#0014 RRS Newsletter for June 14, 2007

hellfiend666's picture

Not a lot to report today. The Science and Entertainment sections were especially baren, so I dug up some videos and articles that I found interesting.

I hope you've all been enjoying these, and remember, your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

That's about all I wanted to say today, thanks for reading,
Stay rational,
and the RRS MI team

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Demoted Pluto Takes Another Hit

Landmark Study Prompts DNA Rethink

Ancient Fish Fossil May Rewrite Story of Animal Evolution

Hidden Planet Pushes Star's Ring A Billion Miles Off-center

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'Honour' crimes 'on rise in UK'

Now parts 5-8 of the series I started yesterday. Made possible by everyones favorite laughable theists, Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort.

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 14, 2007 7:13 AM

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From: Eddie
Date: Jun 13, 2007 8:41 PM

Hate your child for Jesus

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Evolution, Religion and Free Will

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Date: Jun 14, 2007 1:33 PM


American Scientist

N.Y. Gov. Wants Special Rights for Religion

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The A-Team
Date: Jun 14, 2007 5:13 PM

June 13, 2007

New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer announced on Monday that he will introduce a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) for the state.

Matt Cherry, IHS Executive DirectorThe text of the act is not yet public, but Gov. Spitzer’s office says it will mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

If this is so, the Institute for Humanist Studies (IHS) will strongly oppose the act as harmful on at least three different grounds: it gives special privileges to religions that are not allowed to any other groups, it potentially gives religions the right to violate the rights of others, and it would create an unfair burden on employers and other secular entities.

Rather disingenuously, Gov. Spitzer’s press release cites the federal RFRA as a model without mentioning that it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997 (Boerne v. Flores). In fact, not a single member of the Supreme Court defended the RFRA in the majority, the concurrences, or the dissents! Justice John Paul Stevens opined that RFRA violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and provided churches, mosques, temples or other religious groups with a legal instrument "which no atheist or agnostic" could obtain.

The IHS fears that in giving special rights for religions, RFRA will create a two-tier standard of laws: one standard for religious groups and activities and a lower standard for everyone else.

The IHS also questions the extent of existing problems that that could only be remedied by an RFRA. Back when he was attorney general, Spitzer filed numerous suits defending workers whose religious customs had put them at odds with their employers -- a Jewish repairman required to work on his Sabbath, a deliveryman ordered to cut the dreadlocks customary to his religion, a female medical student required to wear clothing considered immodest in her religion -- and he won every single case!

In each of these cases, the courts ruled that the worker’s religious observances should be accommodated by the employer. Given that freedom of religious expression and conduct has been consistently upheld in New York State on a case-by-case basis, further legislation seems unnecessary.

Why, when there are already such effective rights for freedom of religion, is there a demand for more? It seems to me that there is a growing sense of entitlement among religions that makes some people think that they should be exempt from any law if they claim they object to it on religious grounds.

But this sense of entitlement goes against the separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution. As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia noted when writing for the majority in Employment Div v. Smith in 1990, the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment has never been interpreted to mean "that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate."

Unfortunately, creating new rights for religions will also place an undue burden on employers and government; nevermind the added burden on New York State taxpayers forced to pay litigation costs created by these new rights, especially if the legislation includes a provision covering the cost of plaintiff attorney’s fees (the ultimate invitation to sue.)

The biggest danger with the RFRA is that people will start using religion as an excuse for illegal conduct, violating laws that were made not to suppress religion but to protect society. When the state of Maryland considered passing a state RFRA, the constitutional scholar Professor Marci Hamilton gave the following warning about its potential consequences:

"Providing extremely demanding scrutiny of every generally applicable, neutral law that burdens religious conduct can and will prompt challenges to the following laws and undermine such laws: abortion regulations; physician assisted suicide regulation; child neglect, abuse and support laws; statutory rape and minimum age marriage laws; laws against domestic violence; zoning and building codes, including height, lot-size, and building size restrictions, on and off-street parking, non-commercial status; antidiscrimination laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability and sexual orientation; fair housing laws; prison regulations; school weapons bans; midwifery licensing regulations; endangered species protection laws; historical and cultural preservation laws; open space laws; Medicare/Medicaid regulations; literature distribution in the public schools; human reproduction classes in the public schools; prayers in public schools; compulsory education laws; and compulsory vaccination laws."

"This is the just the tip of the iceberg, of course," added Hamilton.

Matt Cherry is the executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies. He is the author of Introduction to Humanism at the Continuum of Humanist Education, the online school of the Institute for Humanist Studies.

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48 hours to save the Internet

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 14, 2007 10:54 AM

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From: Eddie
Date: Jun 14, 2007 8:34 AM

Thanks: TimeBomb

From: bobby

We Only Have 48 Hours To Save The Internet!

From: Anthony (Namaste)

The Liberalist

In just 48 hours, the FCC will stop taking public comment on Net Neutrality. Our window of opportunity is about to close - this is your last chance to tell them to Save the Internet!

So far, 22,453 Common Cause activists have told the FCC to protect Net Neutrality and stop the corporate division of the Internet at our expense. Will you help us make it 25,000 before the June 15th deadline?

Click here to tell the FCC to protect our Internet before comments close on June 15

When the FCC let Net Neutrality rules expire last summer, telecom companies were thrilled. Without these rules, there's nothing to stop them from creating a divided Internet. Big Telecom will charge other major corporations steep fees to place their websites in a fast lane. But the rest of us (individuals, nonprofits, and small businesses) will be stuck in the slow lane.

Unfortunately, people like Randall Stephenson -- the new CEO of AT&T, America's largest telecom -- are determined to fight Net Neutrality at all costs. FCC chairman Kevin Martin seems content to leave this matter in the telecom giants' hands. We need to show them that we will not stand by as a new generation of robber barons carves up this valuable public resource for their own private profit!

If just 2,547 people send a message in the next 48 hours, we'll meet our goal of 25,000 comments -- and make the FCC take notice.

Click here to tell the FCC to protect our Internet before comments close on June 15

Time is running out, but you can still make a difference. Now's the time to join the 22,453 people who have already spoken up.

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 14, 2007 11:02 AM

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From: RationalAtheist.com
Date: Jun 14, 2007 9:41 AM

What is a free thinker? (Repost)


This is from Mike the Freethinking Jedi:

Thanks Mike!



Mike the Freethinking Jedi

What Is A Freethinker?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.

No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.

How do freethinkers know what is true?
Clarence Darrow once noted, "I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose."
Freethinkers are naturalistic. Truth is the degree to which a statement corresponds with reality. Reality is limited to that which is directly perceivable through our natural senses or indirectly ascertained through the proper use of reason.

Reason is a tool of critical thought that limits the truth of a statement according to the strict tests of the scientific method. For a statement to be considered true it must be testable (what evidence or repeatable experiments confirm it?), falsifiable (what, in theory, would disconfirm it, and have all attempts to disprove it failed?), parsimonious (is it the simplest explanation, requiring the fewest assumptions?), and logical (is it free of contradictions, non sequiturs, or irrelevant ad hominem character attacks?).

Do freethinkers have a basis for morality?
There is no great mystery to morality. Most freethinkers employ the simple yardsticks of reason and kindness. As author Barbara Walker notes: "What is moral is simply what does not hurt others. Kindness . . . sums up everything."
Most freethinkers are humanists, basing morality on human needs, not imagined "cosmic absolutes." This also embraces a respect for our planet, including the other animals, and feminist principles of equality.

Moral dilemmas involve a conflict of values, requiring a careful use of reason to weigh the outcomes. Freethinkers argue that religion promotes a dangerous and inadequate "morality" based on blind obedience, unexamined ultimatums, and "pie-in-the-sky" rewards of heaven or gruesome threats of hell. Freethinkers try to base actions on their consequences to real, living human beings.

Do freethinkers have meaning in life?
Freethinkers know that meaning must originate in a mind. Since the universe is mindless and the cosmos does not care, you must care, if you wish to have purpose. Individuals are free to choose, within the limits of humanistic morality.
Some freethinkers find meaning in human compassion, social progress, the beauty of humanity (art, music, literature), personal happiness, pleasure, joy, love, and the advancement of knowledge.

Doesn't the complexity of life require a designer?
The complexity of life requires an explanation. Darwin's theory of evolution, with cumulative nonrandom natural selection "designing" for billions of years, has provided the explanation. A "Divine Designer" is no answer because the complexity of such a creature would be subject to the same scrutiny itself.
Even a child knows to ask: "If God made everything, then who made God?"

Freethinkers recognize that there is much chaos, ugliness and pain in the universe for which any explanation of origins must also account.

Why are freethinkers opposed to religion?
Freethinkers are convinced that religious claims have not withstood the tests of reason. Not only is there nothing to be gained by believing an untruth, but there is everything to lose when we sacrifice the indispensable tool of reason on the altar of superstition.
Most freethinkers consider religion to be not only untrue, but harmful. It has been used to justify war, slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia, mutilations, intolerance, and oppression of minorities. The totalitarianism of religious absolutes chokes progress.

Hasn't religion done tremendous good in the world?
Many religionists are good people--but they would be good anyway.
Religion does not have a monopoly on good deeds. Most modern social and moral progress has been made by people free from religion--including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Darwin, Margaret Sanger, Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, H. L. Mencken, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Luther Burbank and many others who have enriched humanity.

Most religions have consistently resisted progress--including the abolition of slavery; women's right to vote and choose contraception and abortion; medical developments such as the use of anesthesia; scientific understanding of the heliocentric solar system and evolution, and the American principle of state/church separation.

Do freethinkers have a particular political persuasion?
No, freethought is a philosophical, not a political, position. Freethought today embraces adherents of virtually all political persuasions, including capitalists, libertarians, socialists, communists, Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives. There is no philosophical connection, for example, between atheism and communism. Some freethinkers, such as Adam Smith and Ayn Rand, were staunch capitalists; and there have been communistic groups which were deeply religious, such as the early Christian church.
North American freethinkers agree in their support of state/church separation.

Is atheism/humanism a religion?
No. Atheism is not a belief. It is the "lack of belief" in god(s). Lack of faith requires no faith. Atheism is indeed based on a commitment to rationality, but that hardly qualifies it as a religion.
Freethinkers apply the term religion to belief systems which include a supernatural realm, deity, faith in "holy" writings and conformity to an absolute creed.

Secular humanism has no god, bible or savior. It is based on natural rational principles. It is flexible and relativistic--it is not a religion.

Why should I be happy to be a freethinker?
Freethought is reasonable. Freethought allows you to do your own thinking. A plurality of individuals thinking, free from restraints of orthodoxy, allows ideas to be tested, discarded or adopted.
Freethinkers see no pride in the blind maintenance of ancient superstitions or self-effacing prostration before divine tyrants known only through primitive "revelations." Freethought is respectable. Freethought is truly free.


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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 14, 2007 11:35 AM

The following is my letter to the editor responding to an article posted last week. The original article is pasted below.

The Power of Atheism Over Prayer
(Re: "Atheist Books Overtaking Christian Titles in Best-Sellers Lists" HNN June 6, 2007)

This report truly is the gospel (good news). You'd never think so many books could be written about how to pray. Then you see the inspiration section of a book store and it dawns on you how much money you could be making if only you didn't have a conscience by writing some absurd self-help book like The Secret or The Power of Simple Prayer by Joyce Meyer, which explains that not only does prayer solve all your problems, but prayer is a lot easier than you think.

Well, that's a relief. The instruction manual made it seem so complicated.

--Michael xxxxxxx, N.J.
The A-Team

Here's the article I'm responding to:
Atheist Books Overtaking Christian Titles in Best-Sellers Lists

From NSS Newsline
June 6, 2007

The Association of American Publishers (AAP), the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry, recently released its annual estimate of total book sales in the United States, and according to its findings, religious books had a "difficult year."

The report, which reveals sales from 2006, marked a sharp 10.2 percent drop in religious books sales compared to the previous twelve months. The trend was one of the biggest decreases among all the book categories reported on by AAP. According to AAP, the drop is not critical, however, since "compound growth is still strong at 7.5 percent per year."

Coincidently alongside the sag in sales of religious books has been a rapid interest in atheist books over the past months. Books that had not sold that well in the past are now beginning to turn into purchases. According to some critics, people in the United States are starting to resent the role religion has played in society.

"There is something like a change in the zeitgeist," explained Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, in the Associated Press. "There are a lot of people, in this country in particular, who are fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and endless bullying."

Some Christians, however, say they see the rise in atheist literature as only a reaction to the rise of religious influence. Christianity is gaining more strength, with several victories gained throughout the year. "It sort of dawned on the secular establishment that they might lose here," explained the Rev. Douglas Wilson, author of Letter from a Christian Citizen, in a debate on ChristianityToday.com. "All of this is happening precisely because there's a significant force that they have to deal with."

With the growth in the number of anti-religion books being sold, more are expected to come on to the market.

Malaysian "Apostasy" Case Puts Innocent Woman in Danger Of Jail

Malaysia's top secular court rejected a woman's appeal to have her conversion from Islam to Christianity legally recognized. She has been told that this can only be approved by an Islamic sharia court. But she argues that she should not be bound by sharia law as she is a Christian.

The case is seen as a landmark test for religious freedom in what is regarded as a moderate Muslim country.

Lina Joy, who was born Azlina Jailani, had applied for a name change on her government identity card. The National Registration Department obliged but refused to drop Muslim from the religion column.

Judge Richard Malanjum, the only non-Muslim on the panel, sided with Ms. Joy, saying it was "unreasonable" to ask her to turn to the sharia court because she could face criminal prosecution there. Apostasy is a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders are often sent to prison-like rehabilitation centers.

About 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people are Malay Muslims, whose civil, family, marriage and personal rights are decided by sharia courts. The minorities -- the ethnic Chinese, Indians and other smaller communities -- are governed by civil courts.

But the constitution does not say who has the final say in cases such as this, when Islam confronts Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or other religions. The founding fathers of Malaysia left the constitution deliberately vague, unwilling to upset any of the three ethnic groups dominant at the time of independence from Britain 50 years ago, when building a peaceful multi-racial nation was more important.

The situation was muddied further with the constitution describing Malaysia as a secular state but recognizing Islam as the official religion.

Is changing religion a crime?

Terry Sanderson is the vice president of the National Secular Society (U.K.). He is also the editor of the weekly NSS Newsline, in which this article first appeared on June 1, 2007. This article is republished by permission of the NSS.

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Date: Jun 14, 2007 5:05 PM

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From: RationalAtheist.comDate: Jun 14, 2007 9:44 AMDid I just f****** hear what I thought I heard?-

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Date: Jun 14, 2007 8:38 PM

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