If atheist and traveling in Britain, stay at the Travelodge: no bibles

August 19, 2014

There’s no real story here, but Fox and the Daily Mail and others like them want to make it one, apparently. Which article to pick on first.. the Mail, I guess, since Fox is just paraphrasing that anyway. The hotel’s stance is that they opted to pull the bibles once they renovated rather than promote one set of beliefs and ignore others.

A Church of England spokesman said: ‘It seems both tragic and bizarre that hotels would remove the word of God for the sake of ergonomic design, economic incentive or a spurious definition of the word “diversity”.’

It seems not all Travelodges even have Bibles available on request. At the branch in Battersea, south London, there was no Bible in the room or behind reception.

When requested, the receptionist could not find a copy and said no one had ever asked him for one in his four months of working there.Instead, he suggested using the hotel’s free wifi to ‘Google it and read it online’.

That seems a little on the “How dare he!?” side of things but isn’t it kind of silly to assume a hotel chain ought to store bibles on the premises? If you need a bible in your hotel room when you travel, why don’t you just bring your own? He has a point about just going online to find one, though. They’re everywhere. Pick whatever translation you want and you can find it to read somewhere. I prefer the Skeptics Annotated Bible for all my bible reading needs.

The Gideons have been foisting their bibles onto whoever will take them since 1899 but I don’t think saving souls is one of the mandates of a typical hotel chain. Hotels are on the hook to provide patrons with (hopefully clean) beds and bathrooms, and food that won’t kill them. Anything else is just perks. It’s a holdover from the notion that everyone you were possibly going to meet was going to be a Christian who’d be a bible reader automatically. Can’t say the same of everyone one meets these days, especially in a tourist-heavy place like London. It’s wrong to only provide one kind of reading material as if there were only one kind of person staying at the hotel.

Personally, I’d rather see other books or materials made available that don’t lean toward any religion. Throw some love poetry in the drawer. Supply books by local authors. Maybe something along the lines of “Here’s what’s Haunted” for people who like ghost hunt stuff when they travel. Trivia books maybe. Crossword puzzles or a handful of Pictionary cards and a notepad for drawing on.

Along these lines, I’ve been reading about the U.S. Navy and their hem/haw over keeping bibles available at their lodgings. They had pulled them out due to some complaints but put them back in again because of other complaints. The bibles will be staying in the rooms while “the policy is under review.”

Chaplain (Ret.) Col. Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said. “Our national has a history of religious accommodation for military personnel since before George Washington established the chaplain corps in July 1775. Allowing Bibles in guest quarters is a continuation of our desire to serve those who serve us.”

He then claims there’s nothing to review. The Freedom From Religion Foundation wanted to make the point that the Navy, a government agency, is promoting certain faiths over others. It should be all or nothing, no special treatment given to Christians. Alas, that seems to be a hard idea for some Christian people to wrap their holier-than-thou heads around…


Atheist Scruples: Let’s talk about sex, maybe…

August 18, 2014

You have adolescent children. An out-of-town friend is visiting with her new boyfriend. Do you let your guests sleep together?

This is a two bedroom duplex so no. The kid has one room, we have the other. Any guests have to make due with the couch and the floor…

If this were happening today, anyway.

Hypothetically, we’re talking a house situation here where kids have their own rooms and there is at least one guest room to offer (plus the sofa).

Yeah, sure. Let them sleep together. Whatever. It’s 2014, not 1983. Hell, even in the late ’80s a cousin would come for a visit with his or her current fling and Mom would kick me out of my bedroom and give them my double bed.

I’m reminded of a time when an older cousin was staying with us in such a situation and the phone had rung around 10 or so in the morning; it was her father calling from out of town. I’m pretty sure I knocked on the bedroom door first but I might not have. Either way, I poked my head in to let her know she had a phone call. She was pretty annoyed at me. “Well, what would you have been doing?” I legitimately asked when she came out to take the call. I’m sure I knew what sex was at the time and I was pretty sure this cousin of mine wouldn’t bonk her boy toy in the room right beside my parents’ bedroom anyway.

CFI Saskatoon had a meet-up on Sunday with a Show-and-Tell theme. I shamelessly promoted my blog. Hi local readers!

One of the other topics that came up for discussion was sex education in public schools and what Saskatoon has been doing. One of the guys mentioned that his daughter wound up having to take a sex-ed course that promoted abstinence over everything else and she couldn’t finish Grade 12 without taking it. He did some research into the guy who designed the course and apparently it was bible-verse free but still fundamentally inspired and he was annoyed to find out that she couldn’t opt out. He didn’t want to kick up a fuss while she was in school but our organizer suggested he could do it now that she’s done school. Time will tell.

They also talked about the Edmonton school board that got a bit of bad press this year because of this issue. Emily Dawson and her mother, Kathy, filed a human rights complaint over a sex-ed workshop offered at Emily’s school. It was being run by an anti-abortionist group. Quoting from the National Post article:

Norah Kennedy of the Pregnancy Care Centre says the organization is “shocked and upset.”

Kennedy says her group was brought in to teach free of charge and has always been open about its “abstinence-based” teaching.

Parker said that a board review found the group’s workshops followed all guidelines for the sex education portion of CALM — or Career and Life Management, a course required for high school graduation.

“The information being provided was not of a religious nature and was aligned with the curriculum and scientifically based,” he maintains.

But not based on the science – social science – that has effectively panned abstinence education as a waste of effort and tax dollars. The Board has now dropped the group from their schools and will look for other presenters for this coming school year.

The Guardian writer Jessica Valinti noted:

Students need sexual education that’s comprehensive, medically accurate, and free from shame and ideology. Not just because sexuality is an integral part of our humanity, but because when you withhold medical information about sexuality from children and teens, you are endangering health and lives. That some students today are actually learning less than their parents did in sex ed is a scandal. Do we really want our children to be less-informed than we were?

Dawson claimed that the workshop included false information about sexually transmitted diseases, shamed many of the women, and weren’t very supportive of the boys, either. Valenti again:

Teens – whether you like the idea of them having sex or not – deserve access to information that can keep them healthy and safe. Anything else is criminal.

So, dragging it back to the question posed at the beginning, I would expect by this point that the adolescent kids have a solid understanding of the point of sex, the value of safe sex, and the natural desire of two people in love (or not) to want to undertake sex for pleasure or procreation or panacea.

It would be a non-issue to have a friend and partner sharing a room while the kids are around. That’s all there is to it.


A search for Billy Graham leads to Cliff Richard and sex abuse

August 16, 2014

I usually just find the advice column he still has at the Kansas City Star but today, something a little less fun to read. This from the Guardian the other day:

A police raid on a home owned by Cliff Richard is part of an investigation into an allegation of sexual assault on a boy at a rally held by the evangelical US preacher Billy Graham three decades ago.

Richard’s property in Berkshire was searched on Thursday by detectives investigating the claim that the boy, aged under 16 at the time, was abused by an adult at a faith event held by the US pastor in Sheffield, Yorkshire in the 1980s. The rally was held at Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United Football Club.

I wonder what they thought would still be on the property after all this time, but I guess that’s the point of looking. One never knows.

Richard, who is currently in Portugal, said the claim was “completely false” and that the raid on his Berkshire property came without notice.

He said in a statement: “For many months I have been aware of allegations against me of historic impropriety which have been circulating online. The allegations are completely false.

South Yorkshire Police aren’t at a point of accusing or arresting anyone but Richard states that he’ll cooperate with the investigation even though he’s not happy about it.

(Unrelated, but noted in the article: Richard credits Billy Graham with his conversion to Christianity at a London rally in 1966.)

Police said the search was not connected to Operation Yewtree, established in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, which is being run by the Metropolitan police.

Oh My Flying Spaghetti Monster, blogging creates a lot of extra homework, but it’s worth doing. Operation Yewtree turns out to be a police investigation into sex abuse allegations surrounding celebrities, mostly. Usually the reported abuse happened many years ago and the accusations are just coming to light now.

Savile was a well known star in the UK and, after his death, rumours of sexual misconduct started surfacing and ITV ran a documentary focusing on that. Rolf Harris has also been charged thanks to this and is now in jail. (He’s the Aussie who sung “Tie me Kangaroo Down, Sport” and “Six White Boomers” – two faves from my childhood. Sigh.)

Back to the Guardian article:

Journalists and photographers had maintained a vigil in front of the Charter secondary school, opposite the estate, while helicopters from media organisations hovered overhead. One resident said: “We knew there was something going on when we heard the helicopters and then we saw it on the news. He’s got a lot of fans. A lot of people are going to be very shocked [by the allegations].”

Well, all they can do is wait and see what comes of it all, I guess.


Animal rights over religious rights in Denmark? That’s interesting.

August 15, 2014

To say the least…

European regulations require animals to be stunned before they are slaughtered, but grants exemptions on religious grounds. For meat to be considered kosher under Jewish law or halal under Islamic law, the animal must be conscious when killed.

Yet defending his government’s decision to remove this exemption, the minister for agriculture and food Dan Jørgensen told Denmark’s TV2 that “animal rights come before religion”.

Commenting on the change, Israel’s deputy minister of religious services Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan told the Jewish Daily Forward: “European anti-Semitism is showing its true colours across Europe, and is even intensifying in the government institutions.”

NPR notes that Sweden and Norway have had a ban in place for years.

Dutch lawmakers took up the issue in 2012, and even Britain’s top veterinarian is now making headlines by suggesting his country would do well to follow the Danish example.

As Europe grows more secular, says Finn Schwarz, president of the Jewish Congregation in Copenpagen, “religious tradition” is no longer a valid argument for much of anything, he says.

Benyones Essabar with the group Danish Halal agrees.

“Religion itself in Europe doesn’t play the big role … it does in other countries. So every time we speak about something that [has] to do with religion,” he says, “it will always be looked at as something from medieval times, and something that doesn’t have any scientific place in our modern days.”

There are a lot of rules set down to make food properly Kosher or halal. Some of it sounds completely silly in terms of blessings and prayers to certain gods in order to make it “official” but other parts probably did have a basis in food safety and health at a time when people did not have refrigerators or any knowledge of bacteria and parasites. Salt has been used as a preservative for centuries and the kernels of Kosher salt are ideal for soaking up liquid like blood; blood is a no-go for both traditions. Why milk and meat can’t go together for halal food is up for grabs in terms of sciency reasons, but it would have made sense at the time to avoid the meat of carnivores. It still makes sense.

I can’t speak to the sense people have about these bans coming across as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic, though. I can see why that would be a fear since both are minority groups in Europe with a history of racism, fear and propaganda denouncing the faith and its followers. But, what if it really does just come down to compassion for the plight of animals? So long as people insist on eating them, shouldn’t all attempts be made to make their end as painless as possible? Can Kosher and Halal butchers and the rest involved guarantee that?


Alert the media: atheists are kicking god out of public school (again)

August 14, 2014

I don’t know what these kinds of Americans love more, their god or their guns. Suggest quite reasonably that they leave either one at home and prepare yourself for accusations of being unAmerican and ignorant of the constitution.

Well, I am unAmerican and ignorant of the constitution, but those who do the pleading to remove prayer from American schools are typically Americans and do their constitutional homework. If it’s a public school promoting one religion over all others, then it’s a violation of something called the Establishment clause. What is that? Well, let me Google that for you.

I’ll borrow from the ACLU. I actually thought the Clause was a whole document but it’s not. It’s part of a sentence and the other half of the sentence is another clause called the “Free Exercise” and together it reads like this:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Chestatee High School in Gainsville, Florida is the school making headlines lately. The school board or principal or whoever has say in this is tacitly allowing the school coaches to promote the bible and prayer on school grounds. There are pictures to prove it, too.

According to a Fox News opinion piece,

The atheists apparently went undercover to photograph coaches engaged in what they considered to be unseemly and unconstitutional behavior with the teenage football players.

“We have received reports that CHS coaches have joined players in prayer while standing in a circle, hands interlocked,” the atheists breathlessly reported in their letter to the Hall County School District.

That line he quotes isn’t in the document, by the way. This is, though:

We have been informed that the school’s football coaches have been using their position to promote Christianity on the football team by integrating Bible verses into functional team documents and team promotion in various ways; meanwhile, they have been either leading the team in prayer or participating in team prayers on a regular basis. This type of religious activity, by government employees in the course of their duties as public school football coaches, is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. This letter demands that CHS coaching staff cease leading, participating in, or encouraging team prayer, and that the school remove all Bible verses and other religious messages from team documents and related materials.

Yes, they’re demanding something be done. They’re not going to say pretty please. They’re not asking for a cookie here. They asking for the Board to abide by the law and put an end to the endorsement of Christianity on team documents and the field.

The document goes on to explain what the American Humanist Association is and what the Establishment Clause is, so everyone reading it can be on the same page (as it were) in terms of understanding the issue at hand. It also lists other attempts by schools to bring religion into the classrooms and how they were all knocked down by people with better knowledge of the law than most high school teachers. That would be the Supreme Court, if you couldn’t guess.

A religious activity is “state-sponsored,” and therefore unconstitutional, if “an objective observer…w[ould] perceive official school support for such religious [activity].” Board of Educ. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 249-50 (1990).

“Official school support” seems evident when viewing the pictures included with the document. Now, from the Gainsville Times:

Gordon Higgins, spokesman for the Hall County School District, said the district will not decide how to act until it has learned more about the allegations.

“We always take matters like this very seriously, and we will investigate and take whatever action is warranted,” he said.

“Certainly adults shouldn’t be leading children in prayers to any particular religion, but one thing we will stand behind is our students’ right to prayer,” said Hall Superintendent Will Schofield, who was out of town Tuesday and had not yet seen the letter.

Higgins said the district has yet to determine whether the allegations made in the letter are correct, and whether the alleged actions would constitute a violation of the establishment clause.

I bold a bit there. Yes. Students have the right to pray if they want to. Nobody’s saying all students must stop being religious if they are religious. Nobody’s saying the coaches have to stop going to church.
They’re all still free to be as religious as they want to be. They just can’t legally promote their faith in school. This is not new. What’s new is the push to catch those who’ve been getting away with it for so long and it’s about damned time.

Prayer should be a personal choice, not put upon students by a person of authority either by implication that they ought to pray or the outright insistence that they must.

The verses chosen to decorate the play book and team signs weren’t horrible. They were encouraging and supportive and nice. But here’s the thing – the bible isn’t the only book in the world. Quote other authors. Quote football heroes. Quote anybody, but keep the religious quotes off school documents and signs.

How hard is that, really?


Black Jesus haters: The best opinion is the uninformed opinion

August 8, 2014

First, I quote:

Monica Cole, director of One Million Moms, said the show is “blasphemous, irreverent and disrespectful.” Her group is basing its criticisms on the show’s YouTube trailer, which shows Jesus using explicit language and includes violence and drinking.

She, like other critics, hasn’t seen a full episode yet.

Okay, there’s the trailer. He swears a lot, likes getting high and won’t share his wine. He’s loved by some and persecuted by others. Some believe he is what he says he is, others think he’s a crackpot cult leader. He’s a man of the people in every way and looks like he’s willing to change minds if those minds are open to change.

I was quoting from a Christianheadlines.com article. I have no idea how popular Adult Swim is. The series premiered last night, late at night, and whoever felt like watching it watched it and those that felt like watching something else or sleeping did that instead.

There should be freedom of choice in entertainment and there should be freedom of choice when it comes to religion and the freedom to mock the ideas within them. We are not all the same and I don’t think we could be. This show showcases a culture I’m unfamiliar with and one the women of One Million Moms have likely never experienced either.

They’re also forgetting that, if he existed, Jesus wasn’t a white man with long flowing blondish hair.

Maybe it could be considered blasphemy to think you even have any idea what the man looked like. It’s not like he was ever described in the Bible. The authors never met him. Blasphemy is one of those ideas that should have been left in the middle ages.

Back to the article:

In a statement, Adult Swim said “Black Jesus is a satire and one interpretation of the message of Jesus played out in modern day morality tales; and despite what some may consider a controversial depiction of Jesus, it is not the intent to offend any race or people of faith.”

One Million Moms and the American Family Association, which have previously targeted Honey Maid graham crackers,the Disney Channel show “Good Luck Charlie” and JC Penney for gay-friendly messages, have launched a campaign asking people to send an email to the Turner Broadcasting Co. to pull the show before it airs. Supporters have sent more than 131,000 emails, according to the AFA.

Honey Maid, if you don’t remember (I didn’t), ran a #Thisiswholesome campaign and featured a gay family in one of their ads. One Million Moms didn’t like how Honey Maid was “changing the meaning of the word ‘wholesome'” and urged people to write the companies.

Please send U.S. key executives for Honey Maid and Nabisco (owned by Mondelez International) an email urging them to pull this liberal commercial immediately and remain neutral in the culture war.

Yeah, it’s quite a culture war between Teddy Graham lovers and people who’d rather eat Triscuits. Thousands of lives lost needlessly. Nabisco happens to own both and probably doesn’t care much which one gets the money…


Atheist Scruples 2014: cheaper meals if you pray?

August 2, 2014

Not an out-of-the-box question here but an actual article. Should the owner of a restaurant give discounts to diners if the wait staff sees them pray publicly before their meals? I say no. I say that’s special treatment, discriminatory and completely inappropriate. The restaurant in question is Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The pious (“pie”-us?) proof has been delivered unto the social media masses in the form of a picture of a receipt from the restaurant, showing a 15% discount applied for “Praying in Public.”

The tab belonged to Jordan Smith, who had traveled to Winston-Salem for a business trip and stopped for breakfast at Mary’s with two colleagues Wednesday morning.

She tells HLN the group “prayed over our meal and the waitress came over at the end of the meal and said, ‘Just so you know, we gave you a 15% discount for praying,’ which I’d never seen before.”

Impressed, Smith shared a photo of the receipt on her Facebook page.

The article has a picture of the receipt. The owners of the diner admit freely that they give everyone who prays out loud the same deal.

She’s also been surprised how the photo has spread online. “I just innocently posted it to my Facebook page and it’s been really fun to see where it’s gone from there.”

Innocently. Sure. Sure you weren’t bragging just a little bit? “I pray before meals and God worked through the owners of the diner to reward me for that. God is Great!” Maybe that wasn’t a conscious thought-process, but it might have been there. NPR is where I picked up the story. They quote from the diner’s Facebook page to get some opinions on this. I’ll do the same. From the owners themselves:

There’s a lot of craziness going on in regard to the 15% discount. I will not respond to all the posts. I will say that it is not a “policy”, it’s a gift we give at random to customers who take a moment before their meal. This could be prayer or just a moment to breathe & push the busyness of the world away. Who you talk to or meditate on etc. is your business. … It warms my heart to see people with an attitude of gratitude. Prayer, meditation or just breathing while being grateful opens the heart chakra. It’s good for everyone!!!!

I like Donna’s response below:

I’m sure the discount was well-intentioned. However, it is specifically referred to, both on the ticket and by the wait staff, as a discount for “praying in public,” which is a specifically religious activity. Your response is very gracious and dignified, and you appear to be a generous and caring soul. I’m sure you can find other ways to encourage your customers that would provide equitable service for everyone without rewarding overtly religious practices. “Peace, love, & happy eating!”

Stop giving special treatment to overtly religious people. Unless some other receipts turn up with the words “seen meditating” or “seen breathing deeply” with the same discount, we have to assume you only reward a religious practice you personally follow and “punish” secular people by make them pay full price. I see Rachel agrees with me:

No, thanks. I don’t need your bribery. Everyone breathes before a meal… this is pushing religion on people and punishing people who reject religion for fact. My money will never go to someone pushing religion in any way on others. People do not need religion to be happy, they do not need religion to be successful, they do not need religion to be emotionally sound. Enough is enough. Keep it at home.

Or at least keep it personal and low-key when you’re in public. Be courteous to other diners who might not want a show with their meal. Just bow, mumble, and eat. Other comments fire back with complaints about the criticism, reminding readers that there is freedom of religion in the States and people aren’t being forced to eat there.

That’s true, but then aren’t we looking at a something akin to segregation? In some ways it doesn’t seem too far removed from having a “whites only” drinking fountain. Special places for “people like us” and you have to go over there. You have to pay a different price because you don’t believe what we do. Personally, I wouldn’t want to support that kind of discrimination and abuse of power.

What do you think?

UPDATE Aug 7, 2014: The Friendly Atheist reports that the Freedom from Religion Foundation had a few words to say regarding this diner and their reward system. The cafe has since eliminated the 15% discount for prayers. A handwritten note on the door is what they offer instead:

We at Mary’s value the support of ALL our fellow Americans. While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity, we must protect your freedom from religion in a public place. We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount. It is illegal and we are being threatened by lawsuit. We apologize to our community for ANY offense this discount has incurred.


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