The Covenant School tragedy shows how more prayers will never stop gun violence

Here’s the link to this article by Hemant Mehta.

The Nashville school had plenty of prayers. But that’s no match for a killer armed with assault weapons.

In what has become an all too familiar story, all because Republican officials continue prioritizing guns over humans, another six people are dead after a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. Three students (all aged nine) and three staffers died because of a shooter armed with “two assault-style weapons and a handgun.”

The entrance to The Covenant School (screenshot via Google Maps)

As of this writing, the motive of the shooter is unknown, so I won’t waste time speculating on that.

But can we at least put to rest the suggestion, that never made any sense, that more prayer is the solution to our gun epidemic?

I’m not talking about the trite, lazy way many politicians offer “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of mass murders, as if that’ll deflect from their own refusal to take action to prevent gun violence. Many people say it as a condolence because they just can’t think of anything else to say. It’s not going away anytime soon.

What can change is prayer as a literal answer to mass shootings.

This act of violence occurred at a private Christian school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America and run as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church. As far as religious denominations go, very few are more conservative than this one, especially on “culture war” issues. I say that only to point out how this was not a school lacking in prayer. They prayed all the time. Yesterday’s school day even began with a chapel service.

But for years now, one of the many explanations put forth by Republicans who are allergic to gun safety measures is that public schools don’t have forced Christian prayers. If they had prayers, the rhetoric goes, they wouldn’t have these shootings.

Last year, televangelist Kenneth Copeland said all school shootings are the result of the 1963 Supreme Court decision that removed mandatory Christian prayer from public schools, implying we needed to bring it back.

Right Wing Watch @RightWingWatch

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland aired an hour-long special last night asserting that school shootings can be blamed entirely on the 1963 SCOTUS decision removing prayer from public schools: “Now the devil’s going in there and killing children in schools!”

4:02 PM ∙ Sep 8, 2022


Last year, former Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas said prayers would prevent mass shootings:

Acyn @Acyn

Gohmert: Maybe if we heard more prayers from leaders in this country instead of taking god’s name in vain, we wouldn’t have the mass killings like we didn’t have before prayer was eliminated from schools

7:15 PM ∙ Jun 8, 2022


… If we heard more prayers from leaders of this country instead of taking God’s name in vain, we wouldn’t have the mass killings like we didn’t have before prayer was eliminated from school.

A few years ago, immediately after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said “the lack of thought and prayers is probably the single biggest factor” when it came to gun violence. (Yesterday, proving irony is dead, he lamented how “some will make this a political issue before the names of the victims or the shooter or a motive is even known.”)

And it’s still going on now:

Tony Perkins @tperkins

We are praying for the families who are mourning in the devastating aftermath of this act of evil. We also pray for healing for those who were injured and traumatized. Details will continue to unfold, but we do know that prayer is needed right now.

Metro Nashville PD @MNPDNashville

An active shooter event has taken place at Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. The shooter was engaged by MNPD and is dead. Student reunification with parents is at Woodmont Baptist Church, 2100 Woodmont Blvd. PM ∙ Mar 27, 202347Likes8Retweets

Ron Filipkowski 🇺🇦 @RonFilipkowski

It’s odd that so many countries with church attendance a fraction of ours have almost zero mass shootings.


8:42 PM ∙ Mar 27, 20237,242Likes1,053Retweets

The Covenant School prayed and prayed often. Unfortunately (and predictably), prayers are no match for a killer armed with assault weapons.

Keep in mind that the people calling for more prayer never say that when they actually want something to change. When it comes to elections, Republicans never ask Christians to pray them into office. When it comes to abortion, Republicans never ask Christians to pray that people won’t have them. They know actions speak louder than words. They know passing bills or installing like-minded judges will actually get stuff done.

When it comes to guns, they call for more prayer—or mandatory prayer—because even they know how useless it will be.

It won’t faze them that this shooting happened at a Christian school because they say the same prepared prayer line when shootings occur in churches, synagogues, and mosques.

We don’t need forced prayer in schools now because the gun crisis isn’t the result of forced prayers being removed from schools back then. There was no spike in school shootings in the decades following those Supreme Court decisions upholding religious neutrality in schools. Not until Columbine, really, did we start to see these horrific mass shootings by people who just wanted to unleash their rage and had access to weapons to make it happen.

A lack of prayer cannot be blamed for a uniquely American problem. Other nations don’t have forced Christianity in school. They also struggle with mental illness. They play video games. Yet mass shootings in those countries are incredibly rare. The common denominator in all the massacres we see in our country are the weapons. (Often, the same kind.)

Want to reduce mass shootings? Put more obstacles in the way for gun owners. Especially people who want weapons that can kill several people in seconds. Raise the legal age to own one. Make owners go through a certain amount of training. Register the weapons the way we register cars.

There are many more possible answers to the problem, but conservatives are hell-bent on fighting every single one of them because they love semi-automatic weapons more than children. Dead kids are a price Republicans will gladly pay to continue their violent hobbies. The NRA always takes precedence over the PTA.

We don’t need more guns in the hands of teachers—something that has routinely been proposed by the same people who don’t trust teachers to pick out books. We don’t need the death penalty for shooters as Republican Senator Rick Scott idiotically proposed (despite the Covenant shooter getting gunned down by police, putting a wrench in that plan anyway). We definitely don’t need congress members like the Republican representing Nashville, Rep. Andy Oglesfetishizing guns like they’re a personality quirk and fun for children.

And now, since it appears that the shooter was a transgender former student, you can bet conservatives will cite that as the sole cause. Anything to get attention off their weapons of choice. (Even if it turns out this was some personal vendetta against the Christian school, the murders could not have occurred this easily or quickly without the shooter’s ability to acquire assault weapons.)

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee certainly don’t care. They recently passed a law banning drag shows in the name of protecting kids, but you can bet they’ll do absolutely nothing to protect kids from actual threats to their safety. In fact, it’s the opposite. Those lawmakers have proposed a bill to lower the age to legally carry a handgun in public from 21 to 18.

Prayers aren’t going to fix our problem. They never did.

And any God who lets six people get murdered because not enough people were stroking His Holy Ego isn’t a God worth worshipping anyway.

Christian lawmaker cites Bible to defend hitting special needs students

Here’s the link to this article by Hemant Mehta.

State Rep. Jim Olsen helped defeat a bill that would’ve banned the use of corporal punishment against students with special needs

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Republicans in Oklahoma had the chance to ban corporal punishment against students with disabilities… but failed to pass the bill today, in part because one legislator said beating kids with special needs was biblical.

Oklahoma currently permits corporal punishment in public schools. That’s a problem in and of itself, but the law at least has a carve-out exempting students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities.” Teachers can theoretically spank kids but a handful of students are off-limits.

House Bill 1028, sponsored by Republican State Rep. John Talley, was designed to broaden that exemption so that it applied to all students with disabilities. GOP State Rep. Anthony Moore signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill specifically because he thought this would be an easy vote. “There’s going to be nobody who’s for corporal punishment on students with disabilities,” he said.

He must have forgotten that he’s surrounded by other Republicans from Oklahoma.

They will always find a way to defend abuse in the name of Jesus.

State Rep. Jim Olsen argued earlier today that the Bible permits hitting a child as a form of discipline—therefore that option must be available to teachers.

Rep. Jim Olsen, seen here after comparing abortion to slavery (screenshot via YouTube)

The Recount @therecount

Oklahoma lawmakers have rejected a bill that would have banned corporal punishment for kids with disabilities in schools. Rep. Jim Olsen (R) cites Proverbs in rejecting the ban: “The rod and reproof give wisdom. But a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

You know, several scriptures could be read here. Let me just read just one: Proverbs 29: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringest his mother to shame.”

So that would seem to endorse the use of corporal punishment.

So how would you reconcile this bill with scriptures…?

Who cares. It’s the Bible and he’s a legislator. We don’t need to run policy ideas through his favorite book.

Olsen later cited Proverbs 13:24, the infamous verse that gave us, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Kudos to the Tulsa World for including this line in its article:

Olsen did not turn to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which is usually translated as God ordering that “stubborn and rebellious” sons be stoned to death.

And what about the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports banning any form of physical discipline against children because there’s plenty of evidence showing the harm it causes in the long term?

Olsen didn’t care.

“God’s counsel is higher than the American Academy of Pediatrics,” said Olsen. “God’s word is higher than all the so-called experts.”

To paraphrase a famous line, Olsen acts like he placed his hand on the Constitution and swore to uphold the Bible. It’s supposed to be the other way around.

But the Bible wasn’t the only way a Republican defended hitting kids with disabilities. Another one said teachers needed the threat of discipline in order to coerce kids to do their bidding.

Rep. Randy Randleman, R-Eufaula, made a different argument from Olsen’s against HB 1028. A child psychologist who often infuses religion into his medical opinions on the House floor, Randleman this time said spanking is almost always inappropriate but is sometimes called for. And he said teachers need the threat of corporal punishment to maintain classroom order.

“‘You can’t touch me.’ I hear that over and over. I don’t want to hear that in school,” said Randleman.

If your classroom is so chaotic that physical discipline is your only solution, you shouldn’t be a teacher. And if you’re someone who thinks threatening children—special needs children!—with abuse is the only way to maintain order, you shouldn’t be anywhere in a position of power. Yet here we are.

Today’s vote in the House was 45-43 in favor of exempting kids with disabilities from physical punishment in schools. That sounds like good news… but because there are 101 members of the State House, 51 votes are needed for a bill to pass. That’s why the bill was technically defeated. More than a dozen legislators were absent for the vote.

Because neither side had the majority, the bill may come up for a vote later in the legislative session. 10 Republicans have yet to cast a vote on this matter. At least a few of them would have to do the right thing for the bill to pass.

Democratic State Rep. Forrest Bennett put today’s vote bluntly:

Forrest Bennett @ForrestBennett

Good morning from the Oklahoma House Chamber, where a pastor and a psychiatrist (who are also legislators) are fighting *AGAINST* a bill that would ban corporal punishment for students with special needs. It’s 2023 outside; it’s 1880 in here.2:45 PM ∙ Mar 14, 2023872Likes211Retweets

“It’s 1880 in here” should really be Oklahoma’s State Motto.

Incidentally, hitting kids has long been a core belief among fundamentalist Christians. Years ago, Michael and Debi Pearl wrote an infamous guide to faith-based abuse called To Train Up a Child. It’s a book that tells adults how to properly hit their kids, and it’s as awful as it sounds, recommending that Christian parents physically discipline kids as young as six months with “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”

In Oklahoma, this isn’t just theoretical. Corporal punishment is legal in the state and school officials take advantage of that:

Oklahoma educators reported using physical discipline 3,968 times during the 2017-18 school year, according to the most recent federal data available from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. The federal government reported that corporal punishment was administered at more than 1,800 Oklahoma schools.

Ultimately, the Sunday School teacher who routinely cites the Bible to defend horrible policies used his power to defeat a bill so that more vulnerable students could be hurt just a little more. He’s the sort of guy who wants to protect kids from learning about systemic racism while making sure teachers have the option to beat students with disabilities.

All because his Christian faith taught him that abuse is more important than compassion.

This editorial defending Coach Deion Sanders’ prayers is a massive fumble

Here’s the link to this article by Hemant Mehta.

The Gazette Editorial Board published a pathetic defense of proselytizing by an NFL legend hired to coach a college football team

Hemant Mehta

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There are bad editorials. There are outright embarrassing ones. And then there’s the piece that was published today by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gazette in Colorado Springs trashing the Freedom From Religion Foundation for calling out a beloved football coach.

When I first read it, I thought it had to be the work of a misinformed columnist since there’s no shortage of those, but nope, it was an editorial without a byline, representing the authority of the newspaper’s board. While the Gazette is a conservative paper owned by the same company that runs the right-wing Washington Examiner, it still stood out for how badly it defended a practice that needs to end.

Here’s the backstory: Back in December, NFL legend Deion Sanders was named the new head coach for the University of Colorado’s football team. The two-time Super Bowl winner would be paid a minimum of $5 million per year to turn around a team that went 1-11 last season and hasn’t won a bowl game in nearly two decades. Even if he failed, though, his name alone would bring attention and (some) prestige to a program that has been unable to earn it on merit.

Sanders hasn’t coached any games just yet. He’s in the process of building his staff and recruiting players for next season. But in December, one assistant coach allegedly began a meeting with an explicitly Christian prayer. And then in January, just before a team meeting, Sanders directed another coach to lead everyone in another Christian prayer:

Lord, we thank You for this day, Father, for this opportunity as a group. Father, we thank You for the movement that God has put us in place to be in charge of. We thank You for each player here, each coach, each family. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

It’s one thing to praise God during your first press conference, as Sanders did when he was hired; it’s another to foist one particular religion on students at a public university. This is something Sanders has been doing for years, too, as evidenced by pre-game warmups he did at Jackson State, where he coached before this new gig.

“Repeat after me,” Sanders tells his squad. “Lord, I love you. Lord, I thank you. Lord, I magnify you. Lord, I glorify you.

“Without You, I wouldn’t be a thing! A thing! A thing!”

The message was clear even if it went unstated: If you’re part of Sanders’ teams, then you better be on board with his prayers. Leaving the huddle, or remaining silent, or suggesting Christian prayers shouldn’t be part of of the coaching process could brand you as an athlete who’s not a team player. It could lead to less playing time. It could hamper your future opportunities. Even if that hasn’t happened yet, there’s a reason courts worry about religious coercion when it comes to adults at public schools leading or joining prayers with students. It’s true in high school and it applies to public colleges and universities.

In last year’s awful decision in Bremerton, the Supreme Court said that a public high school football coach’s post-game look-at-me-look-at-me-I’m-special prayers at midfield weren’t coercive. I believe that argument is wildly flawed, but even those conservative justices said a coach praying on his own (at least in theory) was okay even if a coach leading his team in Christian-only prayer would have crossed the line. The latter, they implied, was definitely coercive.

Deion Sanders, then, is doing something clearly illegal. It’s not just bad for team morale and a sign that the guy can’t coach since he’s relying on a Higher Power to do the heavy lifting; his Christian prayers violate the law.

That’s what FFRF reminded the university about in January when these reports surfaced. In a letter to Chancellor Phil DiStefano of the University of Colorado Boulder, attorney Chris Line explained how Sanders’ actions could jeopardize the school:

… It seems that in this case, Coach Sanders has not hired a Christian chaplain to impose religion on her players, but has done so himself, creating a Christian environment within his football programs that excludes non-Christian and non-religious players.

… Players trying to please their coach surely will feel immense pressure to participate in religious activities and go along with Coach Sanders’ proselytizing.

It is no defense to call these religious messages and activities “voluntary.” Courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation.

Coach Sanders’ team is full of young and impressionable student athletes who would not risk giving up their scholarship, giving up playing time, or losing a good recommendation from the coach by speaking out or voluntarily opting out of his unconstitutional religious activities—even if they strongly disagreed with his beliefs. Coaches exert great influence and power over student athletes and those athletes will follow the lead of their coach. Using a coaching position to promote Christianity amounts to religious coercion.

FFRF wasn’t suing the school. They were just reminding the chancellor of the law and giving him the opportunity to correct the mistake. Sanders could run his program as he saw fit, but there were legal limits. Pushing Jesus on his athletes was not an option. (The conservative legal group First Liberty Institute sent its own letter telling the school Sanders was in the clear. As usual, FLI is wrong.)

FFRF’s letter worked. The university wrote back to them the following week and said they spoke with Sanders about the problem:

“Last Friday, the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance personally met with Coach Sanders to provide guidance on the nondiscrimination policies, including guidance on the boundaries in which players and coaches may and may not engage in religious expression,” University of Colorado Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Patrick T. O’Rourke recently responded to FFRF“Coach Sanders was very receptive to this training and came away from it with a better understanding of the University of Colorado’s policies and the requirements of the Establishment Clause.”

Even if you don’t believe a word of that, the university did the right thing. They acknowledged the line had been crossed, they made clear that Sanders was also aware of it, and they assured FFRF it wouldn’t happen again.

That should’ve been the end of the story. Everyone was on the same page.

Except, that is, the editorial board of The Gazette. Their headline gives away the game: “Atheists order Deion Sanders to hide his heartfelt identity.”

We could refute the headline alone, but it’s worth going through the whole piece. Right from the beginning, things start going downhill:

Diversity must threaten the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The club’s 15-member “honorary board” consists only of white anti-religionists. These self-righteous faux legal proselytizers want everyone to live and believe as they do.

It’s bizarre that they focus on the honorary board rather than the actual board of directors which includes people of color, but the central point is still wrong: FFRF, which is unabashedly atheistic, wasn’t asking Sanders or the university to adopt a position of atheism. Sanders can talk about God all he wants in his personal life. He won’t even get much backlash for doing it during press conferences. Well-deserved eyerolls? Maybe. But no lawsuits.

That nuance, which is the basis of this whole controversy, was lost on the editorial board. But they kept going.

It is no surprise this outfit wants national treasure Deion Sanders to behave as they dictate in his new role as the University of Colorado’s football coach. They want the NFL Hall of Famer and former pro baseball player to shut up and coach. They demand he suppress something central to his being — a trait no less important than his racial identity.

This is not Laura Ingraham telling LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” rather than speak out in support of protests shortly after the murder of George Floyd. This is an atheist group reminding a public university that it is, in fact, a public university.

To pretend a reminder to follow the law is the equivalent of a racist taunt tells you the editors of this newspaper have no clue how the law works, what the law is, or how the law must be followed.

They’re either willfully ignorant or eager propagandists. Take your pick.

While you think about that, the editorial continued acting like this was all about race and a desire to impede diversity:

Boulder and the University of Colorado’s flagship have long struggled in futility to achieve diversity. Blacks comprise 1.2% of Boulder’s population. Last fall, among the 36,122 CU-Boulder students, 2.6% were black.

Boulder and CU lack the big three in diversity — race, ethnicity and religion. Nearly 60% of Boulder residents surveyed claim “no religion.” Non-denominational Christians are such an anomaly they show up as 0.0% on surveys. A Gallup poll ranks Boulder the second-least religious city in the United States.

The hiring of an iconic, universally respected Black man with a household name has ignited hope for mitigating Boulder’s diversity problem.

There are plenty of reasons sports commentators could offer for why the school shouldn’t have hired Sanders. But literally no one involved in this discussion cares about his race. If Sanders’ presence helps bring more Black students to the school, great. (I mean, if you think hiring a famous Black athlete is the solution to fixing your school’s diversity problems, you’re ignoring all kinds of larger issues, but that’s besides the point.)

But that passage actually justifies what FFRF is doing! The people in Boulder are largely non-religious! Even if most players are recruited from other places, that suggests there’s a greater likelihood that some of those athletes might not be on board with performative Christian prayers.

It wouldn’t be okay if an atheist coach did it. It’s not okay when a Christian coach does it.

Later in the piece, the editorial board attempts to law-splain the Constitution to a group of First Amendment experts:

The law is not on [FFRF’s] side. The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion may not be infringed. We have freedom of religious expression, not freedom from it. The Constitution doesn’t carve an exception for coaches at state-funded schools. The First Amendment prohibits governments from obstructing religious beliefs, meaning private entities probably have more authority than their public counterparts to regulate expressions of faith.

The 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District erased any doubt about Sanders’ right to speak and pray in his public-sector job. The court ruled against the district for firing a football coach for praying in the middle of the field in view of players and the public, with players often joining him.

This is how you know you’re dealing with the dumbest people in the newspaper business. They’re rehashing right-wing talking points about the First Amendment, not realizing everything they say supports FFRF’s position.

As I mentioned earlier, the Bremerton ruling doesn’t support Sanders’ actions here because Sanders wasn’t praying privately. If Joe Kennedy led his team in Christian prayer before a game, he would’ve lost the case. His entire position was that he was praying privately… even if people saw him and joined in. Using that case to support Sanders’ actions shows a remarkable lack of understanding of what’s going on right now.

The editors continued digging their own grave:

Sanders should not and does not coerce prayer or acceptance of his faith by anyone on campus. Oh, say the Freedom From Religion bullies, religious coaches will bench players who don’t appreciate their displays of faith. That amounts to coercion, they insist. It is hard to imagine a sillier hypothesis. Coaches win or get fired. They play those who increase the odds of winning, whether they worship trees or the secular movement’s Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Sanders adds to Boulder’s racial and religious diversity, and that’s a good thing. He is, through and through, a Black man who openly worships God. That is his identity, of which he is proud, and he should not change it for anyone. The law, as ruled by the court of final appeal, has the coach’s back in this attack on who he is.

It’s almost laughable to say hiring a Christian adds to our religious diversity, as if Christianity has ever not been represented on a football team. And if racial diversity matters to the University of Colorado, you’ll never believe how many Black professors you can hire for $5 million a year! (Spoiler: It’s more than one.)

Or—I’m just spitballing here—spend just $2 million hiring professors of color and then offer $3 million in scholarships to students of color! There are all kinds of ways to increase racial diversity in Boulder that don’t involve hiring a single famous Black athlete who commands a giant salary. But the editorial board didn’t do that math because they don’t actually give a shit about diversity.

This isn’t about a Black Christian. This is about a football coach who thinks he can push his faith on his athletes. The identity of the coach is irrelevant.

What the editorial board chooses not to understand is that coercion isn’t just about benching someone who doesn’t pray. (To use language they’ll understand, you don’t have to wear a KKK hood to be a racist.) The fear, as we’ve seen in so many actual cases, is that a student who doesn’t pray could be ostracized by teammates and looked down upon by coaches in a way that’s independent of his on-field talent. Sure, star players may get great opportunities regardless of their beliefs, but every football team has dozens of players on the cusp of greatness who need as many chances as possible to prove themselves to people who can make or break their careers.

The benefit of the doubt shouldn’t go to an athlete who professes a belief in Christ.

Why is there more of a rush to defend Sanders’ public Christianity than the rights of players not to participate in those prayers? They don’t have a $5 million contract to fall back on. There’s far more pressure on them to just stay and pray.

We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if Sanders weren’t Christian. If he began promoting Islam to his team the way he’s been pushing Christianity, the Gazette’s editorial board would never just sit back and relax. You know they’d immediately demand his resignation.

To pretend FFRF’s concerns are somehow racist is a red herring. The Gazette can’t defend what Sanders is doing because, in the editors’ minds, there are always special rules carved out for Christians.

Incidentally, I asked FFRF’s co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor what she thought about this editorial. She made several of the same points I’ve mentioned above, but she added that “even if every single one of the team members claimed to be Christian… it would still be unconstitutional and inappropriate to introduce his religion into public university sports.”

FFRF’s Chris Line, who wrote the letter to the school, added this:

FFRF does not find Coach Sanders’ faith offense. We find his inability to perform his secular position at a public university without incorporating his religious beliefs into his official job duties offensive…

No one, certainly not FFRF, is asking that Coach Sanders change his identity. We are simply asking that he abide by the law, which requires him to act in a neutral manner with regard to religion in his official capacity as a public school employee.

We are not attacking who he is, we are trying to protect students from what he is trying to do. 

He’s right. This is all about protecting the students from the religious zeal of their coach, who knows every rule about boundary lines on the field yet appeared to be oblivious to where they are off of it.

The Gazette’s editorial board—Ryan McKibben (Chairman), Christian Anschutz (Vice Chairman), Chris Reen (Publisher), Wayne Laugesen (Editorial Page Editor), and Pula Davis (Newsroom Operations Director)—are lazy writers who think Christianity deserves more leeway than all other religions (and far more than no religion).

If they actually cared about the students at the university, they would tell the coaches to focus on coaching instead of using their platform to preach.

For now, at least, Sanders and the university seem to have gotten that message even if their biggest defenders still don’t get it.

Arizona House GOP passes bill forcing kids to say Pledge in school

Here’s the link to this article by Hemant Mehta written 02/23/23.

State Rep. Barbara Parker claimed the bill was legal because church/state separation wasn’t in the Constitution

Hemant Mehta

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On a straight party-line vote, Arizona Republicans have backed a bill forcing public school students to say the Pledge of Allegiance. While no penalty is specified for those who disobey, the illegal bill offers no exceptions for students who refuse to participate in the religious ritual.

HB2523, which passed by a slim 31-29 vote, says that all K-12 students “shall recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States Flag.” The only exceptions apply to students who are at least 18 or who have the explicit permission of their parents to sit out. But students who oppose saying the Pledge on principle would have no recourse here unless their parents were on their side.

I’ve made an entire podcast series about the history of the Pledge, but just to go over the biggest concerns…

The phrase “under God” pushes religion onto people who may not be religious. Even without that phrase, the very notion of pledging allegiance to a flag violates the religious beliefs of some students who believe only God deserves allegiance.

The Pledge also falsely suggests that we have “liberty and justice for all,” which is one reasons students of color have opposed it in recent years.

The Pledge was originally written to promote anti-immigrant sentiment.

And frankly, our country doesn’t always deserve admiration. Why would we want to “pledge allegiance” to a nation that is so often a global embarrassment? If Saudi Arabia forced students to say a pledge to their country every day, we’d immediately call it a form of brainwashing.

Those are all reason not to say the Pledge in a normal situation, but forcing students to participate in the religious ritual against their will, unless their parents feel the same way they do, is undoubtedly a violation of students’ civil rights.

That means this bill is illegal and would provoke a lawsuit if it ever became law. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in Barnette in 1943 that students couldn’t be forced to salute the flag or say the Pledge. (That decision overturned a notoriously awful ruling from 1940 which said the opposite.) While “Under God” wasn’t in the Pledge at the time, the justices said the government could not compel speech, with one justice famously writing, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

None of that mattered to the bill’s sponsor, first-term Republican State Rep. Barbara Parker, who, in a speech just before the vote took place, implied that church/state separation was a myth and that the 1943 Supreme Court decision was irrelevant.

Hemant Mehta @hemantmehta

Arizona House Republicans just passed a bill *forcing* kids to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Rep. Barbara Parker, the bill’s sponsor, defended it by claiming church/state separation wasn’t in the Constitution. Details:…

2:40 PM ∙ Feb 23, 2023

First of all, a couple of things. One is: It’s really important that we clear up a few things that should never be said again from lawmakers in a legislature.

One: The separation of church and state is in the Constitution. That was never said in the Constitution. It was written in a letter years later. The separation clause was therefore the government couldn’t form a religion or couldn’t force a state religion. So let’s never hear that again.

A second thing is that: Everybody tends to quote the Barnette ruling from 1943. First of all, “Under God” wasn’t put in in 1943. It was put in in 1954. And nobody’s really ever opposed that.

Furthermore, we stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance everyday on this floor. What’s good for us is good for the children.

Separation of church and state emerges from the First Amendment and has repeatedly been interpreted that way by the courts. To pretend the government can therefore promote religion is nothing more than willful ignorance by someone who has plenty to spare.

More importantly, Parker is flat-out wrong about the Barnette case. She cited it because a Democrat mentioned it just before she spoke, but Parker seemed to think the case was being used to push back against “Under God.” It wasn’t. It was cited to point out that government cannot force students to say or do something political against their will. (And, yes, plenty of people and judges have opposed both mandatory recitation of the Pledge and the inclusion of “Under God.”)

Parker also thinks that if her legislative colleagues do it, it should be okay for kids to follow suit. Again, she has no clue what she’s talking about. Just to give one example, the Supreme Court has permitted invocation prayers at city council meetings, but the same privilege doesn’t extend to school board meetings or graduations where children may be present.

Just because Republicans in the Arizona legislature want to use their majorities to inflict Christianity on their colleagues doesn’t mean they have any right to force that on children.

The Arizona Senate, where the bill now heads, also has a slim Republican majority of 16-14. Even if it passes there, though, Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, can thankfully veto it. If and when that happens, Hobbs would be saving taxpayers from a costly lawsuit they would inevitably lose.

The government cannot force children to say a prayer in school no matter how much misinformation Christians like Barbara Parker want to spread.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s move to expel Saddleback Church will backfire

Here’s an email I received today from Hemant Mehta. It clearly reveals why I’m thankful I escaped Southern Baptist fundamentalism.

Here’s the link to this article.

The church founded by Rick Warren was kicked out of the SBC for having a woman pastor

The Southern Baptist Convention, which failed to kick out churches that employed sexual predators, has now expelled its most famous church for having a female pastor.

Saddleback Church, founded by Rick Warren, is no longer welcome in the SBC, after the Executive Committee decided it was no longer adhering to the He-Man Woman-Haters Club rule:

The Executive Committee’s motion said that Saddleback “has a faith and practice that does not closely identify with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith, as demonstrated by the church having a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.”

Saddleback has the right to appeal the decision at the Southern Baptists’ next annual meeting, scheduled for New Orleans in June. It did not respond immediately to requests for comment on the Executive Committee decision.

The decision comes years after Warren ordained three female pastors (for roles not quite at the top of the hierarchy). The problem now is that Stacie Wood, the wife of Andy Wood, the man replacing the now-retired Warren, is serving as a teaching pastor.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

Wood told The Associated Press last year that the Bible “teaches that men and women were given spiritual gifts by God.” His wife has served as teaching pastor for Saddleback.

“The church should be a place where both men and women can exercise those spiritual gifts,” Wood said. “My wife has the spiritual gift of teaching and she is really good. People often tell me she’s better than me when it comes to preaching, and I’m really glad to hear that.”

In a normal world, none of this would be controversial. We could argue over the content of the sermons rather than the drama involving the person delivering them. But Southern Baptists aren’t known for taking the rational approach. And they certainly aren’t interested in maintaining camaraderie with a church that threatens their entire business model.

The SBC has sometimes booted churches for sensible reasons like being too racist or harboring sexual predators. They’ve also expelled churches that were too LGBTQ-friendly, which is idiotic but at least in line with conservative Christian bigotry. But it’s a lot harder to justify to potential converts why they’re kicking out one of the largest megachurches in the country for elevating a woman to a position of authority.

Keep in mind that Andy Wood himself is transphobic and was oblivious to the spiritual abuse of self-appointed alpha preachers like Mark Driscoll. There were allegations of his own abusive ways:

Andy Wood also was the subject of a separate inquiry ordered by Saddleback after allegations surfaced of him being an abusive leader at his previous church. In July, the megachurch’s elders announced after investigations by two firms that they determined “there is no systemic or pattern of abuse under Andy’s leadership, nor was there an individual that we felt was abused.”

There are so many good reasons to criticize Wood and the church! A woman preaching isn’t one of them.

This is all coming at a time when the SBC’s public image is in ruins and membership is in steep decline. Back in October, the new SBC president even appeared on 60 Minutes to defend an organization whose member churches are currently being investigated by the Department of Justice for their mishandling of sexual abuse cases.

For all of Rick Warren’s faults—and there are plenty—telling women they’re capable of spreading the Gospel seems to be the sort of thing that would draw in more Christians than it alienates. No wonder the SBC can’t handle it. They’re experts at finding new ways to push people out of the faith.

As sociologist Ryan Burge pointed out, most evangelicals have no problem with a woman preaching:

Ryan Burge @ryanburge

According to survey data from 2020, nearly three quarters of evangelicals support a woman preaching on Sunday morning. It’s honestly hard to find a combination of factors (attendance, age, partisanship) that drive support below 50%.…


Twitter avatar for @RNS

Religion News Service@RNS

Breaking: Saddleback Church, the megachurch long led by Rick Warren, has been ousted from the Southern Baptist Convention for naming a woman to its pastoral team, against SBC teaching.

If you belong to an organization that wants to force underage girls to bear their rapists’ babies but can’t handle a grown woman in the pulpit, then you’re part of the problem.

Saddleback should be celebrating their expulsion. Without even really trying, they managed to get rid of the worst aspect of their church: the affiliation with the SBC. The members of Saddleback had no problem with female pastors. It’s not like the megachurch will suffer as a result of yesterday’s decision.

This is just another self-inflicted wound by SBC leaders who care more about defending patriarchal traditions than possibly bringing new members into the fold.

© 2023 Hemant Mehta
Hemant Mehta c/o Friendly Atheist P.O. Box 9734 Naperville, IL 60567