All posts by Tom Waddell

FFRF Maine, Atheists, Agnostics, Freethinkers and Humanists is the Maine chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a 30,000 members strong national organization that supports the constitutional principle of the separation of religion and government.

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ the True Book

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ the True Book

Even if the Qur’an says somewhere “this book is true,” which it doesn’t, that wouldn’t make it any truer than the Bible, which avows its own truth precisely as much as does the Qur’an. And although the Qur’an contains a lot from the Old and New Testaments, they can’t both be true as they differ in fundamental assertions, like whether Jesus was the Son of God and whether he was crucified.

What Masterpiece Cakeshop is Really About


 //  12/6/17  //  In-Depth Analysis


Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is framed narrowly—as a case about whether making a wedding cake is expressive conduct or whether religious individuals should be exempted from laws protecting same-sex couples. But this narrow view of the case misses its real stakes. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund), which represents Masterpiece Cakeshop, is driving the litigation and many similar cases around the country. ADF is not interested in a narrow resolution to a narrow question; rather, ADF is taking aim at the very legitimacy of LGBT people and legal protections for them.

ADF formed in 1994, a time in which sodomy criminalization was a live issue in the U.S. When the issue reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas, ADF submitted a brief that portrayed gays and lesbians as dangerous and diseased. In arguing that Texas needed to criminalize “homosexual conduct” to protect public health—a justification that even Texas did not advance—ADF asserted that “same-sex sodomy is a distinct”—and “overwhelming”—“public health problem.”

This line of argument reflected the views of ADF’s founder, Alan Sears. In The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, published the same year as Lawrence, Sears and his co-author described homosexuality as “sexual deviancy.” Linking “pedophilia and homosexual behavior,” they asserted that gays and lesbians are engaged in “a lifestyle of certain, ultimate despair.”

The organization litigating Masterpiece Cakeshop is still committed to these views. With an understanding of ADF’s views and the positions its lawyers are taking around the world, one can see that this caseis not merely an attempt to achieve a narrow exception to a legal order that recognizes LGBT equality; rather, part of the point is to undermine that legal order.

At the 2012 World Congress of Families, a global convening of leading anti-LGBT advocates, Sears, then ADF’s president, gave an address in which he described gays and lesbians as “lost in their own sexual depravity.” “[H]omosexual behavior,” he declared, “is self-destructive and wrong.” Today, ADF lawyers abide by a statement affirming that “all forms of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, polygamy, polyandry, bestiality, incest, pornography, and acting upon any disagreement with one’s biological sex) are sinful and offensive to God.”

ADF’s leaders support the criminalization of homosexuality and believe Lawrence was wrongly decided. When India’s high court upheld a law criminalizing same-sex sex in 2013, Benjamin Bull, then ADF Chief Counsel, praised the decision: “When given the same choice the Supreme Court of the United States had in Lawrence vs. Texas, the Indian Court did the right thing. India chose to protect society at large rather than give in to a vocal minority of homosexual advocates. . . . America needs to take note that a country of 1.2 billion people has rejected the road towards same-sex marriage, and understood that these kinds of bad decisions in the long run will harm society.” (ADF is not alone. Just last year in the Constitutional Court of Romania, Liberty Counsel, Jerry Falwell’s legal organization, argued that “[e]ngaging in homosexual conduct is dangerous, and endorsing and subsidizing same-sex unions and treating them as marriages is an endorsement of conduct that does not benefit society, but rather harms it by creating irresponsible and unhealthy people.”)

ADF and its allies support laws that criminalize same-sex sex; and they oppose laws that would protect gays and lesbians against discrimination. In 2008, ADF sought to block passage of the very antidiscrimination law at issue in Masterpiece Cakeshopurging the Colorado legislature to reject it on several grounds. In short, ADF is not merely seeking exemptions from antidiscrimination laws; it opposes such laws altogether as a threat to “the privacy and safety of . . . citizens.” And it opposes laws prohibiting LBGT discrimination even if they include exemptions­ for religious objectorsdeclaring that such an arrangement “is not a compromise we can make.”Nearly 100 other religious leaders and political advocates have joined ADF in signing a manifesto against such laws.

So how are we to understand ADF’s aims in litigating Masterpiece CakeshopAs we have shown, after suffering losses in the last decade, opponents of same-sex marriage have shifted from speaking as a majority seeking to enforce traditional morality through laws of general application to speaking as a minority seeking exemptions from laws that have only recently come to protect gays and lesbians. No longer able to control the law of marriage or discrimination, ADF seeks religious exemptions from it.

But in seeking religious exemptions, is the organization simply seeking settlement for Christian bakers? The aim is much larger. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, ADF seeks to establish precedent—whether through the First Amendment’s speech or free exercise clause—that would provide the basis for refusals to serve same-sex couples in a much broader range of settings, and thus alter the exercise of the right to marry. ADF may emphasize the distinctive features of wedding cakes, but this case is not simply about cakes. As the Court’s composition continues to change, any exemption crafted in Masterpiece Cakeshop might soon extend to employment, housing, and healthcare. Employers, for example, might be allowed to deny healthcare benefits to lesbian and gay employees and their spouses.

And, widespread religious refusals can erode the foundations of antidiscrimination law and marriage equality, as the example of religious refusals in the reproductive healthcare context illustrates. As we have shown, after Roe v. Wade recognized a constitutional right to abortion, federal and state legislation was enacted to authorize doctors with religious or moral objections to refuse to perform abortions or sterilizations. When opponents of abortion failed to persuade the Court to overturn Roe in 1992, they enacted much more expansive healthcare refusal laws. These laws authorize refusals, not only by doctors and nurses who decline to perform the procedure, but also complicity-based refusals by other healthcare workers, as well as organizations such as insurers, with only an indirect connection to the procedure. Even though the Constitution protects abortion and contraception, in many regions of the country, the law sanctions restrictions: legally authorized religious refusals impose significant barriers to access, inflicting health harms, stress, and stigma.

The same could happen with respect to LGBT equality. Refusals can restrict practical access to goods and services—not simply cakes and flowers but insurance, housing, and healthcare. And refusals can stigmatize gays and lesbians. Indeed, as Sherif Girgis explains with respect to religious exemptions from laws protecting gays and lesbians, “political potency and moral stigma are part of the point.” Just as with reproductive healthcare, the threat is especially potent in areas where opponents of same-sex marriage, mobilized by groups like ADF, continue to represent powerful majorities. ADF and its allies occupy prominent positions at all levels of government, and they have tremendous resources supporting their work. As Sarah Posner recently explained in The Nation, ADF itself has almost 60 lawyers on staff in addition to thousands of allied attorneys and boasts annual contributions of more than $50 million.

In short, ADF’s appeal to seemingly narrow arguments for religious exemption is part of a broader strategy to erode the foundations of marriage equality and antidiscrimination law.

As Girgis’s comments suggest, laws authorizing expansive refusals of goods and services to same-sex couples can provide a way to continue conflict over same-sex marriage. In fact, opponents of same-sex marriage have looked to the abortion conflict as a model.As the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson declared before Obergefell, “we must . . . make clear that court-imposed same-sex marriage via a Roe-style decision will not settle the marriage debate any more than it has settled the abortion debate.”

ADF and its allies are not interested in compromise. As Sears declared in 2012, “there is no room for compromise with those who would call evil ‘good.’” Accordingly, ADF and its allies “can’t settle for same-sex ‘marriage’, or even ‘civil unions,’ . . . can’t endorse schemes and other sex-partner subsidies in the workplace or by governments for those engaged in homosexual behavior, . . . can’t support same-sex adoptions, or the idea that permanently depriving a child of a father and mother is as good as both a mom and a dad, [and] . . . can’t stand by while they teach our children that homosexual urges . . . are legitimate and honorable and good.”

Attending to ADF’s own words—across time and space—leaves no doubt about what Masterpiece Cakeshop is really about. It is not a narrow case. It is a case that implicates the very status of LGBT people and the fragile legal advances they have secured in the U.S.

From “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne. Believer wonders why God’s letting the world go to hell

From “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne. Believer wonders why God’s letting the world go to hell.

I’ve always maintained that the Achilles Heel of any Abrahamic religion is the existence of bad things happening in the world that shouldn’t be happening were a loving and omnipotent god in charge. I refer here not to “moral evils,” in which people do bad stuff—religious people can always fob that off as collateral damage from God’s Great Gift of free will to humans—but to things like cancers in kids, earthquakes and tsunamis, animal suffering, and so on. There is no clear reason why these would happen on a good God’s watch (yes, I know some theologians have confected unconvincing explanations), so religious people have to do a fast shuffle to comport these with their notion of a deity. This week in Huffington Post though, we see a minister realizing that this doesn’t really make sense.

The author is Susan K. Smith, a reverend who, for the emolument of zero dollars, gets to put her lucubration’s on the Huffington Post site (I think they’re getting more and more desperate, judging from the paucity of updates on the back pages). Smith surely has the credibility to claim she’s a believer; as her author’s page notes:

“I am a writer/author, a former pastor, musician and social activist, and am also the founder and executive director of Crazy Faith Ministries, a non-profit which is dedicated to teaching the concept of faith as a spiritual force (not religious, necessarily) in order to do social justice work and to fight against forces that seek to keep people stymied. I am a graduate of Occidental College and Yale Divinity School, and earned a Ministry from United Theological Seminary, studying under the late Rev. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor and the Rev. Charles Booth. My latest book is “The Book of Jeremiah: The Life and Ministry of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.,” and I am currently working on a book about the life of Rev. C.T. Vivian, who was a major voice and participant in the Civil Rights Movement”.

I’ll be brief here: Dr. Smith is perplexed because God, even though partnering with humans to make the world better, has recently allowed a lot of bad stuff to happen. I quote:

“I grew up believing that God wanted order and peace. Even though bad things were going on in the world, I was assured by Sunday School teachers, my parents and relatives, that God didn’t make bad things happen. That was comforting. But I struggle, still, with a God that allows bad things to happen, who allows peace to be supplanted by utter confusion. The whole world, it seems, is upside down, swimming in chaos, much of which has been and continues to be caused by this president and by a slew of accusations of sexual impropriety by rich and powerful men. The relationship of this country with its allies is certainly shaky; it feels like America is becoming more and more estranged from her allies and that she is losing her moral authority and respect. The call of British lawmakers this week for the invitation to this president for a state visit to England to be rescinded because he re-tweeted fascist, racist images of Muslims. While foreign lawmakers come down on America’s leader, however, the US Congress is strangely silent and pliant”.

It goes on and on; she gripes about what the Republicans are doing, about “America’s sexist and patriarchal system”, about Kim Jong-un and his missiles, about Trump, and about Flynn’s guilty plea (but that’s good!). At the end, even though claiming that we’re supposed to help God improve humanity, she’s deeply puzzled about why God’s letting us go to hell in a hand basket:

To quote Susan K. Smith, “But God allowed it to happen. God did not cause it to happen, but God allowed it to happen; just as God allowed and always allows the worst storms to impact the people who can least withstand their winds and rain. Some of us are taught [JAC: the implication here is that “what we are taught” equals “truth”] that we, the children of God, are co-creators with God, meaning God needs us to help God keep the world in order. That is why the work of organizers and activists is so important, because they keep the thumb of righteousness and fairness on the chest of injustice which fights to have its way.But we, the co-creators, seem remarkably impotent to stop or even slow down the descent into chaos we are experiencing now. This is a scary time, and God, who I was taught could do everything and anything, seems not to be interested in changing the course that we are on. It remains to be seen how all that is going on will shake out, but it feels like God is allowing chaos to triumph over community, and that is very, very troubling”.

The answer is simple, and was voiced most eloquently by the Alabama philosopher Delos McKown (I love this quote): “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”

And of course the invisible and impotent is less parsimonious than the non-existent. I left a comment on Smith’s post—the only one there.

Or—and I just thought of this—here’s another reply: “Why not just cut out the middleman and assume there is no God?”

I’m sure Dr. Smith would welcome more comments to help her with her dilemma. If you want to help, just click on the balloon button at the bottom of the post (you can click on the screenshot below to go to the post). Maybe only a small nudge will take her over the border into nonbelief. . .

FFRF Maine Discussion Group

FFRF Maine Discussion Group

A monthly religiously neutral discussion group centered on how various religious claims affect your life, both positively and negatively. We show a 30 to 45 minute video on a topic of interest to those questioning faith and, using logic and reason, discuss how we know what is true. Free coffee provided. Limited to 20, RSVP is encouraged. Optional luncheon at a local restaurant follows this event.

Date: Saturday Jan 13, 2018

Time: 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Location: Curtis Memorial Library, Brunswick. Seminar Room, 2nd floor

Contact: Tom Waddell by phone at 207-613-7080 or by email at President@ffrfmaine.org

Tell Sen. Collins to vote NO on the tax bill when it comes back from conference.

Tell Sen. Collins to vote NO on the tax bill when it comes back from conference.

I encourage you to call Sen. Susan Collins and express your outrage that she voted to increase the deficit, increase taxes on the middle class and increase healthcare costs for the middle class. At the same time she voted to permanently reduce taxes for corporations and the super wealthy.

A sample of what you might say is;

Hello Sen. Collins,

My name is (name) and I am one of your constituents from (town) Maine (zip code)

I am deeply disappointed that you voted for the tax bill that increases the deficit, increases taxes on the middle class and increases healthcare costs for the middle class. Please vote NO on the tax bill when it comes back from conference. I’m concerned that the tax bill adds too much to the deficit at the cost to the middle class, the group that can lease afford it.

Thank you for voting NO!

Your constituent,

Name