Dan Barker to visit Memphis, address church-state violations

Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
from FFRF. Source: http://ffrf.org/radio

Freedom from religion is finally coming to Memphis! Well, I should say: Dan Barker from the Freedom From Religion Foundation is coming; since the City Council here continues its unconstitutional prayers at its official meetings, we’ll have to see if freedom from religion will soon prevail here.

Dan Barker, co-president of FFRF and author of the recent book godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (foreward by Richard Dawkins), will be coming to the University of Memphis campus on Thursday, December 3, 2009.

Barker, who is a minister-turned-atheist, will be speaking about the importance of state-church separation — a particularly hot issue now in Memphis.

In September, FFRF lodged a complaint with the Memphis City Council over starting its meetings with convocations (read: religious prayers) and giving gifts emblazoned with the city’s official seal to religious leaders (see my original post here and a follow-up here). The controversy made the local media and has sparked some debate in town.

For now the city is continuing the convocations, and Council Chairman Harold Collins has said they would be willing to take the matter to court. It will be interesting to see what Dan Barker has to say on the issue. The FFRF has a long history of championing the rights of non-believers to have church and state separation, including taking a case against the White House faith-based initiatives all the way to the Supreme Court.

Dan Barker’s event will be held at Dec. 3 at 7:00 pm in the Rose Theater (470 University Center: map). For more information, visit the Campus Freethought Association website or contact Jason Grosser. I’ll also be sure to post any news on the Memphis state-church situation, as well as information on Dan Barker’s visit (including a report after the event)

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

Faith Healer CatSource of image: http://linkhead.wordpress.com/2007/01/

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.