on women dressing in public. Here is a link to a French article about the incident.

As you may recall, French president Nicolas Sarkozy created controversy when he said that burqas "are not welcome" in France. The pool claims that they did not eject the woman from the pool because it was a form of burqa, but because of sanitation rules. The woman, identified only as Carole, calls it a case of "segregation", according to the Le Monde article.

Here’s a quote from the mayor of Emerainville, the town where the incident occurred. (Translation mine)

All this has nothing to do with Islam, because pool regulations don’t allow people to swim while dressed for reasons of public health, as is [also] the case for boxer shorts.

There are three questions I have about the issue:

Was she wearing this outfit before coming to the pool? If so, then there is a possible argument for this since there may be germs from outside that would be brought into the pool, just like if one was wearing underwear, socks, etc. that one had on before. If she put it on at the pool, I think they have a harder time trying to defend kicking her out.

What material is the burqini made of? According to Wikipedia’s entry on the burqini , it is generally made of the same material as wetsuits are. If this is the case, then there is less of an argument about refusing her since even though the shape of the swimsuit is different, it’s the same material as many swimsuits worn in pools.

Is it her choice to wear the burqini, or does she do it because her husband or mosque tells her she has to? If it’s truly her choice, I have less of a problem with it. The article has a comment by a representative in the French parliament saying she thinks it’s surprising that someone would call the press immediately after leaving a pool, implying that the incident may have been planned. If it was a planned way of protesting and the woman was okay with it, then I have no problem with that.

If the burqini is the same material, shows her face, she’s choosing herself to wear it, and she isn’t causing a health problem, I think it would be difficult to justify prohibiting them from the pool. As much as I dislike the sexist, anti-feminist ways of promoted by the Quran and many who follow Islam. There are also full-body swimsuits worn by non-Muslims, so unless you ban those I don’t see how you can ban the burini unfortunately.

Pat Condell speaks out against “appeasement monkeys” (on burkas, women’s rights)

Pat Condell ‘s latest video "Apologists for Evil" takes people to task, especially politically-correct liberals, who defend the sexism of Islam (including in the recent burqa debate ) because they are either too afraid to speak out against it or because they say that it is "racism" to criticize Islam and Muslims.

I agree with Pat Condell: standing up for women’s rights against a religion or a culture that wants to subjugate women is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not racist to support equal rights for women. It’s crazy that people would even suggest this, since Islam isn’t even a race! But it’s not the first time I’ve heard criticism of Islam wrongly linked to racism.

Expecting women to cover their faces or to obey men (among a myriad of other sexist things supported by the Quran, the Bible, or many of their followers) are misogynistic cultural and religious practices which are against values laid out by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and those held by most people in Western societies. It has absolutely nothing to do with race, since people of any race can be Muslims and people of any race can, unfortunately, discriminate against women.

A person should be able to support a woman’s right to equality and dignity without being labeled a racist. Atheists and others should not be afraid to speak out when religions, and their proponents, support things which are clearly dehumanizing or discriminatory.

Jimmy Carter: The words of God do not justify cruelty to women

Jimmy Carter

Former US president Jimmy Carter published an op-ed piece in the Observer (UK) earlier this week about the relationship between women and religion. In it, Carter calls on religious leaders to promote the "dignity and equality" of women. Cartner does not, however, come out against the major religions or their holy books as misogynistic. Instead, he just claims that some leaders are just taking "carefully selected" verses to promote an agenda.

I did not know this, but Carter left the Southern Baptists about 10 years ago because they refused to recognize the equality of women. So it seems like this is a very important issue to him. I found a piece in Salon.com entitled "Jimmy Carter: How religion subjugates women", but I think this headline is a little misleading. It’s not an anti-religion piece, but it does bring up some important points that religious leaders will hopefully consider.

Here are some quotes from the article, and my thoughts. Carter says in the Observer

My decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands […] This was in conflict with my belief – confirmed in the holy scriptures – that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

I admire the fact that Carter doesn’t believe women should be subjugated to men, and it’s true that some parts of the Bible say women should be equal, including the Galatians 3:28 quote he includes at the beginning of his op-ed (along with a quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , attempting to show it and the Bible go hand-in-hand I assume). However, as The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible points out many other parts of the Bible where women are denigrated, including verses where women are subjugated to men, such as Genesis 3:16 ("he shall rule over thee", King James Version).

Additionally, the first creation account, in Genesis 1, does tend to indicate equality, but the second starting in Genesis 2 does not. Carter is right that Christian leaders sometimes use "carefully selected verses" to further repressing women, but you also have to carefully select your verses to find ones that promote equality. That’s why I feel his statement is somewhat misleading (although not inaccurate), making it sound like the anti-feminist verses in the Bible are hard to find, when they’re not. I’m sure he feels he’s justified in doing this sleight of hand though saying which verses he believes personally (meaning he must not believe the Bible is inerrant) to try to stop religious people from oppressing women.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive area to challenge.

Very true, but as leaders they are supposed to "lead", right? Sometimes you have to pick your battles, but I think ensuring equality for women is not a battle you pick if you’re in power, it’s a battle you have to fight for the majority of your constituents. Women are half or more than half of the population in nearly every country.

The Elders have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. We have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

I think this is an excellent statement. It’s something that both theists and non-theists can get behind.

I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. […] During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

Again, his heart may be in the right place, but he’s not being completely truthful here. While I’ve read that there are indications that the Bible was tampered with (including the end of Luke I posted about earlier), there’s nothing I’ve read that indicates 4th century leaders rewrote Genesis to make it sound like Eve caused original sin, that she should be subjugated, and a host of other verses that indicate that God (or the leaders writing about him at the time) clearly discriminated against women.

The pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world […] is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God.

I’m not going to refute all of these, but as you may suspect, all of these figures also have times where they do not treat "all the children of God" equally. Moses kills entire races of people under God’s command, Paul tells women to be silent in church, etc. Some anti-feminist verses may be later manipulations, but they can’t all be, can they?

If there are widespread additions, deletions, or changes throughout the Bible on what would seem to be a fundamental issue like whether or not women should be equal to mean, then how can you tell what God wants in the Bible at all? The Bible would seem to be so untrustworthy as to be useless. A better explanation is that the Bible, and other holy books, are not divinely inspired, they were written by men (regardless of the century) who generally wanted to oppress women, with a few dissenters who squeaked in there.

So while Jimmy Carter should be applauded for actively supporting women’s rights and trying to engage the religious community in this pursuit, I disagree with him making it seem like he is fully supported in this by the Bible, The Quran, etc. It is he who is carefully picking and choosing from the same overwhelmingly misogynistic religions that largely served to oppress women in the first place.

Robert Wright’s “new atheism” delusion

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

Robert Wright , who I mentioned in a recent post is the author of The Evolution of God , has now gone on the offensive to attack in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post what he calls "new atheism."

His book, reviewed in episode 58 of the podcast American Freethought , gives a history of the evolution of the Abrahamic God (of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths). Wright reportedly gives an account of the historical reasons behind the development of these religions, leading up to the modern day. While not taking an openly theistic stance in the book, he does include some enigmatic references to notions such as a "greater purpose".

In American Freethought, Wright criticized some of the so-called atheist leaders (Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dawkins, etc.), while co-host John Snider made it clear that atheism is not a unified movement and these people do not speak for all atheists. In the Huffington Post piece, however, Wright again depicts atheism (or at least "new atheism") as one voice. In the Huffington Post , Wright says:

When it comes to foreign policy, a right-wing bias afflicts not just Hitchens’s world view, but the whole ideology of "new atheism" […]

Atheism has little intrinsic ideological bent. (Karl Marx. Ayn Rand. I rest my case.) But things change when you add the key ingredient of the new atheism: the idea that religion is not just mistaken, but evil — that it "poisons everything," as Hitchens has put it with characteristic nuance.

This does not represent all atheists, and not even all the prominent he mentions. Richard Dawkins specifically counters such a notion in The God Delusion . In response to the title of a television program(me) on BBC 4 that was entitled "The root of all evil?" (the title of which he had reportedly fought against), Dawkins said on the very first page of the Preface:

From the start, I didn’t like the title. Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything.

The Wright article is filled with mischaracterizations and overgeneralizations about both atheism and historical events. Does he truly think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "basically" unrelated to religion? Does he know for a fact that most atheists agree with Hitchens’ right-wing views on the war on terror? Where is the proof that new atheists think religion is completely evil? It makes me wonder what his agenda is, but it does seem like he is more openly criticizing atheism when before he seemed to be straddling the fence. The fact that he would still present atheism as some organized mass conspiracy, with no proof of this, is disheartening.

For a more in-depth critique of the article, see John Snider’s post on the American Freethought website.

Ireland legislature passes blasphemy bill

Ireland is reinforcing a part of their constitution which says blasphemy is illegal by clarifying what is meant by blasphemy and imposing a hefty fine and possible house raids for anyone suspected of blaspheming.

It sounds unbelievable, but numerous sources confirm this bill was under consideration: The GuardianDogma Free America , UTV , MediaWatch UK . According to examiner.com and ProudAtheists [and apparently the Irish Times: see update at the end], the law has passed. The Examiner says:

One of the aspects of this bill would make it illegal to criticize religion… any religion under penalty of fines up to 25,000 Euros. That is the equivalent to nearly $35,000.

Here are some excerpts of the Guardian article, which includes Atheist Ireland’s co-founder Michael Nugent thoughts.

Dermot Ahern, Ireland’s justice minister, has proposed the legislation, which will outlaw anything seen as "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion , thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion". […]

[Michael] Nugent said blasphemy was not the only anomaly in the constitution. "You cannot become president of Ireland or be appointed a judge in the republic unless you take a religious oath asking God to direct and sustain you in your work. […]

"We should be amending our constitution to remove these theistic references, not creating new crimes to enforce provisions that were written in the 1930s," he added.

Here’s a direct quote from the proposed bill, which is apparently now law in Ireland.

(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under section 36, the court may issue a warrant (a) authorising any member of the Garda Siochana [Irish police] to enter (if necessary by the use of reasonable force) at all reasonable times any premises (including a dwelling) at which he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that copies of the statement to which the offence related are to be found, and to search those premises and seize and remove all copies of the statement found therein, (b) directing the seizure and removal by any member of the Garda Siochana of all copies of the statement to which the offence related […]

It’s scandalous that a country, in this day and age, is not only upholding previous law protecting religion against open debate and criticism, but is actually trying to strengthen these laws with fines and threats of raids against offenders. I’ll post any updates to this that I find.

UPDATE: It appears that the bill has passed the entire Oireachtas (Legislature), according to the Irish Times (as well as this opinion piece by Atheists Ireland published in the Irish Times). I’ve seen conflicting reports on this, but I will take the Irish Times’ word since they are an Irish newpaper and presumably know how the government works. Apparently the law will become official once the Irish president signs it. According to Wikipedia :

In most circumstances, the President is in effect obliged to sign all laws approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas, although he or she has the power to refer most bills to the Supreme Court for a ruling on constitutionality.

So it would appear that unless the President challenges the law on constitutionality (which seems unlikely since blasphemy was already illegal under the constitution), the bill will become a law. Atheists Ireland plan to challenge the new law by publishing a blasphemous statement soon.

UPDATE: It was pointed out by "droth", a poster on Cynical-C Blog , that there is a provision in the new law that states "It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates." While this is some consolation, it still puts the onus on the person making the allegedly blasphemous statement to prove it has "value".

It’s unfair to protect religion in this way. For example it’s apparently fine to say "Atheism is evil and Richard Dawkins is morally bankrupt", but I can’t say "Catholicism is evil and the Pope is morally bankrupt" unless I can prove my comments have a "literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value." Speech about religion, whether praising or criticizing it, should be protected.

Proposed game show should be called “Who Wants To Be A Believer?”

Mecca. Photograph: Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters

There’s a new game show which is causing controversy in Turkey. The basic premise of the game, "Penitents Compete", is trying to convert an atheists by offering them a prize to the holy site of whatever religion they are converted to. It sounds like a joke, but it’s not. From Yahoo! News:

Turkish television station Kanal T hopes the answer is a ratings success as it prepares to launch a gameshow where spiritual guides from the four faiths [Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism] will seek to convert a group of non-believers. […]

But religious authorities in Muslim but secular Turkey are not amused by the twist on the popular reality game show format and the Religious Affairs Directorate is refusing to provide an imam for the show.

"Doing something like this for the sake of ratings is disrespectful to all religions. Religion should not be a subject for entertainment programs," High Board of Religious Affairs Chairman Hamza Aktan told state news agency Anatolian […]

"We are giving the biggest prize in the world, the gift of belief in God," Kanal T chief executive Seyhan Soylu told Reuters.

"We don’t approve of anyone being an atheist. God is great and it doesn’t matter which religion you believe in. The important thing is to believe," Soylu said.

My guess would be that the last quote by Soylu is the problem: Turkey is officially Islamic, and this show would appear to put Islam as on equal footing with 3 other religions. I guess this goes to show that people from different religions, who fight over just about everything, can agree on one thing: atheists are bad and need to be converted. Even converting them to a religion you don’t believe in is apparently better than them just not believing in any God. If I find any updates on this, I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Here from the Guardian’s website is an audio discussion of the new show. In it, it is claimed that 3 out of 4 Turks say they would not want to live next to an atheist. Sounds like similar polls I’ve read in the US (such as this one from Gallup ) where people would be willing to elect pretty much anyone over an atheist to public office.