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As we all know by now, besides the other big shoe that dropped Tuesday night at City Council, there was also a travesty of Constitutional proportions, where one religion got to spend nearly an hour proselytizing on the Council floor during our city government meeting.
For those who watched, it was a special treat, as citizen speakers preached about Christianity (including some very, er, interesting takes on history, Star Wars, and immaculate conception) during our governmental meeting. I won’t go into those speakers any further, but if you really want to clench your teeth through the rambling, utterly incomprehensible arguments, I included a full video cut of the “manger debate,” from suspension of the rules to roll call, at the end of this post.
The winner of the night, however, had to be Councilor Rita Mercier. I’ve taken the liberty to slice together some of the more interesting parts from her apparently-prepared speech. There can be no clearer example of why our Founders went out of their way to keep religion out of the Constitution.
If the purpose of constitutional separation of church and state is to not elevate any one religion or sect over any other (or over nonreligion)…in other words, to essentially remain neutral, last Tuesday’s meeting failed that test entirely, and not just because of the now-non-denominational Christian prayer that is recited by the Mayor at the beginning of every meeting. A person who knew nothing about our country or our city, after watching that meeting, would be left with the impression of a specific religion is elevated here, above all others.
Speaking of our “nondenominational” prayer, this video below is of the recitation of such at the beginning of the same Council meeting last Tuesday. And of course, this prayer, heavy with the mention of a deity, replaced the Catholic Lord’s Prayer the Council used to recite at every meeting for decades. I wrote about this back in 2006 when an interfaith group requested the Council change the Lord’s Prayer to something more equitable (provided you still thought some sort of prayer was a good idea). What we ended up with in 2007 was what you see in the video below - a monotheistic, rather Christian-ish prayer to God. (So, not good for Hindus, most Buddhists, atheists…) I have no doubt that this might be the next lawsuit, given how much attention this manger debate might draw to our city over the Establishment clause.
And finally, I’ve put the full manger debate (all 40 minutes of it) up on YouTube for your convenience (or torment, perhaps eternal), including the aforementioned citizens who were…really enthused about Jesus.
Well, thanks to the 40 minute debate and Council vote to put baby Jesus back on our civic lawn, so to speak, Lowell’s city council meeting has now reached a nationally read atheist blog. I said on Tuesday night that all CC. Mercier was going to do was bring attention to the unconstitutionality of all the religion in our city meetings and at city hall - resulting in more of a chance to waste our taxpayer dollars on fighting that lawsuit (and others - official council prayer, anyone?) she wanted to have us pay for (and lose).
“Were we afraid of being sued?” Mercier said. “Because if we were, this is one lawsuit I would have no objection to fight all the way.”
Famous last words of elected officials spending other people’s money. She should ask the Dover school board how that attitude worked out for them.
And I will also say that while Rita said “let them all come!” talking about menorahs and such, do you really think she’ll have such an equitable reaction if something like this is placed next to the manger next year? Because this public hissy fit over religion on our Council floor, like the inevitable lawsuit, makes it more likely someone will ask to do it.
Now, Ed Brayton merely found the news the Lowell Sun posted. What kind of reaction will the secular humanist community have to the actual rantings of the several people over the course of the discussion, do you think? Oh wait. I’m editing that video as we speak.
Rita just landed us in a heap of trouble. *shakes head*
Not too long ago, I saw a short clip on City Life that made me wonder: Imagine If Muslims Made An Ad Like This One? Now, my friend George Anthes took exception to me making this point. He felt that it was more than appropriate for Catholics to assert their mores & values, as they headed into the polling booths to cast a ballot. In one regard, I fully agree. The point where I slip off is when politicians take the “will of the People,” as a mandate to codify dogma. It is perfectly fine for any politician/elected official to be “informed” by their faith, but it is another thing altogether to govern by it. The Constitution, dear readers, is very clear on this point.
In light of nitwits like former GOP presidential hopefuls, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to be attuned to the consequences of impasssioned charlatans in the White House. Thus, I flipped the context of the video clip around, wondering if red blooded, apple pie eating, baseball watching, “Sarah Palin - real Americans” could sit quitely by, if Muslims asserted their faith in a similar fashion? You make the call.
Lately I have been tossing around this phrase: “You can’t rationalize a person out of an opinion, they did not arrive at in a rational way.” And this, I feel, is the trouble with Catholics. Well most, anyways.
This is just turning into a bizarre set of examples of a total misreading of plain old English.
Does Scott Brown actually know how to read? Does he have any skills at all in reading comprehension? Did Tufts neglect this very important part of his education? I know I learned those skills in grammar school, but man, if he got into college without them, one would have hoped Tufts could have picked up the slack somehow. I have never seen an adult this epically bad at plain old reading comprehension.
Because now Brown is reading extra meaning into a letter Ted Kennedy sent a dying Pope about religious exemptions where he wrote
I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I’ll continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone
and claiming that Ted Kennedy would share his view of the Blunt amendment! Who in their right mind would think Kennedy would support this amendment?? Kennedy was specifying that a doctor or nurse should have an exemption from performing a medical procedure their religion disagrees with (a la abortion etc). NOT that employers should be able to discriminate against covering birth control for employees of their non-core institutions like hospitals.
This is beyond sad and insane. I can’t believe a sitting US Senator would be this dumb and exhibit such poor intellect. Never mind how bad it would be if Senator Brown knows exactly what the language in the letter (and in the Blunt amendment) mean but has decided to lie about it, an even worse situation. A wrong interpretation of an obvious plain English statement, or a lie to distort and exploit Ted Kennedy’s legacy - either way, it’s flabbergastingly terrible.
Lizz Winstead, co-creator of the Daily Show, nails it…just nails it. I almost spit my water out on my laptop keyboard.
Classic, forever and ever. Nevermind the rest of the clip I cut this from, talking about Perry’s “big mouthful,” also a total exercise in absurdity.
Seriously, with entertainment like this, who needs comedy any more?
OK, it seems that the blog has been a little slower as of late. Thankfully, Jack has added his own special blend of herbs and spices to our recipe. But it still feels like it could use some more frequent posting lately.
Toward addressing that end (in consultation with the landlord) I’ve decided to add my own flavors to the mix. I’ve only posted on the front page a few times on the blog here, having posted a bit at BlueMassGroup. I have, however been very active sharing links I find interesting on Facebook and over email. It occurred to me that I could take a cue from what atrios does occasionally (he used to do it more) and offer the links with a minimum of commentary.
So here it is, the first of what will probably be a regular occurrence that we’ll call “The Mr.’s Corner”. You’ll find I tend to follow more national stories and like many posters on the internet you’ll find some sources for items of interest tend to be visited more often than others. For today, I apologize to people who follow me on Facebook for the redundancies in this post.
Not so good when the shoe’s on the other foot, I imagine? But that’s exactly what’s going on this weekend - only, with Korans, not Bibles. It would be fitting if us atheists decided to host a Bible burning on the same day, don’t you think? No?
Universal condemnation of the Koran-burning assholes in Gainsville, FL (why, why is it always Florida?) isn’t stopping the tiny, bassackwards church and its leadership from hosting a Koran burning on 9/11. Even the fact that this will harm our troops overseas, and pleas from General Petraeus to not inflame hatred in the Muslim world with this act - not phasing them.
Here are some things that I think would be great counter-protests for the 99% of us that are still sane. Gainsville residents who don’t want to look like your entire town is filled with redneck hillbillies - you can use any of my suggestions and I don’t even need credit!
1. Hundreds of people showing up with a Koran in hand, but only to trick their way to the fire - where they throw a water bottle full of water on the flames, over and over til it’s out.
2. Hire a plane that fights fires and fill it with water, dump it over the site. Soak the lot of these bastards along with their pyre.
3. Get a fire hose (local hydrant?) and spray it into the air above the area so it falls like heavy rain, hitting the crowd and fire.
4. A few hundred people (with earplugs in place) show up to use the most annoying loud sound makers available - vuvuzelas if they can get them, air horns if not - and stand right nearby to drive the assholes away. Since they’re obviously already deaf to the pleas of the entire world, it can’t do much harm.
5. Host a book burning of the pastor’s “Islam Is of the Devil” - every copy you can get your hands on. This is a last resort, though, since it would likely require buying them up in the first place.
Your suggestions? I don’t advocate violence or vandalism, but I wouldn’t be that upset if some enterprising young person sneaked in the night before and plastered the place with obscene phallic symbols. That’s how angry this makes me. If you just can’t contain your hatred and bigotry, at least don’t do something that will endanger our troops and American civilians abroad with your actions. People are going to die because of this.
I’ve been interested in the race for Jamie Eldridge’s open Rep seat in the 37th Middlesex, partly because I know we have a great candidate to replace him, Jen Benson, but also because her opponent is the former “independent,” now Republican, Kurt Hayes (who raised a lot of his money from anti-gay forces where “nearly 40% [of his] itemized contributions come from pro-discrimination donors who live outside of the 37th Middlesex state House district”). Of course, Hayes doesn’t like to admit he’s Republican, neither putting it in prominent display on his little website, nor anywhere on his literature, but he represents some of the worst in Republicans. (I still don’t understand the state Republican tactic - run candidates who are not really moderate. They would fare better if they ran candidates palatable to the average MA voter.)
But, the question needs to be asked, is Kurt Hayes for teaching creationism in schools? Because if he is, I think the voters of 37th Middlesex should know about it.
The question comes up first because of Hayes’ membership in Trinity Church of Bolton (no, it’s not you, their website sucks and is half broken). The tenor of the church is severely fundamentalist, and I have listened to some of the sermons (available in MP3 here). One in particular is quite disturbing, dated July 27, 2008. It starts with a reading of Genesis 1, and then the pastor David Smith begins his sermon with a list of science theories on the origins of the universe dating back to Kant in the 18th century, then goes into some length on the Big Bang Theory (emphasis is his):
The one that perhaps most of us are familiar with would be the Big Bang Theory, it’s about 50 years old now. Became very popular in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and even today, it recieves a lot of funding for those who want to research this particular theory. According to the Big Bang Theory, some 10 to 20 billion years ago, all matter and energy in the universe was compressed into a cosmic egg, or a plasma ball of some sort, consisting of sub-atomic particles and radiation. No one really knows where this cosmic egg came from, but there it was. And for no inexplicable reason, this cosmic egg exploded. As matter and radiation expanded, so this theory says, that it cooled sufficiently for elements to form as protons and neutrons, and electrons, combined to form hydrogen. These gases expanded radially, in all directions, until they collapsed upon themselves in local areas by gravitational attraction, forming an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe. How many of you have heard of the Big Bang Theory? I think probably most of us have in some form or fashion.
He then lists the “flaws” with the big bang theory (the one where it expects uniformity, not “clumping”), mentions in passing the Plasma Theory, then says,
There are many other theories of the beginning of the universe which come and go with different passing generations. Now since there was no one there to observe it, we can never know for sure how the world began. Unless there was someone there who could report back to us on how it happened.
And actually there is someone, isn’t there? God himself. And he records for us how he created the heavens and the earth in the book of Genisis. The Bible begins not trying to describe that God existed, it simply states that God exists and the very first verse in the Bible says it this way: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” The Book of Genesis stands alone for accounting for the actual creation of space and mass and time continuum.
His conclusion on the age of the earth?
Sometimes we like to try to date it. And certainly from my perspective I know that in a church like Trinity there’s a lot of different views on how old the earth is, and nobody really knows, but from my perspective and looking at the geneologies, even if they are incomplete, from Adam on, if you add a few other people along the way, you come up with an age of the universe of around 10,000 years old. Otherwise the whole geneology is worthless, and it’s pointless. Why in the world would all these names be back to Adam if it wasn’t some kind of at least close approximation of that.
Some crazy stuff. But par for the course for these churches, and certainly he can believe whatever he wants to believe, all evidence to the contrary.
But does Mr. Hayes subscribe to this belief, and if so, does he want our public schools teaching it? There are scattered reports of him approaching voters and telling them he’s for teaching creationism in schools, and given his membership, and indeed, leadership within this church (he’s head of the “Boy’s Brigade” - who came up with that militant name anyway?) it does make you wonder.
No one bothers to ask the question. So I will. Mr. Hayes, are you for or against the teaching of creationism in our public schools?
If You Can’t Vote No, Abstain
Dear Senator Panagiotakos,
I’m writing this open letter in a public forum to ask you for something very serious. I’m asking for your help to preserve the civil rights of tax-paying and voting citizens of the Commonwealth. I am referring to the inevitable Constitutional Convention where, for the second time, legislators will vote whether or not to let civil rights of our gay neighbors, family members, and friends be decided by ballot. I’m talking about the anti-gay-marriage amendment.
I, and many of your constituents, have begged, pleaded, and cajoled you to change your mind on this issue. I’ve even used some strong language - which I still stick by - and many efforts to appeal to your logic and reason on this matter. It is obvious you have an unshakable conviction, which I can only presume is a personal religious one, and despite the fact it saddens me greatly, I have to respect that.
You have been strongly progressive on a lot of issues and I’ve been proud of your work more often that I’ve disagreed with you. It is your progressive spirit I appeal to now.
I am hoping to convince you, then, to abstain from voting on this matter.
I understand that you cannot bring yourself to vote “no” to the ballot initiative. A No vote, of course, allows for gay marriages to continue to be legitimate in the eyes of the state. It will not change your religion’s right not to marry gays in the church, but merely carry civil weight of the same rights and responsibilities of marriage that I myself have enjoyed going on seven years now. But we’ve exhausted all those arguments, so I will merely plead this: the people of the Commonwealth overwhelmingly wants this issue put to rest. They do not want another two years of a biting, hateful campaign. They don’t want any more out-of-state interference in our Commonwealth’s affairs; they do not want a vote. By voting “yes” on the constitutional amendment ballot initiative, you will be subjecting your constituents to inevitable media campaigns and harassment. And it will be that much easier to hurt our gay brothers and sisters with words…and maybe even worse.
If you go on the record with a “yes,” I believe your conscience will not be easy. In order to satisfy your religious convictions you would have put hate on the state ballot, put civil rights up for popular vote. What if interracial marriage had been put on the ballot in the midst of the civil rights era? Would that have been fair or just?
The bar for allowing a ballot initiative to change the state constitution is too low. By abstaining, you will keep your conscience clear on both accounts. If you cannot bring yourself to vote “no,” please bring yourself to allow the rest of the legislature to vote their conscience to prevent a civil rights disaster. You will have had no part in it, save to allow the Commonwealth to move on as it has, working on the important issues of the day, instead of continuing the distraction of hate and bigotry.
Thank you for your service,
Left in Lowell
A coalition of members of different religions, the Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance, requested that the City Council review its tradition of reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of their meetings. Today Lowell is truly a city of extensive religious diversity; unfortunately this prayer does not reflect that wealth.
All indications are that the matter might be voted on tonight by the full Council. I do not know if it is in their official rules or it was a tradition that began over 4 decades ago.
By the way, this “tradition” of reciting this particular Christian prayer is not followed at the Council’s Sub-Committee meetings. Also, none of the City’s regulatory boards recite the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of their deliberations.
Last August when the topic was first raised, Lynne had a lengthy post, Separation of Church and State but not in Lowell, which stirred a good deal of debate on LiL. Everyone, even our commentators who are deeply religous agreed that the Lord’s Prayer should not be recited out loud, in unison by our City Council. I do not think these sentiments have changed.
There are many options being floated around, so we may end up with 9 different proposals tonight. The City solicitor is to render an opinion today on the matter so her judgment may impact the decision. Hopefully it will make it easy for the majority to change this tradition by opting for a moment of silence instead.
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