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I’m always astonished by the number of people who misunderstand what the First Amendment really means about religion (and how the courts have subsequently interpreted it) and are ignorant about the history of how that amendment came about. It’s as if that Jefferson, Madison, et al. (granted, many of them deists) didn’t really mean to keep religion out of government, but rather to put it in. Those same people always mention that our country was founded on Christian principles (false: it was on Enlightenment principles), and that the First Amendment wasn’t in the least intended to erect a wall between churches and the U.S. government.

In a post on Santa Monica banning nativity scenes, I replied to a commenter who said something along the lines above, and I responded:

Yeah, so should we put up nativity scenes on public land? Is it okay to put Christian slogans in schools?

Yes, we can mention those religious traditions, but NOT IN PUBLIC VENUES, or if they’re part of a comparative religion class.

This stuff about us being a “Christian nation” is not only untrue (the founding fathers wanted to deliberately un-Christianize it), but makes me ill.

Well, happy Thanksgiving to me, for a commenter (who names himself) tried yesterday to publish the following. Needless to say, his name-calling has prevented him from ever commenting here again, but I put this up to show the abysmal ignorance of Americans about their own Constitution—and their own history:

raymond mollica commented on Victory for first amendment: judge rules that Santa Monica can ban nativity scenes

Sorry to hear you are ill. Maybe its because you are stupid. The founding fathers did not want to un-christianize this country. They didn’t want one religious denomination to be the official religion of the land because the church of england was the official religion of england and others couldn’t worship the way they wanted to. If you read about the writing of the constitution and the founding fathers you will see there is alot about religion in it and why the first amendment is about religion. Someone with so little knowledge of this country should not be commenting on it’s founding.

The comment discredits itself. If you don’t know why, read this.

Mollica tried two other posts, both equally insuting and neither worthy of mention, but one makes this statement:

There are alot of dumb people on these posts. First of all there is nothing in the constitution that says you cannot make a religious statement on government property

Mollica apparently doesn’t know that it’s the job of the Supreme Court to determine which laws violate the Constitution, and the Court has deemed that, with very few exceptions, placing religious statements on government property is unconstitutional.

Finally, I can’t resist something that seems endemic in every benighted person like Mollica (whoever he is): they can’t make the distinction between “its” and “it’s”. The population of creationists, for instance, is highly enriched with people who make this error.

96 Comments

  1. Rob
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Apparently, it seems they can’t make the distinction between “a lot” and “alot” either.

    http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.ch/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      You beat me to it! +1

      • michieux
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        Yes, I, too, disdain people who write “alot” when the mean “a lot” — it shows a level of illiteracy that is unbecoming of anyone purporting to be a scholar.

        • michieux
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

          Sorry — the word “the” in my post would have been “they” were it not for a crummy keyboard.

          • JoeBuddha
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

            The common plaint of the user: The hardware did it!
            (As a software person, I’ve used that many times myself)

    • komponist1
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      Or “all right” and “alright”.

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

        I’m happy to accept “alright” as idiomatic, since “already” already is.

        /@

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      So what? That is how languages evolve. So it is all good. Especially in how it shows creationists are sloppy/lack education in general. (Some may be dyslectic, of course.)

      What Coyne is noting is a problem of distinctiveness. The context is still sorting out the significant cases, but it could lead to problems further on. Not a good evolution.

  2. raven
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    9.
    John Sargeant
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    My blog covered this comment on behalf of the nativity committee: “The birth of Jesus Christ is the linchpin of Western civilization, our calendar derives from it, but now somehow it’s just not right to have a classic depiction of this event in a Nativity scene in a city park,” said Hunter Jameson, head of the Nativity committee.”

    As reported by John Sargeant, the church committee claimed that they should get to display their scene because,

    The birth of Jesus Christ is the linchpin of Western Civilization.

    Well it isn’t.

    Dredging through my now ancient high schooling and hitting Google, the roots of Western Civilization are many are varied. It starts out with Egytian and Mesopotamian cultures, Jewish, classical Greek And Roman, and xianity.

    More recent influences are the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and currently one of our major drivers is science and technology. If you look at the main feature of modern Hi Tech civilization it is our wealth and long lives, products of science.

    Civilizations evolve and even advance sometimes.

    • raven
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:08 am | Permalink

      The comment about the calendar is a non sequiteur. I don’t think that Xmas is the time of year we celebrate our calendars.

      It’s incorrect too.

      Most of the months of the year are named for Roman gods including the ones named after deified Roman emperors. A few are just numbers but in Latin, not Aramaic or Hebrew.

      All the days of the week are named after Pagan gods. Thursday is Thor’s day.

      Maybe they can wait for National Calendar Celebration day and put up their display then.

      • bric
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

        Curious that the festival marking the death of Jesus – Easter – is named after a Pagan goddess (of fertility, no less).

        • raven
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:52 am | Permalink

          Xmas itself was stolen from the Pagans. The reindeer, tree, Yule logs, mistletoe, holy, elfs etc. are all pagan. No one is quite sure when jesus was born so they coopted the pagan end of year celebrations.

          It’s OK. The pagans are stealing it back

        • Posted November 24, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

          Ishtar the Babylonian goddess … Also baked at the time were buns with crosses on them.

          • Posted November 24, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            Actually…well, you know how Christians portray Satan as the diametric opposite of Jesus? Upside-down cross and all?

            Well, that sort of perverse contrarianism is a much better description of Christianity itself.

            We see this in its two most important celebrations: Christmas and Easter.

            Easter is the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus and Christmas as his birth, but that’s exactly worng.

            You see, springtime is the birthing season, when everything comes alive again.

            And the winter solstice is when the Sun dies (reaches its nadir), lays in the ground for three days (during which time it doesn’t visibly move on the horizon between successive risings and settings), and is resurrected (when it re-starts its northward journey.

            It just drives home the point that, at its heart, Christianity really is an evil death-worshipping cult — no surprise to anybody who’s actually read their Bible.

            Cheers,

            b&

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        The start of a calendar in European civilisations after the common era have varied considerably over time.

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:18 am | Permalink

      If the calender is based on the christmas story, why does the new year start a week later?

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

        The new year used to start on Lady Day, 25th March (nine months before Christmas… the day the Holy Spirit knocked up Mary). With the change to the Gregorian calendar, new year’s day became 5th April. Which is still the beginning of the tax year in the UK.

        /@

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

        January 1 is the traditional “Feast of the Circumcision” for some Christian churches, honoring the day of Jesus’ circumcision. Though it may not be widely celebrated as such today, this is how New Year’s is related to the Christmas story. (Though, from what I understand, like Christmas itself, there are pagan influences on why the date was chosen as well.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      If we are really picky we should also note that “the birth of Jesus Christ” is an unsupported myth. On the contrary, the lack of historical support on all pre-Enlightenment religious founders, and the historical support that post-Enlightenment religious founders are all scammers, makes it a phantasm historically speaking.

      Yes, you can base calendars on verifiable myths, but that doesn’t make mythical figures “linchpins” for civilizations.

      More problematic is that we know most or all religions have delayed or broken civilizations. For the post-semitic religions, all of them: the diaspora of jews due to judaism (“Hadrian attempted to root out Judaism, which he saw as the cause of continuous rebellions.“), the dark ages of the christian rule, or the rejection of their own early science and technology of the islam rule (which to this day has led to rejection of enlightenment principles). Recorded history makes religions the exact opposite of linchpins.

      Speaking of calendars in this subthread, religion isn’t even the linchpin of the western world calendars. It was the originally pagan Roman calendar that our current calendar derives from. As such the lunar based calendar likely derived from one of the secular Greek calendars.

      The pagan calendar was reformed to a secular one, the Julian calendar, as the roman empire expanded. That was used all the way up to just before the Enlightenment.

      Then yet another reformation leading up to the current Western calendar was pushed onto the world by the then important catholic church.

      Since christianity is a death cult, it is of course based on “the most important Christian feast” of celebrating the _death_ of their god.* _Not_ its birth!

      * Coincidentally and importantly, the calendar was constituted because the church didn’t like the yearly changes necessary to keep the date of its death feast.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        Just so I don’t play “blame the victim” game here, I should note that the generic causes of the diaspora was the Hellenic and Roman conquests. But it seems religion was the deciding cofactor.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        Also, I should probably note that christians want to make the obvious death feast to a zombie fest. Potato, potatoe.

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      “Civilizations evolve and even advance sometimes.”

      This.

      Even if the US had been established as an explicitly xian country, it doesn’t follow that it must forever remain one.

      Much of the economy of the early US rested on the broken backs of slaves kidnapped from Africa and treated horribly. But I don’t hear anyone desperately calling for a return to slavery: “This country was founded as a slave-owning country!”

  3. Dawn Oz
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    I’m amazed that people are willing to display their ignorance, and then arrogance by pitting themselves against a professor, when they have not education.

    It is a shame that separation of church and state and the beginning of the USA isn’t taught in primary school to such an extent that it is really known, if not completely understood.

    My husband is an American who jokes that the first thing that the pilgrims did was hold a prayer meeting, whereas the first thing that happened in Australia was probably a drunken orgy.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      PS – As I’ve become lazy due to autocorrect, I find that ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ are sometimes left incorrect.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:17 am | Permalink

      I *knew* there was a reason I like Aussies… ;)

      • Miles_Teg
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink

        Yes, we are loveable, and (in my case at least) handsome, erudite and dashing! :-)

        • Kiwi Dave
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          Indeed, you Aussies are all these things. Your only defect is excessive modesty, which is not a problem for we Kiwis, as we have much to be modest about.

          • Miles_Teg
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

            I like Kiwis. And for some reason the bonza Kiwi chicks seem to make their way over to the West Island in disproportionate numbers. Some of my favourite dentists hygienists have been Kiwis… :-)

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:20 am | Permalink

      “first thing that happened in Australia was probably a drunken orgy.”

      Which doesn’t appear to have stopped, :-)

      Go Ozzie!

    • TJR
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      Although of course those first ships contained mostly men. And probably sheep.

      No further comment.

  4. coozoe
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Do these folks get the misinformation in their stilted education or do they make it up while drinking beer while watching tv?

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

      It is the latter. They didn’t pay any attention during their stilted education.

  5. Golkarian
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    “…they can’t make the distinction between “its” and “it’s”.” Shoot, he said “you are stupid”, there’s nothing like someone telling you that “your stupid”.

  6. Beachscriber
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    “Sorry to hear you are ill. Maybe its because you are stupid. ”
    Sheesh, what arrogance! I tend to disagree a lot on this site when it comes to religious and philosophical matters but I’d still consider it an honour to have my comments responded to by the prof himself.

  7. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    They didn’t want one religious denomination to be the official religion of the land because the church of england was the official religion of england and others couldn’t worship the way they wanted to.”

    Which includes not worshipping at all, you #!)87@#$^%$#&^%)@#$ @#7^%#)9*!!!

    (Auto-curse-correction enabled)

  8. Howard Kornstein
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Well at least we do have a constutional basis to fight off these attempted encroachments of religion into public affairs in the States. Although you may think that an enlightened, more secular Britain avoids these things Jerry, you’re totally wrong. We are an athiest family. Here in England my daughter faces a stark situation, to get my two grandchildren in any good school in her area (schools which are government funded Church of England schools) she must profess a Christian belief, attend services( brainwashing) and serve in church activity under the scrutinising eye of the church committee. It’s an appalling choice she faces of principle vs. her children’s well being. Of course if “lucky enough” to get her boys in these schools she knows thay will face strong religious indoctrination – if she tries to counter it, the school authorities may notice and eject the children’s school entrance because they were “deceived” about my daughters beliefs. Thank your lucky stars for the USA constitution Jerry.

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:22 am | Permalink

      That’s a bugger Howard and one of the reasons I campaign to get faith schools outlawed here (I’m UK as well).

    • Beachscriber
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

      I don’t really see a problem with letting my children be exposed to thinking I disagree with. It’s healthy as long as you are there and the communication channels are there for you to mediate and help them think for themselves. In the end, it makes them stronger. And it’s more fun having your kids come home with stuff they’d picked up from other kids about fairies or whatever than their coming home with the stuff you’d teach them anyway.

      Though, I guess it would depend to some extent on the personality of the child. To speak for myself, even as a child growing up in a home where my father was the pastor of a church, I was keenly interested in reading stuff I’d ordinarily disagree with or be sheilded from, and much to my father’s frustration, I often questioned what he taught and played devil’s advocate. I still do that and I think it should be encouraged in one’s children.

      • Howard Kornstein
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

        I don’t think you appreciate the real situation I’ve described. I myself agree with you that knowledge of religion is an important part of being a intellectually developed adult. I would like to see my grandsons understand religion, religious belief systems, religious apologetics, history, texts, etc etc. I would accept (sadly), that having become independent rational free-thinkers in their own right, they decide to become religious for their own reasons. But (and it’s a big but) I don’t think it’s right to hand your child over to those who wish to indoctrinate him/her when they are at that stage of innocent credulousness of their very early years. Their is nothing healthy in having to go through the trauma of breaking with a belief system into which one has been indoctrinated, as have most atheists that I know have been put through (often scarred by the experience). You don’t appreciate that if the school notices that the children parents are teaching beliefs that contradict the “Christian faith” that the parents have professed to have, just to get the child in a good school, the child will probably be kicked out of that school. Can you honestly say that you would be happy to hand over YOUR child to someone who has these aims of indoctrination? And the idea this is done with state support is obscene.

        • Beachscriber
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

          You’re probably right. Apart from having an unusual personality, I’m South African, so kind of used to a very wide range of cultures and practices. Schools here are crazy cultural stews and religious differences are the least of our worries. Parents here have to worry about their kids getting caught up in gangsterism, robbery, sugar-daddies, Aids, drugs, MacDonalds, racism, etc. Being discriminated against on religious grounds is quite unheard of. Admittedly, we don’t really know what it’s like.

          The issue Jerry is addressing here does come up occasionally here but less so because people care less. We’re inclined to roll our eyes at you lot. We have so-called Christian and Muslim schools which are attended by Christians and Muslims alike and they put up with it and develop healthy relationships across the divide. We also have public schools with particular religious biases and the same applies there. No-one seems to kick up much of a fuss about it. Maybe it’s the larger backdrop of racism and economic oppression that eclipses the religious division.

          • Filippo
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

            ” . . . Christians and Muslims alike and they put up with it and develop healthy relationships across the divide.”

            Just congenially curious – do you yourself know of any Muslims – particularly single young women – who have left the Muslim fold without having to endure the enmity of their former brethren?

          • TFJ
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            A rosy picture, Beachscriber. Although official discrimination is not practised, I find a lot of ignorance and intolerance of atheism amongst the dog-soaked (I wonder what Ceiling Cat has to say about dog). The letters pages in the papers often feature illogical sermonising and demonising of the faithless. I do business with a number of schools and they almost always have ‘letters from gawd’ on the walls.

            Never mind the Newage (pronounced as in ‘sewage’) beliefs and associated medical charlatanery which abounds.

          • Beachscriber
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

            Filippo, yes, but the South African Muslim community is generally not very conservative and I appreciate that this would not be the case in other parts. There is, of course the normal friction that goes with the breaking of social bonds – as there would be if say, someone from an atheist family got converted, but it is not, here in the area I live in, a very principled break like I’m sure you’d get in other parts.

          • Beachscriber
            Posted November 24, 2012 at 12:05 am | Permalink

            TFJ, I dislike your tone. The resentful terminology you use has you echoing with the same bigotry you see in your opponents. It has the same tone I’ve encountered on some atheist forums where people have descended into horrible, hateful, even murderous talk about religious people. If you think being an atheist, being the underdog, frees you of the bigotry and intolerance you’ve encountered in religious people, then think again.

  9. Evansdale
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    As an atheist Brit living in the USA I am always a little shocked by my christian coworkers reaction when I tell them that the first amendment is one of the greatest achievements of man and the USA. It protects their belief from government as well as from other beliefs.

    I think the problem for the christian fundamentalists is that it also now protects people who are “not like them.” Muslims, Sikhs, foreigners. Therefore they need to turn it into something that only protects people that resemble themselves. It is part of general reaction of frightened people in a changing world. Muslim fundamentalists are the result of similar fears in the middle east. Their world is changing and it makes them very uncomfortable. So they deny freedom and education to women, stone adulterers and so on.

    • Howard Kornstein
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      “It is part of general reaction of frightened people in a changing world. Muslim fundamentalists are the result of similar fears in the middle east.”
      No, fundamentalism is the result of taking religious texts at face value, believing exactly what they say and being MORE religious than most others. It is not just a “sign of the times” we are going through – it is a sign of ANY time that people take their faith very seriously. Christianity has become more “tolerant” only after reaching a state of near exhaustion from centuries of religious intercine warfare.

    • TFJ
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      “Their world is changing and it makes them very uncomfortable. So they deny freedom and education to women, stone adulterers and so on”

      What seems to scare them most is the thought of being denied the right to commit these vile acts. There may be some truth in saying that it’s causing them to grip their holy books even tighter.

  10. Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    I’m not an American, my country of origin does not have separation of church and state but I wish it had, etc. etc., so I have nothing much to say about the interpretation of the US constitution.

    But it never ceases to amaze me that anybody, even the most fundamentalist Christian or Muslim, can believe that theocracy would be a good thing. Should they not immediately realize what it would mean if some other sect than theirs were to gain control of the state? Would the evangelicals really be happier if the USA became an officially Catholic country instead of a secular one, for example?

  11. sigh
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    I too (an autodidact English speaker) can’t make the distinction between “its” and “it’s”. Fundie Amerikanski language skillz baby.

    • Rod
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      If it can be replaced by “it is” then it is “it’s”. It’s a nice day.
      If it means “belonging to it” then you use “its”. The tire and its rim were damaged.

      • sigh
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

        Muchas Gracias.

      • Posted November 24, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Of course, it’s actually a bit worse than that. This is English we’re talking about; it’s always been a royal mess, the way it’s dealt with its peculiarities.

        For example, in a game of Tag, the It’s job is to touch another and thereby pass its It title to another It, at which point it’s time for the process to repeat itself.

        It’s really quite a mess, as you can see, this business of the proper treatment of its’s grammar….

        Cheers,

        b&

        P.S. To the best of my knowledge, everything in this post truly is grammatically correct, even though it’s all designed to push the limits as far as it’s possible to do so. b&

  12. Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Indeed, mollica is out to lunch, but I think you’ve also missed an important distinction. The SCOTUS has repeatedly banned the government from putting religious messages on public land, or from giving private, religious interests preferential treatment on putting religious messages on public land. This is because those activities amount to state endorsement, i. e., “respecting an establishment of religion”.

    I’m not aware of any ruling consistent with the idea of banning private individuals or groups from their own free expression of their religious beliefs on public land. Such a ban would seem to be violating the other side of the wall, of the government infringing on the right of citizens to freely express their beliefs in public. As long as there is no preferential treatment, I don’t see how such expression could be construed as violation of the First Amendment, whereas banning it probably is.

    We’re talking about public land, like a sidewalk soapbox, not “endorsed by the state” land. As much as I dislike religious messages, people do have free speech rights to express them in public, and the better solution to bad speech is more speech, a statement I’ve seen in this blog even recently regarding mocking a KKK parade that was also on public land.

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

      Specifically, here is the post I’m referring to: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/how-to-fight-hate-speech-with-clown-power/

      How do you reconcile the two divergent suggestions? For the neo-Nazi’s and KKK, the message is that the best approach to fighting hate speech (on public land) is NOT to ban it but with more speech such as mocking and sarcasm. Yet in this post (and the prior one it refers to), the message is that religious messages SHOULD be banned on public land.

      I generally agree with the former, not the latter. As long as the government isn’t giving preferential treatment, public land is for use by the public including exercise of free speech.

      • notsont
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Noone was banned from putting up displays they were simply told that certain spots were now off limits due to the cost. Also attended displays are still welcome.

    • Rebecca Harbison
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      I think the argument for the static display is either you have to allow everyone to put up a display — Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc.* — or no one can. If the city has had problems in the past with complaints about holiday displays or vandalism (which does seem to be mentioned in December on this blog and others), then I can see them saying ‘since you can’t act like grownups about your holiday displays, we’re no longer allowing them’.

      I also don’t know what the space situation is like in Santa Monica; if they could only fix one display, it could be hard to bring a compromise. After all, with a parade or a guy with a sign on a street corner, you can have many of those. With a display in a certain spot, you are limited. (It would be nice to say they could only have Dec 22 to Dec 30, because the Jews get it first for Hanukkah, then the various Pagan and Wiccans are putting up a Yule display jointly, so after that you can have a nativity scene, but be sure to clear it out for the secular New Year display that goes up on the 31st.)

      * And in such a way that one group can’t beat the system, like a lottery.

    • Explicit Atheist
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Chad: There sure is preferential treatment here given that 1) the displays are permitted only during Christmas instead of all year for the purpose of celebrating Christmas and 2) the displays are permitted only while they are Christian, once the displays become anti-religion or pro-atheist the so-called public free expression-zone is eliminated by the same law-makers who previously established it. Non-discriminatory free-expression zone my foot, that is a lie.

  13. Hempenstein
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    It’s jumped out at me on the first read, too.

    For some yrs, my daughter the English major/poet captioned video material. When she went for the interview, I calmly told her she’d get the job. “Why are you so sure?”, she asked. “Because you know the difference between it’s and its.” Turned out that was one of the first things they asked her.

    She captioned everything from porn to Xtian videos, transitioning seamlessly between them all, and used to love to imagine the reaction of the religious folks if they knew who’d been captioning their videos.

    Eventually she burned out from the stupidity of the majority of the stuff she had to caption.

  14. Brian
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Let’s not mince words, the display of proud ignorance here is beyond shocking.

    But I think a bit of perspective is in order. Firstly, Jerry is a professional academic, as are several commentators and many of the commentators are atheists/skeptics/something-like-that. We’ve developed a particular critical thinking style that frankly is not at all how most people think. We are worried about how the Supreme Court has ruled on these issues and what the case law says and the logic of the courts’ arguments. To try to understand law in such a scholarly way is not how most people think. Even with understanding the Founding Father’s intent, we consult historians and original texts of what Jefferson and Madison said is more scholarly than most people think. That isn’t to excuse it. I was taught about US government and history in school. At the very least reading court decisions before criticizing them and consulting what Jefferson himself said should be a basic thinking skill.

    What struck me about the original post from Bebop is the following:

    “To ban references to christmas is absurd. It is like this at the my children’s daycare. They can’t talk about christmas tree, or who is that baby who seems to be related to Christmas.. It may offend other cultures…”

    I think this is at the heart of the issue what Bebop’s concern is and what needs to be addressed. Not the academic considerations of Constitutional Law and history but what’s happening at their kids school. I’m an academic, the quoted thing is how my parents (not academics) think. To them the Christmas season and other school activities are just a bit of harmless fun and part of their culture and some killjoy is coming in to destroy that. They aren’t wrong either, some parents are obsessive killjoys like this. And the mere notion that one can mention Christmas without mentioning Jesus or that one mustn’t offend other cultures except ignoring their own Western Christian culture is perfectly okay is all genuinely absurd. Of course, the fact Christianity is so thoroughly privileged that atheist students have been treated as lesser members of the school and members of other cultures have been marginalized is just as absurd.

    Ultimately Bebop doesn’t know better. Bebop probably has no advanced degrees. Bebop is probably in a community that is deeply Christian where everyone thinks like this. And Bebop understandably wants to celebrate Christmas. Some patience with Bebop and understanding of his/her perspective is perhaps in order.

    I’m not saying Bebop is right. Again, Bebop is grossly ignorant of that facts. Bebop is grossly inconsiderate of others. But such concerns and ways of thinking should be addressed. While church-state separation must be maintained, are we seriously saying they can’t sing about Jesus and Pagan trees in the darn holiday assembly (while learning that it is indeed a Pagan tree and about at least Hanukkah or something other culture/religion while they’re at it)?

    Moreover, if we must bemoan this ignorance, then we have to start talking about how to deal with equally ignorance congressmen and school board members and how to get people to be taught about, well, reality and some critical thinking in school. That’s highly nontrivial.

  15. Filippo
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    ” . . . they can’t make the distinction between “its” and “it’s”.”

    Another is the widely-spreading habit (meme?) of saying “people that” instead of “people who.” When the conspiracy theorist periodically awakens in me, I speculate that the use of “that” reflects the human predisposition to objectify and exploit others, as reflected in the use of the beneficent terms “human resources” and “human capital.”

  16. Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I’m not aware of a single American Founding Father who would be caught dead in the type of church that Republicans inhabit, and Jefferson himself mocked Jesus almost as much as I do.

    Besides, let’s not forget the Treaty of Tripoli, shall we?

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    President George Washington sent diplomats to negotiate the treaty in 1795. They successfully returned with the treaty two years later. The Senate unanimously approved the treaty, and President John Adams signed it (and accompanied his signing with a very forceful statement).

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation

      Edarwins! Another thing broken. (The historical record I mean, not the historical treaty.)

      It could be a pattern, of dysfunctionality I would think.

    • Filippo
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      ” . . . as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims] . . . .”

      To my subjective mind, this seems to be a locution calculated to minimize offending Muslim sensibilities, apparently as delicate then as they seem to be nowadays.

      Perhaps the U.S. government and the bulk of its citizens did not direct all that much enmity toward Muslim states, what with what seems to have been their similar attitudes toward slaves, minorities, women at that time.

      It would seem to be different nowadays.

      Has the state of Muslim “tranquility” much changed over the last few hundred years? Religious totalitarianism is certainly capable of imposing “tranquility.” (The U.S. of course has had its own social tranquillity challenges, re: Civil War, civil rights, etc.) Today it seems that many if not most of us do in fact direct enmity toward “the (Shariah) laws” tranquil Islamofascists seem intent on imposing on us.

  17. Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Hahahaa, my mum once took her whole office down to the pub after work and painstakingly taught them all the correct usage of “its” and “it’s”. For some reason, I had them down by the equivalent of first grade…

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Those same people always mention that our country was founded on Christian principles (false: it was on Enlightenment principles),

    Enlightenment principles is orthogonal to christian principles. Indeed, accepting its consequences such as freedom of religion would explicitly reject principles of specific religions as such.

  19. Georgia
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Actually, there is an argument that the purpose of the Establishment Clause was twofold: to prohibit the federal government from establishing a national religion and to prohibit the federal government from interfering with state decisions to establish or not establish state religions as they saw fit. If this reading is correct (and at least arguably it is), it would be strange to think that an amendment originally ratified to protect the right of states to establish religion free from federal interference should now be used by federal judges to prohibit states from doing just that. To be sure, this is a minority view never likely to be accepted by any court. But, given the cursory manner by which the Supreme Court incorporated the Establishment Clause into the Fourteenth Amendment (thereby making it a limitation on the prerogatives of the states), the argument can’t be dismissed out of hand as the product of demented thinking. It’s merely too late in the day for courts to revisit this particular legal paradox.

    • Howard Kornstein
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      This is a totally absurd argument. It is exactly equivalent to saying that the writers of the constitution constrained the Federal Government from restricting freedom of speech, while still allowing the States to do so.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Added to previous commented on absurdity, it must be a product of demented thinking to make the absurd claim that a legal procedure that incorporated the Establishment Clause into the Fourteenth Amendment somehow constituted a legal paradox. Then it couldn’t have happened in a way that is “too late … to revisit”. That in itself tell us this was legit.

      Methinks you want to have it both ways, in order to raise undue claims.

    • raven
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      the argument can’t be dismissed out of hand as the product of demented thinking.

      Well, OK, if you say so.

      Georgia, sorry to tell you, but that kit you bought for reading the minds of long dead people is defective.

      It’s a timeline jumper.

      Nothing like that happened in our universe. What color is the sky on your planet? Do cats exist there?

      • Georgia
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        The question I raised was whether the words “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion” can arguably be read as protecting states from federal intrusion into their local establishment decisions, in addition to protecting individuals from a national religion. If so, one could fairly argue, without delusion, that the clause should have raised different concerns with regard to incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment than other Bill of Rights clauses that relate exclusively to the protection of individuals from federal action. It’s an interesting question that, to my knowledge, the Supreme Court has never directly addressed, although I am aware that the incorporation of the Establishment Clause has long been settled law in this universe. I have no opinion as to the status of cats.

        • Howard Kornstein
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          The exact wordin of the first amendment:
          “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
          Read it.
          What I said is exactly correct – your argument means EXACTLY that States were meant to have the license to ban free speech. Utter nonsense! Torbjörn’s point is equally valid…. the 14th amendment is totally consistent with the 1st

          • jaxkayaker
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

            No, it means that the U.S. Constitution enumerated the powers and responsibilities of the federal government and did not apply to the states. Whether a state had the power to limit speech, etc. depended on that state’s own constitution. The U.S. Constitution, at the time of its writing and ratification, said nothing about the states’ abilities to limit their residents’ and citizens’ rights. It not state that the states were meant to or not meant to be permitted to limit rights, it was neutral on the question.

            • Howard Kornstein
              Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

              Yes, I do see your point that you are trying to make jaxkayaker, that the Enlightenment figures that framed our constitution were perfectly happy with the idea that free speach might be made illegal in New York State and that the Official Church of Virginia State could outlaw Catholic worship in their jurisdiction.

              Get real.

              • Observer
                Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

                Whether they were happy about it is mostly irrelevant. By point of law they allowed it. Prior to the 14th it was not at all clear that the bill of rights could be enforced in the states and widely understood that in many cases it could not. Part of the purpose of the 14th amendment was to change that.

            • Evansdale
              Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

              Thank goodness the States can opt out of any part of the constitution they do not like. That means a state can ban gun ownership despite the 2nd.

              • Howard Kornstein
                Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

                “Part of the purpose of the 14th amendment was to change that.”
                No, the 14th was not to “change” the implications of the 1st amendment, it was to clarify them. In a legal sense the wording was essentially to established things “for the avoidance of doubt” as it would be put in present day contract law.
                Even if one were to take the absurd position that the framers of the Constitution did not really mind state governments doing things they found anathema for government, the 14th still solidifies that Constitutionally, there is no acceptable state action possible against the dictates of the establishment clause

              • Observer
                Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

                In reply to Howard, I didn’t write you claim I did. I wrote that prior to the 14th amendment the enforceability of the bill of rights upon the states wasn’t clear, and what changed was the lack of clarity.

              • Observer
                Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

                Neither did I write that they did not mind the the Establishment Clause being abrogated by the states. I wrote that their opinion was mostly irrelevant.

        • Jeff D
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          Some of the original States / former colonies retained state-established churches under their state laws and constitutions for 1 or more decades after the ratification of the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Others (most prominently, Virginia, with its statute for religious freedom, written by Jefferson and passed largely through Madison’s efforts) followed the “lead” of the First Amendment and enacted their own state-level constitutional amendments and statutes to prevent state-government-established and subsidized churches.

          The framers who cared the most about, and worked the most to pass, the First Amendment were solidly in the camp that also opposed establishment of official religions or churches at the state level. It’s just that under the federal system, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had to be crafted and drafted to apply to Congress and the federal government. For every Founding Father (such as Patrick Henry or John Jay) who was sympathetic to or supportive of the idea of official, established churches at the state level under state law, there were two or three other Founders who opposed that.

          • Georgia
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

            This is a pretty good counter-argument. The rejoinder would be that while Madison and company certainly disapproved of state-established religions, they also may have crafted the “respecting” language of the Establishment Clause broadly (that is, in terms of subject matter) to reassure skittish ratifying conventions that states’ prerogative to establish and keep state religions would not be interfered with by the new federal government, one way or the other. And this is what creates a (theoretical) problem for incorporation via the Fourteenth Amendment (at least according to some lone-wolf legal scholars). It is easy enough to say that states, under the Fourteenth Amendment, should have no more power to mandate a state religion than the federal government has power to mandate a federal religion. But it is harder to add that the states also should have no more power than the federal government to interfere, one way or the other, with the state’s own decisions respecting an establishment of religion. One either has to deny a state-protecting purpose at all in the Establishment Clause, or declare it secondary for purposes of incorporation, or just ignore the incongruity (as the Supreme Court actually did). I’m not saying such an argument could not be successfully made, but it’s not evident to me what the analysis should necessarily be.

            This problem, of course, does not arise in the context of entirely individual rights, like free exercise or free speech, because no state prerogative against federal intrusion on state laws was ever even arguably protected by those clauses, standing alone. The problem does, interestingly, arise in connection with the incorporation of the Second Amendment, where the Supreme Court has (in my opinion, incorrectly) decided that the Fourteenth Amendment forces states to guarantee individuals arms-bearing rights originally created solely for the purpose of facilitating state militias, even in circumstances where a state neither has nor wants a militia.

            • Filippo
              Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

              Just curious – how does the U.S. National Rifle Association (presume to) define “militia” member? Anyone who owns – or might possibly in the future own – a gun?

              Just what is the NRA’s position on the “militia”? Does the NRA rely on the Second Amendment’s reference to the militia as justification for its position? When was a militia last called up by the federal government?

            • Howard Kornstein
              Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:05 am | Permalink

              So let me summarise where we have got to in our discussion:
              1. It can not be argued that the framers of the constitution did not really mind or care that if free speech, religious separation of church and state and right of citizens to practise their different religions, or freedom to petition government were curtailed as long as it wasn’t the federal government doing the curtailing….
              So arguments TODAY that this was so and the intent of the “founding fathers” are utter rubbish
              2. That the 14th amendment is not inconsistent with intentions of the 1st
              or the beliefs of these founding fathers
              So arguments TODAY that it is, is utter rubbish
              3. That by some perverted twisting of wording or misinterpretation someone could once have tried to argue that the 1st could not apply to the states. That misinterpret ion is no longer possible with the clarifying wording of the 14th.
              4. In any case the Constitution of the United States as it stands clearly spells out that there should be a separation of church and state at ALL levels of government.
              It seems to me that we are violently agreeing with one another.
              So what is the point of this section of the thread?

              • Georgia
                Posted November 24, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

                One more response, as I’m sure my quota has long since been exceeded. There is no question that the First Amendment, as originally ratified, imposed no restrictions whatsoever on the states. Any argument to the contrary is inane. There is a question as to whether the Establishment Clause, as originally drafted, gave an additional guarantee to the states that Congress would not have the power, through future legislation pursuant to the Commerce Clause or otherwise, to interfere one way or the other with state establishment and disestablishment discretion. That ambiguity, which I think is arguably present in the wording of the Establishment Clause but others here do not, raises (what I think and others here do not) an interesting question as to whether the Establishment Clause was really as good a candidate for reflexive incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment as the Supreme Court apparently assumed. As I said, this is a distinctly minority position. It might well be wrong, and I would be pleased to see a serious analysis shooting it down. I certainly do not expect those incorporation decisions to be reviewed or overturned (unless the Supreme Court is overtaken by Clarence Thomas clones), and I am perfectly satisfied with the practical result: that states should stay as far as possible out of religion. My point is simply that people who are unhappy with rulings restricting state involvement with religion may often be misguided about what the state of constitutional law currently is, but they are not necessarily crazy about what it should be under the particular wording of the Establishment Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment. There are some interesting wrinkles here on which reasonable minds can disagree. And, accordingly, it is somewhat unfair to treat these folk as complete nut cases who don’t know what color the sky is.

              • Howard Kornstein
                Posted November 24, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

                “And, accordingly, it is somewhat unfair to treat these folk as complete nut cases who don’t know what color the sky is.”
                Oh I would not at all consider them nut cases at all, they are perfectly sane people who for the purposes of their own particular theocratic agenda are willing to remain ignorant of, ignore, pervert or incorrectly reinterpret the clear cut dictates of our American Constitution. If they were only nut cases I might feel some level of compassion for them.
                Anyhow, we have indeed pretty much beaten the subject to death without really differing very much on the substance.

              • Howard Kornstein
                Posted November 25, 2012 at 3:52 am | Permalink

                … just one more comment on the mindset of folks who seek to mitigate the very clear implications of the establishment clause in our Constitution, as we have drifted onto that subject.

                Suppose you are one of the folks that believe that the fate of your country as a “moral nation”, that your own hope of achieving salvation, that the chances of being reunited in some joyful afterlife with the people that you most love is dependent on your moving religion into the public life and education of the country…. well wouldn’t you think that ANYTHING, including ignoring or perverting the Constitution was well worth achieving these ends.

                Do I think these people are “nut cases”? No, they are merely ordinary people in the thrall of religious belief. But they also seek to pervert American Constitutional government as it has been clearly set out. We can understand them but they do not deserve our sympathy.

  20. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Mollica from Santa Monica should read “Freethinkers” by Susan Jacoby.

  21. Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I know who Raymond Mollica is. He is a lawyer who was hired (by the law firm I retained to help me in a personal injury case)to represent me at the first hearing in my case.The law firm itself behaved so poorly to me, its client, that I filed a grievance against them in the NYS court system.

    I describe that law firm as a mediocre p.i. factory. So you can figure the quality of the outside attorney they hired because my case wasn’t significant enough to assign one of their (not impressive) staff lawyers as my legal adviser.

    Let me describe Ray Mollica: he is very short, overweight and belligerent. I can’t remember whether he is Brooklyn Italian-American or Staten Island Italian-American, but he brandishes that aggressive inferiority complex that most of us New Yorkers know at least anecdotally to be part of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd psyche.

    At the deposition he represented me competently. My case was vanilla. After we left the site of the hearing, we walked together for a while and had an argument about … The SECOND Amendment! Guy likes guns. Are you surprised?
    So Ray apparently has elected himself a scholar and defender of the Constitution. First, he should learn how to write, right?

  22. Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    P.S. Although Mollica’s comment related to Santa Monica, I’m pretty sure he’s a New Yorker, unless there’s another Mollica out there with similar views. If so, I apologize — to somebody, anyway.

  23. Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the link to Farrell Till’s article, “The Christian Nation Myth,” on the Secular Web. I have book looking for just such a document. I would add one thing to it — Alexander Hamilton,no friend to Jefferson, was John Adams campaign manager when Adams ran against Jefferson. Hamilton painted an incendiary picture of Jefferson’s lack of religion. Adams (who was becoming gradually less & less Presbyterian) attributed this approach as the reason he lost – because people who had escaped the religious tyranny of his Calvinist Puritan ancestors did not want to have a devout Christian as President.

  24. TnkAgn
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    My biggest problem with the Santa Monica nativity decision is that the AP reporter who covered it, Gillian Flaccus, used the term
    “Anti-God,” not once, but twice, when referring to the signs erected by the atheists:

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gOL6XHSg2nGIb1X1iEoYPhvuFQ0g?docId=f17242e486544f7db20e12f9e89b50eb

    Are we atheists “anti-god?” As a father, I was never “anti-Santa,” nor “anti-Easter Bunny,” although I eventually explained that each entity was a myth. Thus it is with the “anti-god”signs in Santa Monica park.

    • Posted November 24, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Are we atheists “anti-god?”

      Which god?

      I’m cool with Apollo, and the Sun is simply awesome. And then there’re all the cats, especially Baihu.

      But YHWH? He’s a goddamned motherfucking psycho, and his bastard son Jesus is the ultimate sadist. I’m very much anti-them.

      By any reasonable definition, Satan is also a god, and Christians are also pretty universally anti-him.

      Cheers,

      b&

  25. Minus
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    “The birth of Jesus Christ is the linchpin of Western civilization, our calendar derives from it,”

    Turns out the Pope just said JC’s birthtdate is wrong,

    Quoting CNN: “In _Jesus of Nazareth — The Infancy Narratives_, the pope says the Christian calendar is actually based on a blunder by a sixth century monk, who Benedict says was several years off in his calculation of Jesus’ birth date.”

    Woops, there goes that calendar thing.

    • Posted November 24, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      It was Dennis the Small that did the bad maths … Also there was no donkey the pope says. Amusing seeing the church making an ass of the nativity.


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