Archive for the ‘Secularism’ Category

Given the linguistic, geographic, and cultural diversity of the Muslim world, it is facile to suggest that Islam is the source of all these problems. There is after all very little relationship between the Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and that practiced in Egypt, Malaysia, or the United States. To the extent that there are problems in Muslim-majority countries, it is far more likely that they arise from a shared history of colonialism, oppressive governance, poverty, disease, and war—especially over natural re-sources—than a common religious underpinning.

 

Source: Reclaiming Tradition: Islamic Law in a Modern World | International Affairs Review

Draft executive order ‘reads like the administration was challenged to see how many violations of the Bill of Rights can be contained in one policy change’

 

A 2016 poll found two-thirds of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should not come out in favor of one candidate over another during political elections—but President Donald Trump wants to “destroy” the amendment that keeps it that way. (Photo: Peter Miller/flickr/cc)

President Donald Trump appears intent on demolishing the wall between church and state, telling an audience on Thursday that he will “totally destroy” an amendment that bars religious tax-exempt organizations from engaging in political activity—while his administration reportedly circulates a far-reaching draft executive order on “religious freedom” that effectively legalizes discrimination.

Trump told attendees at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday that he “will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

The amendment, passed in 1954, prohibits churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates; repealing it—which Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also vowed to do on the 2016 campaign trail—”would theoretically allow houses of worship and religious leaders to openly advocate for political candidates while retaining their tax-exempt status, while also allowing them to funnel religious donations into explicitly political efforts,” according to Emma Green at The Atlantic.

Repeal would require action by Congress. A 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that fully two-thirds of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should not come out in favor of one candidate over another during political elections, while just 29 percent say churches should get directly involved in electoral politics in this way.

Meanwhile, The Nation and the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) revealed Wednesday that the Trump administration is circulating a four-page draft executive order that would, according to the center:

  • allow religious organizations receiving federal dollars to hire and fire employees based on their beliefs;
  • allow employers to deny health care benefits for birth control;
  • allow federally funded groups to prevent married same-sex couples from adopting; and
  • protect federal employees who refuse to do their jobs if work duties violate their beliefs.

And “[i]t would create a section or group within the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce the order,” according to CIR’s outlet, Reveal.

Sarah Posner writes for The Nation: “The breadth of the draft order, which legal experts described as ‘sweeping’ and ‘staggering,’ may exceed the authority of the executive branch if enacted. It also, by extending some of its protections to one particular set of religious beliefs, would risk violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Or as the National LGBTQ Task Force wrote online, it would “completely destroy Church/State Separation to destroy lives and roll back fundamental rights.”

ABC News reported Thursday that “the draft appears to be among the hundreds of executive orders that are circulating—drafted by either the Trump transition team, the White House policy team, or even by outside groups—and that not all reflect administration thinking or likely policy. One official did not say who drafted this potential order, but did not dispute its authenticity.”

ABC further notes that the order contains language that “appears to be an attempt to roll back the Johnson Amendment” through executive action, as it “seeks to ensure tax-exempt status for religious organizations even if they speak out on beliefs opposing gay marriage, extra-marital sex, abortion rights, and rights for transgender individuals.”

In a statement, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) executive director Noah Bookbinder said Trump’s latest statements taken alongside the draft order constitute “a stunning assault on free speech, and a gift to dark money groups—as long as they agree with the president.”

Considered in the context of a post-Johnson Amendment landscape, the draft order “would eliminate longstanding restrictions on political speech by nonprofit organizations, and favor religion, allowing the government to penalize some political viewpoints by nonprofit organizations while protecting the opposite viewpoints, and would sanction discrimination against a particular group of people,” said Bookbinder. “It reads like the administration was challenged to see how many violations of the Bill of Rights can be contained in one policy change.”

He concluded: “The administration should immediately reverse course on this proposed executive order which could do nothing but catastrophic harm to our democracy.”

Source: Trump Seeks to Take Wrecking Ball to Division Between Church and State | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

3. Reject violence and militarism. While atheists as a whole are one of America’s most progressive voting blocs, it’s an unfortunate quirk of history that some prominent atheists have been aggressive advocates of neoconservative foreign policy, which calls for the subjugation of Muslim countries through bombing and invasion. Although religious terrorism is a real threat, too many atheists can’t conceive of any way to respond to it except with more violence.

A case in point is the late Christopher Hitchens, who was a brilliant and fearless writer but will forever be tainted by George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which he enthusiastically supported on many occasions. Another example is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who deconverted from Islam and rose to become a member of the Dutch parliament. While Hirsi Ali’s life story is undeniably inspiring, and she’s endured great personal trauma and danger for her apostasy, she’s adopted xenophobic ideas about the Western world being at war with Islam. Last but not least, there’s Sam Harris, who’s made many hair-raising comments about Islam such as a call for airport security screeners to profile anyone who “looks like” they “could conceivably be Muslim.”

All these thinkers bought into the destructive fantasy that endless war and brutality, or the all-seeing eye of a surveillance state, are the ways to stop terrorism and other dangerous outgrowths of fundamentalism. There may be cases where military force is the only option, in self-defense or to prevent genocide, but this can only be a last resort. The battle against jihadism and other violent ideologies is ultimately a battle of ideas, not of arms. We’ll only win when we quiet the siren song of destructive fundamentalism and make people feel they have a stake in their own future. And that means we need to invest in democracy, education and true nation-building, rather than cozying up to corrupt rulers or local autocrats who promise to cooperate in keeping their people repressed.

Source: 4 Things the Atheist Movement Has Done Badly (and How to Do Them Better) | Alternet

What “War on Christmas” believers don’t get is that the holiday is an amalgamation of many beliefs and traditions

Source: Putting the “War on Christmas” to rest: Fox News, sorry to break it to you but it’s always been a secular holiday – Salon.com

Paranoia is in our bloodstream. And with the emergence of social media, we’re more misinformed than ever before

5. Shariah Law – Coming To A Courtroom Near You

For more than six years, much of the American right has been afflicted with a feverish brain disorder that writer Adam Serwer calls “sharia panic.”

The fever shows no signs of breaking any time soon.

The disorder is a delusional and apparently highly contagious conspiracy theory that contends American Muslims are trying to undermine the U.S. Constitution and maybe even overthrow the government someday by implementing Shariah religious law in legal proceedings across the country.

The truth is that Shariah is essentially a code of ethics, or, as The New York Times put it, “Islam’s road map for living morally and achieving salvation.” In some Islamic countries, it forms the basis of an often harsh legal code that governs crime, public morality and other matters. It is occasionally used in other countries in private civil contracts between individuals (such as agreements between spouses to abide by its precepts in any future divorce), just as Christians or Jews will sometimes draw up private contracts about similar matters based on their own religions.

But it cannot, under the Constitution, supersede American law.

Nevertheless, to a growing number of mostly Republican legislators from Vermont to Alabama, Shariah has become — particularly around election time — a blueprint for world domination. So to thwart the sneaky Muslims — and pick up a few more votes — politicians have introduced bills in almost three dozen states in recent years, seeking to ban Shariah law in U.S. courts. In the last five years, eight states have actually passed such needless measures.

“All of this in spite of the fact that no instance of sharia law superseding U.S. Constitutional law exists,” Todd Green, author of The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West, wrote in the Huffington Post this spring. In any case, he added, “at one percent of the population, Muslims are not in the position to impose any kind of law on any state.”

The bills are essentially the same across the country. They are modeled after legislation written by a 59-year-old Hasidic Jew, David Yerushalmi, a lawyer who is widely considered to be the driving force behind the anti-Shariah movement. He is also, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a man “with a record of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.” One of Yerushalmi’s clients and close allies is Pamela Geller, perhaps the best-known and most unhinged anti-Muslim ideologue in the United States.

Yerushalmi began writing his model statute — “American Laws for American Courts” — in 2009. The statute, according to the Times, “would prevent state judges from considering foreign laws or rulings that violate constitutional rights in the United States.” Yerushalmi admitted later that his purpose was not so much to ban the imposition of Islamic religious law — already impossible under the Constitution — but “to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”

In 2010, backed by a $60,000 campaign funded by the Muslim-bashing group ACT! for America, the bill was passed in Oklahoma with 70% of the vote. But the Oklahoma law explicitly targeted Shariah and was later struck down by a federal court. After that, the anti-Shariah movement wised up and watered down its bigotry, shifting its focus and language onto banning all foreign laws.

But “as these restrictions pile up,” according to an article in 2014 on the website of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, “the bans come full circle and reveal their true purpose: to demonize the Islamic faith.”

While conceding that Shariah was “not an imminent threat in Oklahoma yet,” Republican then-state Rep.Rex Duncan, a chief sponsor of that state’s anti-Shariah bill, told ABC News in 2010 that “[i]t’s a storm on the horizon in other states,” adding, “The only entities that could oppose this measure are those that admittedly support applying international law and sharia law in American courts.”

Cathie Adams, the former chairwoman of the Texas Republican Party and current leader of the Texas chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, has said that immigration reform is a “tool of Satan that will lead to the enactment of Sharia law and usher in the End Times.”

The anti-Shariah movement is not confined to statehouses across the country. It has national allies as well. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in 2010, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” In 2011, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain told ThinkProgress that he would not appoint a Muslim to his administration or as a federal judge because there is “this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.” In 2012, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Texas, Ted Cruz described Shariah as “an enormous problem.”

Source: 10 right-wing conspiracy theories that have slowly invaded American politics – Salon.com

With a new biography out and a recent documentary still making waves, it’s time to consider Gore Vidal’s legacy.

Vidal was fond of quoting Benjamin Franklin, who after the passage of the United States Constitution remarked “A republic; if you can keep it.” It is easy to criticize the military-industrial complex, self-serving politicians, religious bullies, and mediocre journalists more adept at propaganda than reportage, but Vidal showed true courage and despair when he wrote with the realization that the people are part of the problem. Unlike Chomsky and Zinn, and more like Buchanan and Kauffman, he lost confidence that the American people were just enough information away from wrestling the country out of the arms of the elite and reclaiming the Republic.

In one of his final essays from 2006, Vidal wrote that America had “entered the Dark Ages.” “What we are seeing,” he explained, “are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture—a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; as well as, today, the political and economic marginalization of our culture.”

Source: The Great American Novelist Who Warned Us About Donald Trump, Fox News and the Rise of the Idiocracy | Alternet

The public intellectual confuses religion for the religious, and nonbelievers would be unwise to follow his example

Source: Atheism deserves better than Richard Dawkins: “Secular fundamentalism” is actively hurting the movement – Salon.com