Crabb Apples Taste Sweet This Week

This was a big week for supporters church/state separation, when U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ordered the suspension of the IRS regulation that allows Christian ministers to deduct housing allowances from their taxable income, because the deduction benefits religious leaders and no one else.  The ruling filed on Dec 13, 2017 addressed the often abused housing allowance that allowed megachurch preachers to live tax-free in multimillion dollar homes.  Judge Crabb correctly noted that by allowing the allowance only to ministers provides an undue benefit to religion by writing:

that 26 U.S.C. § 107(2), which excludes from the gross income of a “minister of the gospel” a “rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation,” is unconstitutional. Specifically, I concluded that § 107(2) violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment because it does not have a secular purpose or effect and because a reasonable observer would view the statute as an endorsement of religion.

The ruling goes on to say that Congress has 180 days to produce an alternative, which might be extend the housing allowance to other non-profits (meeting certain requirements) or remove the housing allowance altogether.

Either way, the ruling puts an end to long-standing fight by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which began several years ago when they first challenged the law, asking why their non-profit organization cannot get this benefit for its “leaders”.  The initial response from the courts was rather curious.  They said that FFRF was never denied the exemption because FFRF never asked for it.  So, the next year, the Executive Board of FFRF designated a portion of the salary as a housing allowance for its co-Presidents, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, who then filed an amended return asking for a refund. The IRS denied this request, which then allow FFRF to sue on the behalf of all secular non-profits.  This chain of events resulted in the landmark Dec 13th ruling linked above.

Joel Osteen Tax-Free Home

What happens next, however, is somewhat unclear as Crabb’s decision gives others a chance to appeal and gives Congress six months to rewrite the law.  The revision could go several ways. The benefit could be extended to other non-profits, including FFRF. The benefit could be removed for all parties.  Or, there may be some other creative alternative, which would be interesting to see what emerges.  Whatever, the outcome might be, I am sure that we will hear from Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and others on the list of richest pastors in America, as to why paying taxes is so unfair.


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Let Them Eat Cake

Rainbow Cake

This was one of the most contentious weeks at the Supreme Court with the Justices hearing the case of the intolerant baker, Jack Phillips of Lakewood, Colorado, who lawyers were painfully arguing again that he has the right to refuse service to paying customers.

I say “again” as the original lawsuit, Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, was decided in favor of the plaintiffs:

The cake shop was ordered not only to provide cakes to same-sex marriages, but to “change its company policies, provide ‘comprehensive staff training’ regarding public accommodations discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for the next two years regarding steps it has taken to come into compliance and whether it has turned away any prospective customers.”

Great.  So that must be it. Done.  Right?  

Nope.  The master of Masterpiece, appealed to the aptly named Colorado Court of Appeals. In its decision, the Colorado Court of Appeals “asserted that despite the artistic nature of creating a custom cake, the act of making the cake was part of the expected conduct of Phillips’ business, and not an expression of free speech nor free exercise of religion.”

Great.  He tried, but that must be it.  Done. Right?

Nope.  Next in line was the Supreme Court of Colorado, which declined to hear an appeal, at all.

Whew. Good try, but that must be it.  Three strikes and all that.

Nope.  As the final arbitrator, the Supreme Court of the United States, had agreed to hear the case.

Why, you ask?  No idea.

For those interested in the details, the transcript of the 1 hour and 24 minute session  is online, as well as the  entertaining audio.  Of most importance, we get to hear Justice Kennedy, who is considered to be the swing vote.  In the questioning, Kennedy asked the lawyer for Craig numerous questions that made it seem like he was in favor of the baker and perhaps even the candlestick maker.

It is hard to figure out which side he will land on, but it would be nice if consider the what was perhaps the strongest retort to the religious nonsense, which came at the very end of the session:

WAGGONER: Justice Sotomayor, I think that the gravest offense to the First Amendment would be to compel a person who believes that marriage is sacred, to give voice to a different view of marriage and require them to celebrate that marriage. The First Amendment –­

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Then don’t participate in weddings, or create a cake that is neutral, but you don’t have to take and offer goods to the public and then choose not to sell to some because of a protected characteristic. That’s what the public anti-discrimination laws require.

Let’s hope that the Court decides in favor of public anti-discrimination laws.  If not, they are opening the doors to many  other barriers that have long since been dismantled.


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Boy Scouts Continue to Discriminate

The Boy Scouts of American made a lot of noise this week by stating that they were opening Cub Scouts to include girls as members, to be followed by girls as Boy Scouts a few years down the road.

While the media debates the plus and minus of that change, little attention is being paid to another kind of discrimination.  Unlike the Girl Scouts that allow all young girls to join, the Boy Scouts refuse membership to atheist, agnostic or humanist members, be they scouts or scout leaders.  With estimates suggesting that as many 30% of those under 30 would mark “None of the Above” when asked about their religion, the Boy Scouts are holding on to a discriminatory view of what makes a for good citizens.

As FFRF recently noted:

The official position of the group — “No member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God” — turns secular boys into pariahs and second-class citizens and defames nonbelief. This is a bias exclusively belonging to the U.S. division of Boy Scouts, which makes the religious litmus test all the more inappropriate in a secular country that welcomes citizens, of all religions or no religions. Furthermore, Boy Scouts has a congressional charter as a fraternal (not a religious group), and the president serves as the honorary commander in chief, all additional reasons why its religiously discriminatory policy must go.

In fact, Boyscout_Badgeas way of countering the bigotry against atheist scouts, FFRF has adopted a program to allow any young boy — or girl — to fulfill their own Atheist Merit Badge requirements and then receive the (unofficial) badge shown here that can be sewn on the merit badge sash as silent protest. If the Boy Scouts would change their discriminatory policy and allow this badge to worn with the other Scout merit badges, it would send a clear message that, in fact, Scouting is for All!





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PaStAHCon is next weekend

There is still room to attend PAsTAHCon coming up next weekend (Sept 13 – 15, 2017) in Philadelphia.

The quantity and quality of the list of top-notch speakers will make it well-worth the trip for those of you within driving distance, be it PA, MD, NJ, NY, CT, VA, DE or DC.  An earlier post highlighted some the main speakers and special events, including Lawrence Krauss and the a special Friggatriskaidekaphobia (Fear of Friday the 13th) party hosted by Margaret Downey.

In addition to those two special events, there will be a wonderful mix of speakers that you will not want to miss.  Along with Lawrence Krauss, there is a strong emphasis this year on science with Yvette d’Entremont from, Dr. Abby Hafer from Curry College , and Andrew Newberg, M.D. from Thomas Jefferson University.

Alix Jules is a writer, activist, social critic and commentator based in Dallas, Texas. His activism has garnered national attention on matters of race, religion, and politics. He’s been featured in various national secular campaigns and was the first atheist featured in Ebony Magazine.

Tracie Harris is a well-known member of the Atheist Community of Austin (ACA), appearing on the award-winning program “The Atheist Experience” in 2006. She is current Vice President of ACA, and was a regular voice on their atheist/feminist podcast “Godless Bitches, as well as an occasional stand-in for “Non-Prophets.”

Roy Zimmerman will be there with his poignant and occasional heart-breaking songs, such the painfully relevant To the Victims of This Tragedy We Send Our Thoughts and Prayers.

Rounding out the speakers are Heather Henderson and Emery Emery, bloggers Gail Jordan (Happy. Healthy. Heathen) and Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist), high school student Madison Kimrey from Burlington, NC, college student Amanda Scott, author Laurie Lebo, comedian Leighann Lord, and Mark Nebo of Be Secular!

Schedules and all other details can be found at Please consider making the journey.  It would be well worth the trip!

2017 PaStAHCon Speakers



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Make your plans for PaStAHCon!

PaStAHCon 2017 will be held in Philadelphia the weekend of October 13-15. Over the next few weeks, this blog will highlight some of the speakers that you will miss if you don’t go, which is clearly something that you want to avoid. For the full list of speakers, as well as information on tickets and related events, go to

This year, the festivities will begin with a special Friggatriskaidekaphobia (Fear of Friday the 13th) party hosted by Margaret Downey, where you might get to walk under a ladder, break a mirror, spill salt, and dance indoors with an open umbrella. It is all in good fun and you won’t even be asked to spell Frigga-what-ever-it-is-called!

Another timely event will be a talk by noted physicist, Lawrence Krauss,noted author of both scientific and popular works, including the New York Times bestsellers The Physics of Star Trek (1995) and A Universe from Nothing (2012). He will be available to autograph his newest book “The Greatest Story Ever Told…So Far”, which was released in March of this year.

And, who knows? Prof. Krauss might also include stories of watching a full eclipse on the West Coast with Penn Jillette last week. You can hear Penn’s side of this adventure on the most recent episode of Penn’s Sunday School.

In all, it will be a great conference that is worth the journey. Additional conference notes and speakers will be highlighted in this blog in the coming weeks. Hope to see you there!

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New Feature for Our 9th Annual Canoe Trip/Shrimp Boil

It is now after Independence Day – and that means that summer is well under way. Which means that it is time (past time, really) to start making plans for summer fun – like our annual Canoe Trip on the Youghiogheny River and the Shrimp Boil at Cedar Creek Park for the halfway point of the trip.  Of course, for those not necessarily inclined toward watercraft activities, you are more than welcome to just attend the shrimp boil picnic. Or bike on the Allegheny Passage Trail that runs along the river and right through Cedar Creek Park. But however you wish to enjoy yourselves, come on out and join some like-minded folks for a pleasant summer day. The date for this year’s event is Saturday, August 19th. So mark your calendars!

For those not familiar with our annual event, here are some particulars: the Canoe Trip is a gentle, leisurely float down the Yough, from the put-in at Smithton downriver to the outfitter’s facility in West Newton, a distance of about 7 miles. There are no rapids or serious whitewater to contend with. We meet at Youghiogheny Outfitters in West Newton at 9:30 am. After registration and fitting of flotation devices, we are transported upriver to the put-in at Smithton. About halfway to the pull-out in West Newton, at a fairly large right bend in the river, there is a boat ramp on the left. That is Cedar Creek Park. If you are joining everybody for the Shrimp Boil or lunch, pull your craft out of the river and put it safely clear of the ramp. About two hundred yards to the left, past the concession stand, is Pavilion #19 where the picnic takes place. When you come up the boat ramp, across the road there are rest rooms.

If you are not going on the water and want to come directly to the picnic, just follow the signs to the park and enter on the park’s main road. Follow that road to where it seems to end in a small parking lot. It doesn’t. It crosses over the bike trail to the right and turns left past several more pavilions. We will be in Pavilion #19, the last one before the concession stand.

This year, we have a new feature, an upgrade as it were. For this year’s shrimp boil, we have acquired an 80-qt cooking pot. To borrow a term from one of our national political figures – a yuuuuge one. It will bigly cook enough food for everybody to eat together, at one time, rather than having to wait and eat in shifts, though we might have to use both rows of tables.

Details: Youghiogheny Canoe Outfitters, 226 Collinsburg Rd., West Newton, PA 15089

Canoes or tandem kayaks: $53 (canoes can have a 3rd person under 60 lbs for an add’l $4)

Single kayaks, sit-in or sit-on: $32

Shrimp Boil: $12 for adults; $7 for children under 12; n/c for toddlers

To reserve your spot(s), email BillK at before August 4th and submit payment to:

CFI-Pittsburgh, PO Box 81003, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

Make checks payable to CFI-Pittsburgh. Payment must be received by August 12th, 2017

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Understanding Donald Trump

For months now I’ve been carefully observing the many machinations of our current Orange-Haired Orangutan in chief.  My objective?  Trying as best I can to understand what makes the incompetent fool tick.

I’ve read and considered voices from many different fronts: politicos, journalists, historians, psychiatrists, you name it, I’ve studied their perspectives as well as any student of reality can possibly study anything.

But, with each passing day, our Idiot in Chief (or one of his idiotic sidekicks) does something more spectacularly stupid then the day before and I’m again left feeling convinced that I’m failing to fully understand the core nature of the buffoon’s inanity.

This week, however, I was very fortunate to find an explanation in my Twitter feed that answered every question that I had remaining.  Wednesday, May 19, 2017 was my lucky day.  In the spirit of selfless public service I present to you the real explanation for everything you’ve witnessed to date.

One simple, lazy click right HERE will end your search for a comprehensive, rational explanation as well.


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Trump and the Vatican

On his first visit overseas, Trump will be visiting several nations including Saudi Arabia, which is very odd given that, according to Wikipedia

Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and its law requires that all citizens should be Muslims. Public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam is forbidden [and the] distribution of non-Muslim religious materials such as Bibles, is illegal.

Of greater concern is a visit to the other religious monarchy, the Vatican, where Trump will be visiting with their “elected” leader, Pope Francis. To put the Vatican on his A-List of places to visit, while at the same time trying to turn the US in a theocracy is more than a little troublesome. The mainstream media, most likely, will fail to the note this serious breech of ethics and instead focus on the more juicy areas of disagreement between the Vatican and the Trump administration.

Since Trump’s inauguration this year, Pope Francis has continued to criticize the president and his agenda, if indirectly. In February, he urged an audience at the Vatican “to not raise walls but bridges, to not respond to evil with evil, to overcome evil with good” and again suggested that Trump’s behavior was not in line with the values of Christianity.

“A Christian can never say: ‘I’ll make you pay for that,’” Francis said, according to the Guardian, in remarks interpreted as a reference to Trump’s claims that Mexico will pay for his proposed border wall. “Never! That is not a Christian gesture. An offense is overcome with forgiveness, by living in peace with everyone.”

Yes, it is nice to hear criticism of Trump, but it does little to address his continued alienation the 25% of Americans who are non-religious, including many who label themselves as explicitly atheist or agnostic.  For example, in a recent speech at Liberty University, he falsely stated that in America “we worship god.” Such a ridiculous statement is not only false, but goes against the long-standing principle of the separation of state and church.  Of course, this simple idea was put forth by one of the greatest thinkers of the 18th Century, Thomas Jefferson, whose thoughtful words never seem to make into a Trump speech or tweet.  It makes you wonder.


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Pro-life? Or Anti-choice? What’s the Difference?

There are a lot of people out there who identify themselves as being “pro-life”. But are they really pro-life? My experience has been that the vast majority of them, especially the conservative christians (aka the American Taliban), seem to not be pro-life but instead are merely misogynists opposed to allowing a woman the right to choose whether or not to carry a fertilized embryo to full term – in other words, anti-choice. And there is an enormous difference between the two.
The most basic guiding principle(s) of those who are pro-life is that every human life is sacred and human life begins at the moment of conception, although whether that means fertilization of the egg or implantation of the fertilized egg is not always clear. So then, the thinking goes, the taking of a human life, any life, is morally wrong. True pro-life means opposing capital punishment, and opposing war and the maiming and killing of innocent women and children through collateral damage, along with being opposed to abortion. And that is a position that I can respect even while strongly disagreeing with their position on the issue of abortion, only because it comes down to the definition of “person” and when a group of human cells constitutes a human being.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of those who identify themselves as “pro-life” are not really that. They are in actuality anti-choice – but they call themselves pro-life to maintain the pretense that they actually care about human life, and as a smokescreen to hide their real agenda. And for these people, I have nothing but complete contempt for. So how do we tell them apart from the true pro-life faction? It’s really relatively simple.
First off, anti-choicers almost always oppose any proven methods or strategies to reduce unwanted pregnancies and thereby reducing the resultant demand or need for abortions; things like comprehensive sex education (as opposed to abstinence-only) and readily available contraception at little or no cost, especially to teens without parental interference. It is only reasonable that if one is opposed to abortion that any strategy proven to reduce the need or demand for the procedure would be a top priority. But instead, these anti-choicers fight tooth and nail to prevent these proven measures from being implemented.
A second telling thing is their usually strong support for capital punishment and pre-emptive war. If one is truly pro-life, one is opposed to the taking of human life – period. The argument that they make to justify their support for capital punishment is that the person being executed has had an opportunity to be a good citizen but has forfeited his or her right to life. So in essence, they have appointed themselves as the arbiter or who has the right to live and who doesn’t, in effect “playing god”, something that they often unfairly deride pro-choice people for. Nor do they take into consideration the flaws in the criminal injustice system and the possibility that the person being executed is innocent – a not unheard of occurrence. I guess that doesn’t matter – they have decided that their fully cognizant, and fully self aware victim deserves to be executed because they say so – once again playing god. (I urge you to google Damien Echols for an example of this.)
When it comes to their support for war, they use the argument that every country has the right to defend itself. And that is indeed correct – every sovereign nation has the right to defend itself against attack, the operative words being “against attack”. But that does not include pre-emptive war such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This was a war of aggression “justified” by a warmongering regime with trumped up false pretenses. And it killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children. Of course, since they were only brown people from a non-western country, it’s not like they killed anybody that mattered. (Sorry – couldn’t resist the snark.)
And then there is the issue of caring for this unplanned/unwanted child (and its mother) after it is born. The same people who blather on and on about their concern for the fetus (disingenuously calling it an unborn child) are often unwilling to fund any programs for prenatal or postnatal care; for proper nutrition and medical care for the child and/or its mother; for programs like head start; decent schools, and the list goes on and on. It is almost as if it is a deliberate strategy to ensure that young unwed mothers and their children are funneled into a life of poverty and despair and second class citizenship, with a net result of more disadvantaged children being raised in an environment that almost forces them to make poor choices and perpetuate this vicious cycle. Or maybe it really is deliberate.
Because whenever you try to discuss the issue with anti-choicers and bring up the issues of poverty, or the unplanned nature of some situations, or any of the whole laundry list of extenuating circumstances, they very quickly trot out the old canards like “she should have said no” or “she should have kept her legs closed” and “she needs to take responsibility for her actions”. And that’s when you see their REAL agenda – they don’t really care about the fetus – they want to punish the woman or girl for having sex that they don’t approve of. And what better way to punish her than to force her and the child that she wasn’t prepared for into a life of poverty and misery?
So they engage in a concerted effort to make access to a safe and legal procedure as unavailable as possible. They do so through a variety of methods: by creating bogus medical standards narrowly tailored to apply only to clinics that offer abortion, by harrassing them with all sorts of government regulations and “inspections”, by threatening abortion providers and their families, posting their pictures and addresses on the internet, posting where their children go to school – all of which is technically legal but is designed and intended to be as threatening as possible – and even in some cases murdering them. Yeah, I know those are the fringe elements, but most of the anti-choicers (like Randall Terry of Operation Rescue) tacitly support such actions. (Google the Slepian murder in Buffalo, NY and the link to Operation Rescue’s activities.)
And in places where abortion services are available, they make it as difficult as possible for the women seeking their services, making them jump through all sorts of hoops – like several day waiting periods, like medically unneccessary tests, like bogus “counseling”. Finally, if all that fails to dissuade them, they torture and torment these unfortunate women by forcing them to run a gauntlet of hostile sadists to get to the entrance of the clinic where they have gone to take advantage of legal services – after having made what is probably the most difficult decision of their young lives and are already under an enormous amount of stress.
As I said at the top, I can respect those who are truly (and consistently) pro-life even while disagreeing with them on the morality or ethicality of abortion. But for those who actively work against women and their right to choose based on their own beliefs (and needs), I have nothing but contempt, bordering on hatred. (Yeah, I know, sometimes I’m not a very good humanist.) They are nothing short of mean-spirited, sadistic misogynists, no different than ISIS jihadis or al Qaeda thugs who want to destroy the lives of anyone who does not agree with their archaic beliefs. These lowlifes are the American equivalent. And deserve to be reviled as such.

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CFI Social Night: 5/2/2017 at Sharp Edge Bistro

Where: Sharp Edge Bistro (922 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222)

When: 5/2/2017

RSVP at:

Center for Inquiry – Pittsburgh

Welcome to the Center For Inquiry’s monthly social night, held every first Tuesday of the month at the Sharp Edge in the Cultural District downtown.  Come and socialize with like-minded friends.

See you there!

To learn about all the secular groups in Pittsburgh, visit the Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason website…and you can follow Pittsburgh Secular Freethinkers and CFI on Facebook!

*CFI-Pittsburgh strives to be an ADA compliant organization.  Please email to request accomodations.

Pittsburgh, PA 15222 – USA

Tuesday, May 2 at 7:00 PM


CFI Social Night

Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 7:00 PM

3 freethinkers Attending

Check out this Meetup →

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