Teachers, Be Not Afraid

Across the US, representatives in state Senates and Houses of Representatives are attempting to legislate curriculum that would substitute mythology for science in biology classes by teaching creation instead of evolution.  By mandating curriculum in this way, Christian representatives could circumvent state boards of education, comprised of experts who set scholastic standards in our public schools.  The Christian base, preaching to their representatives, chant, “Teach the controversy,” demanding our schools be forced to teach creationism alongside evolution because they believe that their disagreement with experts is equivalent to a disagreement among experts.  It isn’t, of course.  No more than a high school classroom is the place to discuss scientific controversies (assuming, for the sake of the argument, a controversy existed).  It should be obvious—though it isn’t to everyone—that the place for that kind of discussion is in the field, or a dissertation, or a peer-reviewed journal, where cases are judged by experts on the quality of the evidence, not by laypeople on the circuity of the reasoning.

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Bangladesh to shut Facebook pages for blasphemy

Originally published by AFP

DHAKA — A Bangladesh court on Wednesday ordered authorities to shut down five Facebook pages and a website for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed, the Koran and other religious subjects, a lawyer said.

Judges at the high court in Dhaka ordered the telecommunications regulator, home ministry officials and police to block the offending pages immediately.

"These pages contain disparaging remarks and cartoons about Prophet Mohammed, the Muslim holy book of Koran, Jesus, Lord Buddha and Hindu gods," Nawshad Zamir, a lawyer of the petitioner who brought the case, told AFP.

"They mostly targeted the prophet and the Koran. These pages hurt the sentiments of the country's majority Muslim population and the followers of other religions. Some of the cartoons are very close to pornography."

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Church facilitates kidnapping of albino boy

An albino boy was abducted from a church in Kenya in March 2012.  He was taken while the people in the congregation had their eyes closed as prayers were being recited.

The congregation’s suspicions fell on the pastor who was interrogated and apparently confessed to facilitating the boy’s passage to Tanzania, a country known for ritual killings of albinos.  The pastor is said to have been ordered to bring back the boy – he left, but returned a few days later without the young albino boy.  Subsequently a mob descended on the church.

Lawrence Nyagah, a humanist activist and an albino himself, said”images of an enraged mob burning and tearing the church into pieces was aired on one of Kenya’s TV stations [which] spoke more than words could have said about the anger of the crowd, but it further said more: that by perpetuating superstitions the church as an institution was complicit in such incidences of human rights abuse.”  The matter is (allegedly) being pursued by the Kenyan police.

Lawrence said he is “attracted to humanism because of the work humanists are doing to end belief in superstition.  Lawrence said he converted from Catholicism to humanism about two years ago after reading about Leo Igwe and the IHEU, and expressed Africa’s need of more courageous people committed to the fight against belief in and practice of superstitions.

17 GLBTI Gambians Imprisoned

In Gambia lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons are not accorded their basic right to simply be who they are. 

Monday 10 April 2012 marked a historic day of the unrealistic denial of the diversity of sexual orientation.  Seventeen young Gambian men - Alieu Sarr, Kebba Ceesay, Abdoulie Bojang, Amadou Jallow, Amidou Nyang, Ousman Gomez, Sainey Fatty, Lamin Konateh, Lamin Sarr, Buba Banda, Ebrima Jallow, Lamin Saho, Abdoulie Cham, Lamin Jaiteh, Ousman Dibba, Adboulie Saidy, and Muhammed Manneh - were remanded at the Mile 2 Central Prison on grounds of being under police investigation for having engaged in  homosexual activities. An  eighteenth accused man, Nigerian immigrant Ogika Amenechi, was also charged. 

The seventeen Gambia nationals and Nigerian were charged with having been engaged in "indecent practice among themselves in public places" on 5 April 2012 at Serre Kunda and other places in The Gambia.

The seventeen accused, who pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, were denied bail on Monday on the grounds that they were being investigated. Even though the Magistrate who presided over the case told the court that the men were charged with a bailable offence and noted that they had been in detention since 5 April, the Police prosecutor persisted with his application for bail refusal. 

The case was adjourned to 19 April 2012 for hearing.  The accused were not represented during the first hearing.

Rabbi's little helper

Just when sequestering, shunning and sheltering seemed to be enough to keep the minds of ultra-Orthodox Jewish followers from exploring anything reasonable or scientific outside themselves, it seems the leaders have learned to embrace modern psychology, well sort of. In a new effort to help "problematic" members fall in line and control their tayvos - desires - leading rabbis in various Hasidic communities in Israel have linked up with morally questionable psychiatrists in order to prescribe drugs intended to kill sex drive and aid in the "struggle against homosexuality." 

http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/rabbi-s-little-helper-1.422985
http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/psychiatric-drugs-become-talk-of-the-ultra-orthodox-community-1.425727

Some definitions of terms that appear in the articles: Yeshiva- a religious college for boys where only religious scriptures are learned; Rebbe- the head of a Hasidic community, higher ranking than a "rabbi" and seen as an intermediary between the faithful and God; Hasidic Jews- continuation of an 18th century spiritual revival movement in Eastern Europe which is known for stringent observance of Jewish law and isolating themselves from the secular world in regards to media, education and actual contact. The first article is the initial report uncovered by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which is one of the most widespread and internationally recognized Israeli newspapers.

Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic

Thank you to Richard Ponce for his recording of Bertrand Russell's Am I an Atheist or Agnostic for AAI's Freethought Audio Library.  AAI Members can access this recording by logging into the Members Only section of the AAI website, then finding the Freethought Audio Library under the Resources menu.

Witchcraft in Malawi - new report released

The Association for Secular Humanism in Malawi (an AAI Member) has released a report on the extent of witchcraft in Malawi - and it is depressing reading. Belief in witchcraft is widespread, the number of cases is rising and people suspected of witchcraft are often subject to violence. The report recommends ten initiatives to combat the violence against those accused of witchcraft.

Atheist Alliance International congratulates the Association for Secular Humanism for its work to document the extent of the problems in Malawi and its ongoing campaign against superstitious and dangerous practices.

Read the full report

Alexander Aan update

The trial of Alexander Aan - the Indonesian man attacked and charged with blasphemy after posting 'God does not exist' on Facebook - is underway.  As noted by in an article in the Guardian his prospects may be grim.

Freedom of expression is a critical issue for atheists.  We are in the minority and it's all too common for religious people to claim they are offended by the statement of our conclusion that there are no gods.  Religious people should not be offended by this simple statement, but even if they are, physical assault and imprisonment is a not a reasonable response.

If you would like to state your support for freedom of expression and help Alexander you can contact the Indonesian authorities to call for his release and register your concern about Indonesia's blasphemy laws. 

Atheist Alliance International is collecting donations to help pay for Aan's legal costs and to support the Aan family's living expenses while he is in jail, at www.atheistalliance.org/support-aai/donate (Legal/Support Fund for Alex Aan).

 

Moving Forward

(Image: Benjamin Wheelock, Salon.com)

On May 9, 2012, President Obama, who has for years said that his view of marriage equality is still “evolving,” told ABC news in an unanticipated move, “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that, for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” (video may not stream for a few days, due to server-overload on their end).

Reactions, of course, vary.

Republicans and the religious right have taken a predictable stance on the issue.  Romney’s senior advisor, Ed Gillespie, spoke on MSNBC, detailing the position of the Romney campaign.  In short, they are still of the opinion that marriage is between “one man and one woman,” and Romney has gone so far as to threaten a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage for all states (which, it should be said, goes against their stated “states'-rights” agenda, wherein the government is supposed to not make decisions for individual states…see the short video linked at the end of this article).  Their conservative base is naturally behind their stance.

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Limbaugh, Santorum, Sex, and the Origins of the Roman Catholic Church

Originally published on BuzzFlash@Truthout.

In the year 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine saw some kind of a religious vision at some time before a battle in which he defeated his major rival at the time, Maxentius (1). Just what the nature of the vision was is unclear, but it did lead to Constantine's conversion to what became Roman Catholicism. This event functionally ended close to 300 years of an often underground existence of the early Christian religion, which had previously suffered major episodes of violent persecution from a succession of Roman emperors. Now the Church could exist out-in-the-open. Constantine's conversion led to the calling of a grand Council of Church leaders under the direction of the Emperor himself. (No separation of church-and-state back then. Rick "JFK's-separation-of-church-and-state-speech-made-me-want-to-vomit" Santorum would have fit right in.) It was held in the lake-side town of Nicea (now Iznik, in Turkey). It produced what came to be known as the First Nicean Creed, the first coordinated statement of Catholic doctrine.

Nevertheless, the bishops were hardly unchallenged in the field of competitive religion. There still were a wide variety of both polytheistic and competing monotheistic religions within both the Eastern and the Western sectors of the Empire. As well, there were major schisms (sometimes leading to violent struggles) within their own house over such issues as the true nature of Jesus: human, divine, or both. Nevertheless, over time those conflicts were resolved, sometimes through the use of force (yes, even over such matters as the nature of Jesus.) Then the bishops struggled with what they could do to enlarge their flock and retain their allegiance. They developed a variety of approaches to solving this problem. One major initiative was to focus on sex.

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Atheist faces three counts in court

This article was originally published in the Jakarta Post.

A civil servant who incited controversy by declaring that he was atheist was on Monday indicted on three charges, including one for violating the Information Transaction Law (ITE).

The first charge brought against Alexander at the Muaro Sijungung District Court was for violating Article 28, Clause 2 of the ITE. Next was for Article 156a(a) of the Criminal Code (KUHP), and the last for violating Article 156a(b) of the KUHP.

Alexander was indicted for creating a Facebook group called Minang Atheists. Alexander wrote about Prophet Muhammad on the Facebook wall. The trial was attended by five witnesses, Hendri, Mulyadi, Doni Saptri, Yon Riadi, and Hendri Martariko, who had seen the pictures and posts on Alexander's Facebook group.

Prosecutor Ibrahim Khalil, in the indictment, said the Facebook posts and pictures insulted Islam. The posts also caused a public disturbance and outcry.

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Apostasy Campaign in Chile

The AECH, Skeptics Association of Chile, started as a group of people who got to know each other through debates on online forums.  They were familiar with the work of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, among others, and were also catalyzed by the appearance of a very well known charlatan on television.

AECH’s work involves publishing articles online, running two radio shows, and also going after possible charlatans or quacks, explaining people why some benefits-for-little-money might be a scam.  They spread science through the internet and their radio shows, which a lot of people still don’t have access to in our country, where statistics about reading skills and reading comprehension are frantically depressing.

AECH’s objectives are to undertake an educational role in the mass media, create debate wherever and whenever it’s needed and raise awareness of all the quackery still going on.

I contacted Luis León Cárdenas Graide, better known as ‘Luchostein’, who is a member of this association.

But before Luis’ interview, what is the apostasy campaign and how does it work?

The apostasy campaign is a (hopefully) massive gathering of people to formally renounce their religion. People participate by attending a meeting in their communities where they are given apostasy letters to fill in.  The letters are handed in by groups to their respective archdiocese, which then has two days time (by law) to go through the papers and delete the apostates from its records permanently.

For more information on the apostasy campaign in Chile see: http://www.aech.cl/2012/03/convocatoria-participar-en-apostasia.html.

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PATAS, A Spark of Reason in the Philippines

The First Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Convention was held in Manila on Saturday April 21st by the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS). This event is notable in that it came into being from a grassroots organization started on Facebook only just over a year ago. The ambitious work of its members, its chairperson Marissa Torres Langseth and president John Paraiso, drew a crowd of around 150 supporters and speakers from many organizations around the world. Don’t be fooled by the size of the turnout; this is truly a spark in a tinderbox.

The vast majority of people in the Philippines are fervently religious, the country being predominantly Roman Catholic with an Islamic population in the south, and it is also highly superstitious. At the convention we learned of the power of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, where voters are outright coerced into election choices under the threat of excommunication. Even more alarming is the church’s stance on birth control, abortion rights and, women’s rights. The church’s influence has led to overpopulation with a majority of Filipinos living in poverty, where AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase. Lack of basic education and the threat of damnation for rational family planning plague the population. Undue meddling in the government by the church has allowed it to maintain control since it was forced onto the Filipino population by the Spaniards.  But times are changing. As Marissa Torres Langseth wrote in the preamble to the convention, “No more hiding, no more lying—we are coming out…Our tools are logic, critical thinking, reason, science.”

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Brazil deems abortion of anencephalic fetuses legal

Women celebrate when the results were announced.
“Crime is having no rights!” reads the banner. (Picture: AgBR/ CFêmea)
  

Anencephaly, according to Wikipedia,  is a cephalic disorder that results from a neural tube defect that occurs when the cephalic (head) end of the neural tube fails to close, usually between the 23rd and 26th day of pregnancy, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp.

On 12 April Brazil took a true secular action by decriminalizing the abortion of anencephalic fetuses and assuring the rights of pregnant women in such cases. With eight votes for and two against, the result of the judgment may not have been as significant as the signaled Brazilian position regarding religion and State separation: minister Marco Aurélio Mello of the Supreme Court of Brazil (“Superior Tribunal Federal”), the highest judicial court, rapporteur of this process and first to vote pro-decriminalization, included a whole section in his speech to reinforce the fact that the constitution is laic, and no religious belief should interfere in the law. 

Some interesting parts are transcripted below[1] (free translation):

“Gods and Caesars have separated places. The State is not religious, nor is atheist. The State is simply neutral.”  

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What Is The Soul

There is a new addition to AAI's Freethought Audio Library! Thank you to Richard Ponce for his recording of Bertrand Russell's What is the soul.  AAI Members can access this recording by logging into the Members Only section of the AAI website, then finding the Freethought Audio Library under the Resources menu.

What Would You Substitute For the Bible as a Moral Guide?

Oh, we can think of a few things!  AAI Members can now listen to Robert Ingersoll's What Would You Substitute For the Bible as a Moral Guide? through the Freethought Audio Library, thanks to a recording by David Brocker.

AAI Members can access this recording by logging into the Members Only section of the AAI website, then finding the Freethought Audio Library under the Resources menu.

Iranian Rapper Faces Calls For His Execution Over Insulting Imam Naghi

(This piece is an amalgamation of information from articles originally published here: http://www.rferl.org/content/iran_rapper_/24578413.html / http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15944274,00.html / http://www.eurasiareview.com/11052012-germany-iranian-rapper-najafi-in-hiding-after-death-threats/  http://www.freemuse.org/sw47478.asp)

After the exiled Iranian rapper and rock guitarist Shahin Najafi released a controversial song entitled ‘Naghi’, an Iranian cleric issued a death sentence (fatwa) against him, and a news site in the country started a campaign calling for his assassination.  The song ‘Naghi’ is believed to be offensive to Imam Naqi, the tenth Imam in Shia Islam.
 
The news website Asr Iran, which is closely tied to the regime in Tehran, launched an online campaign calling for the hanging of 31-year-old Shahin Najafi. The website stated that the aim of the campaign was to have Najafi condemned for blasphemy, a crime that carries the death penalty in Iran.

The campaign organisers called on all Shi’ites and Muslims in general to find and kill Najafi and “send him to hell,” according to the website.  This happened after a Shia cleric based in the Iranian city of Qom, Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, issued a death sentence against Shahin Najafi for apostasy, the Persian-language Al Arabiya website reported on 9 May 2012. Al Arabiya dubbed Najafi as “Salman Rushdie of music”.

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