Question of Atheist Scruples – student atheist edition

June 7, 2016


Your 15-year-old refuses to stand and repeat the Lord’s Prayer at school. She says she is an atheist. Do you support her right to refuse?

Fuck yeah.

I’m reminded of a news article from earlier this year here in Saskatchewan regarding this very thing:

Dusti Hennenfent’s children go to Lindale Public Elementary School in Moose Jaw. The school plays the Lord’s Prayer over the PA system every morning.

Under the Education Act, Saskatchewan schools are allowed to have mandatory prayers for students, even in public schools.

Should prayers be included in classroom time in public schools?

“I’m concerned that it really doesn’t have respect for the individual beliefs of the students,” said Hennenfent. “I don’t understand the purpose of having religious worship for one religion at a public school.”

Exactly. If a public school can’t or won’t give equal time to acknowledge the religions of other students, it’s unfair. Better to remove the prayer rather than give preferential treatment to one group of kids over the rest. It’s not like those Christian kids can’t pray on their own without an official prompt. Nobody’s saying kids can’t pray in school. The problem comes when the teachers and principals and other people in authority positions force kids into praying and possibly/likely create an uncomfortable feeling for those of other faiths, or none.

“When I originally called the school and discussed this, at the very initial part of this process, I called the principal and she said that kids did have the option to leave the classroom [during the prayer],” said Hennenfent.

However, she said she was never made aware of that option, nor were her children. She also canvassed parents from seven different classrooms and learned that none of those children had been told that they had the option of leaving the classroom during the prayer.

The school has said that it will continue with the Lord’s Prayer because the majority of parents, about 90 per cent, are in favour of it.

I hate to counter with, “Well, a lot of people were in favour of slavery, too, but it’s still wrong.” It’s true, but it’s trite.

David Arnot, head of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, said Friday that he agrees with Hennenfent.

“What you can’t do is choose one religion over another,” Arnot said. “A dominant religion, like Christianity, doesn’t get preference to other religions.”

He added that, in his opinion, the section of the law that allows for prayers in schools is outdated (it dates to 1995) and would likely be re-written if challenged in court.

There was a similar story in 1999 – “Saskatchewan told to pull prayer from schools” – but since it was a Commission making a recommendation, no one was under any obligation to change anything then. There was an earlier one from 1996 regarding bible readings in public school in 1993 The Board of Education was very pro Bible then, as well as now, apparently.

I haven’t found any updates on the current story, unfortunately. I thought I did, but it turned out to be a different prayer problem – Saskatoon’s public prayers at civic events. “The city has since decided not to adopt a prayer policy at civic events.”

Whatever that winds up meaning.

Now, to throw two book suggestions in – The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide: Helping Secular Students Thrive and The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life without God. Buy copies for your kids if you can or want to and then put in requests for your local library to own copies as well for those families that can’t afford to buy books but can still benefit from the information.


“Stem cell angels” says yoga instructor after getting vision back

June 6, 2016

Cool story out of Saskatoon. Go Science!

Diagnosed with glaucoma in his left eye last year, Kevin Naidoo, watched his vision deteriorate and it was affecting his work at Yerrama Yoga Sanctuary in the city, which he owns. His father was the one who suggested saving up for stem cell treatments. They wound up trying GoFundMe and soon raised more than enough for a trip to Thailand to get stem cell injections.

Over the course of a week, Naidoo received six stem cell injections in his spine and in both his eyes. And it meant he couldn’t use his eyes for anything so he relied on his parents to feed him, and escort him around the hospital. Naidoo said the experience really taught him a lot about himself.

“I couldn’t write, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t do anything, I was left in meditation,” Naidoo said.

As doctors removed the wraps from his eyes. Naidoo said the results were so immediate, he thought he was dreaming.

They’ll continue to grow and improve his eyesight.

“I call them my little angels my little stem cells because I’m so grateful for all of these beautiful women in this world that had healthy babies and donated their stem cells to people who need treatment like me and I pray for them everyday.”

Science works, bitches! (Prayer, not so much.)

When parents pick prayer over health care

June 4, 2016

Children die, of course. This tragedy occurred in 2013 but is in Calgary court now. According to testimony, Emil and Rodica Radita returned from church to find their 15-year-old son not breathing. They waited 2 whole fucking hours before calling EMS, opting to pray over the boy instead. Apparently other church members were in the house at the time, doing the same.

Shauna Mitchell, an investigator from Medical Examiner’s office reportedly heard conflicting stories from witnesses and thought it was possible the boy was already dead before the parents left for church that evening.

The boy, a diabetic, died from bacterial sepsis due to complications from starvation and neglect.

Both Mitchell and Const. Larry Pugliese, the first police officer on the scene, said the boy was nothing but skin and bones when they saw him dead in his bed.

Pugliese said Alexandru was “like a skeleton.”

He said it was clear to him the teen was dead.

“The boy was extremely thin,” Pugliese told the Court of Queen’s Bench murder trial.

The parents also claim the boy didn’t want to go to a hospital earlier that day because he had a “bad experience” when he was 3.

The murder trial continues later this week so hopefully I’ll remember to update.

Back in May, the CBC reported on this story, mentioning the fact that the family once lived in British Columbia but left. Why, I wonder…

[They] had their son seized by social services in that province in 2004 after he nearly died from untreated diabetes — the same allegations they now face in relation to his death, according to prosecutor Susan Pepper.

So, this poor kid suffered for a hell of a long time. It’s appalling, to say the least.

The other story that was making the rounds lately was also from Alberta: 19-month-old Ezekiel died of untreated meningitis. That had nothing to with picking prayer over hospitals; that was all naturopathic bullshit masquerading as health care. (Although naming a baby Ezekiel probably means David and Collet Stephan are fairly familiar with the Bible as well.)

Despite the conviction, they remain unrepentant, painting themselves as persecuted and warning that the parenting police are out to get us all.


The message in the conviction is consistent with what our laws and courts have said over decades in cases with similar philosophical underpinnings – parents who refuse blood transfusion, vaccination, cancer treatment and other demonstrably beneficial medical treatments for their children in favour of prayer or other nonsense: As an adult, you can have beliefs, religious or otherwise, and you can raise your children according to those beliefs, no matter how wacky, but that does not obviate the obligation to provide the necessities of life. When a child’s health and well-being are compromised, the rules change, because a guardian has responsibilities as well as rights.


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?

Billy Graham takes on illness and prayer

August 5, 2014

And probably not for the first time, but here’s the question as posed.

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: What good does it do to pray for someone who’s facing a serious health crisis? They’ll either get better or they won’t, depending on how they respond to their medications or surgery. Just because we pray for someone doesn’t mean they’ll get better, in my opinion. — E.W.

DEAR E.W: As I read your letter, I couldn’t help but wonder if you’ve ever faced a serious health crisis, either in your own life or in the life of someone you love. When people do, I find, they almost always turn to prayer, even if they haven’t had much to do with God.

That’s the atheist in the foxhole logical fallacy, if I’m not mistaken. I’m not mistaken. It might not be in the list of logical fallacies, admittedly, but it’s a very common assumption made by religious people. And totally fallacious.

Several years ago I had this weird body experience in the middle of the night, a strange fluttery sensation in my chest, under my rib cage that woke me up and kept me from falling asleep again. Instead, I drove my car to the hospital emergency and when describing the sensation to the doctor on call I literally said, “It vibrates my chest as if an alien installed a beeper in there and someone’s calling it.” They kept me attached to some kind of machine overnight and encouraged me to relax and for the next couple days I wore a monitor of sorts that recorded whatever my heart was doing, I guess, and sent a report somewhere, perhaps to the doctor in my home town, since hers was the name I’d given when I came in. It only happened for a few hours and I’ve never experienced the sensation again and never got a call back about anything amiss. The description I gave at the time is still apt for what it felt like. Bzzzzht. bzzzsht. Bzzzsht…. Weird. Totally weird. Not frightening, just weird.

I remember laying on the bed in Emergency that night with the electrodes attached and the oxygen piped in through my nose and the intern reminding me to relax and the notion of praying to any particular god at the time was completely absent from my brain. No sense at all that some deity had to be called upon to get me through the night and keep me from stressing out. I just trusted the doctors.

Why is this? One reason, I believe, is because we all know that even with the best medical care, things can go wrong, and healing is not assured. In addition, some situations are so serious that there seems to be little or no hope of recovery. We also know that our bodies and our minds are very closely connected, and if a person is very discouraged or doesn’t want to live, their recovery is doubtful. Why shouldn’t we pray for them?

Because study after study after double-blind study demonstrates the complete and total lack of proof that prayer works.

Positive thinking and the placebo effect though: scientifically proven to be useful and beneficial to mood, attitude and sense of pain improvement.

Your question, however, suggests to me that the real reason for your letter is that you simply don’t believe God answers prayer or that he cares for us. You may not even believe he exists, or at least you’re uncertain about it.

And then he resorts to the old “Take Jesus into your heart” canard that ends the majority of his advice columns.

People can bounce back from illnesses in amazing ways. Ways that’ll seem pretty damned miraculous, but are really just demonstrations for how awesome our immune system is, or the field of medicine itself that took a risk with a patient that paid off, like Jeanna Giese who actually survived a bout of rabies – a disease assumed to have no cure.

I’m not really sure how to end this one. People who don’t seem to have any major health issues can suddenly die, too. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I suspect religions exist to help people deal with that randomness. It’s soothing to tell a person that God chose them to die because of whatever ludicrous reason. Create meaning out of something meaningless. Shit happens. The universe doesn’t care and certainly evolution doesn’t really give a damn who lives long enough to pass genes along. There’s no intelligence in either one. That’s a frightening prospect for some.

I don’t have kids but Dad’s brother married Mom’s sister and they had three kids. Those cousins of mine are nearly siblings to me and they all have children. Evolutionarily speaking, our mutual genes are set for another go-around and my input into the collective gene pool would be kind of redundant. I share enough genes with them and their children anyway. We’re covered. Evolution doesn’t have a set plan for humanity. Mutations just happen and over time enough of them will benefit the human species and give us an edge. I’m satisfied with that. Or, we’ll mutate into something else before other genes cause our downfall. It’s all up in the air…

Apparently Canada had an “abortion storm”

August 4, 2014

First I heard of it. Breaking Christian News has the details, such as they are.

The rumbling thunderclouds appeared in May when Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau declared that only pro-choice candidates would be allowed to run in the party’s nominations for the 2015 federal election. Mr. Trudeau went on to state that party members would be whipped to vote pro-abortion if the matter was to come up.

“Political party leaders have trampled on the rights of Canadians by enforcing pro-abortion policies within their parties, thereby dictating over matters of conscience,” says LifeCanada.

They have a Click here for more information link, so I did.

The storm intensified when the abortion movement in the Maritimes used the purported closure of a private abortion clinic in New Brunswick to pressure the government into funding the procedure in private clinics, not just in hospitals. Now with a provincial election happening in September, abortion is at the top of the agenda.

Adding to the storm’s intensity is an international conference on abortion to be hosted in August in Prince Edward Island, the only province where abortions are not performed. Titled “Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution,” the conference seeks to promote the cultural and political acceptance of abortion.

LifeCanada sees prayer as a remedy against abortion increasing in Canada.

August 1st was supposed to be the day to pray and fast. I wonder how many did and how they’d even tell if it was successful. The thing is, praying to make abortion illegal won’t stop abortion. Making abortion illegal would just make it harder to have a safe one.

21 million people have an unsafe abortion every year because they can’t access safe care. Since 1994, about 1 million have died and more than 100 million have suffered often life-long injuries from complications.

No one is ever forced by their governments to go through with an abortion – I hope. If you personally are against abortions, if your church is against them, then by all means follow the orders of your church and don’t have one. But please stop insisting your morality and beliefs should take priority over the health, well-being and personal choices of someone else! For Fuck’s sake, this gets old and tiring! A woman’s body is her own and you have no say in what she does or doesn’t do with it! If she doesn’t want to have a baby, it’s really up to her and the father of that fetus! It has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU!

Sorry for the capslock but seriously. IT HAS NO IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE! IGNORE IT! LET IT GO! It’s a hard enough choice for a family to make without having some insanely religious wacko nutjobs shouting at them about how big a sin it is and how much the devil will love to punish them for it.

That belief system is completely and totally opposite of helpful. What happened to compassion? Why does it take a backseat to religious righteousness? Your morality compass does not have the power to negate their right to choose.

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.