Target Centermass

4/19/2005

Keeping with the Theme o’ the Day

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:02 pm

Religion. Religion. Religion.

Air Force Cadets See Religious Harassment

Less than two years after it was plunged into a rape scandal, the Air Force Academy is scrambling to address complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

There have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the past four years, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.

The 4,300-student school recently started requiring staff members and cadets to take a 50-minute religious-tolerance class.

“There are things that have happened that have been inappropriate. And they have been addressed and resolved,” said Col. Michael Whittington, the academy’s chief chaplain.

More than 90 percent of the cadets identify themselves as Christian. A cadet survey in 2003 found that half had heard religious slurs and jokes, and that many non-Christians believed Christians get special treatment.

[…]

Critics of the academy say the sometimes-public endorsement of Christianity by high-ranking staff has contributed to a climate of fear and violates the constitutional separation of church and state at a taxpayer-supported school whose mission is to produce Air Force leaders.
[…]

“They are deliberately trivializing the problem so that we don’t have another situation the magnitude of the sex assault scandal. It is inextricably intertwined in every aspect of the academy,” said Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, N.M., a 1977 graduate who has sent two sons to the school. He said the younger, Curtis, has been called a “filthy Jew” many times.

There’s more examples of complaints, both vague and specific, in the story. Even those of a religious bent who boisterously proclaim, “There’s no atheists in a foxhole” have to admit that any foxholes around Colorado Springs are relatively safe. The military has an obligation to respect and protect the individual religious beliefs or non-beliefs of its personnel, as long as they do not interfere with the mission.

I do recommend that, during the initial weeks of basic training, atheists joining the Army may do well to become religious. That treasured hour or two on Sunday morning may be your only break from the drill sergeants for a while.

China Calls for New Pope to Break Taiwan Ties

Beijing called on new Pope Benedict XVI to break ties with Taiwan and stay out of China’s internal affairs to create the conditions for better Sino-Vatican relations.

“We are willing to improve the relationship between China and the Vatican on the basis of two principles,” said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang of ties that were ruptured in 1951 when China expelled the Vatican’s ambassador.

“One is that Joseph Ratzinger should break off the so-called diplomatic relationship with Taiwan and recognise that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government which represents China and that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.

“The second is that Ratzinger should not interfere in internal Chinese affairs, including in the name of religion.

“We hope that with a new Pope, the Vatican can create conditions to improve China-Vatican relations.”

Despite not recognizing the authority of the Pope, the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association had sent a congratulatory telegram “in the name of the Bishops and believers of the whole country,” the ministry said.

It added that congregations had been told to pray for Pope Benedict XVI.

China’s Roman Catholics are divided into two churches — the government-approved “patriotic” church which does not recognize the authority of the Pope, and the underground church where adherents accept the pontiff as leader.

The government church has about four million worshippers, according to official figures, while the underground church has about 10 million, based on Vatican estimates.

Breaking through half-a-century of enmity to re-establish relations with China may be the greatest diplomatic challenge facing Pope Benedict XVI as he takes on the mantle as leader of 1.1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide.

Fixing broken ties with China would spread the new pontiff’s spiritual realm to the most populous nation on earth, home to 1.3 billion people. But it is precisely that global influence that scares Beijing.

China sent no representative to Pope John Paul II’s funeral in Rome on April 8 to protest the presence of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian at the event. Any hint of recognition of Taipei infuriates China, which considers the island a rebel province.

The spat obscured mounting signs of an effort by the Vatican to crack China’s resistance to the Roman Catholic Church.

Does anybody know how to say, “Um, yeah, right, whatever, talk to the ring” in Latin?

Faithful Flock to Chicago Overpass

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:06 pm

To honor the new pope, I’ll stick on the topic of religion for a bit. Is it a stain or a miracle?

A steady stream of the faithful and the curious, many carrying flowers and candles, have flocked to an expressway underpass for a view of a yellow and white stain on a concrete wall that some believe is an image of the Virgin Mary.

“We believe it’s a miracle,” said Elbia Tello, 42, of Chicago. “We have faith, and we can see her face.”

Police have patrolled the emergency turnoff area under the Kennedy Expressway since Monday as hundreds of people have walked down to see the image and the growing memorial of flowers and candles that surround it. Beside the image is an artist’s rendering of the Virgin Mary embracing Pope John Paul II in a pose some see echoed in the stain.

Tuesday morning, women knelt with rosary beads behind a police barricade while men in work shirts stood solemnly before the image, praying. A police officer kept the crowd of about three dozen from getting too close to the traffic but didn’t stop them gathering around the stain.

The stain is likely the result of salt run-off, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The agency does not plan to scrub it off the wall.

“We’re treating this just like we treat any type of roadside memorial,” said IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. “We have no plans to clean this site.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago had not received any requests to authenticate the image as of Monday, spokesman Jim Dwyer said.

“These things don’t happen every day,” Dwyer said. “Sometimes people ask us to look into it. Most of the time they don’t. (The meaning) depends on the individual who sees it. To them, it’s real. To them, it reaffirms their faith.”

But onlooker Victor Robles, 36, said he was skeptical about the stain’s Virgin Mary resemblance.

“I see just a concrete walk and an image that could happen anywhere,” Robles said. “If that image helps more people feel closer to God than maybe that is a good sign.”

Well, at least it’s not a $28,000 piece of toast.

Today’s Big News and Some Frivolities

Filed under: — Gunner @ 9:48 pm

I’m in a rather mellow mood right now, so let’s keep it light.

The big story of the day went up in smoke — white smoke, that is, as a new pope has been elected. I’m not Catholic, or even religious for that matter, but I do recognize the importance of the position in international and American affairs. That said, I’ll leave it to someone much spiritually closer to the matter, Phil over at Shades of Gray (Umbrae Canarum), who seems quite excited about the choice of Germany’s Joseph Ratzinger as the man with the cool hats.

Wow.

I have to admit, I am very excited and happy by this turn of events. Cardinal Ratzinger is a brilliant man, and an ardent defender of the faith. The Church is in good hands with him in charge. I have about four of his books collecting dust on my shelf right now, so I best get about to looking at them again.

Phil goes on to look in more depth at what the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger means, both to devout Catholics and to those who were hoping for a great change in Catholic orthodox.

Now, on to those frivolities.

Jeff at Protein Wisdom has the first Pope Benedict XVI joke.

I posted before that Eric’s fine blog has a new site and new name. He now has a new look. Please feel free to drop by his new digs and make fun of the banners he’s added. Yes, I have a personal interest in this.

Go pick a fight with the monster that is TexasBestGrok.

Who needs Dances with Wolves when there’s Travels with Chicken?!

Once again, Khan!!!

And to bring it back full circle, Hog on Ice‘s Steve is pushing for a grass-roots campaign to have the pope recalled.

1/13/2005

Atheist Protests Inauguration Prayer

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:08 pm

Here’s a fine example of one man overreaching and undermining his own cause.

A federal judge heard arguments Thursday in the case of an atheist who wants to prevent a Christian minister from reciting a prayer at President Bush’s inauguration.

Michael Newdow — best known for trying to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance — told U.S. District Judge John Bates that allowing an overtly Christian prayer at the Jan. 20 ceremony violates the Constitution by forcing him to accept unwanted religious beliefs.

Attorneys representing Bush and his inaugural committee argued that prayers have been widely accepted at inaugurals for more than 200 years and that Bush’s decision to have a minister recite the invocation is a personal choice the court has no power to prevent.

As an atheist, I find myself sympathetic to the effort to revert to the earlier form of the Pledge of Allegiance, one sans “under God” and all I feel that implies. I shrug with only mild interest at the concept of removing “In God We Trust” from money — I feel it would be proper but it has no effect on the beer-buying process.

That said, this inauguration issue is a joke. Unless the prayer is a mandatory or statuatory portion of the ceremony, I see no grounds for this case.

Much of the hearing did not focus on the merits of Newdow’s legal claims, but instead centered on whether the lawsuit should be thrown out because Newdow lost a similar case in California last year.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2003 that Newdow did not suffer “a sufficiently concrete and specific injury” when he opposed prayers from being recited at Bush’s first inauguration.

Newdow — arguing his case via telephone conference hookup from California — said his case is different this time because he actually has a ticket to attend the inauguration. That atmosphere, he said, is more coercive than four years ago, when he planned to watch the ceremony on television.

Justice Department lawyer Edward White scoffed at that claim, saying the issues in the two cases are the same and that Newdow still has not shown how he would be injured by hearing the prayer.

Hearing a prayer is not harmful, especially for one who is not compelled in any manner to attend. Granted, there are times when listening to the prayers of others can seem annoying (especially when it causes a delay in the commencement of the devouring of delicious holiday dinners), but we have no constitutional protections against mild annoyances. For that, Mr. Newdow should be thankful.

George Terwilliger, appearing for the inaugural committee, said the details of the ceremony are not officially sanctioned government action but merely the personal choice of the president.

That seems to sum up the case — just as I should have the right to not have religion thrust upon me, the religious should not have their faith stripped away, even in a public role.

A decision is expected tomorrow.

1/9/2005

Mich. School Board to Vote on Bible Class

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:31 pm

The school board in a small town in Michigan, facing popular demand, is wrestling with the idea of adding a course to its curriculum focusing on the Bible.

A yearlong dispute over whether to add a religious group’s Bible class at small-town Frankenmuth High School in rural Michigan comes to a head at Monday’s school board meeting.

At issue is whether the proposed curriculum conforms to a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision barring public schools from indoctrinating children in religion but upholding the right to teach about religion.

The dispute in Frankenmuth, about 75 miles north of Detroit, is the latest skirmish in a nationwide battle between religious conservatives and church-state separationists that has stretched from Fort Myers and Miami, Fla. to Camden, N.J.; North Kansas City, Mo.; Kewaksum, Wis.; and Westcliffe, Colo.

The school board will get a report Monday from a curriculum committee, made up of teachers and administrators, and will decide whether to adopt the proposed class, Pendleton said. He said he doubts the board will do so.

One year ago, hundreds of Frankenmuth parents and students asked their Board of Education to offer a Bible course based on materials from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.

What if the town was full of flat-earthers or Holocaust-deniers? Should the numbers sway the content of public education?

The Greensboro, N.C.-based council says its curriculum conforms to the law. But People for the American Way and the American Civil Liberties union say its materials illegally promote religion.

“It’s religious right people who want to impose a theocracy in this country,” said Judith Schaeffer, deputy legal director of Washington-based People for the American Way. Her group has urged Frankenmuth to reject the class.

National council lawyer Mike Johnson vigorously defended his group’s course outline.

“It’s completely defensible. The approach is objective, certainly nondenominational,” Johnson said from Shreveport, La. “It presents the Bible as history and literature, but it does not proselytize.”

Nondenominational within a particular grouping of religions perhaps, but I suspect little would be included outside of the biblical viewpoint from a non-Christian perspective.

The curriculum, based on the King James Bible, includes topics ranging from “Periods of Hebrew History in the Old Testament” to “The Parables of Jesus — Literary Genre.”

In a letter to Frankenmuth school officials, Schaeffer said the course material teaches the Bible from a Protestant Christian perspective, rather than objectively, and teaches the creation story, Noah’s flood, Tower of Babel and resurrection of Jesus as history.

National Council does not release the names of districts that use its materials. But Johnson said 288 schools in 35 states have adopted its course outline.

At the eye of the storm is David Pendleton, president of the seven-member board on which he has served for 20 years. The district in Michigan’s rural Thumb has about 1,200 students, 500 of them at the high school.

“It’s stirred up about as much controversy as the abortion issue,” he said.

Founded in the mid-19th century by Lutheran missionaries to the Indians, and followed by German pioneer farmers, the Bavarian-themed tourist town of 4,600 remains a conservative community, Pendleton said.

As far as most board members are concerned, teaching the Bible at Frankenmuth High School would be a good thing, he said.

“I would love to see it. Other board members would love to do it. But can we do it legally? I don’t think so. But, we’ll see,” he said.

I cannot believe a school board member is actually stating that legality is the only thing driving the question. Strike that — I have no problem believing it. Who cares about the integrity of the education they’re elected to protect?

The dispute came to a boil at a Jan. 13 school board hearing, when parents Marcia and Robert Stoddard submitted petitions signed by about 1,200 parents and students asking for the course, The Saginaw News reported.

There was a time in high school when I might have signed this. Who knows where I would be now with the possibility of this added indoctrination?

This is why high school is not the place for such an issue in exclusion. By that, I mean the impact or beleifs of religions can rightfully be touched upon in history or philosophy classes, but there is no need to focus on just one at this stage and in such a public forum, be it supposedly for literary, historical or philosophical reasons. This is especially true when alternative religions are not granted the same exposure.

About 100 people filled the Rittmueller Middle School cafeteria, with shouts breaking out at one point between an avowed atheist and a course supporter.

“It’s our history, and we must accept it,” the paper quoted high school student Dan Redford as telling the board. “It would be a crime to stop students from learning about our world.”

Classmate Brandon Bierlein disagreed, saying, “It’s best to leave the Bible to the pastors.”

While opposing the National Council on Bible Curriculum’s course, People for the American Way says that public school instruction about religion and the Bible is legal and desirable.

“Schools of course can teach students about the Bible, about the Quran, about people’s beliefs,” said Schaeffer of People for the American Way. “The issue is how do you approach this material.”

Religion lies at the center of American society, and an educational system that ignores religion renders the nation’s history incomprehensible, said Charles Kriker, founder of the journal Religion and Education and a retired professor at Iowa State University.

“You really can’t understand things if you exclude that factor,” he said from Ames, Iowa. “Just because something is controversial doesn’t mean you have to ignore it.”

I only occasionally agree with the ACLU and, when I do, I usually feel a need to cleanse myself afterwards.

They are right in this case, though. What if the course, popularly demanded, is implemented and peer pressure is placed upon its enrollment? What if I move my future family there and my children are pressured to take such a course with no courses available for contradictory views?

At the age of high school students and those younger, the public responsibility towards religion should be towards protecting the reasonable rights of the family and the church within their own domain. It should not be one of such blatant advocacy towards a particular indoctrination.

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