This is why I blog about religion

Sometimes I wonder why I bother blogging about religion and atheism. Does it really matter if I read and talk about religions I don’t even believe in anyway? I used to believe in God, after all, so why I don’t just let bygones be bygones, leave religion alone, and post about something a little more entertaining, like funny animal videos on YouTube! It’d be a lot cheerier, and I’m sure I’d get a lot more traffic on my blog.

Then I see something like this letter to the editor, and I remember why I blog.

This letter to the editor is why I write my blog. I saw this posted on the site of fellow atheist blogger Jason Mosler. Sure, it’d be easy to laugh this letter off as just the rantings of some religious nut. But reading it a second time, it disturbed me on a number of levels.

This is a real person, Alice, writing to a real small-town newspaper in Alaska just a few years ago (January 2007). Alice honestly thinks that:

  • People who don’t believe in God should be “kicked [out] of the country“.
  • The United States is based on the principle that you “must believe” in God.
  • You can believe in God “any way you want“, but Alice only cites mainstream Christian denominations as examples of acceptable beliefs
  • Atheists practice “evil“, although it is not explained what this means
  • Atheists are responsible for the “ruin” of America and for crime being “rampant“, even “if they have never committed a crime“.

People like Alice are the reason I write this blog. Her religion has closed her mind so much that I’m sure she doesn’t even realize how hate-filled and out-of-touch with reality her letter is. For all we know, Alice is like many Christians: a kind-hearted, generous person in her day-to-day life who truly wants to do what’s right. But because her religion has taught her that people who don’t believe in her god are “evil”, all critical thought stops. She says and thinks the most horrible things because she knows she is right. Crime is up, atheists are in America, my faith says atheists are bad, so atheists are to blame and must be kicked out of society.

If Alice is like most people, she did not choose her religion growing up, but was brought up in a community that is largely if not exclusively Christian. She may never have met an open atheist in her life, but her faith has her so convinced that atheists are the cause of society’s ills that everything she sees (from currency to crime reports) serves to prove it to her. It would likely be difficult if not impossible to convince her otherwise.

We should feel sorry for Alice, for her head being filled with such hateful nonsense based on a book of fairy tales written thousands of years ago. But at the same time, I think we should also have a healthy dose of fear. We live in a society where it is still perfectly acceptable in many circles to openly hate and wish harm on people who don’t believe in God. And that is scary. There are unfortunately still people who think that Jews or Blacks, for example, should be kicked out of the country, but would a letter to the editor blaming Jews for America’s problems saying they should all be sent to Israel be published in a newspaper? Thankfully, there is very little chance of that happening. It’s no longer acceptable to openly say such things in society about most minority groups. But for some reason, it’s still okay to say just about anything you want about atheists, no matter how bigoted or unsupported it is. Many readers I’m sure said or thought “Amen” upon reading Alice’s letter.

Anti-atheist sentiment is what is “rampant” in our country these days. As long as there are people who believe that non-believers are evil and don’t deserve to be citizens, then my blog has a purpose. People need to know that religion is brainwashing good people into believing nonsense and spreading hate. There are people who strongly believe that atheists don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else, some of whom are actively trying to push their bigoted beliefs onto the country as a whole.

If even one believer sees this post and thinks about their belief, or one non-believer realizes how important it is to help change minds about atheists, then writing this blog is definitely worth it.

Music for the holidays: Two Lennon songs

John Lennon’s view on Christmas (or X-Mas in the official title) is unfortunately just as timely today as ever. It’s a song I always make sure to listen to every year around this time. I had also thought about posting “Imagine” here as well (if you’ve seen the icon I often use on the web, you’ll have figured out I’m a big fan of “Imagine”), but I decided to post another, lesser-known song of Lennon’s entitled “God”. If anyone has a doubt as to whether or not John Lennon was religious, this song should put it to rest. People don’t need gods or celebrities to idolize. We can learn from the good (and bad) examples of the past, but we should believe in ourselves, and our own ability to do good in this world.

Another non-traditional holiday song — Christmas in Fallujah

“There is no justice in the desert / Because there no god in Hell.”

There aren’t many songs by Billy Joel that I can say I saw the world premier of; in fact, this is the only one! My wife and I attended his concert in Chicago in Dec. 2007 and, lo and behold, he announced that there was a new song that he and a new singer named Cass Dillon would be performing that night for the first time ever, and which would be released officially the following Monday. He joked (correctly) that it would probably be uploaded by someone onto YouTube before then.

As you might guess, the song talks about the Iraq war, but focuses on the experiences of soliders, whom Joel mentioned he received a number of letters from. The song touches on the topic of religion briefly at several points. Some people may not know that Joel at least was an atheist earlier on in his life, saying in an interview in a book called Rock Stars from 1982:

As an atheist you have to rationalise things. You decide first of all that will not ask Daddy – meaning God in all of his imagined forms – for a helping hand when you’re in a jam. Then you have to try and make some sort of sense out of your problems. And if you try and find you can’t, you have no choice but to be good and scared – but that’s okay! When animals are afraid, they don’t pray, and we’re just a higher order of primate. Mark Twain, a great atheist, said it best in The Mysterious Stranger, when he stated in not so many words, “Who are we to create a heaven and hell for ourselves, excluding animals and plants in the bargain, just because we have the power to rationalise?”

Death is death, and the ego can’t handle the consequences. We should all struggle to the last to hold on to life, and religion encourages people to give up on making this life work because the supposed next life will be fairer. Religion is the source of too many of the world’s worst problems.

More recent reports show he may have become at least somewhat spirtual or religious, saying in 1994:

I still feel very much like an atheist in the religious aspects of things…But there are spiritual planes that I’m aware of that I don’t know anything about and that I can’t explain.

When I saw him in concert, he played as interludes a number of Christian Christmas songs (which doesn’t necessarily indicate anything), and Celebrity Atheist cites reports of him saying “God bless you” to people in recent years (and not after sneezes). I believe he made one or two vague mentions of God during the concert. I remember thinking at the time that I wonder if he was using it as a figure of speech (à la “Oh my God”, etc.) or literally. The song does contain a brief Biblical reference to it: “Peace on earth / Goodwill to men”.

So it’s possible Joel may have become either religious or spiritual, or at the very least has become more circumspect about his disbelief or doubt in god. But if so, it would appear from his lyrics that he and I can agree on the fact that Iraq is not a God-sanctioned war, unlike what George W. and company either sold it as or actually believed. (At the beginning of the song, Joel also includes the presumably ironic/satrical lyrics “We came with the Crusaders / To save the Holy Land” and later on, “We came to fight the Infidel.”)

With troops still dying in Iraq and 30,000 more on their way to Afghanistan, it’s sad that this song is just as topical today as it was back then.

More festive tunes — 4 songs by Weird Al

For my second installment of holiday songs, I’ve decided to feature not one, not two, but count ’em — FOUR “Weird Al” Yankovic songs. As far as I know, Weird Al has never come out as being irreligious or a freethinker, and he may be Christian (in fact, a question from 1995 in the Ask Al archive from his site includes only a very brief answer to the question of whether he “would consider himself a Christian”. His response to the questioner is simply “Yes”). But nothing is sacred in Weird Al’s universe of songwriting, and I’m including four examples of this.

* “Christmas at Ground Zero” is one of my favorite Christmas songs because it definitely desacrilizes the Christmas season and has an anti-war message. It describes a “jolly” Christmas during a nuclear holocaust and includes vintage 50s and 60s video clips from the good old days when they used to scare kids by practicing for nuclear fallout by ducking and covering, as if that would really help if your city is hit by a nuke. (The song was written long before 9-11 occurred, in case you’re curious, so no relation to that Ground Zero). EDIT: click here to view in a new window if clicking on the embed doesn’t work.

* “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is a (slightly) less macabre and funnier take on the Christmas holiday. As the title might suggest, a “disgruntled” Saint Nick finally snaps and goes postal in the North Pole. The video I’ve embedded below is a claymation-type take on the song that someone apparently did for their thesis. An “extra gory” alternate live version of the song can be seen here. With his two Christmas songs being so violent and laughingly depressing, you get the impression that it must not have been his favorite holiday growing up. (Rumor has it, he got notebook paper as a present one Christmas!)

* “Weasel Stomping Day” is perhaps the least obvious choice to include here, but it actually may come the close to criticizing religion of the bunch. As you might guess, people go around stomping weasels in the song, but if you listen more closely to the lyrics, you’ll hear several subtle freethought-like messages (“Bash their weasely skulls right in / It’s tradition, that makes it okay”), and a few nods to Christmas in the video that suggest that he had religious holidays on his mind

* “Amish Paradise” is one of Weird Al’s best-known songs. It’s a parody of Ganga’s Paradise by Coolio (the other three are Weird Al originals). The song isn’t specifically about a holiday, so I’m bending the definition of “festive” tunes here, but it is the only one that openly pokes fun at religious extremism, that of the “crazy Mennonites” (isn’t that redundant?) the Amish are. It’s also the only video I know of that features both Florence Henderson (the mom from the Brady Bunch) and a depiction of hell!

I wonder what Weird Al, who pokes fun at the Amish for “shunning fancy things like electricity”, would think of the recent stories of extremist orthodox Jews attacking a journalist using an electronic device on the Sabbath, or complaining about electric lights turning on at their apartments on the Sabbath.

Barker visit, Part 2: roundup and personal reaction

Dan BarkerPhoto source : The Daily Helmsman

Here is Part 2 of my roundup on Dan Barker’s visit on December 3 in Memphis. In this part, I’ll mention a few more highlights as well as my personal reaction and thoughts. For Part I, click here. For an excellent recap of the Dan Barker event, read Oliver’s post (oliver_poe on Twitter) on the Mississippi Atheists website.

I’ve already mentioned in my first post much of his talk about state-church separation, so I will focus on other aspects here. Perhaps the most notable thing about Dan Barker’s talk was the fact that it was a fair-minded plea for state-church separation, filled with anecdotes, examples, and humor that could appeal to both believers and non-believers. While Barker does also talk on things such as Biblical errancy, his goal in this talk was not to promote an atheist agenda but speak on state-church issues.

A nice example of this were Dan’s arguments defending religious believers. (No, that is not a typo.) Unlike the exaggerated image of angry, close-minded atheists held by some believers (and too often painted in the media), Dan Barker made it very clear at several points that religious people do a lot of good in the world.

One believer argued during the Q & A that humans by nature are not altruistic, that we are selfish and introverted by nature. Barker countered that humans are actually very social animals, and that being empathetic and altruistic comes naturally to people. Barker said that Christians, believers of different faiths, as well as nonbelievers, are just as good and kind at heart. Because of this, he argued the human qualities of kindness and generosity “transcend” religion. Instead of just attacking religion, Barker was trying to find common ground among believers and non-believers.

Dan Barker also made it clear that he does not think that the government should go on the offensive against religion, just keep religion out of government. He cited the example of the much-mediatized solstace plaques that have been placed in a few state capitals (including Olympia, Washington; Springfield, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin). The plaques, which state among other things that “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell” are only placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in response to Christmas displays in state capitals.

In response to a questioner about the goal of such plaques, Barker made it clear that they are actually pleased when governments choose to ban all displays during the holiday season, which is what happened in Olympia after the FFRF’s plaque spurred a number of groups to post displays in addition to the Christmas one. Barker argued that banning these diplays was a victory since there shouldn’t be “religion OR irreligion” (emphasis his) in government buildings, including religious prayers.

He argued that non-believers deserve just as much protection as belivers both in Memphis and nationally. Using national statitics, he argued that few politicans would openly come out with policies that would discriminate against Jews, who represent a little over 1% of the population, while many politicians openly oppose atheists and agnostics, who represent between 9-10% of the population. The Memphis City Council, like all government bodies, should represent and support the rights of all citizens, not just believers. Instead of having Christian or other religious prayers at its meetings, the Council should neither support nor attack any religion. (As an atheist, he likened the situation of seeing councilmembers praying to seeing an airline pilot pray. A pilot should be confident in his flying skills, not asking for outside help to fly the plane. Barker joked that if he saw a pilot praying before take-off, he’d get right off the plane.)

Barker also mentioned the Founding Fathers, at a number of junctures: something that believers often do while trying to defend religious incursions into government. Barker mentioned the Jefferson Bible, for which Jefferson literally cut out with a pair of scissors all of the superstitious (miracles, etc.) parts of the New Testament. He said that while some founders were Christians, most were Deists who wanted religion separate from government. He said that as a believer, he used to think of the Pilgrims and Founders as being related to each other, when in reality they were separated by over 100 years and religious beliefs.

In order to address the fact that the Founders didn’t put the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in the Constitution (Jefferson wrote this in a letter), Barker said that the concept is there even if the phrase isn’t. He gave other examples of phrases that aren’t in the Constitution or Bill of Rights that have become commonplace descriptions of the ideas found there: the words “Bill of Rights“, “interstate commerce“, “separation of powers“, and “checks and balances” also are not in the constitution either, but you don’t hear religious people criticizing those who talk about the Bill of Rights saying there is not such thing.

Barker did not completely spare religious teachings in his talk, however. There were a few critiques about religion, the majority of which were in direct response to questions attacking church-state separation or atheism. Dan Barker poked fun at the creation story in the Bible, which includes a talking snake (Barker, who is part Native American, mentioned that his tribe also had a snake myth). He also mentioned that Jesus clearly supports slavery in the New Testament, using it as an example in his parables (saying you should beat some slaves less than others) instead of speaking out against it.

Barker mentioned that Jefferson famously said that finding good in the Bible was like trying to find “diamonds in a dunghill.” Barker also defended his right in the public sphere to say that he finds the teachings of Christianity, and the Christian god, to be morally offensive, in particular the idea that humans are by nature unclean and sinful. He said that real life debunks this notion, that we see headlines of criminals in the paper (of which religious leaders aren’t exempt, he pointed out) because they are exceptions to the norm. If that’s how everyone was, then it wouldn’t be news. He also cited studies have shown that countries that are generally areligious, such as Nordic countries, often rank as the happiest and least plagued by crime and other social problems.

There is more I could comment on, but I think that sums up the main points of interest about the talk that weren’t covered in my first post or Oliver’s post.

I have a personal confession to make: I am somewhat of an admirer of Dan Barker. I was very religious when I was younger, and can identify with Dan Barker’s journey from belief to unbelief. My grandmother thought I would be good pastor material, and I seriously considered becoming a pastor. So when I first heard about Dan Barker, a minister-turned-atheist, his story really hit home with me. I’ve read his book godless, am a faithful (or faithless) listener of Freethought Radio, and have listened to and viewed many of his talks and debates online. So I was very much looking forward to seeing what he had to say about the Memphis situation, and state-church separation in general.

After the talk, I waited in line to meet Dan Barker. He talked to me briefly and was very personable both to me and the people who were in line ahead of me (he even gave out a free copy of his book to someone!). I asked him to sign my copy of his book, and I mentioned to him that I am a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I had a bookmark “Imagine No Religion“, which FFRF had sent me for free when I ordered his book from them. I showed it to him and the person next to me said she thought at first I was trying to give him a religious tract!

Since I am not “out” as an atheist, except to my wife, standing in line in a public venue to meet Dan Barker and have him sign a book entitled “godless” for me was a big, and somewhat frightening, step for me. While I did not come out and say “I am an atheist”, it was the closest I’ve ever come to be open about my atheism in person. I told him my name for him to sign it, but I don’t think anyone there knew or recognized me, so I guess I am still officially in the closet for now. Dan Barker was wearing an “A” pin, part of the Richard Dawkins coming out campaign for atheists. Maybe someday soon I will feel comfortable enough with friends and family, and secure enough in my job, to be an open atheist, too.

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.

Atheist student groups on the rise

A T-shirt from the Iowa State University Atheist and Agnostic Society.
Source: The Washington Times

It’s good to have some positive news about schools for a change. According to an article in The Washington Times, atheist groups on universities campuses are flourishing in the US. Groups affiliated with the Secular Student Alliance alone have skyrocketed from 80 in 2007 to 174 in 2009.

What’s also good news, in my opinion, is that there are a wide variety of groups doing a number of different activities. I think some people still think of atheists as those people who are grinchly killjoys who are out to take away people’s religion. While I personally would be very happy if we lived in a world without religion, and I think it is important to work against some of religions’ evils, it’s important to have something positive to participate in as well, even if it’s as simple as getting together to have fun. That’s what has been lacking in the past, and it sounds like a lot of atheist/freethought/secular groups are now doing.

The articles mentions a number of activities from atheist groups around the country. Here are a few examples:

  • movie and board-game nights
  • back-to-school barbecue
  • HumanLight, a sort of secular Christmas
  • sleeping outside in cardboard boxes to raise money for homeless youths
  • protesting against anti-abortion groups

They vary from the mundane but fun social gatherings that some miss when they leave their church, to new secular holiday traditions, to community and political outreach. One oft-heard criticism is that atheists don’t do any charity work. This isn’t true of course, but it is probably safe to say that there aren’t as many atheists who publicly do good deeds in the name of atheism (unlike churches, who oftem make it very clear that they are doing things in the name of their chosen god).

Now that the stigma attached to non-belief is becoming less severe, atheist groups may become more visible in the community. And with the number of groups at universities increasing so quickly, it means a new generation will be open to the idea that not having a religion is perfectly okay.

Thanks to Chad for originally posting this article on Facebook.

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.

Will health care reform have a ‘prayer’? Let’s hope not.

Faith Healer CatSource of image:

Believers in faith healing could be exempted from mandates, and faith healers could be paid with federal funds, if health care reform provisions under consideration are adopted by Congress. A petition has been launched to ask Congress not to sneak this public funding and endorsement of religion into the final health care package.

I’ve read several articles about this, but this one from the St. Petersburg Times brings up several important issues.

  • Some versions of the health care reform bill would allow believers to opt out of insurance mandates for religious reasons. You can be for or against mandated insurance (it’s hard to tell which Obama is!), but allowing people to say that they don’t want coverage because of their religious beliefs seems like an unfair exception. So you can opt out, as long as you say you believe in a God who’s against modern medicine? There would be exceptions for people below a certain income level as well, but both believers and non-believers can be poor. If you’re a non-believer and not poor enough, I guess you’re stuck in the system. Maybe it’s a ploy to get more people to reconsider becoming religious!
  • Parents who opt out of health care could also opt their children out of life-saving health care procedures, too. The government would be in effect sanctioning parents from withholding health care on religious grounds. This would likely lead to even more deaths of children whose parents refuse to get them proper medical treatment and just want to pray over them instead.
  • Providers of faith healing, including Christian Scientists, could now be reimbursed for not providing medical services and instead praying to God to heal people. American Atheists spokespeson David Silverman is quoted in the article as saying “Faith healers are not practicing real medicine […] The health care crisis is a very real problem, and we do not need the federal government coming in and saying that witch doctors or prayer is a real solution to a medical problem”

With so many options still under consideration, it’s hard to know what will make it into the final reform, if any reform even passes. But it is alarming that people elected to Congress think it is not only legal, but a good idea for the government to promote people shunning medecine for faith healthers, to consider paying religious organizations for trying to pray away an illness, and to exempt people from requirements everyone else has to follow just for religious reasons.

If you don’t want Congress to support faith healing, you may want to consider signing this petition or contacting your Congressmen and women so they know that not everyone thinks that faith healing is the solution to America’s health care ills.

Thanks to Johnny from Think Atheist for mentioning the petition.

Genuflects on the beach: Fight over prayer station on Cape Cod

According to several sources, a prayer station was recently set up on a public beach on Cape Cod. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is asking that the permit for the prayer station, which was approved 4-0 in a town hall meeting on August 3, not be renewed in the future.

The prayer station was located at Old Silver Beach, a public beach in Falmouth, Massachussetts. The prayer station’s permit ended this past Friday, but a resident is applying to have the prayer station return.

Rebecca Kratz, FFRF staff attorney, said:

This definitely seems like it was crossing the line of separation of church and state and it seems like an endorsement of religion.

The above video gives some quotes from people on both sides of the issue. One woman sums up my feelings:

“I think it is a little out of place to be honest with you. If people want to pray they will go to church or wherever they go to pray,” said Brockton resident Darcy Britton.

While another one does bring up a valid point:

“It does surprise me. This is a place of free speech and free religion, you’d think it could take place out in open air,” said East Longmeadow resident Olga Demoracski. “I don’t understand why some people would have a problem with it.”

The problem, in my opinion, is that this is an event approved by the city as a public event. While people generally have the right to freedom of speech, the fact that this was a government-approved event on public land does tend to give the impression that the town approved of the church (United Life Church) that applied for it. This is different from someone speaking on their own in the public square or a protest, it’s government-sanctioned speech. If Satanists applied to have a booth at the beach, would it have been approved? I doubt it.

Do people really need a prayer station at a public beach of all places?!? Maybe they should also come up with a new drink called "Genuflects on the beach". But seriously, religious fervor is getting way out of hand here in the U.S. when people want to set up prayer stations on beaches.

Thanks to the following sources: FFRF ‘s "In The News" email, Cape Cod Times , and My Fox Boston