A Disgrace in the Tennis World


Sports and freethought issues rarely come into conflict, but there is a huge controversy in Australia that is brewing this week. Australian tennis player Margaret Court is due to be awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia, as part of Australia Day, a national holiday in Australia. Unlike Independence Day in the United States, which celebrates the separation from England every year on July 4th, Australia Day celebrates the 1788 arrival of the British Fleet in New South and the raising of the British flag in Sydney Cove. The day is marked with parades, fireworks and summer barbecues, as Australia is south of the Equator.

At the same time, Wikipedia notes that some human rights groups “refer to January 26 as Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Day of Mourning to observe it as a counter-celebration and advocate that the date should be changed, or that the holiday should be abolished entirely.”

Why this award is being given to Margaret Court on this day, very much adds divisiveness of the event. As reported by the New York Times, “Since retiring, Ms. Court’s legacy has been increasingly overshadowed by her intolerant views, and she has alienated many in the tennis world. … [Now] a Pentecostal minister, she has vocally opposed same-sex marriage, compared L.G.B.T.Q. education to the work of the devil and denounced transgender athletes.”

The awarding group, called the Council for the Order of Australia, has ignored the complaints and simply said “In a system that recognizes hundreds of people each year, it is inevitable that each list will include some people who others believe should not be recognized.” That response sounds like a poor excuse, given that the headlines around the sports world report:

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Steel City December Birthday


This fall, we have been highlighting birthdays of well-known atheists and humanists with ties to Pittsburgh, including Andrew Carnegie, as many readers might not have known he was a freethinker.

This month, we highlight comedian Anthony Jeselnik who was born December 22, 1978 in Pittsburgh and grew up just 11 miles south of the city in Upper St. Clair, PA. After graduating from high school in 1997, he headed to New Orleans to attend Tulane University. From there, he ended up in New York City, landing a job as a writer for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where his honed is comic persona.

He has continued his career with several specials, including “The Jeselnik Offensive” on Comedy Central, which aired for two seasons, and two comedy specials aired on Netflix – “Thoughts and Prayers” (2015) and “Fire in the Maternity Ward” (2019).

In 2018, he returned to Comedy Central with a deal that included a weekly podcast, “The Jeselnik & Rosenthal Vanity Project” featuring Gregg Rosenthal and Erica Tamposi of the NFL Network.

“I was raised Catholic. I rejected it later on. I’m an outspoken atheist now. People say, ‘Oh, it’s a negative thing to be an atheist.’ I don’t agree. I think it’s more optimistic to think that there is no God, no afterlife. I’m the only one in my family who feels this way.”

—Jeselnik, Parade magazine interview (July 2, 2013)

Thanks to ffrf.org for details about our Steel City notables!

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Freethought Takes a Stand in Congress


While Thanksgiving over for this year, it is still a good time to ‘Give Thanks’ to our Representatives in Washington, who are making a difference for everyday Americans. In particular, we can thank Rep. Jamie Raskin (Democrat from MD), along with Rep. Ted Yoho (Republican from FL), who brought House Resolution 512 to the floor, where it passed by near-unanimous support of 386-3. The three negative votes were all Republicans, Andy Biggs (AZ), Thomas Massie (KY), and Chip Roy (TX). Of the 39 who did not vote, all but six were Republicans. In terms of the Pittsburgh region, all Representatives voted YEA, except for … you guessed it … Guy Reschenthaler, who chose not to vote.

So, what is this text of this important resolution, which drew wide bipartisan support?

HR 512 called for the “global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws.”

Whereas Article 18 of the International Declaration of Human Rights states that [e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance;

Whereas many countries continue to have criminal blasphemy laws and punish people who engage in expression deemed by the government to be blasphemous, heretical, apostate, defamatory of religion, or insulting to religion or to religious symbols, figures, or feelings, and such punishment can include fines, imprisonment, and capital punishment including by beheading;

Whereas blasphemy laws have affected Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’i, secularists, and many other groups, are inconsistent with international human rights standards because they establish and promote official religious orthodoxy and dogma over individual liberty, and often result in violations of the freedoms of religion, thought, and expression that are protected under international instruments, including Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);


Rep. Jamie Raskin argued forcibly that “Everyone must be able to practice the faith or no faith at all without the threat of government violence and persecution”. Rep. Raskin feels strongly about this issue, not because of his personal religious belief, but rather because of his lack of religious belief. Rep. Raskin is the co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, which “was established in April 2018 to foster science and reason-based solutions and to defend the secular character of government. “ It worth noting that Pennsylvania has one member in the Freethought Caucus with Susan Wild PA-7 in the Lehigh Valley. Let’s hope for more visibility and more members joining this important caucus in 2021.

Source: Wikipedia
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Steel City November Birthdays, Part 2


A number of freethinkers were born in November, including Scott Joplin (1868), Charles Schulz (1922), Randy Newman (1943) and Bill Nye (1955). Several freethinkers with ties to Pittsburgh were discussed last week. It is worth noting at least one more individual, while not born in Pittsburgh, he is well-known for his contributions to western PA.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dumfermline, Scotland, on November 25, 1835. In 1848, his family emigrated to Pennsylvania, settling in Allegheny City, which existed as an independent municipality from 1788 until it was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907. Located across the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh, it is known today as the North Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

As noted in Wikipedia, Carnegie kept his distance from organized religion and theism. Carnegie instead preferred to see things through naturalistic and scientific terms stating, “not only had I got rid of the theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution.

As pointed out in FFRF’s Freethought of the Day, in a 1905 letter to Sir James Donaldson of St. Andrews, Carnegie wrote:

The whole scheme of Christian Salvation is diabolical as revealed by the creeds. An angry God, imagine such a creator of the universe. Angry at what he knew was coming and was himself responsible for. Then he sets himself about to beget a son, in order that the child should beg him to forgive the Sinner. This however he cannot or will not do. He must punish somebody — so the son offers himself up & our creator punishes the innocent youth, never heard of before — for the guilty and became reconciled to us. … I decline to accept Salvation from such a fiend.”

It is not surprising that Carnegie’s wealth went to libraries and museums, which has enriched Pittsburgh in many ways, even today.

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Steel City November Birthdays, Part 1


It is good month to honor a host of atheist/humanists with ties to Pittsburgh.

George Seldes (1890-1995), born on Nov. 16 in NJ, became a cub reporter for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1909, earning $3.50 a week. He became night editor of the Pittsburgh Post five years later and was hired by United Press to report in London in 1916. Seldes was the first to report the link between cancer and cigarette smoking. He wrote 21 books, including You Can’t Print That! (1929), Can These Things Be! (1931), The Vatican: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (1934), Lord of the Press (1938), The Catholic Crisis (examining church ties to fascism, 1940) and Witch Hunt (1940), about red-baiting. Until his death at 104 in 1995, he was the oldest member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The 1996 documentary film “Tell the Truth and Run” featured interviews with Seldes and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Chambers Roberts (1910-2005), born in Pittsburgh on Nov. 18, was the chief diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post from 1953-1971, where he wrote several influential articles about the Pentagon Papers, detailing deceptions during the Vietnam War. As a result, Roberts was named as a defendant in the case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court for publishing the documents. In Aug 2004, he wrote “I do want to add a final word about the hereafter. I do not believe in it. I think that the religions which promise various after-life scenarios basically invented them to meet the longing for an answer to life’s mysteries.

Thanks to ffrf.org for details about these Pittsburgh notables.

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Disaster for the Supreme Court


The presumed nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is the most dangerous step in a long chain of actions by President Trump.  In particular, it would be an absolute disaster for the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

In a recent TV interview on ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-favorite-judge-amy-coney-barrett-faces/story?id=73206743  the Director of Strategic Response for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) Andrew L. Seidel reported

“There are serious and deep concerns about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s affiliation with People of Praise and her past comments about the conflict between faith and law. Not only is her connection to this community and her previous writings fair to ask about, but senators have a duty to the Constitution to ask those questions.”

Seidel went on to says “any statement of loyalty to the organization — and possible covenant with its members — could threaten to supersede her oath to uphold the Constitution. How does the covenant interact with the oath that all justices take to uphold the constitution as the supreme law of the land? We need to know that.”

It has also been reported (https://www.vox.com/21456044/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-roe-abortion)  that Barrett has made a number of public statements on Roe v. Wade and abortion over the years. As a Catholic and member of the religious group People of Praise, she has said that she personally believes life begins at conception, and that Roe “ignited a national controversy” by deciding the issue of abortion by court order rather than leaving it to the states.

The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/amy-coney-barrett-extremist/) cited numerous other cases  that put her at the far right end of the spectrum when it comes to judicial decisions. For example, she stepped up to review cases that were not on her desk, most notably with regard to legal issues regarding fetal remains and, as well as the requirements of parental consent on abortion. In both cases her rulings were overturned by the Supreme Court.   

If Barrett ruled like a devout Catholic all the time, that would be one thing. But she doesn’t. She rules like an extremist conservative all the time, and just uses religion to justify those extremist positions when it is convenient for her to do so. She ignores the moral and ethical underpinnings of her faith when they conflict with the cruel requirements of conservative dogma.”

Putting it another way, it appears that for Judge Barrett her personal religion comes first and the laws of her country come last. We do not live in a theocracy and our ability to worship or not worship, as one wishes, is a unique American right. It is particularly egregious to think that the most thoughtful, fair-minded, Justice that the court had with the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, would be replaced by the least qualified candidate for the court that we have seen in our lifetime, if not longer.

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Deep into Chopra


This past weekend I happened to turned on WQED to see what might be playing as PBS is known for providing thoughtful and informative shows. I did not realize that they were in the middle of their fall fundraiser and to my dismay the show they were promoting was by the New Age charlatan author, Deepak Chopra.

For those not familiar with his brand of snake oil, it well worth a visit to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepak_Chopra, which highlights is misuse of scientific terminology and focus on untenable theories.

Chopra’s “nonsensical references to quantum physics” are placed in a lineage of American religious pseudoscience for which Chopra attempts to “legitimize these ideas that have no scientific basis at all, and makes them sound scientific. He really is a fountain of meaningless jargon” (Wikipedia).

There was a time when PBS was the provider of a rich source of informative programs. To this day, they offer high quality educational programming, including Wild Kratts, Odd Squad, Sid the Science Kid and other informative programs.

As for fundraisers aimed at adults, it is time to remove the scientific nonsense, beginning with Chopra, who has written that “No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others.”

Astronomer Phil Plait said this statement trembled “on the very edge of being a blatant and gross lie”, listing Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Stephen Jay Gould, and Edward Jenner among the “thousands of scientists [who] are skeptics”, who he said were counterexamples to Chopra’s statement.” (Wikipedia)

“Research has shown that the best way to be happy is make each day happy”, Deepak Chopra. Source: Iamfearlesssoul.com.




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Pence to speak near Pittsburgh


The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List is bringing Mike Pence to the Pittsburgh area on Wednesday, September 9, 2020.

The event, Life Wins!, will be hosted at Cornerstone Ministries located in Export, PA (Westmoreland County), and will feature Vice President Pence, along with SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. The format will be a roundtable meeting with pregnancy center leaders, as well as women and men who have been served by the Women’s Choice Network.

The organization apparently has money to burn, as they announced a

… six-figure newspaper ad-buy covering the state. The ad urges Pennsylvanians to “consider their own position on abortion and question whether their conscience will allow them to accept the Democratic Party position on the issue”. The targeted ads will run in nine papers ahead of and on the day of the event, including: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Friday, Sunday), The Philadelphia Inquirer (Wednesday), The Erie Times-News (Sunday), The Scranton Times-Tribune (Sunday), Allentown’s The Morning Call (Sunday), Lower Bucks Times (Tuesday), Delaware County Daily Times (Sunday), The Tribune-Review (Sunday, Wednesday), and Valley News Dispatch (Sunday, Wednesday).

One has to ask if this is best use of the “six-figure” bank account and if they might instead help women in need, rather than attacking the choice of women that has been guaranteed by the courts through multiple rulings.

Even more troublesome is that it is yet another event that reiterates Mike Pence’s claim that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” when he should be saying he is first and foremost “I am Vice-President to all Americans, even those I disagree with.” We did not elect Pence as pastor-in-chief, but rather upholder of the Constitution, which includes even those parts he may disagree with.

 

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Behind the Times


In one of those “Good News, Bad News” stories, the Mississippi state legislature has finally decide to remove the confederate insignia from their state flag, which had been adopted way back in 1894.  That is the good news, even if it comes a 126 years later than it should have.

So what is the bad news?  The replacement, yet to be decided, must include the phrase “In God We Trust”.  This johnny-come-lately phrase, which was adopted in 1956, has no place on the flag. The flag of Pennsylvania has the words “Virtue, Liberty and Independence”, Rhode Island has “Hope”, and Nebraska has “Equality Before the Law”, all of which are positive and encouraging thoughts.  Eleven states have no words on their flag, while a have handful just have the state name.

Flag_of_Pennsylvania.svg

Flag of Pennsylvania

Georgia in 2003 and Florida in 1985  also added “In God We Trust,” long after it was adopted by Congress as the National Motto in 1956, but good luck trying to to find it on their flags:

     

The motto has been protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny, given the very odd 1984 Supreme Court’s ruling in Lynch v. Donnelly  that claimed acts of “ceremonial deism” are “protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content [LYNCH v. DONNELLY, 465 U.S. 668 (1984)].

So here we have Mississippi removing the Confederate emblem 126 years after the Civil War, only to adopt a flag that with meaningless religious content.

It is time to stop dividing the state along ideological lines.  With national statistics showing that  22.8% of the U.S. population is  now religiously unaffiliated, including a sizable number of atheists, agnositics, humanists, and others who follow no religious dogma.  Mississippi residents the new flag should honor both believers and non-believers alike.

For more details see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion_in_the_United_States

 

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National Day of Reason


It was great to see Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-8th) propose a National Day of Reason in US House:

Introduced in House (05/01/2020) – – H. Res. 947 Introduced in House

Expressing support for the designation of May 7, 2020, as a “National Day of Reason” and recognizing the central importance of reason in the betterment of humanity. _________________________________________________
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES May 1, 2020
Mr. Raskin (for himself, Mr. Huffman, Ms. Norton, and Mr. McNerney) submitted the following resolution; ___________________________________________________
RESOLUTION

Expressing support for the designation of May 7, 2020, as a “National Day of Reason” and recognizing the central importance of reason in the betterment of humanity.

– Whereas the application of reason has been the essential precondition for humanity’s extraordinary scientific, medical, technological, and social progress since the modern Enlightenment;

– Whereas reason provides vital hope today for confronting the environmental crises of our day, including the civilizational emergency of climate change, and for cultivating the rule of law, democratic institutions, justice, and peace among nations;

– Whereas irrationality, magical thinking, and superstition have undermined the national effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and reason is fundamental to creating an effective coordinated response to beat the virus involving the Federal Government, the States, and the scientific and medical communities;

– Whereas America’s Founders insisted upon the primacy of reason and knowledge in public life, and drafted the Constitution to prevent official establishment of religion and to protect freedom of thought, speech, and inquiry in civil society;

– Whereas James Madison, author of the First Amendment and fourth President of the United States, stated that “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty”, and “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives”; and

– Whereas, May 7, 2020, would be an appropriate date to designate as a “National Day of Reason”: _________________________________________________

Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the House of Representatives—

(1) supports the designation of a “National Day of Reason”; and

(2) encourages all citizens, residents, and visitors to join in observing this day and focusing on the central importance of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to resolving social problems and promoting the welfare of humankind.

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