Saturday, October 18, 2014

Don't Tell Me the Speech Police Don't Exist


Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced on Friday that the city would narrow the scope of a controversial subpoena that asked five local pastors for copies of some of their sermons and communications.
The subpoena — which sits at the uncomfortable intersection of church and state — drew immediate ire from conservatives across the country.
The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins wrote a blog post titled "Snoops on the Stoops of the Church," which decried the city's "totalitarian tactics." Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the subpoena was an "assault against religious liberty."
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is in the middle of a gubernatorial run, sent a letter to the Houston city attorney, saying, "whether you intend it to be or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment."
Of course, this is actually more complicated than that: It dates back to when the city passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which provides protections to city's LGBT community. Led by some of the subpoenaed pastors, organizers collected signatures to try to repeal the ordinance through a referendum.
As The Washington Post explains, "supporters of the repeal reportedly gathered 50,000 signatures, well over the 17,269 needed for inclusion on the November ballot." But the city threw out thousands of them, saying they were invalid, and that meant the question was removed from the ballots.
A group of Christians sued Houston and in response, the city issued subpoenas for the sermons and communications of five pastors that the city said could help prove their case in court.
The Houston Chronicle reports that after the uproar, the city decided to remove the word "sermon" and narrow the scope, but the gist of the subpoena still stands.
The paper reports:
" 'We don't need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston, and it was never the intention of the city of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners,' Parker said. 'We don't want their sermons, we want the instructions on the petition process. That's always what we wanted and, again, they knew that's what we wanted because that's the subject of the lawsuit.'
"Opponents took advantage of the broad original language, Parker said, to deliberately misinterpret the city's intent and spur what City Attorney David Feldman called a 'media circus.' ...
" 'If during the course of the sermon — and I doubt this very much — a pastor took 15 or 20 minutes to go into detail about how the petition process goes, then that's part of the discovery,' she said. 'But that's not about preaching a sermon on anybody's religious beliefs, it's not conveying a religious message, that's part of the petition process, and all we're interested in is the petition process.' "
Essentially, the city is arguing, if pastors, for example, encouraged their congregations to sign petitions or gather signatures, that type of speech is not protected.
"University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer says the city reached too far in issuing the subpoenas. One subpoena sent to Pastor Steve Riggle, for example, asks for 'all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.' However, Linzer says it wouldn't impinge on the pastors' First Amendment rights if the city only asked only for sermons or speeches related to the signature drive. 'Let's assume they gave instructions to cheat,' Linzer says. 'That would be relevant speech and I don't see how they would have any First Amendment protection for that.' "
It's still not clear whether religious groups will be satisfied with the narrowing of the subpoena. The city of Houston is not enforcing the provision, pending the outcome of litigation.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Atheist Thought Experiments Debunked #4


"If Christians are supposedly so generous, why do they object to increases in welfare and anti-poverty programs? Why do they hold the less fortunate back like this?"


This objection really comes down to a misunderstanding of charity. Multiple definitions of charity exist but I prefer the two definitions provided by Oxford:

The voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.
Help or money given voluntarily to those in need

Notice the common trait in the two definitions: what one donates must be voluntarily in, it must be given under one's own power. That right there is why Christians don't accept government programs: it's funded by taxes and taxes are for the most part not voluntary. 
Not only that, government programs are notorious for not alleviating poverty at all but instead encourages dependency on more handouts. 

This is why you never hear about generational dependency in private charities: unlike government run programs, private programs encourage people to change their lives for the better and take personal responsibility.

"But wait," some misguided atheist might say, "most religious people only give money to religious groups so since their intention is to promote their religion, that doesn't count as charity."

First of all, charity has NEVER been measured by what our intentions are but rather what the results are. Second, research has shown that religious people are more likely to give to religious groups…but they're also more likely to give to all charitable groups overall. 
In fact, according to the book Who Really Cares by Arthur C Brooks, there are four factors that will determine how generous someone is:
-marital status (research has shown married people are more generous than single people)
-whether the person has kids or legal dependents
-whether the person has a skepticism towards the idea government can do a better job.
(Sidenote: the author could not find any connection to people who flat out reject the notion of letting government do the job).
-whether the person is religious: religious people give far more to charity than non-believers.

"But wait," an atheist is bound to object. "I'm far more generous than any religious person I know."

Statistical data from the book shows that is most likely a lie. In the event it's not a lie, it's either because the atheist in question lives in a religious area where charity is encouraged or the atheist was raised in a religious family that encouraged charity. It further showed if someone is atheist and from an atheist family, they give so little it's not even worth mentioning. 

Finally, many atheists and misguided Christians will claim the Bible does promote bigger government with these verses:
And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

That interpretation of these verses misses the mark because it overlooks one basic fact:
the group they're talking about is the Church, not the government.

Sure, you hear about monks or nuns living together in community and holding things in common, but it's only a certain number living in one particular building and they live that life voluntarily. Neither factor applies to government running things. 

There's that word again: voluntary. Atheists just can't seem to wrap their heads around that concept. 
Then again atheists are idiots.