12/18/14

Remember the Veterans and Skip the Fireworks

Book given to U.S. veterans in 1919 to help th...
Book given to U.S. veterans in 1919 to help them readjust to civilian life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The United States is much better at starting wars than taking care of the veterans who return home. With December being a time when many people think of contributing to charitable organizations, I'd like to remind you that there are many worthwhile secular charities. I'd also like to suggest that you consider supporting the important work being done by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. But I realize that money is tight, especially this time of year. What if there was something you could do to help local veterans without spending a dime? In fact, what if there was something you could do for them that would actually save you money?

For reasons that remain incomprehensible to me, many people in the South seem to incorporate fireworks into nearly every holiday. The fireworks stands in my area went up several days ago in preparation for the fireworks that will begin a few days before Christmas and last through at least New Year's Day. What you can do for the local veterans is simple: skip the fireworks.

As I noted back in July, many veterans return home with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Being surrounded by fireworks can be a difficult experience for some of them, triggering flashbacks of war while they are trying to enjoy the holidays with their families. Fireworks are already wasteful, bad for the environment, and inconsiderate of your neighbors. That they would contribute to the distress experienced by some veterans is another good reason to skip them.

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12/12/14

#WeExist Highlights Experiences of Those Forced to Attend Church

English: St Martha's Methodist Church, Tring T...
St Martha's Methodist Church, Tring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The experience of being forced to attend church despite my protests is one I certainly had. In fact, I had it nearly every Sunday for at least two years. I had it even after I informed my family that I no longer believed in gods. Reasonable people can disagree about whether this sort of thing is abusive, but it certainly felt abusive at the time. As a result, it strained my relationship with my family for years.

I would have thought that the experience of being compelled to attend church was fairly common among atheists who were raised by religious believers, and maybe it is. Strangely, the Catholic League's Bill Donohue seems to want to deny that such experiences happen. Does he really believe that all those children want to be in church?

Donohue's puzzling denial recently prompted American Atheists' David Silverman to start a new Twitter hashtag campaign. Silverman is calling on those who were forced to attend church to tell their stories and use the #WeExist hashtag. I doubt very much that Donohue will be convinced by evidence contrary to his beliefs, but I hope that the hashtag can help to raise awareness that this sort of thing happens, that it does damage, and that it needs to stop.

H/T to What Would JT Do?

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12/7/14

What Do We Do About Police Brutality Toward Persons of Color?

A silhouette showing a police officer striking...
A silhouette showing a police officer striking a person, symbolising police brutality. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I really wish I knew what we could do to produce meaningful changes in how law enforcement treats persons of color. And if we could come up with a solution, I wish I had some confidence that it would be implemented in a timely manner. As if the killings of Mike Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner New York weren't bad enough, the elusive nature of effective solutions and the low probability of their implementation fuels a sense of hopelessness and simmering rage.

I became familiar with the problem of police brutality and the disparate treatment of persons of color by law enforcement around the time I started high school. This was years before the video of police beating Rodney King played in every living room in the United States, forcing White people to confront something that was well known to persons of color. My early experiences ranged from hearing racial slurs from police officers directed at my friends to seeing the cuts and bruises on my friends bodies after they were hauled in for questioning. In a couple of cases, the cuts and bruises were accompanied by broken ribs and trips to the hospital. I remember a sense of powerlessness.

11/26/14

Judge Overturns Mississippi's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

GaymarriageU.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves has overturned Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage through a preliminary injunction in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Phil Bryant that provides the state with 14 days before the injunction takes effect (ruling available here). While this means that there can be no same-sex marriages for at least 14 days and that the state will have time to appeal. Still, Judge Reeves' conclusion that the ban is unconstitutional is a step in the right direction.

If the decision is appealed by Attorney General Jim Hood, which seems certain at this point, the appeal would go to the notoriously conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. This court is already scheduled to hear cases involving similar bans from Louisiana and Texas in January, so how these cases are decided would affect Mississippi. If this court rules the way many observers expect it to (i.e., in favor of the bans), it may take a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to bring marriage equality to the Southern states.

The plaintiff in this case, the Campaign for Southern Equality, deserves our support for working to bring a much needed dose of equality to our state. On the other hand, Gov. Phil Bryant continues to be a source of embarrassment for Mississippians who support equality, merely solidifying our unfortunate but well-deserved image as a home to religiously-motivated bigotry and discrimination.

H/T to Godless in Dixie

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11/19/14

When Mississippi's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Falls

Rainbow American flag promoting equality for e...
Rainbow American flag promoting equality for every American. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I hope to see Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage overturned soon as a result of Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant. While I recognize that overturning the ban on same-sex marriage is only one step toward equality and that we still need clear legal protections so people cannot be fired from their jobs, denied housing, or subjected to other forms of discrimination based on their sexual orientation, I do still consider it to be an important step in the direction of equality.

At the same time, I have to admit that I'm a bit worried about how some of our more conservative Christian neighbors may react when the ban falls (I'm being optimistic here and saying "when" instead of "if"). While it has been encouraging to see some pastors breaking ranks with the majority, many evangelical fundamentalist Christian pastors remain steadfast in their opposition to LGBT equality. They have had decades to convince their congregants that same-sex marriage is an affront to their god. As a result, I do not expect such attitudes to shift overnight. Recognizing that the anti-LGBT hatred runs deep leads me to worry about the possibility of retaliatory acts by outraged Christians.

I am not suggesting that any of us should allow fear of Christian reprisal to hold us back. Far from it. As atheists, I suspect we can agree that fear has kept us silent about too many things for long enough. What I am suggesting is that I think we should be prepared for some nasty reactions when the ban does fall. I hope that we are prepared to go out of our way to provide support to our LGBT neighbors who may need it.

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