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Religion is the problem

TIM221226 POY Iris Cover Religion is the problem

There’ve been a lot of recent news developments revealing that religion is the problem.

Religious bigotry is the enemy of LGBTQ rights

The Respect for Marriage Act passed Congress, with begrudging bipartisan support, which is a triumph, even though distasteful concessions to religion were required.

In spite of  these compromises, Christian extremists in Congress whined and caviled about the bill, which should not even have been controversial. It protects the rights of those legally married in one state, specifically same-sex or interracial couples, to have their marriage recognized in another. Despite religious institutions being exempted from participating in marriage ceremonies and protected from losing tax-exemption if they discriminate against same-sex marriages, Rep. Vicki Hartzler expostulated, “This bill only serves to further demonize biblical values  … silencing voices of faith and permanently undoing our country’s God-woven foundation.” Nuff said.

Religion is also the problem in Indonesia, which passed some scary legislation this week. Its Muslim-dominated Parliament unanimously passed a law forbidding sex outside of marriage. Unmarried couples who live together can now be jailed for six months and face fines. It also increases blasphemy penalties.

A lawmaker from the progressive NasDem party noted that passage of this law shows officials failing to distinguish the difference between public and private affairs, “which is the most elementary thing in democracy.” Bingo.

In a democracy with a bill of rights, the government cannot make personal, intimate decisions for its citizens, such as whether to get married or who to love, much less whether to continue or abort a pregnancy. It can’t tell trans children they can’t participate in fourth grade sporting teams. It leaves up to parents and physicians the treatment of trans teens. It doesn’t ban books that a small portion of zealous citizens object to. Questions of bodily autonomy are left to the individual, short of real criminal conduct.

But in authoritarian states, the state knows no such boundaries. While not all authoritarian states are theocracies, all theocracies are authoritarian states. The extremists who are edging the United States ever closer to a Christian authoritarian state certainly do not recognize basic boundaries. They insist, because their bible says homosexuals are an abomination, that they have the right to discriminate. This is the argument of the self-righteous evangelical Christian litigant in the 303 Creative case heard this week by the Supreme Court.

But of course, Christian nationalists and supremacists go further: They insist they have the right to impose their dogma by law on the rest of us, hence the dissenters against the Respect for Marriage Act in Congress, such as Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., who said: “This bill certainly disrespects God’s definition of marriage, and his definition is the only one that really matters.” Nuff said, again.

The bigoted would-be website designer thinks laws recognizing the LGBTQ as a protected class do not apply to her. But what she and her backers really want to create is a new protected class whose rights trump everyone else’s: Christian extremists with “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The 2015 Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling unfortunately laid the groundwork for helping the religious right achieve its goal: to privilege its religion at the expense of everyone else’s freedom.

Religion is the problem in Iran

It was gratifying to see Time magazine name Iranian women “Heroes of the Year” for leading the uprising against the Islamic Republic. At first blush, the announcement this week by Iran’s attorney general that the morality police is being abolished seemed cause for celebration. However, in hindsight it appears to be a ploy by the cleric-run regime to pacify the hundreds of thousands who continue the “Woman, Life Freedom!” demonstrations roiling Iranian streets since the brutal death of a young woman for showing too much hair under her hijab. Significantly, Iran announced no changes to its requirement that women must wear tight headscarves and camouflage their bodies in loose, long garments.

Shockingly, underscoring Iran’s intent to continue the crackdown was its execution of a young male cafe worker arrested in the protests for blocking a street and attacking with a machete a militia member (who survived but needed 13 stitches). Mohsen Shekara, 23, was hanged to death on Thursday without due process. More than 18,000 people have been arrested in the protests, and the Parliament last month voted to execute them. Is this the start of a killing rampage? Almost 500 people have already been killed in the crackdown by Iran’s security forces, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, based in Tehran.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to have contributed a major stipend to Maryam Namazie’s group, Ex-Muslims of UK, to purchase major outdoor sound equipment to amplify the group’s daily protests in London and around the United Kingdom. We have also just wired $5,000 in funds to Faithless Hijabi, a nonprofit that provides resources as well as one-on-one counseling to women around the world traumatized by Muslim restrictions.

Not trusting in science

In a blow to public health and the Biden administration, Congress is eliminating the eminently sensible Pentagon mandate requiring all U.S. service members to be vaccinated and boosted against Covid. Already, military personnel must be vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, the flu, measles, mumps and rubella, meningococcal disease, polio, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and chickenpox. Why on earth would the Pentagon not add vaccination against what is now an endemic? Congress is foolishly requiring Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to rescind the requirement, which is in the annual defense bill that just passed today.

This mandate by the U.S. government had sent a loud pro-science message to our nation, which the House has now loudly repudiated. And as we know, most anti-vaxxers are motivated by ignorance and religion, and the issue was heavily politicized by Christian nationalists.

Critical thinking is the answer

The 2021 census of England and Wales shows for the first time that less than half the population identifies as Christian: 46 percent say they are Christian, contrasted with almost 60 percent during the 2011 census. Those with no religion increased from a quarter to 37 percent.

Despite the theocratic challenges, we freethinkers can take solace in the fact that the United States is slowly following in the United Kingdom’s footsteps, with less than 60 percent of Americans identifying as Christian and three in 10 professing no affiliation.

“Is it surprising when what we’re trying to do to our nation is to educate it to be critical thinkers, to not take things at face value, but actually investigate and to talk about whether or not you know information is reliable?” commented Dr. James Williams, a science education lecturer at the University of Sussex, about the decline of Christianity.

Critical thinking skills are indeed the answer.

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