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

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. _________________________________________________
Mr. Raskin (for himself, Mr. Huffman, Ms. Norton, and Mr. McNerney) submitted the following 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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Science Denial at the “Pete”

On May 8th and 9th, Pittsburgh will be hosting the religious zealot, Joyce Meyer. Meyer, whose net worth is estimated to be $8 million, is one of the 10 richest pastors in the county. She regularly travels in her private $10 million jet, leaving her silver Mercedes back home in St. Louis, Missouri, to spread her message which, not surprisingly. is focused on division and hate.

To make matters worse, the event will be held in the Peterson Event Center on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The ‘Pete’ often has non-academic outside speakers and concerts, including artists, such as Ashanti, Bow Wow, Deftones, who will be performing in the coming weeks. However, there is no reason to permit evangelist Joyce Meyer to speak on campus, as it is an affront to science and reason, which are the bedrock principles of any university.

In addition, the financial corruption of Meyer is well-documented. As far back as November 2003, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a four-part special report detailing:

Meyer’s “$10 million corporate jet, her husband’s $107,000 silver-gray Mercedes sedan, her $2 million home and houses worth another $2 million for her four children,” a $20 million headquarters, furnished with “$5.7 million worth of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery,” including a “$30,000 malachite round table, a $23,000 marble-topped antique commode, a $14,000 custom office bookcase, a $7,000 Stations of the Cross in Dresden porcelain, a $6,300 eagle sculpture on a pedestal, another eagle made of silver bought for $5,000, and numerous paintings purchased for $1,000 to $4,000 each,” among many other expensive items – all paid for by the ministry [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Meyer]

As an premier educational institution in the City of Pittsburgh, it is disheartening to see Pitt sponsoring an event that is antithetical to the mission of the university.

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Pittsburgh among the Post-Christians

This week, Christianity Today featured a recent survey by the Barna Group, which identified places “where the fewest people follow Christian beliefs and practices, as measured by a list of more than a dozen factors.”  The most post-Christian cities were in New England, with Santa Barbara and Seattle not far behind.  As Don Loomer observed “People hardly think about [God]…If the sun’s out and the surf’s up, you say goodbye!”

The article goes rank 100 metropolitan areas in terms of whether they attend church, have read the Christian bible recently, or “made a commitment to Jesus”.  While Pittsburgh was not in top 10 of “post-Christian cities”, it come in a respectable 36 out of 100, well ahead of Johnstown-Altoona-State College (53), Cleveland-Akron-Canton (67), and other nearby cities.

Of course, the authors try to look for the brighter side of the survey, as when Eliezer Perez made the rather odd statement that “Post-Christian doesn’t mean anti-Christian.  If it’s post-Christian, then that means there is Christian.”

In reality, it seems to confirm to what we know about religion in the US, as well as in Canada and western Europe.  The numbers of citizens who find solace in religion is shrinking and that time enjoying friends, reading an engaging book, exercising and socializing will do more for the mind and body.  It will be interesting to see how much a drop the next edition of the survey will report in regard to religion in America.  We won’t be surfing in the sun in Pittsburgh, but I am sure the numbers will continue to fall.

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It’s That Time Of The Year

Summer has officially arrived. And that means that it’s time to start preparing for the premier event of the summer – PFC’s annual Canoe Trip and Shrimp Boil Picnic. This will be the 13th year for the Canoe Trip and the 11th year for the Shrimp Boil. The date has been set for Sunday, August 25th; the pavilions have been rented, and reservations have been made with the Outfitter. All that is left is for you to make the appropriate reservations at http://www.pghfreethought.org

For those who have not participated before, let me describe it. Those going on the water meet at Youghiogheny Outfitters in West Newton at 9:30am and are transported upriver to Smithton where the group will “put in”. This is a relatively leisurely float down the middle Youghiogheny River, from Smithton to West Newton, a distance of approximately seven miles. Depending on the current, time on the water is about four hours. (Last year’s went a little quicker because with all the rain, the current was a little faster.) There are no real “rapids” on this section of the river, just some navigable shallows, so it is very newbie- and beginner- friendly. If you have a child who wants to learn to canoe or kayak, this is an excellent opportunity for them to learn under your supervision, with gentle waters, and a large group of fellow travelers.

About halfway along the river journey on a wide sweeping curve to the right, there is a boat ramp on the left bank for Cedar Creek Park. If you are joining in the shrimp boil, or just want to join everybody for lunch, pull your watercraft out there and set it out of the way. Turn left and walk back upriver about 150 hundred yards and you will find the PFC picnic. Of course, no one is required to participate in the shrimp boil to enjoy the camaraderie of the group, but it sure is a lot of fun – and quite tasty. The menu consists of shrimp, andouille sausage, redskin potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and French bread. Dessert is Cajun-style bread pudding with rum sauce. (Since everything is cooked in one pot, there is unfortunately no way to offer a vegan option. But you are welcome to bring your own food and eat with the group at no cost.) Food should be ready sometime between 12:30 and 1:00. After lunch, those kayaking/canoeing get back on the water and continue downriver to the outfitter’s boat ramp in West Newton where your car is waiting for you.

For those not going on the water and just coming to the picnic, Cedar Creek Park is located off of PA Rte 51 near I-70 in Rostraver. After you pass the Rostraver Township Municipal Bldg, you will pass three houses and come to the Park entrance. There are TWO entrances, about 50ft apart. Take the second entrance and follow that road as it meanders through the park, about a mile. When you get to the bottom of a relatively long hill, the road will make a quick zig-zag right then left as it crosses over the bike trail. Continue on between the bike trail on the left and pavilions on the right until you come to pavilions number 18 and 19. That is where you will find us. For those who would like to ride bikes instead of canoeing or kayaking, that bike path that you crossed over is part of the Great Allegheny Passage that goes from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.

Prices are the same as last year: $32 for a single kayak, $53 for a 2-person canoe or tandem kayak, $14 for transport of your own canoe upriver, $12 per adult (12 and older) for the shrimp boil, $8 per child (6-12), 5 and under are free. For those with small children, a canoe can accommodate two adults with one small child under 60 lbs. The sooner that we know who and how many are planning on participating in what activities, the better we can be at organizing and making this event happen as smoothly as possible. So let us know as soon as possible if you can.

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Incivility firmly ensconced in Ohio

I frequently hear calls for more “respectful” dialogue coming from those on the political right.  At the same time, those making the call deride progressives as being ideologically rigid, arrogant, and disrespectful of their positions and their values  Obviously they’ve mastered the fine art of projection.
I’m all for civil and respectful political dialogue. I always try my very best to understand clearly what others on the opposite side of the political spectrum in which I stand are saying as well the reasons they offer as an explanation for the positions they’ve taken.  But something strikes me as absurd, if not impossible, about this request for “civility.”    They are asking for civility as they look us directly in the face with nothing but contempt and incivility.
Seriously, how does one have a respectful dialogue with a person who is convinced beyond any shadow of doubt whatsoever that their interpretation and understanding of a couple, cherry-picked passages from the holy book they carry in their back pocket trumps our secular Constitution and the secular order of our democratic system of governance?  I ponder this fundamental question with serious deliberation almost every day and I have yet to formulate a reasonable, intelligible understanding.
Case in point: Mike DeWine, Govenator of Ohio, recently singed a bill, SB-23.  The bill is commonly known as the “heartbeat bill” because the pushers of this rubbish claim that a real live human being exists the moment a high tech monitoring device is capable of detecting the beginnings of a heart pulsation (about six weeks into gestation, way before most women even know that they’re pregnant).   In a few years a new high tech gizmo will no doubt be invented to detect the ruminations of a pulse even earlier than six weeks.  Clearly, the bill is just another sly, underhanded, ridiculous attempt at outlawing abortion altogether in the State of Ohio.  And believe it or not, five other States have already passed similar bills.
In light of all this, I keep asking myself over and again as if I was afflicted with a bizarre form of brain tourette: how can one possibly have a respectful, civil dialogue and come to a mutually acceptable solution to this dilemna when one side of the debate declares that a few words in their holy book mandates the end to a women’s reproductive rights?  For these religious extremists (and their enablers), everything written in their holy book comes directly from the mouth of their celestial deity and therefore the right of women to make decisions about their own bodies is rescinded.  Period.  No exceptions.  Case closed.  Dialogue over.  These folks are convinced that their religious beliefs should be encoded in and enforced by law on everyone living in our pluralistic, non-theocratic, secular society, regardless of fact and regardless of the religious beliefs held by anyone else.  For these folks, the beliefs and worldview of others does not concern them.  Their religious beliefs do and they must be imposed on everyone else.
There is something very Machiavellian about this request for more civility because what they’re doing while asking for civility is pointing a gun directly at our heads and telling us it’s either their way or the highway.  Or, as their dear leader would say, “That’s the way it is.”
From my perspective, this situation is only marginally different than that of the religious police in Pakistan whipping women in the public square for wearing something less than a tarp covering them from head to toe.  I’d love to hear anyone explain how it isn’t.
As an American, it sickens me to the core.
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State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz is a disgrace for PA

By now you may have heard about worse invocation given in recent years, right here in our own State of Pennsylvania. It was the given by first-year Representative Stephanie Borowicz (Lock Haven, PA), which amounted to Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus (13 times), followed by the entirely false claim that this nation was “ founded on your principles in your words and your truth.”

In fact, the Christian lineage among our founding fathers is very weak with John Adams explicitly stating “the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” Also don’t bother wasting your time finding how many time the word “Jesus” appears in the founding documents. You won’t find it in any of the official founding documents. To matters even worse, State Rep. Brian Sims, the only openly atheist lawmaker in the PA House has not been allowed to give the invocation because of lack of faith.

Rep. Borowicz should apologize to the House and particularly to the state’s first Muslim legislator, State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, who was officially sworn in and had family members in the gallery during her Jesus rant. This was a very sad day for Pennsylvanians everywhere and needs to amended as soon as possible.

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