March 18 - 24, 2007

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

The big news this week concerns Pete Stark, CA Bay-Area Democratic Representative, who has "come-out" as a non-theist. Incredible news, which I hope makes a difference for those of us who are freethinkers:

(Washington, D.C., March 12, 2007) The American Humanist Association today applauded Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) for his historic decision to come out as the first openly nontheistic member of Congress. "Pete Stark joins the company of millions of other nontheistic Americans, including humanists, many of whom have long kept their views secret for fear of discrimination in their communities," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "With Stark's courageous public announcement of his nontheism, it is our hope that he will become an inspiration for others who
have hidden their conclusions for far too long."

For more about this announcement, go to the American Humanist Assoc. web page:
and specifically to

From a blog by professor Stanley Fish, in the NY Times, regarding the First Amendment, how SCOTUS has found ways to dig holes in the wall of separation between Church and State:

Those who oppose a strict application of the establishment clause often argue that religion shouldn’t be “singled out” for hostile attention. But the special status of religion is the reason for the establishment clause (if religion was to be treated like everything else, there would be no establishment clause), and that special status, [Justice Robert] Jackson observed, is both positive and negative: “it was intended not only to keep the state’s hand out of religion, but to keep religion’s hands off the state,” an intention that would be flouted if religion’s hands were allowed to dip into the state’s pocket.

This plain fact is occluded by the trick of running two inquiries at the same time and assuming (or pretending) that they are the same. One inquiry (proper to the establishment clause) asks, is the state expending public monies in a way that advances religion? The second inquiry (more philosophical then juridical) asks, is the state being fair and even-handed to religion? The first inquiry is responsive to the establishment clause’s nervousness about religion, and alert, in the spirit of Madison, to the slightest (“three pence only”) breach of the wall of separation. The other inquiry is responsive to the demand of impartiality, and its rule is, if the public schools receive aid from the state, the parochial schools should too. As Justice Wiley Rutledge noted in his dissent, by generalizing away from establishment concerns and moving to “larger” concepts like “promoting the general cause of education and the welfare of the individual,” the rule of impartiality “ignores the religious factor.” It does more than that, for by rejecting the establishment clause’s suspicion of any intersection of religious activity and state action, the rule of impartiality comes very close to discarding the establishment clause altogether.

Read the Stanley Fish blog here...

From the Christian Science Monitor, regarding this year's winner of the Templeton Prize of 1.5 million dollars, Charles Taylor:

Mr. Taylor argues that all aspects of human beings, including the spiritual, are necessary to understand behavior. His research has transformed academic debates across the social sciences and helped bring spiritual understanding to political discussions.
In recognition of his contributions, and in particular for his research into the importance of the consideration of the spiritual dimension in resolving conflicts, Taylor has been awarded the 2007 Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities.

Read the complete story here...

Though I regularly check many online editions of newspapers for my weekly column, this one escaped me, from the Seattle Times, by Barbara Dority, who writes on "values" as a Humanist. Her column from which I quote appeared in January of this year.

Giovanni Costigan died in 1990.

Five years earlier, on his 80th birthday, former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer declared that day, Feb. 15, Giovanni Costigan Day in Seattle.

As my annual commemoration approaches, I find myself reflecting anew on the life of this singularly remarkable man whom I was deeply privileged to call my friend.

Costigan was the embodiment of Humanism.

Far from losing their power and relevance, his teachings are made more essential than ever by the many critical issues threatening our world today.

After graduating from Oxford in 1926, Costigan came to the U.S. in 1930 to earn his doctorate. He then embarked upon a 50-year career as a professor of history at the University of Washington, a career that would inspire generations of young people, imbuing them with his commitment to the highest moral and ethical ideals.

His legacy lives on in the countless hearts and minds of everyone he touched.

He taught his students that present and future generations must learn from history so that mistakes are not repeated. He taught by making history come alive and by giving his students modern parallels, and he inspired young people to make a difference by involving themselves in the betterment of society.

Read the complete Times article here...

Some Evangelicals are attempting to get out of politics, leading editorial columnist E.J. Dionne to wonder if another "reformation" is underway. His column appeared in the Sacramento Bee:

Evangelical Protestantism in the United States is going through a New Reformation that is disentangling a great religious movement from a partisan political machine.

This historic change will require liberals and conservatives alike to abandon their sometimes narrow views of who evangelicals are.

The reformers won an important victory this month when the board of the National Association of Evangelicals faced down right-wing partisans and reaffirmed its view that healing global warming was an important moral cause. In so doing, they also expressed confidence in the Rev. Rich Cizik, the NAE's vice president for governmental affairs.

Cizik, who combines opposition to abortion with a firm commitment to human rights, the poor and the environment, came under attack from a gang of ideologues who would freeze evangelicals on a political course set more than a quarter-century ago.

"This tussle over the issue of climate change is part of a bigger tussle over the definition of evangelicalism and who speaks for evangelicals," Cizik said in an interview.

Calling upon evangelicals to "return to being people who are known for our love and care for our fellow human beings and the Earth," Cizik warned that "if you put the politics first and make it primary, I believe that is a tragic and fateful choice."

Please find the complete story here...

If I can, I like to close my column with a humorous twist, but this week I'd like to close, instead, with an excerpt from a column that appeared in the Austin American Statesman, a reminder that we're approaching the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, and the need for public activities that commemorate the event:

Events planned for the days surrounding the March 19 anniversary date of the U.S. invasion of Iraq are occasions for acknowledging the terrible wrongdoing that most of our country's political leaders still have been unwilling to face honestly or to stop. This is a time for truth telling about the extent of military and civilian dead and injured, violations of universal human rights and international law, restrictions of freedoms and the rise of xenophobia due to heightened security fears. This is a time to honor the courage of military personnel and family members who are speaking out against U.S. policy in Iraq, including soldiers who are serving prison sentences for refusing to participate any longer in a war they believe is wrong. It's a time for civilians to match their courage by speaking out more strongly to civilian leaders to insist that our government represent us.

The Talk of Lawrence