Amendment 8, yes or no

Photo via Examiner.com

Amendment 8, a repeal of the Blaine Amendment, is on the Florida ballot for the November elections. If approved, it will give more money to Christian churches, and the Secular Coalition of America is in strong opposition.

“Florida might be required to fund religious entities even if they claim their religious beliefs won’t allow them to perform all of the services,” said the Coalition in a recent email newsletter. (The services “religious entities” may refuse to offer are abortions)

The Blaine Amendment restricts the state from giving financial aid to churches, even if they will be using the money for community service. The Coalition believes this is an adequate representation of separation of church and state.

The Orlando Sentinel reported:

Those supporting a “yes” vote on Amendment 8 say removing Blaine’s language will protect religious freedom and remove a sentence tainted by the politics and prejudices of the late 19th Century. Opponents [The Secular Coalition of America] call the measure an underhanded effort to expand school voucher programs and shift taxpayer funding from public to private schools.

The Blaine Amendment was named for James G. Blaine, Speaker for the U.S. House of Representatives, who first proposed the idea of restricting religious groups to the House in 1875.  While accepted by the House, it was dismissed by the Senate. But instead of dying there many states still adopted the amendments and they are now instituted in 37 states throughout America.

Many Christian churches and organizations in Florida are eager for the installment of Amendment 8 and the repeal of the Blaine Amendment. The repeal would give them the opportunity to participate in public events, programs and giving service to their community.

Garcia-Tunon of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL) said:

Amendment 8 eliminates discrimination against churches and religious institutions that have long provided vital social services to many of Florida’s most needy at a time when funding for those services is in jeopardy. It makes no sense whatsoever to have service providers banned from the public square simply because they are religious.

Americans United, a group dedicated to preserving the separation of church and state, is urging Floridians to vote no to Amendment 8.

The goal of Amendment 8 is to allow taxpayer money to flow to religious schools and houses of worship. Passage of the Amendment would strip the religious freedom protections currently enshrined in the Florida Constitution, thus allowing for the direct funding of religious organizations that provide faith-based social services and opening the door to taxpayer funding vouchers for religious schools.

This viscous battle goes all the way up to previous Florida Governor Jeb Bush who is a promoter of Amendment 8. Bush is respected on both sides of the party line, so his opinion should, and probably does, mean something to a lot of people. Even so, a lot of support has been given on the other side of the argument. One opposition to the ballet is the Vote No on 8 committee which has raised about 1$ million in their fight against Amendment 8.

But, is it ever a good idea for religion to be controlled by the state. The Blaine Amendment was born out of religious discrimination, primarily towards Catholic schools. In today’s world this hindrance of religious freedom not only places government in a position of power over the church, but also inhibits religious organizations from giving to public services. Is the skepticism toward the church so great that it’s work in the community is put under the microscope?

In a Say Yes On 8 press statement,  Garcia-Tunon said that:

 Services provided by faith-based organizations benefit all segments of society: religious hospitals and clinics that provide Medicaid services, elder care and indigent care; substance abuse programs; hospice care; housing assistance for the disabled or homeless; soup kitchen and food programs; prison outreach and disaster relief services; HIV prevention services and certain college and K-12 scholarship programs.

Garcia went on to say:

These are by no means luxuries, but services meeting the basic needs of many Floridians. This is a two-fold opportunity to do what is right in a manner that is consistent with the faithful citizenship of CALL and its membership.

If religion fails, where do you turn?

Paul Kurtz, 1925 – 2012
Via the Center for Inquiry

Paul Kurtz turned to reason, science and skepticism.

Kurtz was a pronounced humanist who did more to advance humanism, atheism and skepticism since the 1960’s than any one person ever has. Professor Kurtz founded the Center for Inquiry, an evidence-based organization that opposes organized religion, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and Prometheus Books. In addition, he created the two magazines Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry.

His goal was to create a place for people to turn if their faith failed them. He did his share of criticizing religion and the concept of God, but that was not his only goal.

“If religion is being weakened, what replaces it in secular society?” Professor Kurtz said in an interview with The New York Times in 2010. “Most of my colleagues are concerned with critiquing the concept of God. That is important, but equally important is, where do you turn?”

Kurtz was even criticized by certain atheists who believed he was not aggressive enough against the myths of religious belief. Eventually Kurtz resigned from the board of the Center for Inquiry partly because he felt it was “on too contentious a path,” according the a New York Times article.

Born on December 21, 1925, Kurtz was raised in New Jersey. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at 19 during World War II, eventually fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war he went on to study philosophy under Sidney Hook, a protegé of John Dewey (a great American thinker in the humanist tradition). Hook’s teaching, derived from Dewey, greatly influenced Kurtz’s perception of religion and reason.

An exert from the Center for Inquiry obituary on Kurtz:

 Kurtz consistently asserted that morality should be rooted in human flourishing and happiness, not on supernatural revelation. He attached high priority to individual liberty in a robustly democratic culture. His ethics were primarily utilitarian, but he tempered his utilitarianism with a strong commitment to basic liberties. As early as 1969 he had written that “there are two basic and minimal principles which especially seem to characterize humanism. First, there is a rejection of any supernatural conception of the universe and a denial that man has any privileged place within nature. Second, there is an affirmation that ethical values are human and have no meaning independent of human experience.” Repeatedly he characterized secular humanism less as a set of moral or philosophical prescriptions than as a process, a template for the conduct of ethical inquiry.

Since the 1960’s, as expected, Kurtz’s humanist work drew opposition from religious groups. The New York Times quoted one religious leader as saying:

“Humanism is basically Satan’s philosophy and program,” the evangelist H. Edward Rowe wrote in a 1976 book, “Save America.” “Certain features of it may sound reasonable, but it always leads to tragedy, simply because it ignores the guidance of God.”

Kurtz died on Saturday October 20, 2012 at his home in Amherst, N.Y.  He was 86. His final book will be published by Prometheus Books in March of next year. It is entitled “the Turbulent Universe” and is a discourse on how people all around the world can unite as one.

 

Romney, failing grade from Secular Coalition

by US Daily Review

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney received an F on his scorecard from the Secular Coalition of America.

The grades, issued Oct. 16, are based on his public statements and actions on 17 specific issues. Some of these issues are: “Recognition of the United States as a secular nation,” “separation of church and state,” “protecting religious refusal laws,” “support of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” as the National Motto.” As many would expect, he failed each of these elements, making for a very unhappy secular party.

The installment of a president with a goal for a secular United States on the forefront of his campaign is a matter of prime importance for the Secular Coalition.

“With the secular character of our nation’s government being consistently threatened, voters must be aware of the positions of their elected leaders to better inform their decision at the ballot box. In addition to secular voters, a strong majority of Americans in general want a separation between religion and government: 54% of Americans believe that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and 66% say that churches and houses of worship should not endorse candidates.”

According to the Secular Coalition, Romney has done next to nothing to find common ground with secular America. His overt faith in God, which he has referred to many times on the campaign trail, definitely set him in a less than favorable light. But, his additional public policy on marriage between a man and a woman only, and the evils of abortion have really sent him on a downward spiral in secular circles. However, the majority of voters in the United States are still religious – around 80 percent, according to a recent Pew Survey on the growth of nones. So while Romney’s bad grades may put a dent in his election votes, it may  not be enough to cost him the election.

Obama received a C from the Secular Coalition scorecard. It seems his chances with secular America are better, if only slightly. But the highest grade on the electoral ballet was Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, who received a B. Nobody gets a perfect grade from the Coalition.

Increasing nones, election?

An important question is whether congress members, the president or VP, senators and other Bible believing politicians will tone down their outspoken beliefs to become more appealing to the growing Millennial Nones.  After all so much of the election is dependent on getting the young vote. We may soon begin to see an even larger disconnect between candidates’ private beliefs and their public policies.

The United States’ government has a vast array of Christian members:

  • Polls show the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian ranging as high as 85% or beyond.
  • The president is a Christian…
  • …as is the VP.
  • The Speaker of the House is Catholic…
  • …and the Senate Majority Leader is Mormon.
  • Well over 90% of our Congressional representatives are Christian, with a majority of the remainder being Jewish.
  • The Supreme Court features seven Christians and two Jews.
  • All of our major presidential candidates in both major parties.
  • Almost all of our past presidents; depending on how you count Unitarians, you have to go all the way back to Lincoln (ironically enough, the founder of the GOP) to even find one to debate over;
  • Even sports franchises are starting to build their operations around the evangelical litmus test.
  • It seems unlikely that a similar review of the legislatures and courthouses in the 50 states would reveal too much variation from this overpowering Judeo-Christian norm.

During last weeks VP debate Vice President Biden made it clear that while he is a devout Catholic, believing that life begins at conception, he will not push his belief on other people. His pronouncement drew cheers and applause from a crowd of young voters watching the debate on TV. Both Biden and Obama have made it clear with their acceptance of abortion and LGBT rights that their Christian beliefs should not be laid upon the United States’ population. Many other Bible claiming politicians seem to agree. So how much will their clear distinction between personal belief and public proclamation help to sway the vote of the unaffiliated?

Phil Zuckerman said in his recent opinion article in Bloomberg.com:

The rise of the “nonreligious” is partly a result of the decline of liberal Christianity. People who might have considered themselves mainline believers a generation or so ago don’t want to be associated with a belief system that they think has been hijacked by the religious right. The religious liberals have become nonreligious liberals.

Secular Americans aren’t an organized lot with a clear political agenda. Unlike religious voters whose convictions often determine their political choices, people are identified by the lack of something — belief in God, faith in Jesus, interest in church. That doesn’t always translate into a predictable voting strategy.

Something else to think about as the November elections appear at the end of the campaign homestretch.

Nones – rapidly picking up speed

For those who don’t know, although it is turning dangerously into old news, the Nones are steadily climbing among the Millennial Generation. About 1 in 5 adults consider themselves nonreligious – specific to Millennials, the Nones make up 1/3.

However, non-religious and non-spiritual are two separate qualifications. Many Nones who say they are not religious will say they believe in a higher being or afterlife of some kind.

In other words, they are not going to let a church building tell them what to believe and how to live their lives. It is spirituality of the heart, not the “Good Book.” (This is what they believe)

“Millions of Americans are discovering that religion isn’t required in order to lead a moral and purposeful life,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

The Pew Forum‘s recent survey helps to break this down a little more:

“Many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one in five say they pray every day (21%).”

The golf between religion and spirituality is growing wider and wider. According to the recent Pew Survey, of those who are not religious 65 percent say that religion is not important. About 2 percent of atheists/agnostics say religion is important, while 72 percent of protestant Christians say religion is very important.

Being an atheist or agnostic is not something most Americans feel they need to be ashamed of anymore. Finally we are seeing people say what they really believe, not what everyone else believes. Christians and other religions can look at this and be dismayed at the depravity of man, or they can be thankful that at least now clear definitions have been made between religious and nonreligious.

Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, said that Christians have become frustrated, spending a lot of time trying to fight for Christian symbols in the public sector (crosses, Ten Commandment, prayer in public schools). There’s a place for it, he said, but “we have focused perhaps too much on them instead of the underlying reality they reflect. Instead, we need to go back to the basics of living as disciples of Christ, living missionally for Christ and demonstrating the Gospel in tangible ways within our schools, workplaces and communities.”

Stearns says this will help Christians get away from alienating nonbelievers. ” The kind of Christianity the world responds to is the authentic “love your neighbor” kind. Its appeal can’t be legislated through court battles and neither can courts stop its spread.”

So what do the increasing nones mean for America? Well it is obviously becoming less religious, even though the United States is still a highly religious country compared to others that are at the same industrial level we are. However, while we are still very religious there is a steady decline in religious commitment. The Pew Survey pointed out that in 2003 25 percent of adults seldom went to church and in 2012 that number grew to 29 percent.

Political changes must also be considered. If the majority of a candidate’s audience is not religious, will there be such an ardent focus Christian values? Or instead will it be the values of the atheists, agnostics and other secular groupings? According to USA Today the rise of the Nones will affect many aspects of society:

This group, called “Nones,” is now the nation’s second-largest category only to Catholics, and outnumbers the top Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists. The shift is a significant cultural, religious and even political change.

Later in that same article Pew Forum senior researcher Greg Smith said,

“The rise of the Nones is a milestone in a long-term trend,” Smith says. “People’s religious beliefs, and the religious groups they associate with, play an important role in shaping their worldviews, their outlook in life and certainly in politics and elections.”

While many will be disturbed by this new statistic, many others will be overjoyed. Members of the secular movement, New Atheism, freethinkers and many more will be happy to know they are slowly making their way out of the minority. Time will tell what impact this new non-religious focus will have on the future of America, and perhaps it will make Christians consider what they need to do differently.

What it means to be unaffiliated

Nones: A rising population of Americans who claim no religious affiliation. 1/3 of the Millennial Generation. It is important to state that no religious affiliation does not mean godless or nonspiritual. Many nones are still deeply spiritual but reject organized religion, many even pray weekly or daily.

  • About 20 percent of U.S. adults say they had no religious affiliation, an increase from two decades ago when about 8 percent of people were deemed so-called “nones,” according to a new study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. (Washington Post Blog)

Secular (a broad term): “Pertaining to the world or things not spiritual or sacred.” (Webster’s Dictionary)

  •           Secular Society (defined by the Council for Secular Humanism): “Taxonomically, my family is Freethinker (including atheists, skeptics, agnostics); my genus is Humanist (including the religion-based), and my species is Secular.” (John Rafferty)  

Atheist: One who disbelieves or denies the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.  (Webster’s Dictionary)

  • New Atheism: A term associated with acclaimed atheists Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and advocates that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”
  • View of New Atheists: “Tolerance of pervasive myth and superstition in modern society is not a virtue.Religious fundamentalism has gone main stream and its toll on education, science, and social progress is disheartening. Wake up people!!  We are smart enough now to kill our invisible gods and oppressive beliefs. It is the responsibility of the educated to educate the uneducated, lest we fall prey to the tyranny of ignorance.”

Agnosticism: “Agnosticism is a concept. It is not a full religion, like JudaismChristianity or Islam. It is a belief related to the existence or non-existence of God.” (ReligiousTolerance.org)

  • “”Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”  (Thomas Jefferson)

There are many more non religious affiliations, but these seem to be the main types currently affecting culture in the United States.  I will add to the list if while updating this blog I find others that grow in importance.