Praying for Toyota?

Image source: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/eng/eed/research/peater/links/toyota.jpg

Individuals are free to pray as they want. But should elected officials be telling people they should pray for the success of a company?

According to Reuters, here are the comments of Kentucky state representative Charlie Hoffman.

“They are our great corporate citizen. We’ve got to pray for Toyota.”

It bears mentioning that, according to the same article by Reuters, “Toyota has invested over $5 billion in Kentucky. Some 6,600 people work full time at its Georgetown factory, the firm’s largest outside Japan and its first in the United States.” I’m sure economic concerns have nothing to do with the representative’s desire to pray for Toyota. After all, as Georgetown’s mayor, Karen Tingle-Sames, says, plant workers

“are not just employees of Toyota — they are our friends and family members. The people we go to church with and the people we shop at Wal-Mart with”

So as long as you go to church and Wal-Mart with someone, they are deserving of God’s grace, it would seem. If they didn’t go to church, I supposed the workers could just go to Hell (figuratively, of course)?

It is this sort of intrusion of religion into the state that seems the most common: elected representatives acting as if everyone can and should believe in God. Whether it’s telling people to pray, or emblazing “In God We Trust” in the U.S. Capitol entrance, it is illegal religious intrusion into our secular government.

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.

In God they don’t vote

As promised, here is an update on the "In God We Trust" vote . In the Senate, the proposal was accepted by voice vote, so we don’t have a record of  who did or didn’t support engraving In God We Trust and The Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol Visitor Center. Here on the House’s site is the list of Yeas, Nays, Presents, and No Votes for the House vote.

The 8 who voted against it are:

Conyers (Michigan)
Edwards (Maryland)
Hirono (Hawaii)
Honda (California)
McDermott (Washington)
Paul (Texas)
Scott (Virgina)
Stark (California)

Pete Stark (CA) is the only one who is openly atheist. He "came out" on a 2006 questionnaire sent by the Secular Coalition for America . According to the LA Times , 22 representatives reported not having a belief in God to the SCA, but asked not to be publicly identified (likely because of the political fallout that might occur among some of their constituents).

Here are the two who voted present (e.g. I’m here, but am not going to vote either way):

Farr (California)
Moran (VA)

Then there were 12 people who were absent from the vote:

Buyer (Indiana)
DeLauro (Connecticut)
Fudge (Ohio)
Granger (Texas)
Kaptur (Ohio)
Larson (Connecticut)
Linder (Georgia)
McHenry (North Carolina)
Murphy (New York)
Murtha (Pennsylvania)
Sherman (California)
Stupak (Michigan)

Besides Stark, I’m unaware of the professed religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of the others. If I find out, I will update this post. Voting against the In God We Trust / Pledge engravings does not necessarily indicate atheism or freethought; they may simply not want to waste additional tax dollars on the overbudget Visitor Center, for example.

Voting present may mean any number of things, from supporting a bill in general but objecting to some issue in it, to being against it and not wanting to be on the record as voting against it. The Secular Coalition for America counts "present" votes as voting the "incorrect" way on bills and resolutions they identify as important. I think that’s a little unfair, so I’ll have to look into their ratings a little more. The non-voting members either simply weren’t there, didn’t feel it was important enough to vote on, or stayed away on purpose. Unless they state why, there’s no way to know.

One Rep who Wikipedia identifies, along with Stark, as being a Unitarian Universalist (Congressman Walter Minnick of Idaho) voted FOR the bill, which goes to show again that UUs, atheists, and others can’t all be lumped together, as some like to do.

The reasons for voting against the bill or not going on the record either way are varied, and I haven’t found any statements explaining why from the Representatives who fall in those categories. With increased religious diversity in the Congress, and a number of congresspeople not believing in a higher power, maybe a day will come where it’s not taboo to speak out against forcing religious on others in the Capitol.

In smears we trust

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent an email noting several recent articles railing against their move to sue to keep "In God We Trust" and the god-filled Pledge of Allegiance out of the Capital Visitor Center (my take on the issue here ).

One article that caught my eye in particular was in the Examiner , a site I had recently quoted from. (See a few quick notes at the end about the Examiner and sources in general). The author directly addresses FFRF and its co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor directly, saying:

you are wrong about something… there are not 15% of Americans who identify themselves as non-religious. At best, (or worst, depending on your point of view) only 5% of our population claims atheist/agnostic status.

The Examiner article by Doug Billings cites no source refuting the claim, only makes an unsupported counter-claim about atheists and agnostics (making it seem like that’s the same as non-religious, which it’s not). I can (and did, in the comments) cite a well-publicized source identifying 15% of Americans identifying as non-religious. The ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey) data was collected by Trinity College in Connecticut. Although their charter prohibits discriminating based on religion, they were founded by Episcopals  and have "Trinity" right in their name, so they don’t on the surface appear to be anti-Christian, and yet they still claim 15% of Americans self-identify as non-religious.

The majority of the rest of the article/opinion piece is just a name-calling rant against non-believers, including this image:

and referring to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s point about the country not being founded on Christianity by saying "In another gleaming example of her intellectual shortcomings […]". Everyone has a right to their opinion, but they should not pull statistics and alleged facts out of the air on a site run by a news agency, where such items are accepted by some as news articles.

Although they openly call for people from around the country to apply to be examiners to submit local news, and did have some atheist-related news on them, it is important to note that they have as their owner Philip Anschutz , funder and proponent of the Discovery Institute .

This does not mean that all information on the Examiner site is false or slanted, just that it’s important to remember for all information you get, to consider where it’s coming from, including from my site and blog. I’m obviously going to pick stories that are related to atheism, freethought, etc., but I do attempt to be as unbiased as possible when it comes to presenting facts. I also cite my sources, and when it’s not obvious from the name of the source if they have a slant, I point it out when I’m aware of it, and normally try to find out and report on it when I’m not.

We all, including myself, should be careful about the information we use: not to limit where we look, but to judge its worth and try to verify when possible. Otherwise we might be like the author of the Examiner article who may actually believe he is telling the truth, when it instead comes out as an unjustified and inaccurate smear against those who aren’t religious.

In God We Don’t Trust

File:Emancipation-Hall 1.jpg
Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center, photo from Wikipedia

The U.S. House and Senate apparently need a refresher course in the Constitution. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is happy to oblige by launching a lawsuit to block them from spending federal money to tell visitors to Washington, D.C. that we are beholden to God.

The House voted 410-8 late last week to prominently include "In God We Trust" in the new Capitol Visitor Center, as well as the Pledge of Allegiance (which claims we are "one Nation, under God"). They were following the Senate’s lead earlier in the week. In biased reporting, this Yahoo News / AP article only mentions why people voted for the measure.

Rep. Dan Lungren , R-Calif., sponsor of the measure, said the importance of religion goes back to the Declaration of Independence , which states that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights " […]

And yet, the Constitution — the United States’ founding document — does not mention any Creator. Were the Founding Fathers asleep at the wheel? Did they wake up afterwards and say "Oh my, we forgot to put God in the Constitution!" and then decided, unlike the first 10 Amendments, that they just couldn’t be bothered to put it in an Amendment?

Considering that the God references in the Pledge and the national motto didn’t appear until the 1950s, it seems much more likely that it was intentionally left out by generations of lawmakers. According to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Constitution does not require anything religious, and omits it in places where some people think it is required (such as swearing on a Bible).

The Yahoo / AP article also states that:

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the engravings at less than $100,000.

It’s subtle, but "less than $100,000" makes it sounds like it’s not that big a deal. You could also so "almost/nearly $100,000" to make it sound like a big deal, or "under $100,000" to be more neutral.

As stated in the FFRF press release for their lawsuit (which, unlike the supposedly unbiased AP News and Yahoo News, is expected to promote a specific point of view), the Visitors Center is

"conceived as an extension of the Capitol rather than a stand-alone facility; the Capitol Visitor Center is intended to be and is the sole point of entry to the seat of American government."

So it’s basically forcing God onto people visiting the national legislature despite the First Amendment’s prohibition against establishing religion. The complaint also points out that 15% of Americans identify as non-religious, as I mentioned in a previous post .

In an economic crisis, is there really nothing better the government can spend less than/nearly $100,000 on than adding religion to the Visitor Center? That’s more than a lot of people (including me) make as a salary for a year, so I don’t think it’s small peanuts.

I’ll see if I can find out the 8 who voted against it (and find out who, if anyone, voted against it in the Senate) so they can get the recognition they deserve.