Category Archives: In Reason We Trust

Trump’s Fundamentalist Administration

Trump’s Fundamentalist Administration

The religious worldview will define the next four years, and maybe more, even in public schools. BY TOM WADDELL

Vice President Mike Pence and most of Trump’s cabinet nominees are religious fundamentalists. Generally they believe that God created the Earth 6,000 years ago, that men and dinosaurs co-existed, that everything is part of God’s plan and that Armageddon is just around the corner. Collectively they oppose civil rights, LGBT rights, a woman’s right to choose, universal health care, public education, and are in favor of restrictions on voting rights. They deny climate change.

This administration’s world view will define what is possible not only for the next four years but, by nominating those with the same world view to the Supreme Court, for the foreseeable future.

Pence has said, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order” — apparently being an American comes in no better than fourth, if at all. He denies evolution, is soft on global warming and voted to restrict LGBT rights based on his personal religious beliefs. He supports religious rights over civil rights, as evidenced by his Indiana religious freedom law that extends the constitutional right to practice religious beliefs in a place of worship or in the home to where one works and to businesses one may own.

Pence also said no one should be mistreated because of who they are or what they believe. But, according to Peter Hanscom of Indiana Competes, Pence made no mention that this position will result in people “being fired, removed from their home or denied public service because of who they are.” With him as VP, we can expect more of the same, but on a national scale.

The former director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, Sheila Kennedy, said, “(Pence) has chosen his side, the religious extremists; people who really do not believe that gay and lesbian (people) should be entitled to equal rights.” Roll Call noted that then-Sen. Pence had a “reputation as a culture warrior” because of his opposition to abortion rights, voting to defund Planned Parenthood, opposing federal spending on embryonic stem cell research and advocating for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

Reporter Craig Fehrman wrote that Pence’s religious beliefs “shape every choice he makes” yet, as he became more prominent, committed himself to saying absolutely nothing about his religious beliefs. It’s no wonder the public knows almost nothing about the religious beliefs of the man who is a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose religious beliefs also shape every decision she makes, has a long history of donating to anti-LGBT groups and working to destroy the public school system. Her goal is to create a publicly funded and unregulated fundamentalist Christian school system. Under her administration we are likely to see the Good News Club, which currently run fundamentalist, evangelical after-school programs in many of Maine’s public elementary schools, play a role in teaching your child, as part of the school’s curriculum, that creationism and intelligent design are true, that evolution is “just a theory,” that climate change is a hoax, and that everything — the good, the bad and the ugly — is part of God’s plan.

The club will also teach your child, as it does now in their after-school program, that if your child does not have a “personal relationship” with the Lord Jesus Christ they will be condemned to an eternal after-life of torture in Hell.

According to Politico, DeVos “compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to “advance God’s Kingdom” — at the expense of your child’s education. She has also given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, both conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical groups who oppose public education.

Voucher programs that favor private schools will be the main tool DeVos will use to destroy the public school system. Voucher programs are not about school choice for parents and children, as they will be touted. Patrick Elliott, an attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation said, “We know from state voucher programs that the overwhelming beneficiary of these programs are not students, but are instead the churches and parochial schools that take in public money,” and, “This is a significant threat to the separation of state and church.”

Voucher programs take public funds away from your child’s local public school, deprive the remaining students of a good education and are not supported by most public school teachers. Even mainstream religious people who support the separation of church and state don’t want to see their towns public schools closed because of a lack of funds.

Tom Waddell is the president of the Maine chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He can be reached at: ffrfmaine@gmail.com

Augusta’s faith community is NOT being denied religious freedom

This is the December “In Reason We Trust” monthly column we write for the Kennebec Journal. At issue is the “interference” Augusta’s zoning laws, laws that apply to everyone living in Augusta, are placing on the Episcopal Diocese’s ability to sell the former St. Marks church property.

Augusta’s faith community is NOT being denied religious freedom

When I started to research the conflict between the Augusta Planning Board and the Episcopal Diocese of Maine over the sale of the former St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, I was going to focus on the Rev. Erik Karas’s claim that by denying the church the right to continue providing social services at the church property Augusta was defining and limiting worship. The more I read though the more I discovered that the most likely main objection to Augusta “interfering” with the sale of St. Marks is just that, the ability of the Diocese to sell the property.

When St. Marks closed the proposed sale had been expected to require the social services to move. Even as late as July, 2016, there were plans to relocate these services. Joseph Riddick, senior warden of the church, said even though St. Marks buildings are being sold, the parishioners and our ministries are going to continue, just in a different place. Riddick said those services will continue after the sale, and the church is working with partners to try to find new locations for them.

Mayor David Rollins and Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti are concerned that one of the bidders on the property, the Bread of Life Ministries, would want to move their homeless shelter and soup kitchen to the site. The church is concerned that if Augusta doesn’t allow these services to continue after the sale, the Bread of Life Ministries may not buy the property. The current social services are allowed if they are associated with a church at that location but, without this association, these services would not be allowed.

Riddick also said, “I am concerned the City Council is going to scare people off by these political tactics,” and “You have certain city councilors leading this campaign about the St. Mark’s property, causing problems for the church. And it looks like there is an effort to derail the application process for possible use of the property.” Objecting that the Augusta Planning Board requires any potential new owner to limit “possible use of the property” to those that comply with zoning laws applicable to everyone has created division where there should be none.

When St. Marks closed I believe it ceased to be a church. In my opinion the Augusta Planning Board could have ended these social services when the church closed as there was no longer an association with a church at that location. Allowing these social services to temporally continue in a zone where such activity is prohibited certainly shows that Mayor Rollins is sensitive to the needy and recognizes the need for these services. He is NOT engaging in “political tactics” to cause problems for the church. Mayor Rollins, Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti and the Augusta Planning Board are working to strike a delicate balance between allowing services to be provided to the needy with ensuring that neighborhoods don’t become unlivable. Their primary concern is how these services impact the neighborhood where these services are delivered. Rev. Karas’s offer to work on a solution to how the church’s “form of worship” impacts the neighborhood, just so long as there are no limits placed on how the church worships, is disingenuous at best.

Since Maine does not have a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Rev. Karas’s belief that Augusta should not be “interfering” in how the church worships most likely stems from the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The Supreme Court has consistently interpreted the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to mean that governments cannot regulate religious beliefs but can regulate religious practices when those practices come in conflict with secular laws that govern the general public. Otherwise, as Justice Scalia reasoned, to prevent the government from enforcing laws that apply to everyone, even if the law inadvertently restricts a religious practice, “permits the individual “to become a law unto himself,” “invites anarchy” and would produce a “constitutional anomaly.” It would, Scalia claimed, make a citizen’s obligation to obey the law contingent on (their) religious beliefs”.

I agree. Allowing free religious expression does not mean you have the right to violate the rights of others. I applaud Mayor Rollins, Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti and the Augusta Planning Board for doing their jobs by making a thorough analysis of what the former St. Marks church property can be used for. In this way the rights of all Augusta citizens, religious and secular, will be met.

In Reason We Trust – Nov 2016

“Nones” could again decide the outcome of the election

According to the Pew Research Center, the “Nones”, a largely Democrat voting bloc comprised of atheists, agnostics and the religiously unaffiliated, could decide the results of the 2016 election, just as they did in 2012. The Nones have been growing and now constitute one-fifth of all registered voters, a quarter of registered Democrats, vote for Democrats by a ratio of almost 3 to 1, and represent 25% of all adults and 33% of all millennials. Pew’s 2007 survey found 16% of adults were religiously unaffiliated, but found 25% were in 2014, a 56% increase in 7 years. According to the Maine Secretary of State, in 2016 registered Democrats increased 16,000, Republicans increased 4,000 and there are 10,000 more Democrats and 2,000 less Republicans in Maine than there were in 2012. Voter turnout is expected to be high.

Pew Research also indicated the best predictor of how someone will vote is determined by how religious they are rather than which religion they belong to. Those who are more religious vote Republican and those who are less religious vote Democrat. Nones are quickly becoming much more secular. In 2007, 70% of Nones believed in a god, but by 2014 only 61% did.

The Public Religion Research Institute found that 30% of Hillary supporters are Nones but only 13% of Trump supporters are. They also noted that 74% of Nones regarded Trump as a poor choice but only 27% regarded Hillary the same way. In the 2012 election, Nones made up 12% of the voters and were the swing vote that put Obama back into office. The same turnout is expected for the 2016 election but it will be 12% of a much larger group that will help Hillary become our next president. If these predictions are correct, Nones will be the deciding factor in this election too, surpassing any other voter bloc.

The Republicans are trying to win by pandering to the Religious Right, as they have done since Paul Weyrich, the founder of The Heritage Foundation, formed them into a voting block that swept Reagan into office. Weyrich, who famously said, ”I Don’t Want Everybody to Vote”, thereby starting the Republican’s “Voter Suppression Campaign”, had been looking for a cause that would bind conservatives together. He got it. In 1973 Roe vs. Wade gave women the right to choose, and shortly after Weyrich used this issue to rally Republicans. Weyrich reasoned that conservatives would work harder for a cause their church supported than they would for a political cause. He was right. Instead of making abortion a political issue, Weyrich framed it as religious liberty. Since focusing on abortion and same-sex marriage the Religious Right has united various religions around a messianic / political common cause.

Younger Americans are becoming more non-religious. Most of the Nones say that organized religion’s opposition to homosexuality, equality for women or a woman’s right to choose, coupled with preaching conservative politics from the pulpit, were the major reasons why they are unaffiliated with a religion. They are also the primary reasons why they became more politically liberal. The Nones are now the single largest group to identify as Democrats.

According to Michelle Obama, in a speech she made recently, the next president will have the power to determine the direction today’s youth take for the rest of their lives because of two factors: social and legal. Socially, a president is a role model. What the president says and the attitudes they express about women, people of color, immigrants and those attracted to the same sex will shape the attitudes of America’s youth. Legally, nominating at least four justices to the Supreme Court who support equality, voters rights, immigrants, same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose will affect America’s laws for the next 30 years.

I encourage everyone to get out and vote. We have seen what 12% of Nones accomplished in the 2012 election. A 20% Nones voter turnout in 2016 could have a much larger impact. Even though it is a losing strategy, Republicans are likely to continue their appeal to the Religious Right, especially with Pence being Trump’s VP pick. They will win that increasingly narrow voter bloc, but will most likely lose the votes of the growing number of Nones who value individual freedom, freedom of religion and the freedom to not believe in any religion. As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a changing”.

Waddell: Don’t let churches turn into political organizations

Donald Trump supports changes to the tax code that would allow religious institutions to act like PACs.

Not long ago, I heard Donald Trump claim that the government had taken away the clergy’s right of free speech and that, if elected, he would “restore” that right.

That caught my ear, because I knew right away he was referring to the so-called “Johnson Amendment.” That amendment, really part of the IRS tax code for 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations, allows tax-exempt corporations to support political candidates in exchange for giving up their tax-free status.

There is nothing in the law that prohibits these corporations from supporting a candidate — there are no fines and no other repercussions. However, the law was written so that corporations that do not pay taxes could not use that annual tax saving to support political candidates. They can support causes and retain their tax-free status, but they cannot support candidates and retain their tax-free status. It is simply a matter of free choice, pick supporting political candidates or retaining a tax-free status, but not both, and there is the rub.

The conservative religious groups that Trump is appealing to want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be able to campaign for the candidate of their choice and keep their tax-free status. If allowed, this would require you, the taxpayer, to support their political candidate indirectly by having you pay higher taxes to compensate for their tax exemption, while allowing them to divert their tax savings to the political candidate of their choice.

Trump, the Republican Party and the religious groups they are pandering to — fundamentalist evangelical Christians — think religious groups should be able to support the candidate of their choice on the taxpayer’s dime.

The IRS seldom prosecutes violations of this tax law, even when clergy advertise they are going to violate those laws. Every year since 2008, on the last Sunday in September, thousands of clergy across the country have engaged in what they call Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a Christian Right political move to encourage clergy to openly and publically endorse political candidates from the pulpit in direct violation of the very law that allows them a tax free status.

As Time Magazine reported in June: “‘Repealing the (Johnson) amendment was a priority of the Trump campaign in the GOP platform. They understand the importance of religious organizations and nonprofits, but religious organizations in particular, which is what the Johnson Amendment affects, to have the ability to speak freely, and that they should not live in fear of the IRS,’ said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who is on the Republican platform committee. ‘That is a priority in the platform, and from the Trump folks, it is a priority of the campaign, and will be a priority of the administration.’”

Adam Chodorow, professor of law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, reports: “Few would suggest that religious views have no place in the public square or that religious views should not inform one’s political decisions. Indeed, the problem isn’t that churches want to become politically involved. To a large extent, they already are. It’s that they want to make use of government subsidies to do so.”

That brings me to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows anyone — providing they have enough money — to buy and sell politicians and elections at will. Every individual and corporation, without any restrictions, is allowed to contribute anonymously as much as they want, including foreign-owned corporations.

If tax-free religious organizations can support candidates by giving them as much money as they want, it is much more likely people who want to support the same candidate will give their money to a tax-free religious organizations where the donor knows 100 percent of their contribution, at least in theory, will go to the candidate, instead of giving it to organizations that solicit campaign contributions from which they have to pay expenses.

In effect, religious organizations will become political action committees, not houses of worship, and will experience the very division and lack of trust within the congregation that we already see in the current divisive and volatile election campaign.

Whether churches become money-laundering establishments for politicians is up to you. Your vote for candidates who support problematic changes to tax-exemption laws can determine the future of your community, your place of worship and your country. Vote wisely.

Tom Waddell is the president of the Maine chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

“What is truth?”

As some of you may know, Tim and I write an FFRF Maine monthly column entitled “In Reason We Trust” for the Kennebec Journal / Morning Sentinel. I write the first draft and Tim makes it sound like we know what we are talking about. The September article below was just sent in with a request to print the column the 1st Friday of every month. Hope you enjoy it.

I intended this month’s column to be about what I heard in Franklin Graham’s speech at his recent rally in Augusta. MD Harmon’s column stating neither he nor Franklin heard division in anything Franklin said made me realize that the most important take-away from Franklin’s visit was: How do you know what is true, how do you hear what others say, and on what basis do you interpret the world around you?

The column also stated that I, as President of FFRF Maine, the Maine Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, was at the rally specifically to promote atheism and secularism. While that is true, a more comprehensive reason for several members of FFRF Maine to be at the rally was to promote the use of reason and historical fact when listening to what Franklin had to say. It is unreasonable to expect that Obamacare, Roe v. Wade or same-sex marriage will ever be overturned, even if Hillary, the “presumptive” next president, does not get elected. Claiming the United States was in any sense formed as a Christian nation is a complete historical fabrication. The US Constitution, the country’s founding document, is entirely secular.

Franklin encouraged those at the rally to vote for candidates who would eliminate Obamacare, overturn Roe v. Wade and deny same-sex couples the right to get married. It astounds me to realize that most people in the crowd would not hear hate or division in those words, but those who have experienced what Franklin is calling for most assuredly will. Eliminating Obamacare would leave hundreds of thousands of families without healthcare. Overturning Roe v. Wade would force women to have children they didn’t intend to have and will increase the number of women dying from abortions performed by unqualified people. Denying same-sex couples the right to get married will destabilize thousands of loving, caring families with children. Certainly allowing people to die from treatable illnesses, compelling women to get back alley abortions and forcing children to grow up as second class citizens are not Christian values.

Franklin went on to say that when he went to public school they read the bible, prayed in school and had the Ten Commandments prominently displayed. He then ended his talk by calling Christians to put god back in school, back in state government and back in federal government where he belongs. In Franklin’s opinion, this would “save” America from the devastation created when we kicked god out of our schools and our local, state and federal governments. Our secular government institutions, which include public schools, are specifically mandated by our secular constitution to neither “promote nor deny” any religion. How can anyone not hear the absurdity of Franklin’s call to put god “back” into secular institutions that the constitution categorically prohibits?

America’s constitution is entirely secular to protect everyone’s freedom of religion. The only mention of god in the constitution is exclusionary. The constitution makes it abundantly clear that a “wall of separation” between religion and government is one of the prime foundations of our republic. Freedom OF religion, the right to believe in the religion you choose, or to choose to believe in no religion at all, necessarily means freedom FROM religion, the right to have our secular laws that govern believers and non-believers alike, to be free of religious doctrine. If our laws are to be based on religious doctrine, which one? Should our laws be based on Sharia law? In short, freedom of religion means everyone has the right to be free from the very religious coercion Franklin is promoting.

Franklin claims he is not endorsing any particular candidate because he does not refer to any candidate by name. To quote Franklin, “I am not telling you who to vote for, that is up to you, but I do want you to educate yourselves about the different party platforms.” While Franklin is not naming any candidate, claiming he is not telling you who to vote for is true but only to the extent you believe Franklin was not referring to Jesus when he used the generic term “god” without naming a particular god. If you hear Franklin say you should vote for the candidate that will eliminate Obamacare, overturn Roe v. Wade and deny same-sex couples the right to get married and believe he was referring to Hillary, you heard the words he spoke but missed the implied meaning.

God and government don’t mix

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Waddell: God and government don’t mix

Franklin Graham is coming to Augusta, and bringing his message of intolerance.

BY TOM WADDELL

Franklin Graham will be in Augusta with his “Decision America” campaign to encourage Christians to live for “God and his Word” on Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Capital Park at noon. The goals of Graham’s messianic and political tour are to encourage Christians to run for public office, to vote for candidates who uphold “biblical principles,” and to tell Christians they have a duty to vote even though neither presidential candidate has a strong biblical worldview.

Graham has stated that only God can turn this country around, but says voters may be forced to choose between “the lesser of two heathens.” He asserts, “We need men and women today in high places that will honor almighty God” and to “vote for candidates who stand for Biblical truth,” to make sure the country is governed exclusively by Christians as the Founding Fathers intended.

What Graham is really asking Christians to do is to elect fundamentalist Christians to interpret and run our secular government. Despite his claim that his nationwide event is not political, he routinely promotes the conservative positions of eliminating Obamacare, overturning Roe v. Wade, reversing the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage and limiting immigration for Muslims. He also instills an overwhelming fear of anyone who is not a white Christian at every rally. How is this not political?

Graham has repeatedly said the country is in trouble spiritually, economically and politically because we have become secular and have kicked God out of our schools, our courts and our local, state and federal governments. He has also compared secularism with Communism.

Graham has consistently stated that if the LGBT community wants to continue living the way they do, they will burn in hell for an eternity and that no gay person can be a true Christian. Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said, “Contrary to Franklin Graham’s hysterical claims, the LGBT community is not a threat to the United States but his campaign to legislate religion-fostered discrimination is.”

Fortunately, Graham has been met at every rally by groups of loving, caring people who demonstrate true Christian values, something Graham does not. They show compassion for others, treat their neighbors as they treat themselves, offer a helping hand to those in need and accept others for who they are rather than judging them for not meeting arbitrary and unattainable moral goals.

Many Christian leaders oppose Graham. When his tour came to Madison, Wisconsin, Rev. Jonathan Grieser of Grace Episcopal Church protested the event and said, “We’re really trying to bear witness to a different vision for America.”

When the tour was in Honolulu, Canon Brian Grieves of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii said, “My angst with Franklin Graham is not only that he is intolerant of Muslims, gays and women’s rights, he has also outrageously said President Obama is against Christ’s teachings and is under the influence of Islam. He has questioned whether Obama was born in the United States. He stirs up hatred and xenophobia by dispensing lies.”

Canon Grieves also notes, “We cannot be silent when we hear Christian teaching being distorted and dispensed to good people who deserve to hear the Gospel message of love. Rev. Franklin Graham’s stirring up of hate and discrimination towards Muslims, and his efforts to use religion as a political tool needs to be publicly rejected.”

Other Christian leaders have advised rally attendees not to believe what Franklin is saying because judging others, discrimination and intolerance are not Christian values.

FFRF Maine will be at Graham’s rally to peacefully and quietly demonstrate our opposition to the direction he wants Christians to take this country. Our goals are to make sure everyone knows the Constitution’s 1st Amendment requires that religion and government be separate and that there is no religious “litmus test” to hold public office, and to give non-believers in Maine a voice in opposing the excessive influence of evangelicals in our secular government.

Martin Luther King said, “Our lives end the day we become silent about things that matter,” and Bayard Rustin said, “The proof that one truly believes is in action.” If opposing the hate that Franklin Graham is spreading matters to you, I urge you to take action and join us to tell him there is no room for hate in Maine.

Tom Waddell is the president of the Maine chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He writes an occasional column on matters related to the separation of church and state.

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